90% of Americans Live Within Short Driving Distance To Eye Care

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Cecelia Lee

Dr. Cecelia Lee

Cecilia S. Lee, MD
Department of Ophthalmology
University of Washington School of Medicine
Seattle, WA

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Access to eye care is a critical issue currently in the United States. With the expected increase in the aging US population, many eye diseases are age-related and there is an expected associated increase in demand for eye care. Prior studies have estimated access to care in many different ways including looking at providers per zipcode, utilization of billing codes, and distance to provider. We sought to estimate the access to eye care providers using a much more accurate way to estimate the driving distance to provider. Specifically, we recreated a driving route system similar to Google Maps or Apple Maps for navigation to plot direct driving routes.

In our study, we took all the eye care providers both optometrists and ophthalmologist who billed Medicare in 2012 and used the Census data to estimate the number of people living in each census block group above the age of 65. We then took all the US data from OpenStreetMaps and used the geometries and speed limits for each driveable surface in the US to calculate the time that it would take to drive to the nearest eye care provider. We compared the driving time to the nearest optometrist and ophthalmologist and found that there was surprisingly little difference for 50 and 75 percent of the US population.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The main conclusion is that with a much more accurate methodology, we estimate that 90% of the US Medicare population lives within 15 minutes of an optometrist and 30 minutes of an ophthalmologist. There are a number of caveats to our study: the driving time is a rough estimation without account for traffic patterns or waiting at intersections, the nearest eye provider may not accept the patient’s insurance or provide the necessary subspecialty care, and the number of optometrists may be underrepresented as we only included providers who billed Medicare,

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We are excited by this novel application of web technology to health care research and the mashup of three large datasets: US Census, OpenStreetMaps, and Medicare data. We hope to extend the research to other areas of medicine and to identify underserved areas in the US.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: We believe that we are at an exciting crossroads in medical research. The advances made in computational methods for Big Data combined with the availability and creation of large biomedical databases leads to novel findings and greatly accelerating medical research.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Evaluating Access to Eye Care in the Contiguous United States by Calculated Driving Time in the United States Medicare Population
Ophthalmology, 09/13/2016Lee CS, et al.

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