Primary health care reform, dilemmatic space and risk of burnout among health workers

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Freeman, Toby
Baum, Fran
Labonte, Ronald
Javanparast, Sara
Lawless, Angela Patricia
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Sage Journals
© The Author(s) 2017
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Health system changes may increase primary health care workers’ dilemmatic space, created when reforms contravene professional values. Dilemmatic space may be a risk factor for burnout. This study partnered with six Australian primary health care services (in South Australia: four state government–managed services including one Aboriginal health team and one non-government organisation and in Northern Territory: one Aboriginal community–controlled service) during a period of change and examined workers’ dilemmatic space and incidence of burnout. Dilemmatic space and burnout were assessed in a survey of 130 staff across the six services (58% response rate). Additionally, 63 interviews were conducted with practitioners, managers, regional executives and health department staff. Dilemmatic space occurred across all services and was associated with higher rates of self-reported burnout. Three conditions associated with dilemmatic space were (1) conditions inherent in comprehensive primary health care, (2) stemming from service provision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and (3) changes wrought by reorientation to selective primary health care in South Australia. Responses to dilemmatic space included ignoring directives or doing work ‘under the radar’, undertaking alternative work congruent with primary health care values outside of hours, or leaving the organisation. The findings show that comprehensive primary health care was contested and political. Future health reform processes would benefit from considering alignment of changes with staff values to reduce negative effects of the reform and safeguard worker wellbeing.
burnout, health care reform,, health promotion,, primary health care
Freeman, T., Baum, F., Labonté, R., Javanparast, S., & Lawless, A. (2017). Primary health care reform, dilemmatic space and risk of burnout among health workers. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 22(3), 277–297.