Background: Physician shortages in rural regions of OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries has led to the development of regulatory, financial, educational, and tailored interventions designed to reduce physician shortages. Studies evaluating these interventions report weak or inconclusive results. The objective of this research is to examine the strategic relevance of the interventions by identifying and prioritizing the determinants of physician shortages and analyzing the interventions based on their ability to target the determinants.
Method: First, the determinants of physician shortages are identified and categorized using Mays et al.’s 2005 method for reviewing qualitative literature. Second, the determinants are prioritized based on importance, severity and solvability, using Lehmann et al.’s multilevel framework of factors affecting attraction and retention. Third, the interventions are analyzed based on their ability to target the determinants through a document analysis as descriptive commentary from a policy analysis perspective.
Results: Three individual and ten contextual (work, rural or international context) determinants of physician shortages were identified. Non-rural background, inadequate training and inadequate incentive structure were prioritized as level 1. Lack of professional support, poor work infrastructure and personal interests were prioritized as level 2. Poor rural infrastructure, inadequate supply planning and cultural difference were prioritized as level 3. Non-minority background, geography & climate, global migration and aging population were prioritized as level 4. Establishing rural medical schools targets the greatest number of priority determinants, followed by financial interventions targeting practicing physicians and non-traditional health services delivery strategies. Curriculum changes, professional support strategies, selective admission to medical schools, financially targeting student physicians and coercive regulatory measures follow. Community support strategies target the fewest number of determinants and trickle-down economic regulation targets none.
Conclusion: Strategic analysis demonstrates that most interventions designed to reduce physician shortages in rural regions are strategically relevant because they address the priority determinants of physician shortages. A link is established between the determinants of physician shortages and the interventions, thereby addressing an important concern expressed in the literature. An original contribution is made to health human resources literature by relying on established theoretical frameworks to achieve a strategic analysis of the interventions.