Incentivizing performance in health care: a rapid review, typology and qualitative study of unintended consequences

BMC Health Serv Res. 2022 May 23;22(1):690. doi: 10.1186/s12913-022-08032-z.


Background: Health systems are increasingly implementing policy-driven programs to incentivize performance using contracts, scorecards, rankings, rewards, and penalties. Studies of these "Performance Management" (PM) programs have identified unintended negative consequences. However, no single comprehensive typology of the negative and positive unintended consequences of PM in healthcare exists and most studies of unintended consequences were conducted in England or the United States. The aims of this study were: (1) To develop a comprehensive typology of unintended consequences of PM in healthcare, and (2) To describe multiple stakeholder perspectives of the unintended consequences of PM in cancer and renal care in Ontario, Canada.

Methods: We conducted a rapid review of unintended consequences of PM in healthcare (n = 41 papers) to develop a typology of unintended consequences. We then conducted a secondary analysis of data from a qualitative study involving semi-structured interviews with 147 participants involved with or impacted by a PM system used to oversee 40 care delivery networks in Ontario, Canada. Participants included administrators and clinical leads from the networks and the government agency managing the PM system. We undertook a hybrid inductive and deductive coding approach using the typology we developed from the rapid review.

Results: We present a comprehensive typology of 48 negative and positive unintended consequences of PM in healthcare, including five novel unintended consequences not previously identified or well-described in the literature. The typology is organized into two broad categories: unintended consequences on (1) organizations and providers and on (2) patients and patient care. The most common unintended consequences of PM identified in the literature were measure fixation, tunnel vision, and misrepresentation or gaming, while those most prominent in the qualitative data were administrative burden, insensitivity, reduced morale, and systemic dysfunction. We also found that unintended consequences of PM are often mutually reinforcing.

Conclusions: Our comprehensive typology provides a common language for discourse on unintended consequences and supports systematic, comparable analyses of unintended consequences across PM regimes and healthcare systems. Healthcare policymakers and managers can use the results of this study to inform the (re-)design and implementation of evidence-informed PM programs.

Keywords: Health systems; Performance management; Performance measurement; Quality indicators; Unintended consequences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Health Facilities
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Ontario
  • Qualitative Research
  • United States