Changing nature of physician satisfaction with health maintenance organization and fee-for-service practices

J Fam Pract. 1997 Oct;45(4):321-30.


Background: Managed care practice arrangements, or health maintenance organizations (HMOs), are sufficiently mature to examine whether physicians' level of satisfaction has changed as managed care has developed. This study compares Dane County, Wisconsin, physicians' satisfaction with HMO and fee-for-service (FFS) practices in 1986 with that of 1993 and examines factors that contribute to satisfaction in an HMO-dominated environment.

Methods: Cross-sectional surveys were mailed to all Dane County physicians in active practice in 1986 and 1993. Physician overall support for HMO development and satisfaction with work situation was measured with single items. Overall satisfaction and clinical freedom within HMO and FFS practices were measured using statistically reliable scales.

Results: Significantly more physicians were supportive of the development of HMOs in 1993 than in 1986, and more than two thirds of physicians in 1993 were satisfied in their current work situation. Primary care physicians were significantly more satisfied than subspecialists across most dimensions of satisfaction. Perceived clinical freedom and satisfaction with income continued to be major predictors of satisfaction in 1993 as in 1986. While physicians' satisfaction with HMO practice remained stable, their satisfaction with FFS practice was significantly lower in 1993 than in 1986. Satisfaction with Medicare practice, which was not measured in 1986, was significantly less than with HMO or FFS practice in 1993.

Conclusions: Analyses suggest that primary care physicians are more satisfied than subspecialists with their HMO practice because of their greater satisfaction with HMO-generated income and the expanded clinical freedom they have in HMO practice. An across-the-board decline in satisfaction with FFS practice may be attributable to diminishing clinical freedom resulting from indemnity carriers' increasing micromanagement of patient care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice / organization & administration
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / standards*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Maintenance Organizations / standards*
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Medicare
  • Medicine / organization & administration
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data
  • Professional Autonomy
  • Specialization
  • United States
  • Wisconsin