John M. Booker, PhD
Jennifer Louden, MPA
Tracy Arras, MS
Brian Saylor, PhD, MPH
Analyzing current primary care access is necessary for determining the need for services in different geographical locations throughout the state of Alaska. Formal needs assessment is an essential task for determining the success of Alaska’s health care system in providing primary care services for all patients, regardless of income, geographic location, gender, or race.
This project was designed in 1996 to assist the state of Alaska in performing a needs assessment for the provision of primary care services, particularly for low-income women and children. The purpose is three-fold:
- To outline the existing literature describing methodologies for measuring access to health care services;
- To discuss data issues involved with using specific indicators in Alaska; and
- To provide some of the relevant data that can be used as indicators in measuring primary care access in Alaska.
An underlying intent for the project also involves the demonstration of the usefulness of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for public health planning purposes. GIS is a powerful computer tool that can provide spatial representation of key public health information. GIS can be a particularly effective tool for measuring distribution of existing resources, predicting trends for future need, and representing geographic barriers to health care access.
Major Project Findings
Many of the indicators discussed in the literature provide useful guidance for choosing measures of access for Alaska. However, it must be noted that finding reliable data for evaluation of some of these can be difficult. The unusually large segmentation of the Alaskan population between private, military and ICHS service providers increase the challenges. Each provider collects different data in different formats. Coordination and improvement of these different data collection sites is recommended.
ICHS found that a good number of indicators of health status, demographics, socioeconomic, and geographic factors are useful for assessing primary care access. GIS analysis of Alaska data for recommended indicators was completed. ICHS found that several geographic locations appear to rank more poorly in relationship to the state as a whole.
It is recommended that additional study focus on those boroughs which reflect a poor relationship between population and health care providers.
For more information on GIS and primary care planning in Alaska please see our report on the Application of Geographic Information Systems Technology (GIS) to Primary Care Planning in Alaska.
These findings can be obtained directly from ICHS or the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library.