Primary health care is recognised as an integral part of a country’s health care system. Measuring hospitalisations, that could potentially be avoided with high quality and accessible primary care, is one indicator of how well primary care services are performing. This review was interested in the association between chronic disease related hospitalisations and primary health care resourcing.
Studies were included if peer reviewed, written in English, published between 2002 and 2012, modelled hospitalisation as a function of PHC resourcing and identified hospitalisations for type 2 diabetes as a study outcome measure. Access and use of PHC services were used as a proxy for PHC resourcing. Studies in populations with a predominant user pay system were excluded to eliminate patient financial barriers to PHC access and utilisation. Articles were systematically excluded based on the inclusion criteria, to arrive at the final set of studies for review.
The search strategy identified 1778 potential articles using EconLit, Medline and Google Scholar databases. Ten articles met the inclusion criteria and were subject to review. PHC resources were quantified by workforce (either medical or nursing) numbers, number of primary care episodes, service availability (e.g. operating hours), primary care practice size (e.g. single or group practitioner practice—a larger practice has more care disciplines onsite), or financial incentive to improve quality of diabetes care. The association between medical workforce numbers and ACSC hospitalisations was mixed. Four of six studies found that less patients per doctor was significantly associated with a decrease in ambulatory care sensitive hospitalisations, one study found the opposite and one study did not find a significant association between the two. When results were categorised by PHC access (e.g. GPs/capita, range of services) and use (e.g. n out-patient visits), better access to quality PHC resulted in fewer ACSC hospitalisations. This finding remained when only studies that adjusted for health status were categorised. Financial incentives to improve the quality of diabetes care were associated with less ACSC hospitalisations, reported in one study.
Seven of 12 measures of the relationship between PHC resourcing and ACSC hospitalisations had a significant inverse association. As a collective body of evidence the studies provide inconclusive support that more PHC resourcing is associated with reduced hospitalisation for ACSC. Characteristics of improved or increased PHC access showed inverse significant associations with fewer ACSC hospitalisations after adjustment for health status. The varied measures of hospitalisation, PHC resourcing, and health status may contribute to inconsistent findings among studies and make it difficult to interpret findings.