The shortage of health workers in many low-income countries poses a threat to the quality of health services. When the number of patients per health worker grows sufficiently high, there will be insufficient time to diagnose and treat all patients adequately. This paper tests the hypothesis that high caseload reduces the level of effort per patient in the diagnostic process. We observed 159 clinicians in 2095 outpatient consultations at 126 health facilities in rural Tanzania. Surprisingly, we find no association between caseload and the level of effort per patient. Clinicians appear to have ample amounts of idle time. We conclude that health workers are not overworked and that scaling up the number of health workers is unlikely to raise the quality of health services. Training has a positive effect on quality but is not in itself sufficient to raise quality to adequate levels.

Ottar Mæstad

Research Professor / Special Adviser, Director Development Learning Lab