The Australian journal of rural health vol:12 issue:3 pages:104-111
OBJECTIVE: This present study discusses the potential pitfalls in measuring physician shortages in rural areas and presents existing evidence of the effectiveness of policy interventions designed to influence the geographical distribution of physicians. DESIGN: Information on the geographical distribution of physicians was derived from a survey of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and a desk review of the academic literature and policy documents of OECD governments. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Whether policies have been effective in recruiting and retaining physicians in rural areas. RESULTS: Existing measures of physician shortages in rural areas may be misleading as they do not account for a number of supply side factors (e.g. physician productivity, mobility of physicians across areas) and demand-side factors (e.g. patient needs for physician services). Increases in the national number of physicians have narrowed, but not eliminated, shortages in rural areas. Some success in increasing physician supply to rural areas has been reported with educational, regulatory and financial policies; whereas countries' experiences with education-related funding policies are mixed. There is some evidence suggesting that the effectiveness of these policies can be enhanced by supporting occupational opportunities for the spouse/partner, education of children and accommodation. CONCLUSIONS: Although there has been little evaluation of policy interventions, physician shortages in rural areas may be reduced by supply side policies that focus on the physician in combination with measures to sustain the economic and social viability of rural communities.