Scientific Articles

Improving access to primary healthcare for vulnerable populations in Australia and Canada: protocol for a mixedmethod evaluation of six complex interventions

BMJ Open

July 27, 2019

Introduction Access to primary healthcare (PHC) has a fundamental influence on health outcomes, particularly for members of vulnerable populations. Innovative Models Promoting Access-to-Care Transformation (IMPACT) is a 5-year research programme built on community-academic partnerships. IMPACT aims to design, implement and evaluate organisational innovations to improve access to appropriate PHC for vulnerable populations. Six Local Innovation Partnerships (LIPs) in three Australian states (New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia) and three Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec and Alberta) used a common approach to implement six different interventions. This paper describes the protocol to evaluate the processes, outcomes and scalability of these organisational innovations.

Methods and analysis The evaluation will use a convergent mixed-methods design involving longitudinal (pre and post) analysis of the six interventions. Study participants include vulnerable populations, PHC practices, their clinicians and administrative staff, service providers in other health or social service organisations, intervention staff and members of the LIP teams. Data were collected prior to and 3–6 months after the interventions and included interviews with members of the LIPs, organisational process data, document analysis and tools collecting the cost of components of the intervention. Assessment of impacts on individuals and organisations will rely on surveys and semistructured interviews (and, in some settings, direct observation) of participating patients, providers and PHC practices.

Ethics and dissemination The IMPACT research programme received initial ethics approval from St Mary’s Hospital (Montreal) SMHC #13–30. The interventions received a range of other ethics approvals across the six jurisdictions. Dissemination of the findings should generate a deeper understanding of the ways in which system-level organisational innovations can improve access to PHC for vulnerable populations and new knowledge concerning improvements in PHC delivery in health service utilisation.

Health services brokerage to improve primary care access for populations experiencing vulnerability or disadvantage: a systematic review and realist synthesis

BMC Health Services Research

April 29, 2019

Background Individuals experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation often face difficulty accessing primary health care. Overcoming access barriers is important for improving the health of these populations. Brokers can empower and enable people to access resources; however, their role in increasing access to health services has not been well-defined or researched in the literature. This review aims to identify whether a health service broker working with health and social service providers in the community can (a) identify individuals experiencing vulnerability who may benefit from improved access to quality primary care, and (b) link these individuals with an appropriate primary care provider for enduring, appropriate primary care.

Methods Six databases were searched for studies published between January 2008 and August 2015 that evaluated a health service broker intervention linking adults experiencing vulnerability to primary care. Relevant websites were also searched. Included studies were analysed using candidacy theory and a realist matrix was developed to identify mechanisms that may have contributed to changes in response to the interventions in different contexts.

Results Eleven studies were included in the review. Of the eight studies judged to provide detailed description of the programs, the interventions predominately addressed two domains of candidacy (identification of candidacy and navigation), with limited applicability to the third and fourth dimensions (permeability of services and appearances at health services). Six of the eight studies were judged to have successfully linked their target group to primary care. The majority of the interventions focused on assisting patients to reach services and did not look at ways that providers or health services could alter the way they deliver care to improve access.

Conclusions While specific mechanisms behind the interventions could not be identified, it is suggested that individual advocacy may be a key element in the success of these types of interventions. The interventions were found to address some dimensions of candidacy, with health service brokers able to help people to identify their need for care and to access, navigate and interact with services. More consideration should be given to the influence of providers on patient candidacy, rather than placing the onus on patients.

Factors influencing self-management in patients with type 2 diabetes in general practice: a qualitative study

The Australian Journal of Primary Health

March 20, 2019

Many Australian adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) do not follow recommended self-management behaviours that could prevent or delay complications. This exploratory study aimed to investigate the factors influencing self-management of T2DM in general practice. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with patients with T2DM (n = 10) and their GPs (n = 4) and practice nurses (n = 3) in a low socioeconomic area of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The interviews were analysed thematically using the socio-ecological model as a framework for coding. Additional themes were derived inductively based on the explicitly stated meaning of the text. Factors influencing self-management occurred on four levels of the socio-ecological model: individual (e-health literacy, motivation, time constraints); interpersonal (family and friends, T2DM education, patient-provider relationship); organisational (affordability, multidisciplinary care); and community levels (culture, self-management resources). Multi-level strategies are needed to address this wide range of factors that are beyond the scope of single services or organisations. These could include tailoring health education and resources to e-health literacy and culture; attention to social networks and the patient–provider relationship; and facilitating access to affordable on-site allied health services.

