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Ciência & Saúde Coletiva

versão impressa ISSN 1413-8123versão On-line ISSN 1678-4561

Ciênc. saúde coletiva vol.21 no.9 Rio de Janeiro set. 2016

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1413-81232015219.15912016 

Article

Assessment of the scope of practice of physicians participating in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) Program, and associated factors

Sábado Nicolau Girardi1 

Cristiana Leite Carvalho1 

Célia Regina Pierantoni2 

Juliana de Oliveira Costa1 

Ana Cristina de Sousa van Stralen1 

Thaís Viana Lauar1 

Renata Bernardes David1 

1Observatório de Recursos Humanos em Saúde, Estação de Pesquisa de Sinais de Mercado, Núcleo de Estudos em Saúde Coletiva, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. Av. Prof. Alfredo Balena 190/7º andar, Santa Efigênia. 30130-100 Belo Horizonte MG Brasil. sabadogirardi@gmail.com

2Departamento de Política, Planejamento e Administração em Saúde, Instituto de Medicina Social, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro RJ Brasil

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to characterize the scope of practice of physicians working in primary healthcare participating in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) Program (‘PMM') and investigate the factors associated with execution of a larger number of clinical activities. It is an exploratory study carried over January to March 2016, through a self-applied questionnaire containing a list of 49 procedures, activities and actions carried out in primary healthcare. A total of 1,241 physicians took part in the study, most of them female, between age 40 and 49, and of Cuban nationality. The physicians carried out an average of 22.8 ± 8.2 procedures; they reported knowing how to carry out a larger number of procedures. Factors associated with executing a larger number of procedures were: being male, having graduated more recently, two years or less practicing in their primary healthcare unit, practicing in the North or South geographical regions, in small towns and more distant from the regional health headquarters. The main reason for not carrying out the procedures and activities that they reported knowing how to do was the lack of materials and inadequate infrastructure. The results show that the scope of practice of the physicians of the PMM is lower than their capacities, and that interventions with the intention of widening their scope are necessary.

Key words Mais Médicos Program; Human resources; Primary healthcare

Introduction

The process of institutionalization of Brazil's Unified Health System (SUS) has now been going on for more than twenty years, and one of the measures of its organization and implementation is the strengthening of Primary Healthcare, seeking to serve the population in accordance with the local realities. In this context, the scope of practice of doctors who work in primary healthcare is crucial for ensuring capacity to provide solutions in meeting the various health demands for the population, because these are the professionals who operate at the frontline of the SUS1,2.

The term ‘scope of practice' is used to describe the group of activities, functions and actions that a professional can exercise with security, according to his training, education and professional competence3. The following key elements are considered for the definition of scope of practice: (i) activities authorized by law; (ii) activities actually realized in the professional practice; (iii) the training and education required; (iv) criteria for exercising the profession; and (v) professional responsibility4.

In the area of health, a professional with limited scope of practice can increase the rates of referral to secondary networks and, consequently, increase the costs of health, as well as restricting users' access to the services5. At the same time, a widened scope of practice can help improve access to health services6. Thus, the way in which the scope of practice is established directly impacts the composition and productivity of the workforce and, thus, the quality and the cost of health services.

Studies point to a wider scope of practice of health professionals principally in rural areas, remote areas and other locations with low availability of doctors and specialists7-9. Among medical professionals, the amplified scope has been associated with factors such as gender, age, time of education, experience, location and access to the secondary network5.

The processes of regulation and qualification of the workforce in health, at the same time as the reforms in the models for provision of health services, principally in primary healthcare, have been indicated as essential to provide equity and quality in the health system6,10, when seeking to face a problem that is chronic for the various countries, including Brazil, which is the scarcity of health professionals, with a highlight for doctors11-13.

Countries that are benchmarks for investigating this problem and proposing strategies for its solution, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, have increasingly been using: (i) widening of the scope of practice of health professionals in primary healthcare; (ii) new professions such as Physician assistants, and nurses with advanced education (Nurse Practitioners); and (iii) transfer of responsibilities to other professional categories or to technical categories – ‘task shifting’14-16.

