Background: A substantial fraction of UK general practitioners' salaries is now intended to reflect the quality of care provided. This performance-related pay system has probably improved aspects of primary health care but, using the observational data available, disentangling the impacts of different types of targets set within this unique payment system is challenging.
Discussion: Financial incentives undoubtedly influence GPs' activities, however, those aimed at encouraging GPs' delivery of health promotion counselling may not always have the effects intended. There is strong, observational evidence that targets and incentives intended to increase smoking cessation counselling by GPs have merely increased their propensity to record this activity in patients' medical records. The limitations of using financial incentives to stimulate the delivery of counselling in primary care are discussed and a re-appraisal of their use within UK GPs' performance-related pay system is argued for.
Summary: The utility of targets employed by the system for UK General Practitioners' performance related pay may be inappropriate for encouraging the delivery of health promotion counselling interventions. An evaluation of these targets is essential before they are further developed or added to.