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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Systematic review: Effects, design choices, and context of pay-for-performance in health care

Pieter Van Herck1*, Delphine De Smedt2, Lieven Annemans2, Roy Remmen3, Meredith B Rosenthal4 and Walter Sermeus1

Author affiliations

1 Center for Health Services and Nursing Research, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Kapucijnenvoer 35, 3000 Leuven, Belgium

2 Department of Public Health, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185 Blok A-2, 9000 Gent, Belgium

3 Department of General Practice, University Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, 2610 Wilrijk, Belgium

4 Harvard School of Public Health, Health Policy and Management, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:247  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-247

Published: 23 August 2010

Abstract

Background

Pay-for-performance (P4P) is one of the primary tools used to support healthcare delivery reform. Substantial heterogeneity exists in the development and implementation of P4P in health care and its effects. This paper summarizes evidence, obtained from studies published between January 1990 and July 2009, concerning P4P effects, as well as evidence on the impact of design choices and contextual mediators on these effects. Effect domains include clinical effectiveness, access and equity, coordination and continuity, patient-centeredness, and cost-effectiveness.

Methods

The systematic review made use of electronic database searching, reference screening, forward citation tracking and expert consultation. The following databases were searched: Cochrane Library, EconLit, Embase, Medline, PsychINFO, and Web of Science. Studies that evaluate P4P effects in primary care or acute hospital care medicine were included. Papers concerning other target groups or settings, having no empirical evaluation design or not complying with the P4P definition were excluded. According to study design nine validated quality appraisal tools and reporting statements were applied. Data were extracted and summarized into evidence tables independently by two reviewers.

Results

One hundred twenty-eight evaluation studies provide a large body of evidence -to be interpreted with caution- concerning the effects of P4P on clinical effectiveness and equity of care. However, less evidence on the impact on coordination, continuity, patient-centeredness and cost-effectiveness was found. P4P effects can be judged to be encouraging or disappointing, depending on the primary mission of the P4P program: supporting minimal quality standards and/or boosting quality improvement. Moreover, the effects of P4P interventions varied according to design choices and characteristics of the context in which it was introduced.

Future P4P programs should (1) select and define P4P targets on the basis of baseline room for improvement, (2) make use of process and (intermediary) outcome indicators as target measures, (3) involve stakeholders and communicate information about the programs thoroughly and directly, (4) implement a uniform P4P design across payers, (5) focus on both quality improvement and achievement, and (6) distribute incentives to the individual and/or team level.

Conclusions

P4P programs result in the full spectrum of possible effects for specific targets, from absent or negligible to strongly beneficial. Based on the evidence the review has provided further indications on how effect findings are likely to relate to P4P design choices and context. The provided best practice hypotheses should be tested in future research.