Recently, based on various evidences that indicated a situation of profound scarcities and unsatisfactory geographical distribution11,17-20, the Brazilian government launched the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) Program, which has as one of its central objectives the reduction of the shortage of doctors in the priority regions of the SUS, so as to reduce inequalities in access to the health services. For this, one of its main thrusts has been emergency provision of Brazilian and/or non-Brazilian doctors at these locations, named the Mais Médicos para o Brasil (‘more doctors for Brazil') Program, or PMMB21.

According to data from the Health Professionals Provision Planning and Regulation Department (DEPREPS), in February 2016 there were 14,913 doctors of the Program operating in Brazil, of which 85% were of foreign origin, the great majority (75%) Cuban, arising from cooperation between Brazil and Cuba. The presence of these doctors in the health teams has been contributing to increase in the supply of services and the capacity of diagnosis in the territory, as well as reducing the user's waiting time for scheduling of consultations22.

In spite of the importance of the doctors of the PMM, little is known about the activities that they have been carrying out, these activities being essential for resolving the population's health problems. In this context, an effort has been made to characterize the scope of practice of doctors working in primary healthcare that are participants of the PMM, and the factors associated with execution of a larger number of clinical activities.

Methods

This study presents prior results of the survey ‘Regulation of Work and the Professions in Health', carried out by the Market Signals Research Station (EPSM), of the Collective Health Education Center (NESCON), of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), which are part of the Health Human Resources Observatory Network. The project was approved by the Ethics Research Committee of UERJ.

It is an exploratory, cross-sectional study, carried out over the period January-March 2016, through its self-applied questionnaire, sent by email to a sample of doctors participating in the Mais Médicos Program.

The questionnaire, prepared on the basis of the Survey Monkey® tool, covered the following dimensions: socio-democratic profile of the doctors, characteristics of the work, and questions to establish the scope of practice of the professionals, according to a previously prepared list of procedures, activities and actions carried out by doctors in primary healthcare. The construction of the questionnaire involved various stages, including consultation of the Basic Healthcare Protocols of the Health Ministry, interviews with key informants and specialists, and review of international literature on the scope of practice of doctors in primary healthcare5,23-29.

The questionnaire was submitted to a pre-test, carried out on ten doctors who work in Primary Healthcare Units of different geographical regions of Brazil. It was then sent to a prepared list comprising 17,536 records of medical professionals who participated in courses offered by the Open University System of the SUS (UNA-SUS). These included both Specialization in Family Healthcare, which is mandatory for participation in the Primary Healthcare Professional Improvement Program (PROVAB) and the PMM, and also the open online courses of short duration which mostly cover subjects relating to primary healthcare.

A total of 3,568 doctors responded to the questionnaire, of which 1,241 were considered to be eligible to make the sample. The criteria for inclusion used was: all doctors who have operated or who operate in the PMM, and who have responded to the questions relating to procedures, activities and actions carried out in basic healthcare units.

In relation to the socio-demographic profile, data were collected on gender, age, nationality, country and year of conclusion of graduation, specialist qualifications, time of experience in primary healthcare and time of activity in the primary healthcare unit in which the person worked at the time of the application of the questionnaire. As well as these data, questions were asked on the municipality where the unit was located, classified by its geographical region, scale of population and distance, in terms of time, from the headquarter municipality of the health region30. The distance in terms of time was measured from the headquarter municipalities (using the address of the prefectures), by highway, to the location of the prefecture of the municipality in which the doctor worked31.

The socio-demographic data and the data on scopes of practice (procedures, activities and actions in health practiced by the doctors) were described according to the distribution of frequencies and measures of central tendency. For comparison of continuous variables the Mann Whitney non-parametric test was used, since the number of procedures, activities and actions carried out did not show a normal distribution. The level of significance adopted was 5%. The statistical analyses were made using the SPSS 19 software (SPSS Inc., Chicago, United States).

Results

The majority of respondents were female (52.3%), aged 40 to 49 (39.8%), of Cuban nationality (73.8%), with graduation outside Brazil (87.5%), time since graduation greater than 15 years (60.8%) and more than 8 years' experience in primary healthcare (52.9%) (Table 1). Considering only the Brazilians, this profile was different, with younger participants (aged 30-39; 54.0%), shorter time since graduation (≤ 5 years; 47.3%), less time working in primary healthcare (≤ 8 years; 79.6%) and lower proportion of people graduating outside Brazil (35.4%).

