BACKGROUND: In data commonly used for health services research, a number of relevant variables are unobservable. These include population lifestyle and socio-economic status, physician practice behaviors, population tendency to use health care resources, and disease prevalence. These variables may be considered latent constructs of many observed variables. Using health care data from South Carolina, we show an application of spatial structural equation modeling to identify how these latent constructs are associated with access to primary health care, as measured by hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions. We applied the confirmatory factor analysis approach, using the Bayesian paradigm, to identify the spatial distribution of these latent factors. We then applied cluster detection tools to identify counties that have a higher probability of hospitalization for each of the twelve adult ambulatory care sensitive conditions, using a multivariate approach that incorporated the correlation structure among the ambulatory care sensitive conditions into the model.
RESULTS: For the South Carolina population ages 18 and over, we found that counties with high rates of emergency department visits also had less access to primary health care. We also observed that in those counties there are no community health centers.
CONCLUSION: Locating such clusters will be useful to health services researchers and health policy makers; doing so enables targeted policy interventions to efficiently improve access to primary care.
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