Factors associated with successful chronic disease treatment plans for older Australians: Implications for rural and Indigenous Australians

The Australian Journal of Rural Health

January 29, 2019

Objective: To identify factors associated with having a successful treatment plan for managing chronic conditions.

Design: Secondary analysis of the Commonwealth Fund's 2014 International Health Policy Survey.

Setting: Australia 2014.

Participants: A total of 3310 Australian adults over 55 years old.

Main outcome measures: Whether respondents: (i) had a treatment plan for their chronic condition; and (ii) believed that the plan was helpful in managing their condition.

Methods: We used multiple logistic regressions to assess the association between individual factors (age, income, remoteness, Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status) and patient reports of the outcomes of interest.

Results: Most respondents reported having a treatment plan for their chronic condition(s); the majority reported that it was helpful in managing their health. Treatment plan provision was associated with age over 75 years, above‐average income, Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander status and multiple chronic conditions. Plans were less likely for residents of outer regional and remote areas. Indigenous respondents were far less likely than non‐Indigenous respondents to report that their treatment plan helped a lot. Respondents with providers who ‘always’ explained things were far more likely to say that a treatment plan helped.

Conclusion: While the patient–provider relationship influenced the perceived success of treatment plans, inequities in treatment plan provision seemed linked with rurality and income. The higher frequency of treatment plans for Indigenous respondents might reflect access to Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health checks, while the plan's perceived lack of efficacy suggests a gap in cultural acceptability.

Access to Resources in the Community Through Navigation: Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Feasibility Study.Rédigez un titre

JMIR Research Protocols

January 24, 2019

BACKGROUND: Community-based health and social resources can help individuals with complex health and social needs achieve their health goals. However, there is often inadequate access to these resources due to a lack of physician and patient awareness of available resources and the presence of social barriers that limit an individual's ability to reach these services. Navigation services, where a person is tasked with helping connect patients to community resources, embedded within primary care may facilitate access and strengthen the continuity of care for patients.

OBJECTIVE:  This study aims to describe the protocol to assess whether the implementation of the Access to Resources in the Community (ARC) navigation model (an innovative approach to navigation services) is feasible, including its potential to achieve its intended outcomes, and to assess the viability of the evaluation approach.

METHODS: The study consists of a single-arm, prospective, explanatory, mixed-methods, pre-post design feasibility study focusing on primary care practice settings with vulnerable populations. Participants include primary care providers and patients.

RESULTS: Enrollment is closed with 82 patients. Navigation services have ended for 69 patients.

CONCLUSIONS: The study of an innovative complex intervention requires an adequate assessment of the feasibility of the intended approach during which the potential challenges of the planned intervention and need for its adaptation may be uncovered. Undertaking a feasibility study of the ARC navigation model from a conceptually clear and methodologically solid protocol will inform on the practicality and acceptability of the approach, demand for the services, ease of implementation, quality of integration of the new services within primary care, and practicality and potential for efficacy prior to initiating a randomized controlled trial.

Engaging patients to improve equitable access to community resources


November 07, 2018


  • Individuals with lived experienced were engaged in a partnership with other stakeholders throughout the research cycle of an innovation to improve access to health-enabling community resources.

  • We applied specific strategies to promote the active contribution of individuals with lived experience, and these members have influenced decisions regarding the study design, implementation and evaluation.

  • The open and respectful dialogue that took place across all members allowed for a much richer conversation and better-informed decisions.

Electronic, mobile and telehealth tools for vulnerable populations with chronic disease: a systematic review and realist synthesis

BMJ Open

August 29, 2018


Objectives The objective of this review was to assess the benefit of using electronic, mobile and telehealth tools for vulnerable patients with chronic disease and explore the mechanisms by which these impact patient self-efficacy and self-management.