Table 1 Sociodemographic characteristics of survey participants. Brazil, 2016. N = 1,241. 

Characteristic n* %
Gender
Female 643 52.3
Male 586 47.7
Age group (years)
20–29 38 3.1
30–39 379 30.9
40–49 488 39.8
50–59 281 22.9
60 or over 39 3.3
Nationality
Brazilian 227 18.5
Cuban 906 73.8
Other 94 7.7
Country of training
Brazil 153 12.5
Outside Brazil 1071 87.5
Years since graduation
0–5 139 11.5
6–10 186 15.3
11–15 150 12.4
11–15 170 14.0
21–25 309 25.5
26 or more 258 21.3
Specialist qualification?
Yes 1075 86.6
No 166 13.4
Time in primary health care
≤ 8 years 582 47.1
> 8 years 653 52.9
Time in this primary health unit
≤ 2 years 719 58.4
> 2 years 513 41.6
Location of unit: Region of Brazil
North 137 11.0
Northeast 540 43.5
Southeast 304 24.5
South 183 14.8
Center-West 76 6.1
Scale of municipality where you work
State capital or metropolitan region 292 23.5
Population: Over 100,000 166 13.4
Population: 50,000 – 100,000 140 11.3
Population: 20,000 – 50,000 272 21.9
Population: 10,000 – 20,000 221 17.8
Population: Up to 10,000 150 12.1
Road journey time to health region HQ
Up to 15 minutes 448 36.1
16–30 minutes 126 10.2
31–45 minutes 186 15.0
45–60 minutes 118 9.5
61–120 minutes 253 20.4
Over 120 minutes 110 8.9

Source: Authors, from 2016 Health Professions Regulation survey.

*Excluding missing data.

As to work location, the majority worked in the primary health unit at the time of filling out the questionnaire for two years or less (58.4%), these being allocated in the Northeast (43.5%) and in state capitals and metropolitan regions (23.5%), with distance from the headquarters of the health region of up to 15 minutes (36.1%) (Table 1).

The majority of the participants stated that they had specialist qualification (86.6%), obtained by medical residency, specialization course, recognition of a society of specialists and masters' degree or doctorate (Table 1). These specialties related to primary care – Clinical Practice and Family and Community Medicine, or equivalent – corresponded to more than 90%.

With regard to the population served, a great majority of the doctors (≥ 95%) received demand ranging from nursing mothers to the elderly, and 87% reported also serving newborns. In relation to the conditions and health problems of patients, at least 95% of the interviewees reported receiving demand from patients with diabetes, hypertension, cardiopathies, pregnant women, patients with hypothyroid condition, obesity, cancer, problems with mobility, bedridden or physically disabled, patients with mental suffering and with respiratory problems. More than 75% of the doctors interviewed stated that they also receive demand from patients with chronic kidney deficiency, need to stop smoking, endemic diseases, chemical dependencies and living with HIV/AIDS.

Among situations of vulnerability of the patients served, the situation which the doctors cited most frequently was having among the population of their primary healthcare unit people who live in a situation of poverty (75.5%) – followed by homeless/people living in the street (23.7%), as well as immigrants (20.6%), seasonal populations (10.6%), people deprived of liberty (10.3%), indigenous people (9.8%), residents of river banks (9.2%) and residents of quilombo (former slave) settlements (7.1%).

In relation to the procedures, activities and actions, the average of realization by the doctors of the PMM in the primary healthcare units was 22.8 ± 8.2, of a total of 49, lower than the average of procedures that the doctors reported knowing how to do (39.0 ± 9.1; p < 0.001).

Table 2 presents the list of these procedures, activities and health actions; the percentage of doctors who indicated that they had executed them in the primary healthcare units; and the figures for doctors who reported being able to carry them out. Among those listed, 18 procedures stand out in which replies reporting their realization was greater than 50%, and 12 are cited by more than 90% of the professionals.

