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Open Access Review

Catchments of general practice in different countries– a literature review

Donald P Allan

Author Affiliations

Discipline of Public Health, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences, Flinders University, Health Sciences Building, Registry Road, Bedford Park, SA 5042, Australia

International Journal of Health Geographics 2014, 13:32  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-13-32

Published: 29 August 2014

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to review the current research on catchment areas of private general practices in different developed countries because healthcare reform, including primary health care, has featured prominently as an important political issue in a number of developed countries. The debates around health reform have had a significant health geographic focus.

Conceptually, GP catchments describe the distribution, composition and profile of patients who access a general practitioner or a general practice (i.e. a site or facility comprising one or more general practitioners). Therefore, GP catchments provide important information into the geographic variation of access rates, utilisation of services and health outcomes by all of the population or different population groups in a defined area or aggregated area.

This review highlights a wide range of diversity in the literature as to how GP catchments can be described, the indicators and measures used to frame the scale of catchments. Patient access to general practice health care services should be considered from a range of locational concepts, and not necessarily constrained by their place of residence. An analysis of catchment patterns of general practitioners should be considered as dynamic and multi-perspective. Geographic information systems provide opportunities to contribute valuable methodologies to study these relationships. However, researchers acknowledge that a conceptual framework for the analysis of GP catchments requires access to real world data. Recent studies have shown promising developments in the use of real world data, especially from studies in the UK.

Understanding the catchment profiles of individual GP surgeries is important if governments are serious about patient choice being a key part of proposed primary health reforms. Future health planning should incorporate models of GP catchments as planning tools, at the micro level as well as the macro level, to assist policies on the allocation of resources so that opportunities for good health outcomes for all groups within society, especially those who have been systematically denied equitable access, are maximised.

Keywords:
General practice catchment areas; Accessibility measures; GIS; Spatial scale; Markets; Primary health care; Patient registration catchments