Design We searched MEDLINE, all evidence-based medicine, CINAHL, Embase and PsychINFO covering the period 2009 to 2018 for electronic, mobile or telehealth interventions. Quality was assessed according to rigour and relevance. Those studies providing a richer description (‘thick’) were synthesised using a realist matrix.


Setting and participants Studies of any design conducted in community-based primary care involving adults with one or more diagnosed chronic health condition and vulnerability due to demographic, geographic, economic and/or cultural characteristics.


Results Eighteen trials were identified targeting a range of chronic conditions and vulnerabilities. The data provided limited insight into the mechanisms underpinning these interventions, most of which sought to persuade vulnerable patients into believing they could self-manage their conditions through improved symptom monitoring, education and support and goal setting. Patients were relatively passive in the interaction, and the level of patient response attributed to their intrinsic level of motivation. Health literacy, which may be confounded with motivation, was only measured in one study, and eHealth literacy was not assessed.


Conclusions Research incorporating these tools with vulnerable groups is not comprehensive. Apart from intrinsic motivation, health literacy may also influence the reaction of vulnerable groups to technology. Social persuasion was the main way interventions sought to achieve better self-management. Efforts to engage patients by healthcare providers were lower than expected. Use of social networks or other eHealth mechanisms to link patients and provide opportunities for vicarious experience could be further explored in relation to vulnerable groups. Future research could also assess health and eHealth literacy and differentiate the specific needs for vulnerable groups when implementing health technologies.

Factors associated with multiple barriers to access to primary care: an international analysis

International Journal for Equity in Health

February 20, 2018



Background: Disparities in access to primary care (PC) have been demonstrated within and between health systems. However, few studies have assessed the factors associated with multiple barriers to access occurring along the care-seeking process in different healthcare systems.

Methods: In this secondary analysis of the 2016 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Adults, access was represented through participant responses to questions relating to access barriers either before or after reaching the PC practice in 11 countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and United States). The number of respondents in each country ranged from 1000 to 7000 and the response rates ranged from 11% to 47%. We used multivariable logistic regression models within each of eleven countries to identify disparities in response to the access barriers by age, sex, immigrant status, income and the presence of chronic conditions.

Results: Overall, one in five adults (21%) experienced multiple barriers before reaching PC practices. After reaching care, an average of 16% of adults had two or more barriers. There was a sixfold difference between nations in the experience of these barriers to access. Vulnerable groups experiencing multiple barriers were relatively consistent across countries. People with lower income were more likely to experience multiple barriers, particularly before reaching primary care practices. Respondents with mental health problems and those born outside the country displayed substantial vulnerability in terms of barriers after reaching care.

Conclusion: A greater understanding of the multiple barriers to access to PC across the stages of the care-seeking process may help to inform planning and performance monitoring of disparities in access. Variation across countries may reveal organisational and system drivers of access, and inform efforts to improve access to PC for vulnerable groups. The cumulative nature of these barriers remains to be assessed.

Barriers to accessing primary health care: comparing Australian experiences internationally

Australian Journal of Primary Health

December 13, 2016

Abstract. Most highly developed economies have embarked on a process of primary health care (PHC) transformation. To provide evidence on how nations vary in terms of accessing PHC, the aim of this study is to describe the extent to which barriers to access were experienced by adults in Australia compared with other countries. Communities participating in an international research project on PHC access interventions were engaged to prioritise questions from the 2013 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey within a framework that conceptualises access across dimensions

of approachability, acceptability, availability, affordability and appropriateness. Logistic regression models, with barriers to access as outcomes, found measures of availability to be a problematic dimension in Australia; 27% of adults experienced difficulties with out-of-hours access, which was higher than 5 of 10 comparator countries. Although less prevalent, affordability was also perceived as a substantial barrier; 16% of Australians said they had forgone health care due to cost in the previous year. After adjusting for age and health status, this barrier was more common in Australia than 7 of 10 countries. Findings of this integrated assessment of barriers to access offer insights for policymakers and researchers on Australia’s international performance in this crucial PHC domain.

