Context matters for primary health care access: a multi-method comparative study of contextual influences on health service access arrangements across models of primary health care
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Abstract Background Equitable access to primary health care (PHC) is an important component of integrated chronic disease management. Whilst context is known to influence access to PHC, it is poorly researched. The aim of this study was to determine the contextual influences associated with access arrangements in four Australian models of integrated PHC. Methods A multi-method comparative case study design. Purposive sampling identified four models of PHC across six sites in two Australian states. Complexity theory informed the choice of contextual factors that influenced access arrangements, which were analysed across five dimensions: availability and accommodation, affordability, acceptability, appropriateness and approachability. Semi-structured interviews, document/website analysis and non-participant observation were used to collect data from clinicians, administrative staff and other key stakeholders. Within and cross-case thematic analysis identified interactions between context and access across sites. Results Overall, financial viability, objectives of the PHC model and relationships with the local hospital network (LHN) underpinned access arrangements. Local supply of general practitioners and financial viability were strong influences on availability of after-hours services. Influences on affordability were difficult to determine because all models had nil/low out-of-pocket costs for general practitioner services. The biggest influence on acceptability was the goal/objectives of the PHC model. Appropriateness and to a lesser degree affordability arrangements were influenced by the relationship with the LHN. The provision of regular outreach services was strongly influenced by perceived population need, referral networks and model objectives. Conclusions These findings provide valuable insights for policy makers charged with improving access arrangements in PHC services. A financially sustainable service underpins attempts to improve access that meets the needs of the service population. Smaller services may lack infrastructure and capacity, suggesting there may be a minimum size for enhancing access. Access arrangements may be facilitated by aligning the objectives between PHC, LHN and other stakeholder models. While some access arrangements are relatively easy to modify, improving resource intensive (e.g. acceptability) access arrangements for vulnerable and/or chronic disease populations will require federal and state policy levers with input from primary health networks and LHNs.
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