Assessing equity of healthcare utilization in rural China: results from nationally representative surveys from 1993 to 2008

Zhongliang Zhou, Yanfang Su, Jianmin Gao, Benjamin Campbell, Zhengwei Zhu, Ling Xu, Yaoguang Zhang
International Journal for Equity in Health 2013, 12: 34

BACKGROUND: The phenomenon of inequitable healthcare utilization in rural China interests policymakers and researchers; however, the inequity has not been actually measured to present the magnitude and trend using nationally representative data.

METHODS: Based on the National Health Service Survey (NHSS) in 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2008, the Probit model with the probability of outpatient visit and the probability of inpatient visit as the dependent variables is applied to estimate need-predicted healthcare utilization. Furthermore, need-standardized healthcare utilization is assessed through indirect standardization method. Concentration index is measured to reflect income-related inequity of healthcare utilization.

RESULTS: The concentration index of need-standardized outpatient utilization is 0.0486[95% confidence interval (0.0399, 0.0574)], 0.0310[95% confidence interval (0.0229, 0.0390)], 0.0167[95% confidence interval (0.0069, 0.0264)] and -0.0108[95% confidence interval (-0.0213, -0.0004)] in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008, respectively. For inpatient service, the concentration index is 0.0529[95% confidence interval (0.0349, 0.0709)], 0.1543[95% confidence interval (0.1356, 0.1730)], 0.2325[95% confidence interval (0.2132, 0.2518)] and 0.1313[95% confidence interval (0.1174, 0.1451)] in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2008, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Utilization of both outpatient and inpatient services was pro-rich in rural China with the exception of outpatient service in 2008. With the same needs for healthcare, rich rural residents utilized more healthcare service than poor rural residents. Compared to utilization of outpatient service, utilization of inpatient service was more inequitable. Inequity of utilization of outpatient service reduced gradually from 1993 to 2008; meanwhile, inequity of inpatient service utilization increased dramatically from 1993 to 2003 and decreased significantly from 2003 to 2008. Recent attempts in China to increase coverage of insurance and primary healthcare could be a contributing factor to counteract the inequity of outpatient utilization, but better benefit packages and delivery strategies still need to be tested and scaled up to reduce future inequity in inpatient utilization in rural China.

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