Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Index of Access: a new innovative and dynamic tool for rural health service and workforce planning

Matthew R. McGrail A C D , Deborah J. Russell B C and John S. Humphreys B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Monash University, School of Rural Health, Northways Road, Churchill, Vic. 3842, Australia.

B Monash University, School of Rural Health, PO Box 666, Bendigo, Vic. 3552, Australia. Email: deborah.russell@monash.edu; john.humphreys@monash.edu

C Centre of Research Excellence in Rural and Remote Primary Health Care, PO Box 666, Bendigo, Vic. 3552, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: matthew.mcgrail@monash.edu

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH16049
Submitted: 16 February 2016  Accepted: 12 July 2016   Published online: 19 August 2016

Abstract

Objective Improving access to primary health care (PHC) remains a key issue for rural residents and health service planners. This study aims to show that how access to PHC services is measured has important implications for rural health service and workforce planning.

Methods A more sophisticated tool to measure access to PHC services is proposed, which can help health service planners overcome the shortcomings of existing measures and long-standing access barriers to PHC. Critically, the proposed Index of Access captures key components of access and uses a floating catchment approach to better define service areas and population accessibility levels. Moreover, as demonstrated through a case study, the Index of Access enables modelling of the effects of workforce supply variations.

Results Hypothetical increases in supply are modelled for a range of regional centres, medium and small rural towns, with resulting changes of access scores valuable to informing health service and workforce planning decisions.

Conclusions The availability and application of a specific ‘fit-for-purpose’ access measure enables a more accurate empirical basis for service planning and allocation of health resources. This measure has great potential for improved identification of PHC access inequities and guiding redistribution of PHC services to correct such inequities.

What is known about the topic? Resource allocation and health service planning decisions for rural and remote health settings are currently based on either simple measures of access (e.g. provider-to-population ratios) or proxy measures of access (e.g. standard geographical classifications). Both approaches have substantial limitations for informing rural health service planning and decision making.

What does this paper add? The adoption of a new improved tool to measure access to PHC services, the Index of Access, is proposed to assist health service and workforce planning. Its usefulness for health service planning is demonstrated using a case study to hypothetically model changes in rural PHC workforce supply.

What are the implications for practitioners? The Index of Access has significant potential for identifying how rural and remote primary health care access inequities can be addressed. This critically important information can assist health service planners, for example those working in primary health networks, to determine where and how much redistribution of PHC services is needed to correct existing inequities.

Additional keywords: primary care, resource allocation.


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