Primary care and patient perceptions of access to care

J Fam Pract. 1997 Feb;44(2):177-85.


Background: Although much is known about how insurance affects access to care, it is unclear whether good primary care contributes to access. The purpose of this study was to determine how optimal primary care given by providers at a regular place of care, defined in terms of continuity, comprehensiveness, communication, and availability, contributed to perceptions of access to care in a large population-based probability sample of adults.

Methods: Data were from a cross-sectional survey of 6674 English- and Spanish-speaking adults 18 to 64 years of age, randomly sampled from 41 urban California communities with a range of levels of access to care.

Results: Following adjustment for sociodemographics and need for care, we found that having "optimal" primary care contributed independently to improved self-rated access, as did having health insurance, a regular place, and a regular provider. The largest difference n access was between having any health insurance and not having insurance. Once insurance was available, each additional element contributed in a cumulative manner to self-rated access. For those with insurance and a regular place, adding optimal primary care improved self-rated access to an extent similar to adding a regular provider.

Conclusions: We conclude that although providing insurance to the uninsured is the most effective means of improving self-rated access, the other elements each improve access as well. Once insurance and a regular place are provided, good primary care at that place may be equivalent to having a regular provider in terms of perceived access. Results support promotion of primary care as a model of health care that encourages good access.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • California
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Perception*
  • Primary Health Care* / organization & administration
  • Urban Population