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Health system assessment for access to care after injury in low- or middle-income countries: A mixed methods study from Northern Malawi.

PLoS Medicine 2024 January 23
BACKGROUND: Injuries represent a vast and relatively neglected burden of disease affecting low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). While many health systems underperform in treating injured patients, most assessments have not considered the whole system. We integrated findings from 9 methods using a 3 delays approach (delays in seeking, reaching, or receiving care) to prioritise important trauma care health system barriers in Karonga, Northern Malawi, and exemplify a holistic health system assessment approach applicable in comparable settings.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: To provide multiple perspectives on each conceptual delay and include data from community-based and facility-based sources, we used 9 methods to examine the injury care health system. The methods were (1) household survey; (2) verbal autopsy analysis; (3) community focus group discussions (FGDs); (4) community photovoice; (5) facility care-pathway process mapping and elucidation of barriers following injury; (6) facility healthcare worker survey; (7) facility assessment survey; (8) clinical vignettes for care process quality assessment of facility-based healthcare workers; and (9) geographic information system (GIS) analysis. Empirical data collection took place in Karonga, Northern Malawi, between July 2019 and February 2020. We used a convergent parallel study design concurrently conducting all data collection before subsequently integrating results for interpretation. For each delay, a matrix was created to juxtapose method-specific data relevant to each barrier identified as driving delays to injury care. Using a consensus approach, we graded the evidence from each method as to whether an identified barrier was important within the health system. We identified 26 barriers to access timely quality injury care evidenced by at least 3 of the 9 study methods. There were 10 barriers at delay 1, 6 at delay 2, and 10 at delay 3. We found that the barriers "cost," "transport," and "physical resources" had the most methods providing strong evidence they were important health system barriers within delays 1 (seeking care), 2 (reaching care), and 3 (receiving care), respectively. Facility process mapping provided evidence for the greatest number of barriers-25 of 26 within the integrated analysis. There were some barriers with notable divergent findings between the community- and facility-based methods, as well as among different community- and facility-based methods, which are discussed. The main limitation of our study is that the framework for grading evidence strength for important health system barriers across the 9 studies was done by author-derived consensus; other researchers might have created a different framework.

CONCLUSIONS: By integrating 9 different methods, including qualitative, quantitative, community-, patient-, and healthcare worker-derived data sources, we gained a rich insight into the functioning of this health system's ability to provide injury care. This approach allowed more holistic appraisal of this health system's issues by establishing convergence of evidence across the diverse methods used that the barriers of cost, transport, and physical resources were the most important health system barriers driving delays to seeking, reaching, and receiving injury care, respectively. This offers direction and confidence, over and above that derived from single methodology studies, for prioritising barriers to address through health service development and policy.

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