Objective: Evaluation of the impact of the reform of primary health care services on the population health.
Design: Comparative analysis of mortality rates for the 1984-96 period in three zones of homogeneous socioeconomic level, assessing the effect of the differential development of the reform of public primary health care services.
Setting: The study is restricted to the 23 health areas with lower socioeconomic status in the city of Barcelona (443092 inhabitants).
Measurements and main results: The study areas are categorized in three groups, according to the sequence of the reform: reformed between 1984 and 1989, RAP1 zone, reformed between 1990 and 1991, RAP2 zone, and those still served by the old scheme in 1992, NORAP zone. General mortality rates are analyzed, and also mortality rates by those avoidable conditions. Significant differences among the three zones are initially visible. The mortality decline is 13.6% in the RAP1 zone and 10.3% in the NORAP zone, so that the decline in the RAP1 zone is 32% greater than in the NORAP zone. At the end of the study, mortality due to stroke and hypertension is lower in the RAP zones than in the NORAP zone. Perinatal mortality shows a clear decline in the three zones. No relevant changes are seen for tuberculosis or cervical cancer. Lung cancer mortality increases except in RAP1 zone where it declines, to the point that the excess mortality from that cause estimated by comparison with the NORAP zone in the initial phase of the study vanishes. Death rates from cirrhosis and motor vehicle accident decline in all zones.
Conclusions: There is a clear association between the process of reform of primary care and the decrease in general mortality in these zones of low socioeconomic level. These results suggest that the reform of primary health care services in Spain may have a significant impact in the mortality of the population of lower socioeconomic level. The study highlight the cost in health and human lives of maintaining obsolete and overburdened services for some segments of the population, and justify the need and urgency of completing the process of reform initiated in 1984 and still unfinished in 1999.