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Open Access Research article

Distance and utilisation of out-of-hours services in a Norwegian urban/rural district: an ecological study

Guttorm Raknes1*, Elisabeth Holm Hansen12 and Steinar Hunskaar13

Author Affiliations

1 National Centre for Emergency Primary Health Care, Uni Health, Uni Research, Kalfarveien 31, 5018 Bergen, Norway

2 Haraldsplass Deaconess University College, Ulriksdal 10, 5009 Bergen, Norway

3 Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Box 7800, 5020 Bergen, Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:222  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-222

Published: 17 June 2013



Long travel distances limit the utilisation of health services. We wanted to examine the relationship between the utilisation of a Norwegian out-of-hours service and the distance from the municipality population centroid to the associated casualty clinic.


All first contacts from ten municipalities in Arendal out-of-hours district were registered from 2007 through 2011. The main outcomes were contact and consultation rates for each municipality for each year. The associations between main outcomes and distance from the population centroid of the participating municipalities to the casualty clinic and were examined by linear regression. Demographic and socioeconomic factors were included in multivariate linear regression. Secondary endpoints include association between distance and rates of different first actions taken and priority grades assessed by triage nurses. Age and gender specific subgroup analyses were performed.


141 342 contacts were included in the analyses. Increasing distance was associated with marked lower rates of all contact types except telephone consultations by doctor. Moving 43 kilometres away from the casualty clinic led to a 50 per cent drop in the rate of face-to-face consultations with a doctor. Availability of primary care doctors and education level contributed to a limited extent to the variance in consultation rate. The rates of all priority grades decreased significantly with increasing distance. The rate of acute events was reduced by 22 per cent when moving 50 kilometres away. The proportion of patients above 66 years increased with increasing distance, while the proportion of 13- to 19 year olds decreased. The proportion of female patients decreased with increasing distance.


The results confirm that increasing distance is associated with lower utilisation of out-of-hours services, even for the most acute cases. Extremely long distances might compromise patient safety. This must be taken into consideration when organising future out-of-hours districts.