Currently many measures of intervention coverage obtained from household surveys do not measure actual health intervention/service delivery, resulting in a need for linking reports of care–seeking with assessments of the service environment in order to improve measurements. This systematic review aims to identify evidence of different methods used to link household surveys and service provision assessments, with a focus on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health care, in low– and middle–income countries.
Using pre–defined search terms, articles published in peer– reviewed journals and the grey literature after 1990 were identified, their reference lists scanned and linking methods synthesized.
A total of 59 articles and conference presentations were carefully reviewed and categorized into two groups based on the linking method used: 1) indirect/ecological linking that included studies in which health care–seeking behavior was linked to all or the nearest facilities or providers of certain types within a geographical area, and 2) direct linking/exact matching where individuals were linked with the exact provider or facility where they sought care. The former approach was employed in 51 of 59 included studies, and was particularly common among studies that were based on independent sources of household and facility data that were nationally representative. Only eight of the 59 reviewed studies employed direct linking methods, which were typically done at the sub–national level (eg, district level) and often in rural areas, where the number of providers was more limited compared to urban areas.
Different linking methods have been reported in the literature, each category has its own set of advantages and limitations, in terms of both methodology and practicality for scale–up. Future studies that link household and provider/facility data should also take into account factors such as sources of data, the timing of surveys, the temporality of data points, the type of services and interventions, and the scale of the study in order to produce valid and reliable results.