Geographic clusters in prevalence and hospitalizations for COPD have been identified at national, state, and county levels. The study objective is to identify county-level geographic accessibility to pulmonologists for adults with COPD.
Service locations of 12,392 practicing pulmonologists and 248,160 primary care physicians were identified from the 2013 National Provider Identifier Registry and weighted by census block-level populations within a series of circular distance buffer zones. Model-based county-level population counts of US adults ≥ 18 years of age with COPD were estimated from the 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The percentages of all estimated adults with potential access to at least one provider type and the county-level ratio of adults with COPD per pulmonologist were estimated for selected distances.
Most US adults (100% in urbanized areas, 99.5% in urban clusters, and 91.7% in rural areas) had geographic access to a primary care physician within a 10-mile buffer distance; almost all (≥ 99.9%) had access to a primary care physician within 50 miles. At least one pulmonologist within 10 miles was available for 97.5% of US adults living in urbanized areas, but only for 38.3% in urban clusters and 34.5% in rural areas. When distance increased to 50 miles, at least one pulmonologist was available for 100% in urbanized areas, 93.2% in urban clusters, and 95.2% in rural areas. County-level ratios of adults with COPD per pulmonologist varied greatly across the United States, with residents in many counties in the Midwest having no pulmonologist within 50 miles.
County-level geographic variations in pulmonologist access for adults with COPD suggest that those adults with limited access will have to depend on care from primary care physicians.