Background: The method by which physicians are paid may affect their professional practice. Although payment systems may be used to achieve policy objectives (e.g. improving quality of care, cost containment and recruitment to under-served areas), little is known about the effects of different payment systems in achieving these objectives. Target payments are a payment system which remunerate professionals only if they provide a minimum level of care.
Objectives: To evaluate the impact of target payments on the professional practice of primary care physicians (PCPs) and health care outcomes.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group specialised register; the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register; MEDLINE (1966 to October 1997); BIDS EMBASE (1980 to October 1997); BIDS ISI (1981 to October 1997); EconLit (1969 to October 1997); HealthStar (1975 to October 1997) Helmis (1984 to October 1997); health economics discussion paper series of the Universities of York, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Bristol, Brunel, and McMaster; Swedish Institute of Health Economics; RAND corporation; and reference lists of articles.
Selection criteria: Randomised trials, controlled before and after studies and interrupted time series analyses of interventions comparing the impact of target payments to primary care professionals with alternative methods of payment, on patient outcomes, health services utilisation, health care costs, equity of care, and PCP satisfaction with working environment.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed study quality.
Main results: Two studies were included involving 149 practices. The use of target payments in the remuneration of PCPs was associated with improvements in immunisation rates, but the increase was statistically significant in only one of the two studies.
Reviewer's conclusions: The evidence from the studies identified in this review is not of sufficient quality or power to obtain a clear answer to the question as to whether target payment remuneration provides a method of improving primary health care. Additional efforts should be directed in evaluating changes in physicians' remuneration systems. Although it would not be difficult to design a randomised controlled trial to evaluate the impact of such payment systems, it would be difficult politically to conduct such trials.