BACKGROUND: Over the past decade the healthcare workforce has diversified in several directions with formalised roles for health care assistants, specialised roles for nurses and technicians, advanced roles for physician associates and nurse practitioners and new professions for new services, such as case managers. Hence the composition of health care teams has become increasingly diverse. The exact extent of this diversity is unknown across the different countries of Europe, as are the drivers of this change. The research questions guiding this study were: What extended professional roles are emerging on health care teams? How are extended professional roles created? What main drivers explain the observed differences, if any, in extended roles in and between countries?
METHODS: We performed a case-based comparison of the extended roles in care pathways for breast cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. We conducted 16 case studies in eight European countries, including in total 160 interviews with physicians, nurses and other health care professionals in new roles and 600+ hours of observation in health care clinics.
RESULTS: The results show a relatively diverse composition of roles in the three care pathways. We identified specialised roles for physicians, extended roles for nurses and technicians, and independent roles for advanced nurse practitioners and physician associates. The development of extended roles depends upon the willingness of physicians to delegate tasks, developments in medical technology and service (re)design. Academic training and setting a formal scope of practice for new roles have less impact upon the development of new roles. While specialised roles focus particularly on a well-specified technical or clinical domain, the generic roles concentrate on organising and integrating care and cure.
CONCLUSION: There are considerable differences in the number and kind of extended roles between both countries and care pathways. The main drivers for new roles reside in the technological development of medical treatment and the need for more generic competencies. Extended roles develop in two directions: 1) specialised roles and 2) generic roles.
- skill mix
- health workforce
- extended roles
- advanced roles
- comparative study
- health care teams