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Health Serv Res. 1998 Aug;33(3 Pt 1):571-96.

Understanding the context of healthcare utilization: assessing environmental and provider-related variables in the behavioral model of utilization.

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Department of General Internal Medicine, University of California-San Francisco, USA.



The behavioral model of utilization, developed by Andersen, Aday, and others, is one of the most frequently used frameworks for analyzing the factors that are associated with patient utilization of healthcare services. However, the use of the model for examining the context within which utilization occurs-the role of the environment and provider-related factors-has been largely neglected.


To conduct a systematic review and analysis to determine if studies of medical care utilization that have used the behavioral model during the last 20 years have included environmental and provider-related variables and the methods used to analyze these variables. We discuss barriers to the use of these contextual variables and potential solutions.


The Social Science Citation Index and Science Citation Index. We included all articles from 1975-1995 that cited any of three key articles on the behavioral model, that included all articles that were empirical analyses and studies of formal medical care utilization, and articles that specifically stated their use of the behavioral model (n = 139).


Design was a systematic literature review.


We used a structured review process to code articles on whether they included contextual variables: (1) environmental variables (characteristics of the healthcare delivery system, external environment, and community-level enabling factors); and (2) provider-related variables (patient factors that may be influenced by providers and provider characteristics that interact with patient characteristics to influence utilization). We also examined the methods used in studies that included contextual variables.


Forty-five percent of the studies included environmental variables and 51 percent included provider-related variables. Few studies examined specific measures of the healthcare system or provider characteristics or used methods other than simple regression analysis with hierarchical entry of variables. Only 14 percent of studies analyzed the context of healthcare by including both environmental and provider-related variables as well as using relevant methods.


By assessing whether and how contextual variables are used, we are able to highlight the contributions made by studies using these approaches, to identify variables and methods that have been relatively underused, and to suggest solutions to barriers in using contextual variables.

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