Distribution Priority Area

The Distribution Priority Area (DPA) classification identifies locations in Australia with a shortage of general practitioner (GP) services. International Medical Graduates (IMGs) must work in a DPA to be eligible to access Medicare.

The annual update is in progress.

About the DPA classification

The DPA classification system identifies areas with lower levels of GP services, compared with a benchmark level. Initiatives that aim to increase the supply of GPs are then implemented in these areas.

How we determine DPA classifications

The DPA system’s methodology considers:

  • Medicare billings by gender and age
  • the socio-economic status of patients living in the area
  • the remoteness of the area as classified by the Modified Monash Model (MMM) geographical classification system.


Each year, we use the DPA system to assess the level of access to GP services in each GP catchment. The DPA system looks at:

  • the level of Medicare billed GP services patients received for the latest calendar year
  • the demographics of the community including age, gender, and Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA).

If the actual billing level is lower than the relevant benchmark, we classify the GP catchment as a DPA.

The DPA system also applies the following automatic rules:

  • Areas that are MM 2 to 7 under the MMM are classified as a DPA.
  • MM 1 inner metropolitan areas are not classified as a DPA.
  • The Northern Territory is classified as a DPA.


Each GP catchment has two benchmarks – one for IMGs and another for Bonded Doctors. The IMG benchmark is based on the average level of GP services in areas classified MM2.

GP catchments

The DPA system uses 827 non overlapping geographical GP catchment areas. These give a more accurate picture of where patients access their health services. The catchments include:

  • patient flows using Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) patient and provider data over a five-year period
  • population demographics, such as population size and distribution
  • GP workforce, such as location and number of GPs
  • GP infrastructure, such as location and number of practices
  • accessibility, such as catchment size, travel distance and road networks
  • topography, such as mountain ranges, national parks, water bodies and islands
  • recognition of other boundaries, such as state and territory borders and local government areas.


The DPA system uses the latest available data. The last update on 21 July 2022 used:

  • 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. The ABS provides this data, which is more granular than publicly available data.

Annual update of DPA (for GPs)

DPAs are updated annually. The DPA classification of a catchment can change when there has been a significant change in access to health care since the last update. This might be due to changes in the workforce, or in the size or makeup of the population.

Removal of DPA status from a catchment indicates that there has been an increase in GP services access for patients.

To provide transparency, for each GP catchment we publish the:

  • DPA classification
  • level of variance above and below the DPA benchmark.

This will help you understand how service access levels compare with benchmarks and other catchments. The higher a catchment 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 last update.

If a catchment loses DPA status, doctors who hold an existing exception under section 19AB can continue to practise at their location if they continue to meet the conditions of their exemption.

Doctors in employment negotiations with a practice before the DPA changes will still be eligible for an exemption if they provide evidence of this with their application.

Practices unable to employ restricted medical practitioners can still employ Australian-trained doctors or doctors not subject to section 19AB.

How we use DPA

We use DPA classifications as part of the section 19AB provisions in the Health Insurance Act 1973. Under section 19AB, IMGs and Foreign Graduates of Accredited Medical Schools (FGAMS) can only access Medicare in areas with GP shortages.

There are also Australian Government incentives for doctors seeking to work in regional and rural areas.

Exceptional circumstances reviews

Medical practices can request a review of their catchment’s DPA classification if there are exceptional circumstances the last DPA update did not consider.

2021 review of the DPA classification system

In late 2021, a wide-ranging and thorough review of the DPA classification system was completed. The review assessed how effective the system was in identifying areas with GP service shortages.  

The December 2021 report made 8 recommendations to make the system more accurate and efficient.

On 30 March 2022, we published the report and the Australian Government's response.

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.

Find locations classified DPA

To see areas classified as a DPA, search the Health Workforce Locator.

Date last updated:

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