Pay-for-performance programs in family practices in the United Kingdom

N Engl J Med. 2006 Jul 27;355(4):375-84. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa055505.


Background: In 2004, after a series of national initiatives associated with marked improvements in the quality of care, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom introduced a pay-for-performance contract for family practitioners. This contract increases existing income according to performance with respect to 146 quality indicators covering clinical care for 10 chronic diseases, organization of care, and patient experience.

Methods: We analyzed data extracted automatically from clinical computing systems for 8105 family practices in England in the first year of the pay-for-performance program (April 2004 through March 2005), data from the U.K. Census, and data on characteristics of individual family practices. We examined the proportion of patients deemed eligible for a clinical quality indicator for whom the indicator was met (reported achievement) and the proportion of the total number of patients with a medical condition for whom a quality indicator was met (population achievement), and we used multiple regression analysis to determine the extent to which practices achieved high scores by classifying patients as ineligible for quality indicators (exception reporting).

Results: The median reported achievement in the first year of the new contract was 83.4 percent (interquartile range, 78.2 to 87.0 percent). Sociodemographic characteristics of the patients (age and socioeconomic features) and practices (size of practice, number of patients per practitioner, age of practitioner, and whether the practitioner was medically educated in the United Kingdom) had moderate but significant effects on performance. Exception reporting by practices was not extensive (median rate, 6 percent), but it was the strongest predictor of achievement: a 1 percent increase in the rate of exception reporting was associated with a 0.31 percent increase in reported achievement. Exception reporting was high in a small number of practices: 1 percent of practices excluded more than 15 percent of patients.

Conclusions: English family practices attained high levels of achievement in the first year of the new pay-for-performance contract. A small number of practices appear to have achieved high scores by excluding large numbers of patients by exception reporting. More research is needed to determine whether these practices are excluding patients for sound clinical reasons or in order to increase income.

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / therapy
  • Family Practice / economics
  • Family Practice / standards*
  • Humans
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Physician Incentive Plans*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / economics
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / economics*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / standards
  • Reimbursement, Incentive
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • State Medicine / economics
  • State Medicine / standards*
  • United Kingdom