Objective: Access to primary healthcare (PHC) services is key to improving health outcomes in rural areas. Unfortunately, little is known about which aspect of access is most important. The objective of this study was to determine the relative importance of different dimensions of access in the decisions of rural Australians to utilise PHC provided by general practitioners (GP).
Methods: Data were collected from residents of five communities located in 'closely' settled and 'sparsely' settled rural regions. A paired-comparison methodology was used to quantify the relative importance of availability, distance, affordability (cost) and acceptability (preference) in relation to respondents' decisions to utilise a GP service for non-emergency care.
Results: Consumers reported that preference for a GP and GP availability are far more important than distance to and cost of the service when deciding to visit a GP for non-emergency care. Important differences in rankings emerged by geographic context, gender and age.
Conclusions: Understanding how different dimensions of access influence the utilisation of PHC services is critical in planning the provision of PHC services. This study reports how consumers 'trade-off' the different dimensions of access when accessing GP care in rural Australia. The results show that ensuring 'good' access requires that policymakers and planners should consider other dimensions of access to services besides geography.