Quality of clinical care and bypassing of primary health centers in India

Soc Sci Med. 2018 Jun;207:80-88. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.04.040. Epub 2018 Apr 26.


In many low and middle-income countries patients often bypass the nearest government health center offering free or subsidized services and seek more expensive care elsewhere. This study examines the role of quality of care, in particular clinician competence and structural quality of the health center, on bypassing behavior. Data for this study comes from a survey of 136 primary health centers (PHCs) and 3517 individuals living in the PHC's immediate vicinity in rural Chhattisgarh, India. Overall, the majority (67%) of patients bypassed the local PHC when seeking treatment. Bypassing decreased as provider competence increased, up to a point, after which, improvements in competency did not reduce bypassing. The clinical competence of the health care provider had a greater effect on reducing bypassing compared to PHC structural quality such as the building condition and drug stock-outs. However, the regular presence of clinical providers in the PHC was associated with lower bypassing. Patients that visited the local PHC spent half as much out-of-pocket as those that were treated at private clinics. Poor patients were less likely to bypass the local PHC compared to non-poor patients. These findings suggest that improving structural quality is not sufficient to reduce bypassing of PHCs. While better provider competency can substantially reduce bypassing, beyond a threshold competency level there is little effect. Efforts to strengthen facility-based primary care services need to go beyond simply focusing on improving infrastructure or quality of clinical care. There is a need to rethink how PHCs can be made more relevant to the health care needs of the communities they serve.

Keywords: Bypassing; India; Primary health care; Quality of care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians, Primary Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / standards
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Rural Health Services / standards
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors