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Soc Sci Med. 2006 Sep;63(5):1316-27. Epub 2006 May 24.

Access to specialized health care for asthmatic children in Norway: the significance of parents' educational background and social network.

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Statistics Norway, Oslo.


What determines access to the Voksentoppen Children's Asthma and Allergy Centre, the most specialized health care facility for asthmatic children in Norway? This publicly funded national institution is mandated to serve all segments of the population equally. The paper reports from the experiences of families with children having a confirmed diagnosis of moderate to severe asthma. The study population was selected from a national register of state cash-benefit recipients. Within this register, all families with a child under the age of 9 and with the diagnosis of asthma at the end of 1997 were selected (N = 2564). Further information about the population was gathered in a postal survey. It was found that access to the facility, measured as at least one admission during the period of the disease, was primarily determined by variations in morbidity. In particular, measures of health condition that presupposed a professional's evaluation of the child's health condition were significant. In addition, access was influenced by several factors not directly related to the need for treatment. Notably, children from families in which parents had a graduate education were over-represented among those with access to the top level of the institution's medical hierarchy. Multivariate analysis was used to search for causal mechanisms. It was found that families with a doctor in their social network had greater likelihood of access, and this in part accounted for the observed association between education and access. The pattern of access was also influenced by geographical factors, but not in a way that reduced the significance of educational background. Membership of, and participation in, patient organizations also increased the families' chances of receiving top-level professional treatment. The results depart from professional norms and officially stated health policy in Norway, which assert that health condition is the only valid criterion for allocating scarce medical goods.

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