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Open Access Research article

Inequities in access to healthcare: analysis of national survey data across six Asia-Pacific countries

Samantha B Meyer*, Tini CN Luong, Loreen Mamerow and Paul R Ward

Author Affiliations

Discipline of Public Health, Flinders University, Sturt Road, Bedford Park, South Australia 5042, Australia

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:238  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-238

Published: 1 July 2013

Abstract

Background

Evidence suggests that there is a link between inequitable access to healthcare and inequitable distribution of illness. A recent World Health Organization report stated that there is a need for research and policy to address the critical role of health services in reducing inequities and preventing future inequities. The aim of this manuscript is to highlight disparities and differences in terms of the factors that distinguish between poor and good access to healthcare across six Asia-Pacific countries: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Methods

A population survey was undertaken in each country. This paper is a secondary analysis of these existing data. Data were collected in each country between 2009 and 2010. Four variables related to difficulties in access to healthcare (distance, appointment, waiting time, and cost) were analysed using binomial logistic regression to identify socio- and demographic predictors of inequity.

Results

Consistent across the findings, poor health and low income were identified as difficulties in access. Country specific indicators were also identified. For Thailand, the poorest level of access appears to be for respondents who work within the household whereas in Taiwan, part-time work is associated with difficulties in access. Within Hong Kong, results suggest that older (above 60) and retired individuals have the poorest access and within Australia, females and married individuals are the worst off.

Conclusion

Recognition of these inequities, from a policy perspective, is essential for health sector policy decision-making. Despite the differences in political and economic climate in the countries under analysis, our findings highlight patterns of inequity which require policy responses. Our data should be used as a means of deciding the most appropriate policy response for each country which includes, rather than excludes, socially marginalised population groups. These findings should be of interest to those involved in health policy, but also in policy more generally because as we have identified, access to health care is influenced by determinants outside of the health system.

Keywords:
Equity; Access; Healthcare; Asia; Pacific; Social determinants; Policy