Press Release

2121 W. White Oaks Drive
Springfield, IL 62704
Phone: (217) 698-0800
Fax: (217) 698-0188



Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Betsy Kohler, MPH, CTR
Executive Director
Phone: (217) 698-0800, ext. 2

Shortest Path Project provides clues on where people are going for health care - 11/16/2011

Springfield, Ill., November 16, 2011 – A unique team of epidemiologists, central registrars, geographers and spatial scientists has developed a tool that may lead to a better understanding of the decisions people make when accessing health care.

A new tool developed by researchers at USC Spatial Science Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries(NAACCR) through funding by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, sheds new light on trends related to travel distances to health care and geographic barriers to care.

“Traditionally, the thinking among researchers is that longer travel distance to clinics might be a barrier to access to care. However, what researchers are finding is that trends are changing,” said team member and University of Southern California (USC) spatial scientist Dan Goldberg. “People are bypassing closer hospitals for farther ones. The studies performed during this project show that the role of geography is changing and that other variables such as insurance may be impacting access to care as well.”

This tool is now available online and Kevin Henry, team member and Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Utah, said it will be useful in many aspects of geographic research as it relates to access to health services.

“Surprisingly, we know little about how far people travel to different types of health services or what type of disparities in geographic access exist.The shortest path tool combined with a growing number of databases containing the geographic location of physicians and health facilities should aid researchers and public health practitioners in assessing geographic access to both health care and preventative services,” said Henry.

The tool, a web-based automated processing framework to be used for cancer-related research, has successfully been tested and used within two nationwide studies involving ten population-based state cancer registries. Using breast cancer as the focus, the studies investigated the links between travel distance and important breast cancer diagnosis and treatment endpoints. The purpose of the first study was to assess the relationship between breast cancer surgery and geographic access to radiation therapy, and the second study investigated whether travel time to a patient’s diagnosing facility or nearest mammography facility impacted breast cancer stage at diagnosis.

“We’ve gained a better understanding of how the distance to a treatment center affects quality of care,” said team member andNew York State Cancer Registry research scientist Francis Boscoe, adding geography still matters, but not to the same degree it was previously thought. “Results from these studies showed women in inner city areas now have poorer access than those who live far from a medical facility. Given that the rural-urban gradient has been lessened, driving distance is no longer a major part of understanding or reducing disparities. I think it has more to do with things like insurance, socioeconomic status, hospital practices, and referral networks.”

Funded by a generous grant from Komen for the Cure® and made possible by a donation of street reference files from NAVTEQ, Inc.®, the NAACCR/Komen/USC Shortest Path tool is offered as a free service to the greater NAACCR community for use in cancer-related research. The goal of this project is to provide researchers with ready access to the data necessary to study the effects of geography on issues related to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

Betsy Kohler, Executive Director of NAACCR pointed out that “A key goal of NAACCR is to promote the use of cancer surveillance data and systems for cancer control.This project clearly illustrates the power of cancer registry data for new and innovative research.”

Established in 1987, the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, Inc. (NAACCR), is a collaborative umbrella organization for cancer registries, governmental agencies, professional organizations, and private groups in North America interested in enhancing the quality and use of cancer registry data. Its goal is to set standards and build consensus for the collection of uniform cancer data across the continent. All state and provincial central cancer registries in the United States and Canada are members.