Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

ObjectivesTo understand how and why participation in quality circles (QCs) improves general practitioners’ (GPs) psychological well-being and the quality of their clinical practice. To provide evidence-informed and practical guidance to maintain QCs at local and policy levels.DesignA theory-driven mixed method.SettingPrimary healthcare.MethodWe collected data in four stages to develop and refine the programme theory of QCs: (1) coinquiry with Swiss and European expert stakeholders to develop a preliminary programme theory; (2) realist review with systematic searches in MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO and CINHAL (1980–2020) to inform the preliminary programme theory; (3) programme refinement through interviews with participants, facilitators, tutors and managers of QCs and (4) consolidation of theory through interviews with QC experts across Europe and examining existing theories.Sources of dataThe coinquiry comprised 4 interviews and 3 focus groups with 50 European experts. From the literature search, we included 108 papers to develop the literature-based programme theory. In stage 3, we used data from 40 participants gathered in 6 interviews and 2 focus groups to refine the programme theory. In stage 4, five interviewees from different healthcare systems consolidated our programme theory.ResultRequirements for successful QCs are governmental trust in GPs’ abilities to deliver quality improvement, training, access to educational material and performance data, protected time and financial resources. Group dynamics strongly influence success; facilitators should ensure participants exchange knowledge and generate new concepts in a safe environment. Peer interaction promotes professional development and psychological well-being. With repetition, participants gain confidence to put their new concepts into practice.ConclusionWith expert facilitation, clinical review and practice opportunities, QCs can improve the quality of standard practice, enhance professional development and increase psychological well-being in the context of adequate professional and administrative support.PROSPERO registration numberCRD42013004826.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open



Publication Date





e058453 - e058453