The use of financial incentives to help improve health outcomes: is the quality and outcomes framework fit for purpose? A systematic review

J Public Health (Oxf). 2014 Jun;36(2):251-8. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt077. Epub 2013 Aug 8.


Background: The quality and outcomes framework (QOF) is one of the world's largest pay-for-performance schemes, rewarding general practitioners for the quality of care they provide. This review examines the evidence on the efficacy of the scheme for improving health outcomes, its impact on non-incentivized activities and the robustness of the clinical targets adopted in the scheme.

Methods: The review was conducted using six electronic databases, six sources of grey literature and bibliography searches from relevant publications. Studies were identified using a comprehensive search strategy based on MeSH terms and keyword searches. A total of 21,543 references were identified of which 32 met the eligibility criteria with 11 studies selected for the review.

Results: Findings provide strong evidence that the QOF initially improved health outcomes for a limited number of conditions but subsequently fell to the pre-existing trend. There was limited impact on non-incentivized activities with adverse effects for some sub-population groups.

Conclusion: The QOF has limited impact on improving health outcomes due to its focus on process-based indicators and the indicators' ceiling thresholds. Further research is required to strengthen the quality of evidence available on the QOF's impact on population health to ensure that the incentive scheme is both clinically and cost-effective.

Keywords: QOF; indicators; primary care.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Physician Incentive Plans / economics*
  • Quality Improvement / economics*
  • Quality of Health Care / economics
  • Reimbursement, Incentive / economics*