Distribution Priority Area
The Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification identifies locations in Australia with a shortage of medical practitioners. International medical graduates work in a DPA to be eligible for Medicare. Read about the DPA classification and learn how to find locations classified as DPA.
The DPA was updated on 21 July 2022. The Health locator tool and web information reflects the 2022 update.
About the DPA classification
The DPA classification system identifies areas experiencing lower levels of GP services, compared with a benchmark of GP services. A range of initiatives aimed at increasing the supply of doctors are then implemented in these areas. Learn more about how we use DPA.
What’s New in 2022
The Government committed to increasing the supply of General Practitioners (GPs) in outer suburban areas and regions. From 21 July 2022:
- All areas classified as MM2 under the Modified Monash Model (MMM) classification system will now be automatically classified as DPA.
- All catchments classified as DPA through an exceptional circumstances review in 2021-22 will have their classification extended for 12 months until 30 June 2023.
- A number of additional catchments in MM1 outer metropolitan areas identified by Government will also be classified as DPA.
How DPA classifications are determined
The DPA classification system’s methodology takes into account Medicare billings by gender and age demographics, and the socio-economic status of patients living in an area, along with the remoteness of the area through the Modified Monash Model (MMM) geographical classification system. DPA is assessed for more than 800 GP catchment areas.
All areas are assessed for GP services access using the DPA. This is calculated by:
- the level of Medicare billed GP services for the population (for the latest calendar year).
- DPA for each GP catchment is determined based on the composition of their communities, considering their demographics, including their age, gender and Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), using the latest available data.
- if the actual billing level is lower than the relevant benchmark the area is given DPA status.
The DPA system applies the following automatic rules to take into account the location of the catchment area:
- areas classified as MM 2 – 7 under the MMM are automatically classified DPA.
- MM 1 inner metropolitan areas are automatically classified non-DPA.
- the Northern Territory is automatically classified as DPA.
Other areas are listed as DPA/not DPA. With these automatic rules applied, DPA applies to MM1 outer metropolitan areas for specific Australian Government programs.
The benchmarks are based on a:
- Modified Monash Model (MMM) 2 average of access to GP services for IMGs.
- national average of access to GP services for BMP.
The DPA uses 827 non overlapping geographical GP catchment areas. These were developed to provide a more accurate picture of where patients access their health services. The creation of the GP catchments include:
- patient flows using MBS patient and provider data over a five-year period
- population demographics, e.g. population size and distribution
- GP workforce, e.g. location and number of GPs
- GP infrastructure, e.g. location and number of practices
- accessibility, e.g. catchment size, travel distance and road networks
- topography, e.g. mountain ranges, national parks, water bodies, islands
- recognition of other boundaries, e.g. state and territory borders, local government areas.
The DPA uses the latest available data. The DPA was most recently updated on 21 July 2022 and uses:
- MBS calendar year 2021 patient billing for GP services
- population statistics from the ABS 2020-21 Estimated Residential Population (ERP).
The ERP data is at Statistical Area (SA) 1 level by gender group and in 1-year age blocks. This information provided by the ABS is more granular than is publicly available.
Annual update of DPA (for GPs)
The DPA is updated each year. The DPA classification of an area can change when there has been a significant shift in access to health care since the previous annual update. This might be due to changes in the workforce, or in the size or makeup of the population.
Removal of DPA from an area signals that there has been a positive increase in GP services access for patients in that GP catchment.
To provide practices and communities with greater transparency we publish, for each GP catchment the:
- DPA classification
- level of variance above and below the DPA benchmark.
This will help you understand service access levels as they compare with benchmarks and other areas. The higher an area is above the benchmark, the greater the access to GP services for that population.
Changes in DPA
View the assessment of each GP catchment which also shows the catchments that had a change in DPA classification as part of the latest annual update.
If an area loses DPA, doctors who hold an existing exemption under section 19AB of the Health Insurance Act 1973 can continue to practise at their location provided they continue to meet the conditions of their exemption.
