BACKGROUND: The healthcare systems in the western world have in recent years faced major challenges caused by demographic changes and altered patterns of diseases as well as political decisions influencing the organisation of healthcare provisions. General practitioners are encouraged to delegate more clinical tasks to their staff in order to respond to the changing circumstances. Nevertheless, the degree of task delegation varies substantially between general practices, and how these different degrees affect the quality of care for the patients is currently not known. Using chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as our case scenario, the aim of the study was to investigate associations between degrees of task delegation in general practice and spirometry testing as a measure of quality of care.
METHODS: We carried out a cross-sectional study comprising all general practices in Denmark and patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. General practitioners (GPs) were invited to participate in a survey investigating degrees of task delegation in their clinics. Data were linked to national registers on spirometry testing among patients with COPD. We investigated associations using multilevel mixed-effects logit models and adjusted for practice and patient characteristics.
RESULTS: GPs from 895 practices with staff managing COPD-related tasks responded, and 61,223 COPD patients were linked to these practices. Hereof, 24,685 (40.3%) had a spirometry performed within a year. Patients had a statistically significant higher odds ratio (OR) of having an annual spirometry performed in practices with medium or maximal degrees of task delegation compared to practices with a minimal degree (OR = 1.27 and OR = 1.33, respectively).
CONCLUSION: Delegating more complex tasks to practice staff implies that COPD-patients are more likely to be treated according to evidence-based recommendations on spirometry testing.