Open Access Research article

Delivery of primary health care to persons who are socio-economically disadvantaged: does the organizational delivery model matter?

Simone Dahrouge1234*, William Hogg1234, Natalie Ward25, Meltem Tuna6, Rose Anne Devlin7, Elizabeth Kristjansson38, Peter Tugwell103469 and Kevin Pottie1249

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

2 C.T. Lamont Primary Health Care Research Centre, Bruyère Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada

3 Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

4 Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

5 Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

6 Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada

7 Department of Economics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

8 Department of Psychology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

9 Centre for Global Health Research, Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

10 Department of Medicine, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:517  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-517

Published: 17 December 2013



As health systems evolve, it is essential to evaluate their impact on the delivery of health services to socially disadvantaged populations. We evaluated the delivery of primary health services for different socio-economic groups and assessed the performance of different organizational models in terms of equality of health care delivery in Ontario, Canada.


Cross sectional study of 5,361 patients receiving care from primary care practices using Capitation, Salaried or Fee-For-Service remuneration models. We assessed self-reported health status of patients, visit duration, number of visits per year, quality of health service delivery, and quality of health promotion. We used multi-level regressions to study service delivery across socio-economic groups and within each delivery model. Identified disparities were further analysed using a t-test to determine the impact of service delivery model on equity.


Low income individuals were more likely to be women, unemployed, recent immigrants, and in poorer health. These individuals were overrepresented in the Salaried model, reported more visits/year across all models, and tended to report longer visits in the Salaried model. Measures of primary care services generally did not differ significantly between low and higher income/education individuals; when they did, the difference favoured better service delivery for at-risk groups. At-risk patients in the Salaried model were somewhat more likely to report health promotion activities than patients from Capitation and Fee-For-Service models. At-risk patients from Capitation models reported a smaller increase in the number of additional clinic visits/year than Fee-For-Service and Salaried models. At-risk patients reported better first contact accessibility than their non-at-risk counterparts in the Fee-For-Service model only.


Primary care service measures did not differ significantly across socio-economic status or primary care delivery models. In Ontario, capitation-based remuneration is age and sex adjusted only. Patients of low socio-economic status had fewer additional visits compared to those with high socio-economic status under the Capitation model. This raises the concern that Capitation may not support the provision of additional care for more vulnerable groups. Regions undertaking primary care model reforms need to consider the potential impact of the changes on the more vulnerable populations.

Primary care; Health equity; Organizational models; Physician remuneration