Physician Financial Incentives to Reduce Unplanned Hospital Readmissions: an Interrupted Time Series Analysis

J Gen Intern Med. 2021 May 4. doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-06803-8. Online ahead of print.


Background: In 2012, the Ministry of Health in British Columbia, Canada, introduced a $75 incentive payment that could be claimed by hospital physicians each time they produced a written post-discharge care plan for a complex patient at the time of hospital discharge.

Objective: To examine whether physician financial payments incentivizing enhanced discharge planning reduce subsequent unplanned hospital readmissions.

Design: Interrupted time series analysis of population-based hospitalization data.

Participants: Individuals with one or more eligible hospitalizations occurring in British Columbia between 2007 and 2017.

Main measures: The proportion of index hospital discharges with subsequent unplanned hospital readmission within 30 days, as measured each month of the 11-year study interval. We used interrupted time series analysis to determine if readmission risk changed after introduction of the incentive payment policy.

Key results: A total of 40,588 unplanned hospital readmissions occurred among 409,289 eligible index hospitalizations (crude 30-day readmission risk, 9.92%). Policy introduction was not associated with a significant step change (0.393%; 95CI, - 0.190 to 0.975%; p = 0.182) or change-in-trend (p = 0.317) in monthly readmission risk. Policy introduction was associated with significantly fewer prescription fills for potentially inappropriate medications among older patients, but no improvement in prescription fills for beta-blockers after cardiovascular hospitalization and no change in 30-day mortality. Incentive payment uptake was incomplete, rising from 6.4 to 23.5% of eligible hospitalizations between the first and last year of the post-policy interval.

Conclusion: The introduction of a physician incentive payment was not associated with meaningful changes in hospital readmission rate, perhaps in part because of incomplete uptake by physicians. Policymakers should consider these results when designing similar interventions elsewhere.

Trial registration: ID, NCT03256734.

Keywords: physician financial incentives; unplanned hospital readmissions.

Associated data