Spatial accessibility of primary health care utilising the two step floating catchment area method: an assessment of recent improvements

Int J Health Geogr. 2012 Nov 16;11:50. doi: 10.1186/1476-072X-11-50.


Background: The two step floating catchment area (2SFCA) method has emerged in the last decade as a key measure of spatial accessibility, particularly in its application to primary health care access. Many recent 'improvements' to the original 2SFCA method have been developed, which generally either account for distance-decay within a catchment or enable the usage of variable catchment sizes. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of various proposed methods within these two improvement groups. Moreover, its assessment focuses on how well these improvements operate within and between rural and metropolitan populations over large geographical regions.

Results: Demonstrating these improvements to the whole state of Victoria, Australia, this paper presents the first comparison between continuous and zonal (step) decay functions and specifically their effect within both rural and metropolitan populations. Especially in metropolitan populations, the application of either type of distance-decay function is shown to be problematic by itself. Its inclusion necessitates the addition of a variable catchment size function which can enable the 2SFCA method to dynamically define more appropriate catchments which align with actual health service supply and utilisation.

Conclusion: This study assesses recent 'improvements' to the 2SFCA when applied over large geographic regions of both large and small populations. Its findings demonstrate the necessary combination of both a distance-decay function and variable catchment size function in order for the 2SFCA to appropriately measure healthcare access across all geographical regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Catchment Area, Health* / statistics & numerical data
  • Geographic Mapping
  • Health Services Accessibility* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Population Density
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Victoria