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health care quality, physicians, teams, schemas



  1. Hoff, Timothy


Context: Experience is a key shaper of thought and action in the health care workplace and a fundamental component of management and professional policies dealing with improving quality of care. Physicians rely on experience to structure social interaction, to determine authority relations, and to resist organizational encroachments on their work and autonomy. However, an overreliance on experience within physician teams may paradoxically undermine learning, participation, and entrepreneurship, affecting organizational performance.


Methods: Approximately 100 hours of direct observation of normal workdays for physician teams (n = 17 physicians) in two different work settings in a single academic medical center located in the Northeastern part of the United States. Qualitative data were collected from physician teams in the medical intensive care unit and trauma/general surgery settings. Data were transcribed and computer analyzed through an interactive process of open coding, theoretical sampling, and pattern recognition that proceeded longitudinally.


Findings: Three particular experience-based schemas were identified that physician teams used to structure social relations and perform work. These schemas involved using experience as a commodity, trump card, and liberator. Each of these schemas consisted of strongly held norms, beliefs, and values that produced team dynamics with the potential for undermining learning, participation, and entrepreneurship in the group.


Conclusions: Organizations may move to mitigate the negative impact of an overreliance on experience among physicians by promoting bureaucratic forms of control that enable physicians to engage learning, participation, and entrepreneurship in their work while not usurping existing and difficult-to-change cultural drivers of team behavior.