Background: Emergency general surgery (EGS) diseases carry a substantial public health burden, accounting for over 3 million admissions annually. Due to their time-sensitive nature, ensuring adequate access to EGS services is critical for reducing patient morbidity and mortality. Travel-time alone, without consideration of resource supply and demand, may be insufficient to determine a regional health care system's ability to provide timely access to EGS care. Spatial Access Ratio (SPAR) incorporates travel-time, as well as hospital-specific resources and capacity, to determine healthcare accessibility which may be more appropriate for surgical specialties. We therefore compared SPAR to travel-time in their ability to differentiate spatial access to EGS care for vulnerable populations. Methods: We constructed a Geographic Information Science (GIS) platform using existing road networks, and mapped population location, race and socioeconomic characteristics, as well as all EGS-capable hospitals in California. We then compared the shortest travel time method to the gravity-based SPAR in their ability to identify disparities in spatial access for the population as a whole, and subsequently to describe socio-demographic disparities. Reduced spatial access was defined at >60 minutes travel time, or lowest three classes of SPAR. Results: 283 EGS-capable hospitals were mapped, 142 (50%) of which had advanced resources. Using shortest travel time, 36.98M people (94.8%) were within 20-minutes driving time to any EGS capable hospital, and 33.49M (85.9%) to an advanced-resourced center. Only 166, 950 (0.4%) experienced prolonged (>60 minutes) travel time to any EGS-capable hospital, which increased to 1.05M (2.7%) for advanced-resources. Using SPAR, 11.5M (29.5%) of people had reduced spatial access to any EGS hospital, which increased to 13.9M (35.7%) when evaluating advanced-resource hospitals. The greatest disparities in spatial access to care were found for rural residents and Native Americans for both overall and advanced EGS services. Conclusions: While travel time and SPAR showed similar overall patterns of spatial access to EGS-capable hospitals, SPAR showed greater differentiation of spatial access across the state. Nearly one-third of California residents have limited or poor access to EGS hospitals, with the greatest disparities noted for Native American and rural residents. These findings argue for the use of gravity-based models such as SPAR that incorporate measures of population demand and hospital capacity when assessing spatial access to surgical services, and have implications for the allocation of healthcare resources to address disparities.
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