Using GIS and perceived distance to understand the unequal geographies of healthcare in lower-income urban neighbourhoods



Geographers play important roles in public health research, particularly in understanding healthcare accessibility, utilisation, and individual healthcare experiences. Most accessibility studies have benefited from the increased sophistication of geographic information systems (GIS). Some studies have been enhanced with semi-structured in-depth interviews to understand individual experiences of people as they access healthcare. However, few accessibility studies have explicitly utilised individual in-depth interview data in the construction of new GIS accessibility measures. Using mixed methods including GIS analysis and individual data from semi-structured in-depth interviews, we offer satisfaction-adjusted distance as a new way of conceptualising accessibility in GIS. Based on fieldwork in a predominantly lower-income community in Columbus, Ohio (USA), we find many residents felt neighbourhood healthcare facilities offered low-quality care, which suggested an added perceived distance as they attempt to access high-quality healthcare facilities. The satisfaction-adjusted distance measure accounts for the perceived distance some residents feel as they search for high-quality healthcare in lower-income urban neighbourhoods. In moving beyond conventional GIS and re-conceptualising accessibility in this way, we offer a more realistic portrayal of the issues lower-income urban residents face as they attempt to access high-quality healthcare facilities. The work has theoretical implications for conceptualising healthcare accessibility, advances the mixed-methodologies literature, and argues for a more equitable distribution of high-quality healthcare in urban neighbourhoods.