Impacts of operational failures on primary care physicians’ work: A critical interpretive synthesis of the literature

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Why it matters

Time is precious in general practice. With workloads increasing and burnout on the rise, general practitioners (GPs) are under significant stress – even when the systems around them function the way they are meant to. What happens when those systems fail?

‘Operational failures’ are well-documented in hospitals. Though they often cause only brief interruptions – like searching for missing equipment or re-ordering medicines when the wrong one is delivered to the ward – they add up to major time losses and other consequences for healthcare professionals and patients. But so far, operational failures have not received much attention in general practice, where the majority of healthcare contacts occur.

This kind of hospital-based research has been invaluable in highlighting challenges and identifying targets for improvement. But the same kind of study has been much more rare in primary care. With GPs facing mounting stress, and a growing crisis in GP recruitment and retention, it’s increasingly important to understand the kinds of operational failures that interfere with GPs’ work and to explore how to improve the systems and processes that support them.

Our approach

As part of a larger project to identify and understand operational failures in general practice, we conducted a critical interpretive synthesis of the literature.

This approach combines elements of a systematic review with an interpretive and critical analysis. Rather than summarising the data, it aims to develop theories and concepts.

From more than 8,500 citations, we identified 95 papers that discussed operational failures to analyse and synthesise.

What we found

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At a glance

Visual abstract - impacts of operational failures

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