Organizational interventions improving access to community-based primary health care for vulnerable populations: a scoping review

International Journal for Equity in Health

October 14, 2016


Access to community-based primary health care (hereafter, ‘primary care’) is a priority in many countries. Health care systems have emphasized policies that help the community ‘get the right service in the right place at the right time’. However, little is known about organizational interventions in primary care that are aimed to improve access for populations in situations of vulnerability (e.g., socioeconomically disadvantaged) and how successful they are. The purpose of this scoping review was to map the existing evidence on organizational interventions that improve access to primary care services for vulnerable populations. Scoping review followed an iterative process. Eligibility criteria: organizational interventions in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries; aiming to improve access to primary care for vulnerable populations; all study designs; published from 2000 in English or French; reporting at least one outcome (avoidable hospitalization, emergency department admission, or unmet health care needs). Sources: Main bibliographic databases (Medline, Embase, CINAHL) and team members’ personal files. Study selection: One researcher selected relevant abstracts and full text papers. Theory-driven synthesis: The researcher classified included studies using (i) the ‘Patient Centered Access to Healthcare’ conceptual framework (dimensions and outcomes of access to primary care), and (ii) the classification of interventions of the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organization of Care. Using pattern analysis, interventions were mapped in accordance with the presence/absence of ‘dimension-outcome’ patterns. Out of 8,694 records (title/abstract), 39 studies with varying designs were included. The analysis revealed the following pattern. Results of 10 studies on interventions classified as ‘Formal integration of services’ suggested that these interventions were associated with three dimensions of access (approachability, availability and affordability) and reduction of hospitalizations (four/four studies), emergency department admissions (six/six studies), and unmet healthcare needs (five/six studies). These 10 studies included seven non-randomized studies, one randomized controlled trial, one quantitative descriptive study, and one mixed methods study. Our results suggest the limited breadth of research in this area, and that it will be feasible to conduct a full systematic review of studies on the effectiveness of the formal integration of services to improve access to primary care services for vulnerable populations.


Delivery of Health Care Accessibility to Health Services Vulnerable populations Underserved populations Organizational Interventions Improve Access Canada Australia

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Equity of access to primary healthcare for vulnerable populations: the IMPACT international online survey of innovations

International Journal for Equity in Health

April 12, 2016



Background: Improving access to primary healthcare (PHC) for vulnerable populations is important for achieving health equity, yet this remains challenging. Evidence of effective interventions is rather limited and fragmented. We need to identify innovative ways to improve access to PHC for vulnerable populations, and to clarify which elements of health systems, organisations or services (supply-side dimensions of access) and abilities of patients or populations (demand-side dimensions of access) need to be strengthened to achieve transformative change. The work reported here was conducted as part of IMPACT (Innovative Models Promoting Access-to-Care Transformation), a 5-year Canadian-Australian research program aiming to identify, implement and trial best practice interventions to improve access to PHC for vulnerable populations. We undertook an environmental scan as a broad screening approach to identify the breadth of current innovations from the field.


Methods: We distributed a brief online survey to an international audience of PHC researchers, practitioners, policy makers and stakeholders using a combined email and social media approach. Respondents were invited to describe a program, service, approach or model of care that they considered innovative in helping vulnerable populations to get access to PHC. We used descriptive statistics to characterise the innovations and conducted a qualitative framework analysis to further examine the text describing each innovation.


Results: Seven hundred forty-four responses were recorded over a 6-week period. 240 unique examples of innovations originating from 14 countries were described, the majority from Canada and Australia. Most interventions targeted a diversity of population groups, were government funded and delivered in a community health, General Practice or outreach clinic setting. Interventions were mainly focused on the health sector and directed at organisational and/or system level determinants of access (supply-side). Few innovations were developed to enhance patients’ or populations’ abilities to access services (demand-side), and rarely did initiatives target both supply- and demand-side determinants of access.


Conclusions: A wide range of innovations improving access to PHC were identified. The access framework was useful in uncovering the disparity between supply- and demand-side dimensions and pinpointing areas which could benefit from further attention to close the equity gap for vulnerable populations in accessing PHC services that correspond to their needs.

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