Socioeconomic Inequalities in Hospitalizations for Chronic Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions: A Systematic Review of Peer-Reviewed Literature, 1990-2018

Int J Equity Health. 2020 May 4;19(1):60. doi: 10.1186/s12939-020-01160-0.


Background: Hospitalizations for chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions are an important indicator of health system equity and performance. Chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions refer to chronic diseases that can be managed in primary care settings, including angina, asthma, and diabetes, with hospitalizations for these conditions considered potentially avoidable with adequate primary care interventions. Socioeconomic inequities in the risk of hospitalization have been observed in several health systems globally. While there are multiple studies examining the association between socioeconomic status and hospitalizations for chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions, these studies have not been systematically reviewed. The objective of this study is to systematically identify and describe socioeconomic inequalities in hospitalizations for chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions amongst adult populations in economically developed countries reported in high-quality observational studies published in the peer-reviewed literature.

Methods: Peer-reviewed literature was searched in six health and social science databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycInfo, CINAHL, ASSIA, and IBSS using search terms for hospitalization, socioeconomic status, and chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions. Study titles and abstracts were first screened followed by full-text review according to the following eligibility criteria: 1) Study outcome is hospitalization for selected chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions; 2) Primary exposure is individual- or area-level socioeconomic status; 3) Study population has a mean age ± 1 SD < 75 years of age; 4) Study setting is economically developed countries; and 5) Study type is observational. Relevant data was then extracted, and studies were critically appraised using appropriate tools from The Joanna Briggs Institute. Results were narratively synthesized according to socioeconomic constructs and type of adjustment (minimally versus fully adjusted).

Results: Of the 15,857 unique peer-reviewed studies identified, 31 studies met the eligibility criteria and were of sufficient quality for inclusion. Socioeconomic constructs and hospitalization outcomes varied across studies. However, despite this heterogeneity, a robust and consistent association between lower levels of socioeconomic status and higher risk of hospitalizations for chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions was observed.

Conclusions: This systematic review is the first to comprehensively identify and analyze literature on the relationship between SES and hospitalizations for chronic ambulatory care sensitive conditions, considering both aggregate and condition-specific outcomes that are common to several international health systems. The evidence consistently demonstrates that lower socioeconomic status is a risk factor for hospitalization across global settings. Effective health and social interventions are needed to reduce these inequities and ensure fair and adequate care across socioeconomic groups.

Trial registration: PROSPERO CRD42018088727.

Keywords: Ambulatory care sensitive conditions; Health inequalities; Hospitalization; Observational studies; Socioeconomic status; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't