Don't count on financial incentives to improve care quality

The healthcare industry has put much focus on pay-for-performance programs to improve the quality of care. Yet new research questions this approach and suggests that providing financial incentives to doctors and hospitals to deliver high-quality care may not ensure healthier patients.

After reviewing studies of incentive programs, researchers found inadequate evidence to determine whether pay-for-performance programs improve or hinder clinical quality and cost control.

"There is currently little rigorous evidence about whether financial incentives do improve the quality of primary health care, or of whether such an approach is cost-effective relative to other ways of improving the quality of care," Dr. Peter Sivey from the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in Australia said in a statement.

The incentive programs could neither be supported nor disputed because they leave open the possibility that they may not have any influence on care quality or have negative effects.

Although paying doctors and hospitals to improve one population's chronic condition may succeed, it could adversely affect another population, as doctors may focus less on them.

Similarly, other research has found that instead of encouraging providers to shift resources toward overall quality improvement, financial incentives may compel providers to focus on narrow, incentivized areas. That's because they're only being rewarded for achieving specific health outcomes, notes FierceHealthPayer.

For more:
- read the press release 
- here's the FierceHealthPayer editorial

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