Measurement, Optimization, and Impact of Health Care Accessibility: A Methodological Review

Ann Assoc Am Geogr. 2012;102(5):1104-1112. doi: 10.1080/00045608.2012.657146. Epub 2012 Mar 27.


Despite spending more than any other nation on medical care per person, the United States ranks behind other industrialized nations in key health performance measures. A main cause is the deep disparities in access to care and health outcomes. Federal programs such as the designations of Medically Underserved Areas/Populations and Health Professional Shortage Areas are designed to boost the number of health professionals serving these areas and to help alleviate the access problem. Their effectiveness relies first and foremost on an accurate measure of accessibility so that resources can be allocated to truly needy areas. Various measures of accessibility need to be integrated into one framework for comparison and evaluation. Optimization methods can be used to improve the distribution and supply of health care providers to maximize service coverage, minimize travel needs of patients, limit the number of facilities, and maximize health or access equality. Inequality in health care access comes at a personal and societal price, evidenced in disparities in health outcomes, including late-stage cancer diagnosis. This review surveys recent literature on the three named issues with emphasis on methodological advancements and implications for public policy.