Measuring spatial access to emergency general surgery services: does the method matter?

Neng Wan, Marta McCrum, Jiuying Han, Steven Lizotte, Dejun Su, Ming Wen, Shue Zeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Emergency general surgery (EGS) is a critical component of emergency care in the United States. Due to the time sensitiveness of EGS conditions, ensuring adequate spatial access to EGS services is paramount for reducing patient morbidity and mortality. Past studies have used travel time to measure spatial access to EGS services, which has its limitations. The major purpose of this paper is to evaluate the utility of a gravity-based spatial access model in measuring spatial access to EGS services in California. Our data sources include the American Hospital Association 2015 Annual Survey, the American Community Survey 2013–2017 five-year average dataset, and background geospatial datasets. We implemented both the gravity-based model and the shortest travel time method and compared them in measuring spatial access to EGS-capable hospitals in California at the census block group level. We analyzed each metric’s ability to identify disparities in spatial access for the population as a whole, and subsequently to identify socio-demographic disparities. Overall, we found that both methods identified similar geographic and socio-demographic patterns of the spatial access. Native Americans and rural residents experienced the greatest disadvantage in spatial access to both general EGS services and advanced EGS services. However, the gravity-based model revealed more disparities in spatial access to EGS services than the travel time model, suggesting that using travel cost alone to measure spatial access to EGS services may underestimate the magnitude of disparities. These findings call for the use of gravity-based models that incorporate measures of population demand and hospital capacity when assessing spatial access to surgical services, and have implications for reallocating surgery resources to address disparities in spatial access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-95
Number of pages17
JournalHealth Services and Outcomes Research Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Emergency general surgery
  • GIS
  • Spatial access ratio
  • Two-step floating catchment area method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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