Health

Living in a remote location is associated with avoidable death. Why is that?

A study by Statistics Canada has found that Canadians living in remote areas have higher chances of unnecessary death — avoidable mortality — than those living in heavily populated areas.

The Canadian remoteness index identifies factors that link health-care access and unintended death

Statistics Canada says its remoteness index is the first in the world to look at mortality rates. (Nalidsa/Shutterstock)

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A study by Statistics Canada has found that Canadians living in remote areas have higher chances of unnecessary death — avoidable mortality — than those living in heavily populated areas.

This is the first study to use a new remoteness index that has been developed to understand Canada's "geographic availability" — which counts the number of health-care providers within a targeted radius. Statistics Canada has applied the new index to all rural, urban and remote areas of the country.

StatsCan said its remoteness index is the first in the world to look at mortality rates. It was influenced by the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA), which maps road distance to hospitals and government buildings.

People living in remote areas do not have proper access to emergency rooms, health-care facilities or family physicians, according to Rajendra Subedi, a StatsCan analyst.

Researchers have found that some of the obstacles that affect patient health-care access include emergency responders' dispatch time, wait times, and weather conditions that affect travel.

Why do remote locations seem to be more deadly, statistically speaking?

Last week's study found that injuries are the leading cause of preventable death for men and women living in the remote areas. In the more populated areas, the highest rate of preventable deaths was cancer for both men and women.

Men are more likely to be exposed to risky behaviour and environment factors that are related to accident or injury. This includes smoking, drinking and driving and failure to use seatbelts. The studies indicate that in both populated and remote areas, women are more likely to follow preventative measures regarding their health. This includes regular physician visits and getting medical checkups.

Avoidable mortality refers to premature deaths that are considered preventable and treatable and they vary by geographic remoteness. Approximately 72 per cent of premature deaths in Canada are considered avoidable.

The remoteness index is calculated based on Canadian geography, socioeconomic factors and the health-care system. This research tool can be used to analyze "any socioeconomic variable, any health related variable, educational, income or Aboriginal status, employment and unemployment rates in Canada," says Subedi.

The remoteness index did not investigate whether diagnosis, follow-up appointments or patient compliance specifically played a role in avoidable mortality rates.


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About the Author

Kelsey Mohammed is one of the 2019 recipients of the CBC News Joan Donaldson scholarship. Kelsey is a writer for the CBC's health, science and technology unit.

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