Long Distance (Medical) Relationships Don’t Always Work

Another study (NZ Borren et al Inflamm Bowel Dis 2017; 23: 1234-9) has shown detrimental outcomes due to distance from the health care team.

In this study with 2136 patients with IBD (1197 Crohn’s disease, 9393 ulcerative colitis) with mean age of 41 years, the distance from the hospital (Massachusetts General) was compared with need for IBD-related surgery and secondary outcomes of needing biological and immunomodulator therapy.

Key findings:

  • In the four quartiles, mean distance was 2.5, 8.8, 22.0, and 50.8 miles.
  • Need for surgery was increased with distance from hospital: closest with odds ratio of 1.0, quartile 2 had OR of 1.68, quartile 3 had OR of 1.94, and quartile 4 had OR of 2.44

According to the authors, with other indications besides IBD, “over three-quarters of the examined studies demonstrated a distance-decay association with worse outcomes in individuals living further away from health care facilities.  Limitation: it is possible that patients who travel a greater distance have more disease severity and that those who have milder diseases are more likely to receive care closer to home.

My take: When highly qualified subspecialists are far away, the associated reduced access likely counters this potential benefit.  Early effective therapy is important in reducing complications.

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