Background: Surgical care is essential to health systems but remains a challenge for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Current metrics to assess access and delivery of surgical care focus on the structural components of surgery and are not readily applicable to all settings. This study assesses a new metric for surgical care access and delivery, the ratio of emergent surgery to elective surgery (Ee ratio), which represents the number of emergency surgeries performed for every 100 elective surgeries.
Methods: A systematic search of PubMed and Medline was conducted for studies describing surgical volume and acuity published between 2006 and 2016. The relationship between Ee ratio and three national indicators (gross domestic product, per capital healthcare spending, and physician density) was analyzed using weighted Pearson correlation coefficients (r w) and linear regression models.
Results: A total of 29 studies with 33 datasets were included for analyses. The median Ee ratio was 14.6 (IQR 5.5-62.6), with a range from 1.6 to 557.4. For countries in sub-Saharan Africa the median value was 62.6 (IQR 17.8-111.0), compared to 9.4 (IQR 3.4-13.4) for the United States and 5.5 (IQR 4.4-10.1) for European countries. In multivariable linear regression, the per capita healthcare spending was inversely associated with the Ee ratio, with a 63-point decrease in the Ee ratio for each 1 point increase in the log of the per capita healthcare spending (regression coefficient β = -63.2; 95% CI -119.6 to -6.9; P = 0.036).
Conclusions: The Ee ratio appears to be a simple and valid indicator of access to available surgical care. Global health efforts may focus on investment in low-resource settings to improve access to available surgical care.