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A recent study was commissioned by Philadelphia Department of Public Health to determine geographic access to primary care within the city. The study, which was funded by the Independence Foundation and conducted by a team of Penn health services researchers, found that population-to-provider average in Philadelphia was 863:1. In other words, there are 863 adults for every primary care provider. Compared to national benchmarks this ratio is actually considered to be healthy, however, a closer look at the data revealed a troubling pattern.

Using a census tract-by-census tract analysis of the physician’s locations, researchers discovered that some areas have a much higher concentration of primary care providers while others have considerably less. So, while the overall ratio for the city may be in line with a healthy national average, care providers are not evenly spread out creating a major discrepancy. Lead author of the study, Elizabeth Brown, MD, emphasizes the importance of this data and its ability to be used as a tool to deliver better primary care to certain populations during a time when health care is a top priority.

Researchers were able to identify six areas within the city that had the lowest primary care access to health care. Using data from the U.S Census Bureau for Philadelphia’s population-by-race they determined that four out of the six areas had a primarily African-American population while a fifth was principally comprised of African Americans and Hispanics. The last area had the lowest non-white percentage, however, the median age was higher than the others.

This data only shows access to primary care based on geographic location alone. It does not demonstrate a correlation between the ethnicity of a population and the availability of primary care. Dr. Brown acknowledges the limitations of this study and cautions against reading too much into their findings. “We looked,” she said, “at where populations and primary care physicians are located; the findings don't necessarily mean that people in these areas aren't able to access primary care.” Further research is needed to determine whether geographic access to primary care has any other implications.

One of the main problems facing these communities is that they lack the infrastructure to be able to monitor the availability of primary care. One way to fix this could be to implement the methodology used in this study. There have always been problems in the city of Philadelphia regarding access to primary care, but now areas that need the most help have been identified and can be monitored using the system created in this study. 

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