BACKGROUND: The need to improve doctors' access to health care by reducing the barriers they experience has been regularly described in the literature, yet the barriers experienced are not well defined, despite the volume of expert opinion in this area.
AIM: To define what is known about doctors' access to health care from the data within the current literature.
DESIGN OF STUDY: A systematic review of studies of doctors' health access.
METHOD: A systematic search of MEDLINE and CINAHL, supplemented by citation searches and searches of the grey literature, identified both quantitative and qualitative studies. Two reviewers used specific criteria for inclusion of studies and quality assessment. The data were tabulated and analysed.
RESULTS: Twenty-six articles met the inclusion criteria. The paucity of data and the overall poor quality of those data are highlighted. Despite this, many doctors appear to have a GP, but this does not ensure adequate health access. Systemic barriers to healthcare access (long hours and cultural issues) are more significant than individual barriers.
CONCLUSION: Expert opinion in this field is supported by poor-quality data. The current knowledge reveals important similarities between doctors and the general population in their healthcare access, especially with mental health issues. Understanding this may help the medical profession to respond to these issues of 'doctors' health' more effectively.