Table 2 Distribution procedures, activities and health actions carried out in UBS and procedures that participants declare to know whether the workplace. Brazil. N = 1,241. 

Health procedures, activities and actions Have executed in the unit Know how to execute
n* % n* %
Treatment of anemia 1,215 99.6 1,219 99.9
Treatment of skin mycoses 1,219 99.5 1,223 99.8
Treatment of dermatitis 1,214 99.3 1,219 99.8
Treatment of back pain 1,203 98.8 1,213 99.7
Treatment of epigastralgia / peptic ulcer 1,205 98.8 1,215 99.6
Treatment of recurrent urinary infection 1,206 98.7 1,217 99.6
Treatment of asthma 1,196 98.7 1,209 99.8
Treatment of recurrent sinusitis 1,178 97.0 1,200 98.8
Low-risk prenatal treatment 1,174 96.2 1,217 99.7
Treatment of allergic kidney conditions 1,163 95.5 1,186 97.4
Order fecal occult blood test 1,152 95.1 1,204 99.4
Treatment of recurrent otitis 1,148 94.9 1,187 98.1
Complaints of red eyes 1,045 87.9 1,139 95.8
Treatment of superficial wounds 936 79.5 1,168 99.2
High-risk prenatal treatment 707 59.9 1,076 91.2
Removal of earwax 660 57.7 1,096 95.9
Intramuscular injection 654 56.7 1,139 98.7
Subcutaneous injection 617 54.0 1,128 98.8
Loss of sharp vision (refraction, glaucoma, retinopathy, cataract) 566 49.1 791 68.7
Oxygen therapy 566 49.1 1,116 96.8
Visual acuity screening 530 46.3 895 78.2
Papanicolau test 528 45.3 1,121 96.2
Infiltration of local anesthetic 506 44.8 1,096 97.1
Sutures 502 43.5 1,147 99.5
Removal of unwanted body from the ear 478 42.3 1,042 92.2
Incision and drainage of abscess 464 40.7 1,112 97.6
Vein puncture 443 39.5 1,048 93.5
Removal of unwanted body from legs, arms and extremities 368 32.9 992 88.7
Immobilization of wounded extremities 361 32.2 1,054 93.9
Drainage of paronychia 346 31.1 964 86.5
Insertion of urethral catheter 337 29.7 1,028 90.7
Immobilization of fractures 317 28.3 975 87.1
Removal of skin lesions 314 28.2 935 84.0
Removal of unwanted body from cornea or conjunctiva 313 27.9 851 75.9
Removal of unwanted body from air passages 311 27.9 961 86.2
Removal of ingrown nail 310 27.8 954 85.6
Treatment of subungual bruise 262 23.7 832 75.4
Cauterisation of nosebleed 219 19.9 694 63.0
Insertion of nasogastric tube / gastric lavage 224 19.6 1,010 88.3
Removal of molluscum contagiosum 202 18.3 743 67.3
Electrocardiogram 177 15.5 943 82.7
Low risk normal birth 151 13.3 1,084 95.2
Removal of painful callus 126 11.5 657 59.9
Cryotherapy or chemical therapy for genital wart 121 11.0 686 62.4
Removal of cysts, lipoma, nevi 111 10.1 694 63.2
Acupuncture 84 7.5 528 46.9
Scraping for determination of fungi 58 5.3 573 52.2
High risk normal birth 46 4.1 609 54.1
Cryotherapy for skin lesions 42 3.8 468 42.4

Source: Authors, from 2016 Health Professions Regulation survey.

Highlight procedures: more than 90% of the doctors reported knowing how to do them, but less than 50% do them in their primary health unit.

*Excluding missing data.

The procedures, activities and actions which less than 50% of the doctors reported knowing how to do were ‘cryotherapy of skin lesions' and ‘acupuncture'.

Highlights among the procedures which had the highest percentage of positive response on knowing how to do them (> 90%), were ten which had frequency of realization lower than 50% (emphasized in Table 2).

The number of procedures carried out was greater among male individuals, those with less time since graduation, and those with more than two years activity in the primary health unit. Doctors who operated in the North and South geographical regions, in municipalities of smaller scale and remote municipalities, and also in those that are more distant from the regional health headquarters, also presented, on average, a higher number of procedures carried out (Table 3).

