17 Percent of Patients Seeing Neurologist Travel Long Distance

Factors associated with long-distance travel include low neurologist density, rural setting, and visits for ALS, nervous system cancer

HealthDay News — Seventeen percent of Medicare beneficiaries travel a long distance to visit a neurologist, according to a study published online Sept. 13 in Neurology.

Chun Chieh Lin, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional analysis using a 2018 Medicare sample of patients with at least one outpatient neurologist visit to measure patient travel distance and travel time to neurologist visits. Data were included for 563,216 Medicare beneficiaries with a neurologist visit in 2018.

The researchers found that 17 percent of the Medicare beneficiaries traveled a long distance (≥50 miles one way) for care. The median driving distance and time were 81.3 miles and 90 minutes compared with 13.2 miles and 22 minutes for patients with and without long-distance travel, respectively. Long-distance travel was most common for nervous system cancer care, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and multiple sclerosis (39.6, 32.1, and 22.8 percent, respectively). Low neurologist density (first versus fifth quintile), rural setting, long-distance travel to primary care physician visit, and visits for ALS and nervous system cancer care were factors associated with long-distance travel (odds ratios, 3.04, 4.89, 3.60, 3.41, and 5.27, respectively). Almost one-third of patients bypassed the closest neurologist by 20 or more miles, and 7.3 percent crossed state lines.

“Our results suggest that policymakers should investigate feasible and affordable ways to improve necessary access to neurologic care, especially in areas with low availability of neurologists and in rural communities,” Lin said in a statement.

Several authors disclosed ties to the pharmaceutical, medical device, and medical technology industries.

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