Access is central to the performance of health care systems around the world. However, access to health care remains a complex notion as exemplified in the variety of interpretations of the concept across authors. The aim of this paper is to suggest a conceptualisation of access to health care describing broad dimensions and determinants that integrate demand and supply-side-factors and enabling the operationalisation of access to health care all along the process of obtaining care and benefiting from the services.
A synthesis of the published literature on the conceptualisation of access has been performed. The most cited frameworks served as a basis to develop a revised conceptual framework.
Here, we view access as the opportunity to identify healthcare needs, to seek healthcare services, to reach, to obtain or use health care services, and to actually have a need for services fulfilled. We conceptualise five dimensions of accessibility: 1) Approachability; 2) Acceptability; 3) Availability and accommodation; 4) Affordability; 5) Appropriateness. In this framework, five corresponding abilities of populations interact with the dimensions of accessibility to generate access. Five corollary dimensions of abilities include: 1) Ability to perceive; 2) Ability to seek; 3) Ability to reach; 4) Ability to pay; and 5) Ability to engage.
This paper explains the comprehensiveness and dynamic nature of this conceptualisation of access to care and identifies relevant determinants that can have an impact on access from a multilevel perspective where factors related to health systems, institutions, organisations and providers are considered with factors at the individual, household, community, and population levels.