Background: Work conditions in primary care are associated with physician burnout and lower quality of care.
Objective: We aimed to assess if improvements in work conditions improve clinician stress and burnout.
Subjects: Primary care clinicians at 34 clinics in the upper Midwest and New York City participated in the study.
Study design: This was a cluster randomized controlled trial.
Measures: Work conditions, such as time pressure, workplace chaos, and work control, as well as clinician outcomes, were measured at baseline and at 12-18 months. A brief worklife and work conditions summary measure was provided to staff and clinicians at intervention sites.
Interventions: Diverse interventions were grouped into three categories: 1) improved communication; 2) changes in workflow, and 3) targeted quality improvement (QI) projects.
Analysis: Multilevel regressions assessed impact of worklife data and interventions on clinician outcomes. A multilevel analysis then looked at clinicians whose outcome scores improved and determined types of interventions associated with improvement.
Results: Of 166 clinicians, 135 (81.3%) completed the study. While there was no group treatment effect of baseline data on clinician outcomes, more intervention clinicians showed improvements in burnout (21.8% vs 7.1% less burned out, p = 0.01) and satisfaction (23.1% vs 10.0% more satisfied, p = 0.04). Burnout was more likely to improve with workflow interventions [Odds Ratio (OR) of improvement in burnout 5.9, p = 0.02], and with targeted QI projects than in controls (OR 4.8, p = 0.02). Interventions in communication or workflow led to greater improvements in clinician satisfaction (OR 3.1, p = 0.04), and showed a trend toward greater improvement in intention to leave (OR 4.2, p = 0.06).
Limitations: We used heterogeneous intervention types, and were uncertain how well interventions were instituted.
Conclusions: Organizations may be able to improve burnout, dissatisfaction and retention by addressing communication and workflow, and initiating QI projects targeting clinician concerns.