Background: The utilization of medical care for gastrointestinal diseases increased over the past decade worldwide. The aim of the study was to investigate the difference between rural and urban patients in seeking medical service for gastrointestinal diseases at ambulatory sector in Taiwan. Methods: From the one-million-people cohort datasets of the National Health Insurance Research Database, the utilization of ambulatory visits for gastrointestinal diseases in 2009 was analyzed. Rural patients were compared with urban and suburban patients as to diagnosis, locality of visits and choice of specialists. Results: Among 295,056 patients who had ambulatory visits for gastrointestinal diseases in 2009, rural patients sought medical care for gastrointestinal diseases more frequently than urban and suburban patients (1.60 ± 3.90 vs. 1.17 ± 3.02 and 1.39 ± 3.47). 83.4% of rural patients with gastrointestinal diseases were treated by non-gastroenterologists in rural areas. Rural people had lower accessibility of specialist care, especially for hepatitis, esophageal disorders and gastroduodenal ulcer. Conclusion: The rural-urban disparity of medical care for gastrointestinal diseases in Taiwan highlighted the importance of the well communication between rural physicians and gastroenterologists. Besides the establishment of the referral system, the medical teleconsultation system and the arrangement of specialist outreach clinics in rural areas might be helpful.
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