Off the hamster wheel? Qualitative evaluation of a payment-linked patient-centered medical home (PCMH) pilot

Milbank Q. 2012 Sep;90(3):484-515. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2012.00672.x.


Context: Many primary care practices are moving toward the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) model and increasingly are offering payment incentives linked to PCMH changes. Despite widespread acceptance of general PCMH concepts, there is still a pressing need to examine carefully and critically what transformation means for primary care practices and their patients and the experience of undergoing such change in a practice.

Methods: We used a qualitative case study approach to explore the underlying dynamics of change at five practices participating in PCMH transformation efforts linked to payment reform. The evaluation consisted of structured site visits, interviews, observations, and artifact reviews followed by a structured review of transcripts and documents for patterns, themes, and insights related to PCMH implementation.

Findings: We describe both the detailed components of each practice's transformation efforts and a grounded taxonomy of eight insights stemming from the experiences of these medical homes. We identified specific contextual factors related to wide variations in change tactics. We also observed widely varying approaches to catalyzing change using (or not) external consultants, specific challenges regarding health information technology implementation, team and staff role restructuring, compensation, and change fatigue, and several unexpected potential confounders or alternative explanations for practice success.

Conclusions: Our evaluation affirms the value and necessity of qualitative methods for understanding primary care practice transformation, and it should encourage ongoing and future pilots to include assessments of the PCMH change process beyond clinical markers and claims data. The results raise insights into the heterogeneity of medical home transformation, the central but complex role of payment reform in creating a space for change, the ability of small practices to achieve substantial change in a short time period, and the challenges of sustaining it.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Medical Informatics
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Patient-Centered Care / organization & administration
  • Patient-Centered Care / standards*
  • Physician's Role
  • Pilot Projects
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Reimbursement, Incentive* / organization & administration
  • Reimbursement, Incentive* / standards