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A population-based analysis of incentive payments to primary care physicians for the care of patients with complex disease [Research]

Background:

In 2007, the province of British Columbia implemented incentive payments to primary care physicians for the provision of comprehensive, continuous, guideline-informed care for patients with 2 or more chronic conditions. We examined the impact of this program on primary care access and continuity, rates of hospital admission and costs.

Methods:

We analyzed all BC patients who qualified for the incentive based on their diagnostic profile. We tracked primary care contacts and continuity, hospital admissions (total, via the emergency department and for targeted conditions), and cost of physician services, hospital care and pharmaceuticals, for 24 months before and 24 months after the intervention.

Results:

Of 155 754 eligible patients, 63.7% had at least 1 incentive payment billed. Incentive payments had no impact on primary care contacts (change in contacts per patient per month: 0.016, 95% confidence interval [CI] –0.047 to 0.078) or continuity of care (mean monthly change: 0.012, 95% CI –0.001 to 0.024) and were associated with increased total rates of hospital admission (change in hospital admissions per 1000 patients per month: 1.46, 95% CI 0.04 to 2.89), relative to preintervention trends. Annual costs per patient did not decline (mean change: $455.81, 95% CI –$2.44 to $914.08).

Interpretation:

British Columbia’s $240-million investment in this program improved compensation for physicians doing the important work of caring for complex patients, but did not appear to improve primary care access or continuity, or constrain resource use elsewhere in the health care system. Policymakers should consider other strategies to improve care for this patient population.

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