Project Description

A Roadmap OUT of mEdical deserts into supportive Health Workforce initiatives and policies (ROUTE-HWF)

Medical deserts are remote rural regions and deprived urban areas that lack an adequate supply of medical personnel and healthcare services.

They constitute a growing concern across Europe as they reduce the effectiveness of healthcare systems, which are currently under considerable strain in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have severe negative impacts on population health.

Despite existing research on health workforce planning and health disparities, the concept of medical deserts is ambiguous and lacks specificity. Although EU countries and regions have developed policy responses and approaches to address medical deserts, there is insufficient evidence on what policy interventions are most effective at reducing medical deserts.


ROUTE-HWF aims to help EU Member States to improve timely access to high-quality healthcare across all EU regions, thus reducing disparities in population health.

Specific objectives:

  • To provide a definition and taxonomy of the concept of medical deserts.
  • To develop guidelines on how EU Member States can monitor and measure medical deserts at national and subnational levels.
  • To analyse the factors that drive medical “desertification” and assess health workforce policy responses and approaches to medical deserts.
  • To provide an optimal mix of policy responses and approaches to medical deserts depending on the type of medical desert.
  • To develop a roadmap to help EU Member States in designing and implementing their own health workforce policies that address medical deserts.

Scope of action:

Rural and remote areas, deprived urban areas

Geographical scope:

European Union

Target stakeholders:

  • Policy makers
  • Healthcare professionals (all types, all contexts, especially the ones working in deprived areas)
  • University (healthcare professionals such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, physiotherapy)
  • Researchers
  • Patients

Phases and main activities:

ROUTE-HWF consists of eight inter-related work packages (WPS):

  • WP1: Coordination of the project
  • WP2: Dissemination of the project
  • WP3: Evaluation of the project
  • WP4: Development of a definition and taxonomy of medical deserts
  • WP5: Development of guidelines for monitoring and measuring medical deserts
  • WP6: Development of the ROUTE-HWF roadmap
  • WP7: Case studies on medical deserts
  • WP8: Consensus-building workshop


The evaluation of ROUTE-HWF will have features of both a formative and summative evaluation. The formative evaluation is intended to ensure that the project tasks are being delivered effectively and efficiently and to ensure continual improvement of the ROUTE-HWF project. The summative evaluation will be used to assess whether the aims of the ROUTE-HWF project have been met.

Expected results:

  • Leaflet
  • Characteristics of medical deserts and approaches to mitigate them: a scoping review (pending publication)
  • Definition and taxonomy of the concept of medical desserts.
  • Guidelines on how the EU Member States can monitor and measure medical deserts at the national and subnational level.
  • In-depth insights on factors driving desertification and of HWF policy responses and approaches to medical deserts.
  • Optimal mix of HWF policy responses and approaches to medical deserts per category of the taxonomy on medical deserts.
  • Roadmap that will support the EU Members States in designing and implementing their workforce, actions and initiatives related to medical deserts.



Partners of the project:

Funding entity:

The Health Programme of the European Union (2014-2020)

Timeframe: March 2021- February 2024
Key words: Medical deserts, healthcare workforce, taxonomy, contributing factors, approaches, roadmap
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