Spatial error in geocoding physician location data from the AMA Physician Masterfile: Implications for spatial accessibility analysis

Sara McLafferty, Vincent L. Freeman, Richard E. Barrett, Lan Luo, Alisa Shockley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The accuracy of geocoding hinges on the quality of address information that serves as input to the geocoding process; however errors associated with poor address quality are rarely studied. This paper examines spatial errors that arise due to incorrect address information with respect to physician location data in the United States. Studies of spatial accessibility to physicians in the U.S. typically rely on data from the American Medical Association's Physician Masterfile. These data are problematic because a substantial proportion of physicians only report a mailing address, which is often the physician's home (residential) location, rather than the address for the location where health care is provided. The incorrect geocoding of physicians' practice locations based on inappropriate address information results in a form of geocoding error that has not been widely analyzed. Using data for the Chicago metropolitan region, we analyze the extent and implications of geocoding error for measurement of spatial accessibility to primary care physicians. We geocode the locations of primary care physicians based on mailing addresses and office addresses. The spatial mismatch between the two is computed at the county, zip code and point location scales. Although mailing and office address locations are quite close for many physicians, they are far apart (>20. km) for a substantial minority. Kernel density estimation is used to characterize the spatial distribution of physicians based on office and mailing addresses and to identify areas of high spatial mismatch between the two. Errors are socially and geographically uneven, resulting in overestimation of physician supply in some high-income suburban communities, and underestimation in certain central city locations where health facilities are concentrated. The resulting errors affect local measures of spatial accessibility to primary care, biasing statistical analyses of the associations between spatial access to care and health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-38
Number of pages8
JournalSpatial and Spatio-temporal Epidemiology
Volume3
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2012

Keywords

  • AMA Masterfile
  • Accessibility
  • Geocoding
  • Physicians

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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