In addition, doctors already in employment negotiations with a practice prior to DPA changes will still be eligible for an exemption if they provide documentary evidence of this with their application.
Practices unable to employ restricted medical practitioners can still employ Australian trained doctors or doctors not subject to s19AB.
Read about more about section 19AB.
How we use DPA
There are two main programs that the DPA assessment is important for in 2022-23. Medical practices in an area classified as DPA can access a broader recruitment pool of GP doctors.
DPA status is used as part of the section 19AB provisions within the Health Insurance Act 1973 which targets International Medical Graduates and Foreign Graduates of Accredited Medical Schools (FGAMS) to rural areas by providing these doctors with access to Medicare in these areas only.
The Bonded Medical Program (BMP) also uses the DPA to identify where program participants can work when returning their service obligations and access the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Practices located in a DPA location can employ these doctors.
Note: there are also a range of Australian Government incentives for doctors seeking to work in regional and rural areas.
Exceptional circumstances reviews
You can request a review of a GP catchment’s DPA if you feel that there are exceptional circumstances, since the last DPA update, that have impacted on the level of GP services across the local area.
Any request to review a DPA classification will consider the level of GP services experienced across the catchment. If approved, medical practices in the GP catchment area can access several workforce programs, until the next scheduled DPA review.
Who can request a review?
Anyone can request an exceptional circumstances review.
Note that MM 1 inner-metro locations – such as major Australian cities – are not eligible for a review. MM 2 to 7 areas are automatically DPA.
Enter your address to check your area’s geographical classification on the Health Workforce Locator map.
If you would like to submit a request for an exceptional circumstances review, contact the Rural Workforce Agency (RWA) in your state or territory.
How we consider review requests
Once an application is submitted to the Department of Health and Ageing by the Rural Workforce Agency, an assessment is undertaken. Further information may also be sought from the Rural Workforce Agency or Primary Health Network as to the workforce situation in the catchment.
The Distribution Working Group (DWG) analyses the application, agency information and a range of GP related data related to health workforce distribution and provides independent advice to the Australian Government. The Minister with responsibility for rural health decides the outcome of the assessment.
Exceptional circumstances framework
The consideration of applications for a review of the DPA classification of an area will take into account the following principles.
Changes to health services, workforce, or health system
When a recent unexpected large change to the health workforce has resulted in a substantial decrease in health services to the community across the GP catchment.
Patient demographics or changes
When areas have experienced a significant recent shift in patient demographics that has resulted in a demand for higher levels of GP services. The assessment also considers changes in an area’s:
- socio-economic status
- proportion of senior people
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.
Absence of services
This applies when areas have experienced recent and demonstrated difficulties in recruiting or retaining doctors.
Outcomes of DPA exceptional circumstances assessments
The outcomes, including a summary of the assessment, to ensure transparency are published online.
We update the Health Workforce Locator map frequently to incorporate these changes.
2021 Review of the DPA Classification System
In late 2021, a wide-ranging and thorough review of the DPA mechanism was completed. The review included evaluating the DPA’s effectiveness in identifying areas of Australia experiencing GP service shortages relative to the needs of the community.
The report made eight recommendations to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the DPA mechanism to better achieve the goal of equitable access to GP services for all Australians, no matter where they live.
On 30 March 2022, the Government published the Review of the Distribution Priority Area (DPA) Classification report and the Government response to the review. The DPA was introduced in 2019 to replace the previously used Districts of Workforce Shortage for general practice system.
A copy of the report and the Government’s response to the review is available online.
How DPA is different to other classifications
DPA shows the GP services of a GP catchment compared to a benchmark.
District of Workforce Shortage (DWS) shows the number of non-GP specialists compared to the population of an area.
The Modified Monash Model shows the remoteness of a location.
How to find locations classified DPA
To see areas classified DPA, search the Health Workforce Locator.