Purpose — Rates of alcohol-related harm are higher in rural versus urban Canada. This study characterized the spatial distribution and regional determinants of alcohol-related emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalizations in Ontario to better understand this rural-urban disparity.
Methods — This was a cross-sectional spatial analysis of rates of alcohol-related ED visits and hospitalizations by Ministry of Health subregion (n = 76) in Ontario, Canada between 2016 and 2019. Regional hot- and cold-spots of alcohol-related harm were identified using spatial autocorrelation methods. Rurality was measured as the population weighted geographic remoteness of a subregion. The associations between rurality and rates of alcohol-related ED visits and hospitalizations were evaluated using hierarchical Bayesian spatial regression models.
Findings — Rates of alcohol-related ED visits and hospitalizations varied substantially between subregions, with high rates clustering in Northern Ontario. Overall, increasing rurality was associated with higher subregion-level rates of alcohol-related ED visits (males adjusted relative rate [aRR]: 1.67, 95% credible interval [CI]: 1.49-1.87; females aRR: 1.78, 95% CI: 1.60-1.98) and hospitalizations (males aRR: 1.34, 95% CI: 1.24-1.45; females aRR: 1.59, 95% CI: 1.45-1.74). However, after the province was separated into Northern and Southern strata, this association only held in Northern subregions. In contrast, increasing rurality was associated with lower rates of alcohol-related ED visits in Southern subregions (males aRR: 0.87, 95% CI: 0.79-0.96; females aRR: 0.88, 95% CI: 0.81-0.97).
Conclusions — There are regional differences in the association between rurality and alcohol-related health service use. This regional variation should be considered when developing health policies to minimize geographic disparities in alcohol-related harm.