Benefits and costs of pay for performance as perceived by residents: a qualitative study

Acad Med. 2010 Dec;85(12):1888-96. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181fa7aec.


Purpose: To describe and interpret pay-for-performance (P4P) systems as perceived by internal medicine residents to develop curricula that relate P4P measures to quality improvement initiatives.

Method: In 2008-2009, the authors conducted a qualitative study in which 97 internal medicine residents completed a mandatory survey soliciting their views of the advantages and disadvantages of P4P. The authors analyzed responses to identify and categorize emergent themes.

Results: Eighty-two residents (85%) noted advantages, from which 13 themes emerged. Two were general themes: P4P improves overall delivery of quality care by enabling quality care and by motivating providers to improve or provide quality care. The other themes formed three categories: P4P enables contemplation and knowledge enhancement (e.g., by promoting reflection) and has potential impacts both on physicians' delivery of better care (e.g., by facilitating vigilance and closer follow-up) and on the care delivery process (e.g., by increasing pay/satisfaction). Eighty-seven residents (90%) indicated disadvantages, from which 16 themes emerged. The four categories of the themes reflected P4P's impacts on patient perceptions (e.g., by decreasing patient satisfaction and access), on clinical care (e.g., by fostering abuse/gaming and compromising focus, care, and safety), on resources and efficiency, and on providers that may undermine morale.

Conclusions: Residents' reported advantages and disadvantages were often in direct opposition to each other (e.g., P4P enables quality care but also compromises focus, care, and safety). These opposing responses form a continuum that the authors believe will require providers to perform a balancing act to practice successfully in a P4P environment.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Physician Incentive Plans / economics*
  • Physicians / economics*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / economics*
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits / economics*
  • United States