Purpose of review: To summarize studies of pay-for-performance programmes designed to address clinical quality of care markers in ambulatory settings at the level of the physician group or individual physician.
Recent findings: Seven randomized controlled trials and 15 nonrandomized studies were reviewed. Less than half of the randomized controlled trials showed positive results, whereas all but one of the nonrandomized studies showed positive or mixed results. Characteristics of the quality measures, incentives, providers, patients, and concurrent interventions probably influenced the results. Study methodology problems such as small sample sizes, selection bias, and inadequate control for confounders were common. Asthma quality of care markers were included in three nonrandomized studies, two of which showed positive results and one of which was negative.
Summary: The data reviewed in this article suggest that pay-for-performance programmes can improve markers of quality, though not always. Even when studies suggest positive effects, the designs often do not permit assurance that the effects are due to the incentives as compared with other factors. More and better-designed studies are needed to determine the actual effectiveness of incentives themselves isolated from other factors, circumstances that promote effectiveness, effectiveness relative to other strategies, and cost-effectiveness.