Table 3 Distribution of procedures, activities and health actions carried out in UBS and procedures that participants declare know-how, according to sociodemographic characteristics. Brazil, 2016. N = 1,241. 

Characteristic Number of procedures, activities and health actions executed Number of procedures, activities and health actions that doctor knows how to execute
Average ± SD Median p-value* Average ± SD Median p-value*
Gender
Female 22.0 ± 7.5 21.0 0.001 38.4 ± 9.3 41.0 <0.001
Male 23.8 ± 8.8 22.0 40.6 ± 8.5 43.0
Age§, years
≤ 43 23.0 ± 7.8 22.0 0.139 39.6 ± 8.4 42.0 0.495
> 43 years 22.7 ± 8.5 21.0 39.3 ± 9.5 42.0
Nationality
Brazilian 22.4 ± 8.1 21.0 REF 37.3 ± 8 39.0 REF
Cuban 22.9 ± 8.2 21.0 0.800 40 ± 9.3 43.0 <0.001
Other 22.9 ± 7.9 22.0 0.768 39.4 ± 7.9 41.0 0.005
Country of training
Brazil 21.7 ± 8.5 20.0 0.061 35.9 ± 8.8 38.0 <0.001
Outside Brazil 23.0 ± 8.1 21.0 40 ± 8.9 43.0
Years since graduation
≤ 17 23.5 ± 8.0 22.0 0.005 39.8 ± 8.1 42.0 0.498
> 17 years 22.4 ± 8.3 20.0 39.3 ± 9.6 42.5
Specialist qualification?
Yes 22.9 ± 8.4 21.0 0.625 39.6 ± 9.3 43.0 <0.001
No 22.2 ± 7.4 21.0 37.8 ± 7.8 39.0
Time working in primary care§
≤ 8 years 22.5 ± 8.3 21.0 0.349 38.2 ± 9.6 41.0 <0.001
> 8 years 23.0 ± 8.2 21.0 40.3 ± 8.6 43.0
Time in this primary health unit
≤ 2 years 22.3 ± 7.9 21.0 0.026 39.3 ± 9 42.0 0.165
> 2 years 23.5 ± 8.6 22.0 39.6 ± 9.2 42.0
Location of unit: Region
North 24.6 ± 8.1 24.0 <0.001 42.4 ± 6.6 44.0 <0.001
Northeast 22 ± 8.3 20.0 REF 39.5 ± 9.1 42.0 REF
Southeast 22.3 ± 8.4 20.0 0.666 37.8 ± 9.9 41.0 0.005
South 24.6 ± 7.8 24.0 <0.001 39.3 ± 8.9 42.0 0.632
Center-West 22.6 ± 7.2 21.0 0.196 39.6 ± 8.7 41.0 0.728
Scale of municipality
State capital or metropolitan region 20.7 ± 8.0 19.0 REF 37.6 ± 9.8 40.0 REF
Population: Over 100,000 21.0 ± 7.1 20.0 0.440 37.6 ± 9.3 40.0 0.835
Population: 50,000 – 100,000 21.0 ± 6.4 20.0 0.452 39.5 ± 7.3 40.0 0.256
Population: 20,000 – 50,000 23.0 ± 8.3 21.0 0.002 39.6 ± 9.4 42.5 0.001
Population: 10,000 – 20,000 25.2 ± 8.7 25.0 <0.001 40.8 ± 9.0 44.0 <0.001
Population: up to 10,000 26.6 ± 8.3 27.5 <0.001 42 ± 7.6 44.0 <0.001
Journey time to health region HQ
Up to 15 minutes 21.2 ± 7.6 20.0 REF 38.5 ± 9.0 41.0 REF
16–30 minutes 22.5 ± 8.6 20.0 0.090 38.1 ± 10.5 41.0 0.551
31–45 minutes 22.6 ± 8.2 21.0 0.154 39.3 ± 8.7 41.0 0.187
45–60 minutes 23.1 ± 7.9 22.5 0.012 39.4 ± 9.9 43.0 0.023
61–120 minutes 24.3 ± 8.8 23.0 <0.001 40 ± 9.0 43.0 0.001
Over 120 minutes 26.1 ± 7.8 25.0 <0.001 43 ± 7.0 45.0 <0.001

Source: Authors, from 2016 Health Professions Regulation survey.

