Distance and health care utilization among the rural elderly

Soc Sci Med. 2000 May;50(9):1197-208. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00365-2.


This paper explores the relationship between distance and the utilization of health care by a group of elderly residents in rural Vermont. By drawing on recent work on the geography of health we frame the decision to visit a primary care physician in the context of the experience of place. The paper devises a test of this broader reading of the role of distance for utilization, and operationalizes this test using a custom designed survey. Using a randomized mail survey of elderly residents of Vermont's North East Kingdom we explore how grocery shopping, travel to work, home location relative to local services, access to private transportation, and living arrangements are associated with the number of doctor visits made to primary health care providers. Although the results confirm the idea that increased distance from provider does reduce utilization, they strongly suggest that distance to provider is a surrogate for location in a richer web of relations between residents and their local communities. We conclude by calling for further research that establishes links between place and the use of health facilities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vermont