Clin Exp Optom. 2022 Aug 2:1-7. doi: 10.1080/08164622.2022.2102410. Online ahead of print.
CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Efforts to provide accessible eye care must consider the extent to which travel-distance may be a barrier for some communities.
BACKGROUND: This study aimed to determine the distribution of – and geographic access to – eye health services in Aotearoa New Zealand. We further sought to identify communities who might benefit from provision of eye health services that were more geographically accessible.
METHODS: We obtained addresses of optometry and ophthalmology clinics from regulatory bodies and augmented this with online searches. Address locators were created using a Land Information dataset and geocoded using ArcGIS 10.6. A national population was derived using Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure. We generated population-weighted centroids of each of New Zealand’s 50,938 meshblocks and calculated the travel distance along the road network between each clinic and population (meshblock centroid). The proportion of the population living >50 km from each clinic type was calculated; as was the median, inter-quartile range and maximum distance across area-level deprivation quintiles in each district.
RESULTS: A national population of 4.88 million was identified, as were addresses for 344 optometry, 46 public ophthalmology and 90 private ophthalmology clinics. Nationally and within each district, travel distance to optometry was shorter than to either type of ophthalmology clinic. The region of Northland – with a high proportion of the population Māori and in the highest quintile of area-level deprivation – had the furthest average distance to travel to optometry and public ophthalmology, while the West Coast region on the South Island had the farthest to travel to private ophthalmology. Several communities were identified where longer distances intersected with higher area-level deprivation.
CONCLUSION: Most New Zealanders live within 10 km of eye health services. However, to achieve equitable eye health, strategies are required that make affordable eye health services accessible to communities for whom large travel distances intersect with high deprivation.