Background: Primary care staffing decisions are often made unsystematically, potentially leading to increased costs, dissatisfaction, turnover, and reduced quality of care. This article aims to (1) catalogue the domain of primary care tasks, (2) explore the complexity associated with these tasks, and (3) examine how tasks performed by different job titles differ in function and complexity, using Functional Job Analysis to develop a new tool for making evidence-based staffing decisions.
Methods: Seventy-seven primary care personnel from six US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers, representing six job titles, participated in two-day focus groups to generate 243 unique task statements describing the content of VA primary care. Certified job analysts rated tasks on ten dimensions representing task complexity, skills, autonomy, and error consequence. Two hundred and twenty-four primary care personnel from the same clinics then completed a survey indicating whether they performed each task. Tasks were catalogued using an adaptation of an existing classification scheme; complexity differences were tested via analysis of variance.
Results: Objective one: Task statements were categorized into four functions: service delivery (65%), administrative duties (15%), logistic support (9%), and workforce management (11%). Objective two: Consistent with expectations, 80% of tasks received ratings at or below the mid-scale value on all ten scales. Objective three: Service delivery and workforce management tasks received higher ratings on eight of ten scales (multiple functional complexity dimensions, autonomy, human error consequence) than administrative and logistic support tasks. Similarly, tasks performed by more highly trained job titles received higher ratings on six of ten scales than tasks performed by lower trained job titles. Contrary to expectations, the distribution of tasks across functions did not significantly vary by job title.
Conclusion: Primary care personnel are not being utilized to the extent of their training; most personnel perform many tasks that could reasonably be performed by personnel with less training. Primary care clinics should use evidence-based information to optimize job-person fit, adjusting clinic staff mix and allocation of work across staff to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.