Background: To examine why people lack a regular source of ambulatory care (RSAC) and explore whether this commonly used access measure accurately identifies population subgroups at risk for barriers to continuity care.
Methods: Using data from a 1986 national telephone survey, we performed a content analysis of subjects' verbatim reports as to why they lacked an RSAC (n = 5,748).
Results: The 16.4 percent of respondents who lacked an RSAC gave the following reasons: 1) financial problems, 8 percent; 2) local resource inaccessibility, 5 percent; 3) not wanting a regular source of ambulatory care, 61 percent; and 4) transitory loss of their regular source of ambulatory care, 18 percent. However, some sociodemographic subgroups reported substantially more problems with access barriers, and these disparities were often not detected by the global measure, RSAC. The poor were not more likely than the non-poor to lack an RSAC (odds ratio [OR] = 0.8; 95% confidence interval, [0.6, 1.1]), but were much more likely to lack an RSAC for financial reasons (OR = 5.2 [2.6, 10.6]). Similarly, rural respondents were not more likely than urban dwellers to lack an RSAC, but were more likely to lack an RSAC because of local resource inaccessibility (OR = 5.8 [2.8, 11.9]).
Conclusions: We conclude that the global measure, RSAC, is not an accurate indicator of whether population subgroups have access barriers to obtaining a source of continuity care.