*Calculated by Mann Whitney test.

§Data dichotomized by the median. REF = Reference group.

In relation to the procedures that the doctors stated they knew how to do, the pattern observed as to gender, scale and distance of the municipality was similar to that observed for the procedures carried out. However, a larger number of procedures that doctors knew how to do was reported by: doctors of Cuban and other nationalities; those trained outside Brazil; those holding special qualifications; those who had spent more time working in primary healthcare; and those that worked in the North and Southeast regions. There was no difference between them in terms of graduation and time of activity in the Primary Healthcare Unit (Table 3).

Among the reasons presented by the doctors for not carrying out the procedures and activities that they reported that they knew how to do, the outstanding ones were lack of materials and inadequate infrastructure, cited by 87.3% of the participants. In a lower quantity others were cited, including: factors associated with the normative rules of the practice, such as: clinical protocols (34.7%); lack of demand for realization of the procedures (24.5%); and excessive workload (21.7%).

Discussion

This exploratory study sought to analyze the activities carried out by doctors of the PMM and the distribution of those activities by professional profile and municipality of the activity. In this sample it was also possible to study the factors that influenced the scope of practice of these professionals.

In relation to the social-demographic profile of the participants, it was found that there was a predominance of doctors over the age of 40, of Cuban nationality and of the female gender. This profile is compatible with the data of the DEPREPS of February 2016, in which 75% of the doctors participating in the PMM are of Cuban nationality and the majority are over the age of 40. The participation of Brazilian professionals – predominantly recently qualified and younger, in this sample – increased in the recent tenders, filling up the greater part32 or the totality33 of the vacancies offered by the Program. In spite of this, the number of these professionals is still small to change the overall profile of the doctors who are currently in the PMM. Also, the trend to a higher number of female doctors, observed in this study, is an international trend in the area of health, as shown in a systematic review study by Hedden et al., in 201434.

The doctors of the PMM reported receiving a diversified demand in their health units, both in relation to age group and also in relation to the health problems and conditions, which include chronic diseases, mainly hypertension and diabetes – infectious diseases and endemic diseases. The authors consider that there are elements that affect this profile of demand, such as the availability of a doctor in another health team of the same Unit and the availability of attendance by specialists. It can be noted that a majority of the doctors have worked for two years or less in the Units, which could also influence the perception of the profile of the demand received.

The relationship between an amplified scope of practice and activity in rural and remote areas has been indicated in several international studies8,9,35,36. In this study, doctors who worked in remote municipalities, distant from their regional headquarters, and those of smaller scale, carried out a larger number of procedures compared to those who operated in municipalities up to 15 minutes distant, and in state capitals and metropolitan regions. According to the Primary Health Care Doctors Scarcity Index19, the majority of the municipalities with scarcity were those of smaller scale and, the greater the distance to the regional health headquarters, the greater the degree of scarcity attributed. The Index also reveals that the region with the largest number of municipalities with scarcity is the Northern Region (31%), and in this study this was one of the regions where the doctors carried out a larger number of procedures, activities and actions.

In spite of there being a larger female than male contingent in this study, the results indicate that male doctors carry out and know how to carry out a larger number of procedures, activities and actions. Other studies show a similar influence of gender in the scope of practice of doctors5,37,38. However, the reasons why these scopes differ are not clear, and specific studies are needed on this subject for better comprehension of the findings.

Less time since graduation was associated with the realization of a number of procedures, activities and actions in this study. Recently-graduated doctors tend to seek work locations where they feel challenged and can gain experience9. A recent US study compared the intended scope of practice of family medicine residents to that of doctors already working in this area, at the moment of obtaining professional certification/recertification; these authors observed that the residents interviewed stated a greater intention of practicing with amplified scope, including care in obstetrics, prenatal care, and care for chronic and acute diseases, among others39.

