The Medical pluralism paradigm: examining patterns of use across conventional, complementary and public health care systems among Canadians aged 50 and older.




Votova, Kristine

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This dissertation examined health care utilization patterns across conventional health care (CHC), complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and public health care (PHC) systems among Canadians aged fifty and older. I argued that utilization research is currently limited by a primary focus on discrete use of health care services, largely within the CHC system (i.e., medical doctors, specialists, hospitals). However substantial growth in use of CAM and PHC, particularly among late middle-age cohorts, suggests the need to widen the research lens from discretionary service use within health care systems to include medical pluralism or use across health care systems. To address the lack of research on medical pluralism and the need for a comprehensive overview of service use, I used two different strategies to create discrete patterns of service use and non-use. To frame the predictors of these patterns, a medical pluralism paradigm was proposed, which suggests that there are distinct social location and health characteristics that may explain use across health care systems. Five hypotheses were tested using data pooled from two cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey (Cycles 2.1 [2003] and 3.1 [2005]) to create an overall sample (n=117,824). Results from the deductive (variable oriented) and inductive (person centred) strategies were compared. Differences in both the number and form of patterns are apparent. Across both strategies, the most common pattern is dual use of CHC (medical visits, specialist visits) and PHC (flu shots, sex-specific screening) but not CAM (chiropractors, other CAM providers). Consistent with the literature, women use more types of services overall than do men. The gender effect is significantly mediated by age: older men are less likely to use services across the three health care systems than older women. Strong evidence for a socioeconomic gradient in medical pluralism is also found. Higher levels of income and education increase the likelihood of using services across the three health care systems compared to low and middle levels of both income and education. The relationship between race and health service use was much less significant. Long-term immigrants demonstrate tri-use patterns close to those of Canadian born individuals; however, service differentials remain even after controlling for health needs, in favour of native-born Canadians. Medical pluralism is also associated with health related-need as support was found for both illness and wellness care. Lastly, regional differences point to a greater likelihood of medical pluralism in western Canada, but not always in urban areas. In future, a longitudinal examination of medical pluralism is necessary and would help establish the sequencing of services and how services are used in relation to the disablement process. Health policy would thus benefit from insight into the extent of service duplication for specific conditions and clarify the role of medical doctors in referral processes.



medical pluralism, health care utilization, older adult, complementary and alternative medicine, Canadian Community Health Survey, baby boomer, health care access