Air Pollution and General Practitioner Access and Utilization: A Population Based Study in Sarnia, 'Chemical Valley,' Ontario
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Background: Health impacts of poor environmental quality have been identified in studies around the world and in Canada. While many of the studies have identified associations between air pollution and mortality or morbidity, few have focused on the role of health care as a potential moderator of impacts. This study assessed the determinants of health care access and utilization in the context of ambient air pollution in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
Methods: Residents of Sarnia participated in a Community Health Study administered by phone, while several ambient air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and the volatile organic compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, mp- and o-xylene (BTEX) were monitored across the city. Land Use Regression models were used to estimate individual exposures to the measured pollutants and logistic regression models were utilized to assess the relative influence of environmental, socioeconomic and health related covariates on general practitioner access and utilization outcomes.
Results: The results show that general practitioner use increased with levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2- Odds Ratio [OR]: 1.16, p < 0.05) and sulphur dioxide (SO2- OR: 1.61, p < 0.05). Low household income was a stronger predictor of having no family doctor in areas exposed to high concentrations of NO2 and SO2. Respondents without regular care living in high pollution areas were also more likely to report travelling or waiting for care in excess of 20 minutes (OR: 3.28, p < 0.05) than their low exposure counterparts (OR: 1.11, p > 0.05).
Conclusions: This study provides evidence for inequitable health care access and utilization in Sarnia, with particular relevance to its situation as a sentinel high exposure environment. Levels of exposure to pollution appears to influence utilization of health care services, but poor access to primary health care services additionally burden certain groups in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.