Outpatient care utilization in urban Kerala, India

Type Journal Article - Health Policy and Planning
Title Outpatient care utilization in urban Kerala, India
Volume 21
Issue 4
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Page numbers 289-301
URL http://heapol.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/4/289.long
Context: Kerala is characterized by a high density of public and private health infrastructure. While less inequality in access has been reported in this Indian state, few studies have looked at problems found within cities. Escalation of costs of private services and reduced public investments could generate some inequalities in access for the poor.

Objective: To assess factors associated with utilization and source of outpatient care in urban Kerala, and to discuss policy implications with regards to access to care.

Methods: A multilevel analysis of individual and urban characteristics associated with utilization and source of outpatient care was conducted using data from a 1995–96 survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation on health care in urban Kerala.

Results: There is a high level of utilization (83.6%) of allopathic medical services. Controlling for illness severity and age, utilization thereof was lower for the very poor (OR 0.13 [0.03; 0.49]), inhabitants of medium towns (OR 0.20 [0.05; 0.70]), and inhabitants of cities with a lower proportion of permanent material (pucca) houses (0.21 [0.06; 0.72]). Among all users, 77% resorted to a private source of care. Utilization of a private provider was less likely for the very poor (OR 0.13 [0.03; 0.51]) and individuals from casual worker households (OR 0.54 [0.30; 0.97]), while it was more likely for inhabitants of cities from both low public bed density districts (OR 4.08 [1.05; 15.95]) and high private bed density districts (OR 5.83 [2.34; 14.53]). Problems of quality and accessibility of the public sector were invoked to justify utilization of private clinics. A marked heterogeneity in utilization of outpatient care was found between cities of various sizes and characteristics.

Conclusion: This study confirms high utilization of private outpatient care in Kerala and suggests problems of access for the poorest. Even in a context of high public availability and considering the health transition factor, relying on the development of the private sector to respond to increasing health care needs could create inequalities in access. Investing in the public urban primary care system and ensuring access to quality health care for the poorest is warranted.

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