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A physician role typology: Colleague and client dependence in an HMO


  • Barr, Judith K.
  • Steinberg, Marcia K.


This paper reports on physicians' role definitions in one prepaid group practice, a health maintenance organization (HMO). Colleague and client dependence are reviewed and analyzed as separable dimensions of physician role definitions. Data are derived from documents, interviews, and staff questionnaires collected in 1979-1980. The evidence reported suggests widespread colleague dependence in the HMO. Physicians consulted with one another about patient care and engaged in informal referral and review, developing practice standards; and some of these physicians relied on colleagues for handling their patient visits when needed. In relation to their patients, some physicians viewed themselves as bureaucratic officials relatively dependent on client approval in carrying out their health care activities, while others saw themselves as trusted medical experts in a setting free of nonmedical constraints in patient care. The relationship of organizational structure to these different role definitions is discussed. Classifying these HMO physicians according to a fourfold typology of professional dependence shows that most are Organizational Physicians (Type I), who are both colleague and client dependent. Collegial Physicians (Type II) are colleague dependent and, at the same time, do not perceive clients as demanding. Implications for quality of care and physician satisfaction and turnover are considered.

Suggested Citation

  • Barr, Judith K. & Steinberg, Marcia K., 1985. "A physician role typology: Colleague and client dependence in an HMO," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 253-261, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:20:y:1985:i:3:p:253-261

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