I am a data nerd. I enjoyed math and science as a young person, majored in science in college, and was indoctrinated into the public health world’s love of data, methodology, and statistical significance in graduate school. However, I don’t just love data because it is intellectually interesting—I love data because it grounds and guides our leadership.
At CCMU we show up at work every day with the single mission to make the health care system work better, especially for those who face unique challenges maximizing their health and accessing needed health care services. How can we do our work well if we are not crystal clear about who is struggling, what is broken, and why?
One of the key areas of data that CCMU is very interested in right now is access to health care. There is no single metric that describes access to care because it’s a complex issue. To understand what is going on with access to care in Colorado we have to look at a variety of different data points. One of these is the availability of health care providers.
Conveniently, a new study was just released by the Colorado Health Institute about Colorado’s Primary Care Workforce. A few of the central questions the study aimed to answer are, how many primary care physicians treat patients in Colorado? Do we have enough working physicians, and are they in the right places, to provide primary care for all Coloradans?
One of the key findings of the report was that Denver County has the best ratio of physicians to population, with an estimated one physician for every 1,348 residents. This is a very favorable ratio when compared to the benchmark ratio of 1:1,900 residents, which was used as an indication of an adequacy of primary care doctors to serve the community.
I was surprised by this finding, because it seems to contradict another key access to care data point—the number of residents in a community who say they have a usual sources of care, or a place where they go when they are sick or need health advice. The 2013 Colorado Health Access Survey shows that 75% of Denver residents reported that they had a usual source of care—the worst rate among all Colorado counties. One in four residents in Denver reports they do not have a place where they go when they are sick, yet Denver has the most practicing primary care providers compared to any other place in the state? How can both of these be true?
The complexity of access to care in Denver highlighted by these contrasting data points is not new information. The Be Healthy Denver: Denver’s Community Health Improvement Plan released earlier this year identified access to care as one of two priority health areas for the community. The next phase of the work for Be Healthy Denver is to engage community leaders and residents to fully understand the access challenges and begin to craft community-based solutions. CCMU is grateful to be a part of this local conversation and we look forward to working with the community to lead the change that is needed—grounded and guided by data!