The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has developed and employs shortage designation criteria to determine whether a geographic area, population group, or facility is a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Area or Population (MUA/P).
A HPSA may be an urban or rural facility, geographic area, or particular population group that has a shortage of primary medical care, dental, or mental health providers. HPSA scores, ranging between 1 and 26, help to determine priorities areas and populations. A higher score indicates greater need. There are currently 6,100 designated primary care HPSAs in this country, based on a physician to population ratio of 1:3,500 (June 2014). Thus, when there are 3,500 or more people per primary care physician, an area is eligible for HPSA designation. Accordingly, our nation faces a gap of 8,200 primary care physicians. Similarly, although based on different ratios, there are 4,900 dental HPSAs and 4,000 mental health HPSAs – leaving a gap of 7,300 dentists and 2,800 psychiatrists nationwide.
The federal government also designates Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) and Medically Underserved Populations (MUPs) through application of the Index of Medical Underservice (IMU), which considers four factors: ratio of primary medical care physicians per 1,000 people, infant mortality rate, percentage of the population with incomes below the poverty level, and percentage of the population age 65 and over. MUAs and MUPs are rated on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 represents completely underserved. To qualify for MUA/P designation, a service area must have an IMU score of 62 or less.
Shortage designations can be found by address or State and County searches using HRSA’s HPSA & MUA/P Finder. A majority of HRSA’s grant opportunities offer a funding preference for projects that propose to serve HPSAs or MUA/Ps.