The results show that, in general, respondents reported knowing how to do more procedures, activities and actions than they in fact carried out in the units where they operate, which characterizes a possible reduction of their scope of practice. The phenomenon has been identified in other international studies35,40,41. In the US, for example, low indices of realization of pre-natal and birth care were reported by doctors recently concluding residencies in family medicine who consider themselves to have a high capacity to carry out these activities40.

Among the reasons found in the literature for a reduced scope of practice of primary healthcare doctors the following can be cited: personal factors, such as lifestyle and individual preference; factors related to work, such as lack of training, excessive workload, complexity of the clinical cases, contractual restrictions; and external factors, such as lack of support from the institution and from the community, restriction on reimbursement of procedures executed and the high cost of insurance against malpractice claims39-42.

The main barrier to execution of activities and actions pointed to by the doctors in this study was the lack of materials and the inadequate infrastructure of the primary healthcare units. This limiting factor is likely to be attenuated by 2018, since the Mais Médicos Program Law establishes a period of up to five years for the SUS to provide basic healthcare units with quality of equipment and infrastructure21. To make investment in infrastructure and (re)construction of basic healthcare units even more viable, the Program has made it mandatory for municipalities to join the Requalifica UBS – a program of improvement of infrastructure of the primary healthcare units. This program was launched in 2011 by the federal government and, connected with the PMM, is making it possible for 26,000 basic healthcare units to be refurbished, built and expanded, with an investment of more than R$ 5 billion43.

As well as having an effect on access to health services, the amplified scope of practice is considered an important factor for the choice of working location by the doctor and for the doctor's permanence in the services44,45. It can thus be affirmed that expansion of the scope of practice of primary healthcare helps to attract and fix doctors in the health teams. Although this was not the objective of this paper, mainly in view of the increase of joining of the PMM by Brazilian doctors with medical registry in the country, it becomes essential to study the expansion of scopes of practice as a possible strategy for attracting and fixing doctors in unassisted areas in Brazil.

The process of expansion of scopes of practice of health professionals involves, in countries such as Canada and the United States, among other various stages, research and consultation on public policies, standards of professional regulation and jurisprudence on the subject. The carrying out of public consultations also becomes necessary for there to be alterations in the regulation and the professional legislation that exists at present, further taking into account the competencies necessary for carrying out acts and the establishment of standards of practice4,15,46.

It is also important to recognize and incorporate the superimposition of scopes of practice of different health professionals, as well as proposing mechanisms for carrying out of activities by non-medical professionals6,10,46. On this aspect, a National Committee could be formed to monitor, evaluate and update the standards and patterns of scope of practice of professionals46. These strategies could be applied in professional regulation, with a focus on primary healthcare, for the purpose of maximizing the use of the competencies of the health team.

In Brazil, scales were not found for evaluating the scope of practice of doctors; and the use of international scales is inappropriate to the local health context. Added to this is the scarcity of publications on the subject, which makes comparison of the findings difficult. The study is exploratory and the associations reported need to be studied in future investigations to validate the results. The low level of response found affected its representativeness. However, it was possible to help in the characterization of the clinical practice of the professionals participating in the PMM, and to identify the principal associated factors. Based on the results of the study, construction and validation of a national scale could be proposed.

Conclusion

The study identified various different factors that are associated with a broadened scope of practice of the participants, such as male gender, and lower time since graduation, as well as geographical factors such as location, distance and the scale of the municipalities where the doctors work. It was further highlighted that the doctors working in the Mais Médicos Program carry out a lower number of procedures, activities and actions than they report themselves as knowing how to carry out, mainly due to the lack of materials and the inadequate infrastructure of the basic health units. Thus, the use of the competencies of the professionals could be optimized by structuring of the health units and making materials available. The review of the scopes of practice of health professionals has been highlighted as a tool for expansion of the potential of primary healthcare.

Referências

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Received: March 09, 2016; Revised: June 13, 2016; Accepted: June 15, 2016

Collaborations

SN Girardi, CL Carvalho and CR Pierantoni worked on the conception of the project, significant critical review of the content of the paper, and final approval of the version to be published; JO Costa, ACS Stralen, TV Lauar and RB David worked in the collection, treatment, analysis and interpretation of the data, and writing of the paper.

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