Socioeconomic inequalities of outpatient and inpatient service utilization in China: personal and regional perspectives

Dawei Zhu, Na Guo, Jian Wang, Stephen Nicholas, Li Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: China's health system has shown remarkable progress in health provision and health outcomes in recent decades, however inequality in health care utilization persists and poses a serious social problem. While government pro-poor health policies addressed affordability as the major obstacle to equality in health care access, this policy direction deserves further examination. Our study examines the issue of health care inequalities in China, analyzing both regional and individual socioeconomic factors associated with the inequality, and provides evidence to improve governmental health policies.

METHODS: The China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS) 1991-2011 data were used to analyze the inequality of health care utilization. The random effects logistic regression technique was used to model health care utilization as the dependent variable, and income and regional location as the independent variables, controlling for individuals' age, gender, marital status, education, health insurance, body mass index (BMI), and period variations. The dynamic trend of 1991-2011 regional disparities was estimated using an interaction term between the regional group dummy and the wave dummy.

RESULTS: The probability of using outpatient service and inpatient services during the previous 4 weeks was 8.6 and 1.1% respectively. Compared to urban residents, suburban (OR: 0.802, 95% CI: 0.720-0.893), town (OR: 0.722, 95% CI: 0.648-0.804), rich (OR: 0.728, 95% CI: 0.656-0.807) and poor village (OR: 0.778, 95% CI: 0.698-0.868) residents were less likely to use outpatient service; and rich (OR: 0.609, 95% CI: 0.472-0.785) and poor village (OR: 0.752, 95% CI: 0. 576-0.983) residents were less likely to use inpatient health care. But the differences between income groups were not significant, except the differences between top and bottom income group in outpatient service use.

CONCLUSION: Regional location was a more important factor than individual characteristics in determining access to health care. Besides demand-side subsidies, Chinese policy makers should pay enhanced attention to health care resource allocation to address inequity in health care access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 4 2017


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care/statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • China
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Hospitalization/statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care/statistics & numerical data
  • Residence Characteristics/statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult


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