Interpreting the results of a modified gravity model: examining access to primary health care physicians in five Canadian provinces and territories

BMC Health Serv Res. 2012 Aug 1;12:230. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-12-230.


Background: Primary health care (PHC) encompasses an array of health and social services that focus on preventative, diagnostic, and basic care measures to maintain wellbeing and address illnesses. In Canada, PHC involves the provision of first-contact health care services by providers such as family physicians and general practitioners - collectively referred as PHC physicians here. Ensuring access is a key requirement of effective PHC delivery. This is because having access to PHC has been shown to positively impact a number of health outcomes.

Methods: We build on recent innovations in measuring potential spatial access to PHC physicians using geographic information systems (GIS) by running and then interpreting the findings of a modified gravity model. Elsewhere we have introduced the protocol for this model. In this article we run it for five selected Canadian provinces and territories. Our objectives are to present the results of the modified gravity model in order to: (1) understand how potential spatial access to PHC physicians can be interpreted in these Canadian jurisdictions, and (2) provide guidance regarding how findings of the modified gravity model should be interpreted in other analyses.

Results: Regarding the first objective, two distinct spatial patterns emerge regarding potential spatial access to PHC physicians in the five selected Canadian provinces: (1) a clear north-south pattern, where southern areas have greater potential spatial access than northern areas; and (2) while gradients of potential spatial access exist in and around urban areas, access outside of densely-to-moderately populated areas is fairly binary. Regarding the second objective, we identify three principles that others can use to interpret the findings of the modified gravity model when used in other research contexts.

Conclusions: Future applications of the modified gravity model are needed in order to refine the recommendations we provide on interpreting its results. It is important that studies are undertaken that can help administrators, policy-makers, researchers, and others with characterizing the state of access to PHC, including potential spatial access. We encourage further research to be done using GIS in order to offer new, spatial perspectives on issues of access to health services given the increased recognition that the place-based nature of health services can benefit from the use of the capabilities of GIS to enhance the role that visualization plays in decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Health Services Accessibility* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Primary Health Care* / statistics & numerical data