Does the insufficient supply of physicians worsen their urban-rural distribution? A Hiroshima-Nagasaki comparison

Rural Remote Health. 2012;12:2085. Epub 2012 Apr 26.


Introduction: Studies have suggested that a rapid increase in physicians does not necessarily change an urban-rural inequity in their distribution. However, it is unknown whether an insufficient supply of physicians worsens an inequity. Spatial competition and attraction-repulsion hypotheses were applied to the geographic distribution of physicians during a time of insufficient physician supply in Japan.

Methods: Trends of physician distribution as well as urban-rural physician flow were compared using Hiroshima Prefecture which had the lowest increase in physician-to-population ratios between 2002 and 2008 (2.7%), and Nagasaki Prefecture where the increase was one of the highest (12.0%) among the 47 Japanese prefectures.

Results: The Gini coefficient of physicians compared with population in Hiroshima increased by 4.1%. Movement toward inequity was greater in Hiroshima compared with Nagasaki where the increase was 2.5%. Approximately 245 physicians or 18.8% moved from rural to urban locations in Hiroshima compared with 143 (14.6%) for Nagasaki (p=0.01). In contrast, 228 (7.6%) urban physicians moved to rural areas in Hiroshima compared with 175 (11.6%) in Nagasaki (p<0.001).

Conclusions: In a time of insufficient supply of physicians, a region with a smaller increase in physicians may experience worsening of the urban-rural distribution of physicians compared with a region where there is a more rapid increase in physicians. One strategy for achieving a more equitable distribution of physicians is to increase in the physician supply relative to demand in order to stimulate competition among urban physicians and maintain the power equilibrium between attraction-to and repulsion-from urban areas.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Physicians / supply & distribution*
  • Physicians / trends*
  • Rural Health Services*
  • Rural Population
  • Urban Health Services*
  • Urban Population
  • Workforce