Distance to subspecialty surgical care is a known impediment to the delivery of high-quality healthcare. Extracorporeal life support is of benefit to pediatric patients with specific medical conditions. Despite a continued increase in the number of extracorporeal life support centers, not all children have equal access to extracorporeal life support due to geographic constraints, creating a potential disparity in healthcare. We attempted to better define the variation in geographic proximity to extracorporeal life support centers for pediatric patients using the U.S. Decennial Census.
A publicly available listing of voluntarily reporting extracorporeal life support centers in 2019 and the 2010 Decennial Census were used to calculate straight-line distances between extracorporeal life support zip code centroids and census block centroids. Disparities in distance to care associated with urbanization were analyzed.
Large database review.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS:
There were 136 centers providing pediatric extracorporeal life support in 2019. The distribution varied by state with Texas, California, and Florida having the most centers. Over 16 million children (23% of the pediatric population) live greater than 60 miles from an extracorporeal life support center. Significant disparity exists between urban and rural locations with over 47% of children in a rural setting living greater than 60 miles from an extracorporeal life support center compared with 17% of children living in an urban setting.
Disparities in proximity to extracorporeal life support centers were present and persistent across states. Children in rural areas have less access to extracorporeal life support centers based upon geographic distance alone. These findings may affect practice patterns and treatment decisions and are important to the development of regionalization strategies to ensure all children have subspecialty surgical care available to them, including extracorporeal life support.