Background: Incentives for accountable care organizations (ACOs) to limit health care use and improve quality may enhance or hurt patients' experiences with care.
Methods: Using Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey data covering 3 years before and 1 year after the start of Medicare ACO contracts in 2012 as well as linked Medicare claims, we compared patients' experiences in a group of 32,334 fee-for-service beneficiaries attributed to ACOs (ACO group) with those in a group of 251,593 beneficiaries attributed to other providers (control group), before and after the start of ACO contracts. We used linear regression and a difference-in-differences analysis to estimate changes in patients' experiences in the ACO group that differed from concurrent changes in the control group, with adjustment for the sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of the patients.
Results: After ACO contracts began, patients' reports of timely access to care and their primary physicians' being informed about specialty care differentially improved in the ACO group, as compared with the control group (P=0.01 and P=0.006, respectively), whereas patients' ratings of physicians, interactions with physicians, and overall care did not differentially change. Among patients with multiple chronic conditions and high predicted Medicare spending, overall ratings of care differentially improved in the ACO group as compared with the control group (P=0.02). Differential improvements in timely access to care and overall ratings were equivalent to moving from average performance among ACOs to the 86th to 98th percentile (timely access to care) and to the 82nd to 96th percentile (overall ratings) and were robust to adjustment for group differences in trends during the preintervention period.
Conclusions: In the first year, ACO contracts were associated with meaningful improvements in some measures of patients' experience and with unchanged performance in others. (Funded by the National Institute on Aging and others.).