Objective. Rates of chronic non-cancer pain are increasing worldwide, with concerns regarding poorer access to specialist treatment services in remote areas. The current study comprised the first in-depth examination of use and barriers to access of health services in Australia according to remoteness.
Methods. A cohort of Australian adults prescribed pharmaceutical opioids for chronic non-cancer pain (n = 1,235) were interviewed between August 2012 and April 2014, and grouped into ‘major city’ (49%), ‘inner regional’ (37%), and ‘outer regional/remote’ (14%) according to the Australian Standard Geographical Classification based on postcode. Multinomial logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine geographical differences in socio-demographic and clinical characteristics, health service use, and perceived barriers to health service access.
Results. The ‘inner regional group’ and ‘outer regional/remote group’ were more likely to be male (relative risk ratio (RRR)=1.38,95%CI 1.08–1.77 and RRR = 1.60, 95%CI 1.14–2.24) and have no private health insurance (RRR = 1.53, 95%CI 1.19–1.97 and RRR = 1.65, 95%CI 1.16–2.37) than the ‘major city group’ (49%). However, the ‘inner regional group’ reported lower pain severity and better mental health relative to the ‘major city group’ = 0.92, 95%CI 0.86–0.98 and RRR = 1.02, 95%CI 1.01–1.03, respectively). Although rates of health service access were generally similar, the ‘outer regional/remote group’ were more likely to report client-practitioner communication problems (RRR = 1.57, 95%CI 1.03–2.37), difficulties accessing specialists (RRR = 1.56, 95%CI 1.01–2.39), and perception of practitioner lack of confidence in prescribing pain medication (RRR = 1.73, 1.14–2.62), relative to both groups.
Conclusion. Perceived communication, access, and financial barriers to healthcare indicate the need for increased efforts to address geographic inequality in pain treatment.