Task shifting–delegating tasks to existing or new health cadres with either less training or narrowly tailored training–is a promising policy option to increase the productive efficiency of the delivery of health care services, increasing the number of services provided at a given quality and cost, a study finds.

For example, in Mozambique, surgically trained assistant medical officers, who were the key providers in district hospitals, produced similar patient outcomes at a significantly lower cost as compared to physician obstetricians and gynecologists.

Although task shifting is promising, it can present its own challenges. For example, a study analyzing task shifting in HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa noted quality and safety concerns, professional and institutional resistance, and the need to sustain motivation and performance.

“Task shifting is a policy option that should be considered to help achieve productive efficiency and provide access to services that otherwise might not be available,” the study concluded.

1. Fulton BD, Scheffler RM, Sparkes SP, et al. Health workforce skill mix and task shifting in low income countries: a review of recent evidence. Human Resources for Health 2011; 9: 1. (open access)