"it's Tricky": Care Managers' Perspectives on Interacting with Primary Care Clinicians

Stephanie Nothelle, Jennifer Wolff, Amelie Nkodo, Jessica Litman, Linda Dunbar, Cynthia Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Care management programs that facilitate collaboration between care managers and primary care clinicians are more likely to be successful in improving chronic disease metrics than programs that do not facilitate such collaboration. The authors sought to understand care managers' perspectives on interacting with primary care clinicians. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with care managers (n = 29) from 3 health systems in and around a large, urban academic center. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and iteratively analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Care managers worked for health plans (14%), outpatient specialty clinics (31%), hospitals and emergency departments (24%), and primary care offices (14%). Care managers identified the primary care clinician as leading patients' care and as essential to avoiding unnecessary utilization. Care managers described variability in and barriers to interacting with primary care clinicians. When possible, care managers use the electronic medical record to facilitate interaction rather than communicating directly (eg, phone call) with primary care clinicians. The role of the care manager varied across programs, contributing to primary care clinicians' poor understanding of what the care manager could provide. Consequently, primary care clinicians asked the care manager for help with tasks beyond his/her role. Care managers felt inferior to primary care clinicians, a potential result of the traditional medical hierarchy, which also hindered interactions. Although care managers view interactions with the primary care clinician as essential to the health of the patient, communication challenges, variability of the care manager's role, and medical hierarchy limit collaboration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-344
Number of pages7
JournalPopulation health management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021


  • care management
  • collaborative care
  • complex care
  • primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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