Managed Care, Physician Job Satisfaction, and the Quality of Primary Care


  • The authors have no conflicts of interest to report.

Address correspondence and requests for reprints to Dr. Grembowski: Department of Health Services, University of Washington, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 357660, Seattle, WA 98195-7660 (e-mail:


Objective: To determine the associations between managed care, physician job satisfaction, and the quality of primary care, and to determine whether physician job satisfaction is associated with health outcomes among primary care patients with pain and depressive symptoms.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Offices of 261 primary physicians in private practice in Seattle.

Patients: We screened 17,187 patients in waiting rooms, yielding a sample of 1,514 patients with pain only, 575 patients with depressive symptoms only, and 761 patients with pain and depressive symptoms; 2,004 patients completed a 6-month follow-up survey.

Measurements And Results: For each patient, managed care was measured by the intensity of managed care controls in the patient's primary care office, physician financial incentives, and whether the physician read or used back pain and depression guidelines. Physician job satisfaction at baseline was measured through a 6-item scale. Quality of primary care at follow-up was measured by patient rating of care provided by the primary physician, patient trust and confidence in primary physician, quality-of-care index, and continuity of primary physician. Outcomes were pain interference and bothersomeness, Symptom Checklist for Depression, and restricted activity days. Pain and depression patients of physicians with greater job satisfaction had greater trust and confidence in their primary physicians. Pain patients of more satisfied physicians also were less likely to change physicians in the follow-up period. Depression patients of more satisfied physicians had higher ratings of the care provided by their physicians. These associations remained after controlling statistically for managed care. Physician job satisfaction was not associated with health outcomes.

Conclusions: For primary care patients with pain or depressive symptoms, primary physician job satisfaction is associated with some measures of patient-rated quality of care but not health outcomes.