Team-based care has the potential to improve primary care quality and efficiency. In this model, medical assistants (MAs) take a more central role in patient care and population health management. MAs’ traditionally low status may give them a unique view on changing organizational dynamics and teamwork. However, little empirical work exists on how team-based organizational designs affect the experiences of low-status health care workers like MAs.
The aim of this study was to describe how team-based primary care affects the experiences of MAs. A secondary aim was to explore variation in these experiences.
In late 2014, the authors interviewed 30 MAs from nine primary care practices transitioning to team-based care. Interviews addressed job responsibilities, teamwork, implementation, job satisfaction, and learning. Data were analyzed using a thematic networks approach. Interviews also included closed-ended questions about workload and job satisfaction.
Most MAs reported both a higher workload (73%) and a greater job satisfaction (86%) under team-based primary care. Interview data surfaced four mechanisms for these results, which suggested more fulfilling work and greater respect for the MA role: (a) relationships with colleagues, (b) involvement with patients, (c) sense of control, and (d) sense of efficacy. Facilitators and barriers to these positive changes also emerged.
Team-based care can provide low-status health care workers with more fulfilling work and strengthen relationships across status lines. The extent of this positive impact may depend on supporting factors at the organization, team, and individual worker levels.
To maximize the benefits of team-based care, primary care leaders should recognize the larger role that MAs play under this model and support them as increasingly valuable team members. Contingent on organizational conditions, practices may find MAs who are willing to manage the increased workload that often accompanies team-based care.