BACKGROUND: The Brazilian Health System is organized on a regional and hierarchical form with three levels of complexity of health care. The Primary Care represents the first element of a continuing health care process, complemented by specialized actions. However, the centrality of the specialized care is still a problem in Brazil, especially in the private sector. Studies on the distribution of professionals in the health system allowing the formulation of appropriate policies are needed. OBJECTIVES: To investigate the distribution of physical therapists in the levels of complexity of health care and between public and private establishments, according to data from the National Register of Health Service Providers (NRHSP). METHOD: A descriptive cross-sectional study was performed considering NRHSP-national bank data collected in March 2010 and demographic census 2010 data. Data were analyzed through descriptive statistics techniques. RESULTS: We identified 53,181 registries of physical therapists, 60% linked to the private sector. Only 13% of all entries were linked to primary care. The predominance in specialized care occurred in the public sector (65%) and private sector (100%). The specialized establishments of private sector linked to the southeast region (16,043) were the main sites of physical therapists. Only the public sector in the south had a majority in the Primary Care. When considering the sizes of the cities, there is focus on specialist care in bigger cities. CONCLUSIONS: This study identified the concentration of physical therapists in the specialized care, mostly in metropolis and big cities and in the private sector, with restricted to participation in the primary care.
physical therapy; public health; private sector; primary health care; ambulatory care; hospital care