Effects of increased distance to urgent and emergency care facilities resulting from health services reconfiguration: a systematic review

Duncan Chambers, Anna Cantrell, Susan K Baxter, Janette Turner, Andrew Booth
Record ID 32018000612
Authors' objectives: Service reconfigurations sometimes increase travel time and/or distance for patients to reach their nearest hospital or other urgent and emergency care facility. Many communities value their local services and perceive that proposed changes could worsen outcomes for patients. To identify, appraise and synthesise existing research evidence regarding the outcomes and impacts of service reconfigurations that increase the time and/or distance for patients to reach an urgent and emergency care facility. We also aimed to examine the available evidence regarding associations between distance to a facility and outcomes for patients and health services, together with factors that may influence (moderate or mediate) these associations.
Authors' results and conclusions: We included 44 studies in the review, of which eight originated from the UK. For studies of general urgent and emergency care populations, there was no evidence that reconfiguration that resulted in increased travel time/distance affected mortality rates. By contrast, evidence of increased risk was identified from studies restricted to patients with acute myocardial infarction. Increases in mortality risk were most obvious within the first 1–4 years after reconfiguration. Evidence for other conditions was inconsistent or very limited. In the absence of reconfiguration, evidence mainly from cohort studies indicated that increased travel time or distance is associated with increased mortality risk for the acute myocardial infarction and trauma populations, whereas for obstetric emergencies the evidence was inconsistent. We included 12 systematic reviews of telehealth. Meta-analyses suggested that telehealth technologies can reduce time to treatment for people with stroke and ST elevation myocardial infarction. We found no evidence that increased distance increases mortality risk for the general population of people requiring urgent and emergency care, although this may not be true for people with acute myocardial infarction or trauma. Increases in mortality risk were most likely in the first few years after reconfiguration.
Authors' methods: Brief inclusion and exclusion criteria were as follows: (1) population – adults or children with conditions that required emergency treatment; (2) intervention/comparison – studies comparing outcomes before and after a service reconfiguration, which affects the time/distance to urgent and emergency care or comparing outcomes in groups of people travelling different distances to access urgent and emergency care; (3) outcomes – any patient or health system outcome; (4) setting – the UK and other developed countries with relevant health-care systems; and (5) study design – any. The search results were screened against the inclusion criteria by one reviewer, with a 10% sample screened by a second reviewer. A quality (risk-of-bias) assessment was undertaken using The Joanna Briggs Institute Checklist for Quasi-Experimental Studies. We performed a narrative synthesis of the included studies and assessed the overall strength of evidence using a previously published method. We searched seven bibliographic databases in February 2019. The search was supplemented by citation-tracking and reference list checking. A separate search was conducted to identify the current systematic reviews of telehealth to support urgent and emergency care. Most studies came from non-UK settings and many were at high risk of bias because there was no true control group. Most review processes were carried out by a single reviewer within a constrained time frame.
Authors' identified further reserach: Research is needed to better understand how health systems plan for and adapt to increases in travel time, to quantify impacts on health system outcomes, and to address the uncertainty about how risk increases with distance in circumstances relevant to UK settings.
Project Status: Completed
Year Published: 2020
URL for published report: https://doi.org/10.3310/hsdr08310
English language abstract: An English language summary is available
Publication Type: Full HTA
Country: England
DOI: 10.3310/hsdr08310
MeSH Terms
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Health Facility Merger
  • Health Facility Moving
  • Health Facility Closure
Organisation Name: NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research programme
Contact Address: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK
Contact Name: journals.library@nihr.ac.uk
Contact Email: journals.library@nihr.ac.uk
Copyright: Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO
This is a bibliographic record of a published health technology assessment from a member of INAHTA or other HTA producer. No evaluation of the quality of this assessment has been made for the HTA database.