Previous: The Science of Opioids
Next: America's Epidemic of Opioid Abuse



View count:19,470
Last sync:2024-05-09 08:00
Pay for performance. We've got all the bugs worked out now, right? Yeah... not so much. This is Healthcare triage News.

Those of you who want to read more can go here:

John Green -- Executive Producer
Stan Muller -- Director, Producer
Aaron Carroll -- Writer
Mark Olsen -- Graphics

And the housekeeping:

1) You can support Healthcare Triage on Patreon: Every little bit helps make the show better!
2) Check out our Facebook page:
3) We still have merchandise available at
Pay for performance: we've got all the bugs worked out now, right? Yeah, not so much. This is Healthcare Triage News.


Just released in the BMJ, Association between the Value-Based Purchasing pay for performance program and patient mortality in US hospitals: observational study. Let's not waste time. To the research!

Everyone loves pay for performance. Medicare's version to incentivize quality is known as the Hospital-Based Purchasing Program. Basically, it provides financial inducements to reduce 30-day mortality for acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, and pneumonia.

The program began in 2011, and it's intended to be budget neutral. Medicare withholds some payments to hospitals in the program, and then gives it back based on their performance. In 2015, for instance, 1,360 hospitals were penalized and 1,700 received bonuses. The program is instituted nationally, and is not voluntary. Performance is judged either against a national benchmark, or against improvement from a baseline period.

For this study, 4,257 acute care hospitals were involved. Of those, 2,919 participated in the program; another 1,348 weren't eligible and served as controls. In these hospitals, more than 2.4 million patients were admitted from 2008 through 2013. The main outcome of interest was the 30-day risk adjusted mortality rate for acute MI, heart failure, and pneumonia.

Comparisons were made to mortality for non-incentivized causes. Researchers were also interested in how the program affected those at the low end of the performance spectrum, or those with the most to gain from improvement.

In the pay-for-performance hospitals, the mortality rates of the incentivized conditions dropped 0.13% in each quarter in the pre-intervention period, compared to a drop of 0.14% in the control hospitals. In the post-intervention period, study hospitals dropped 0.03% each quarter compared to 0.01% in the control hospitals. Overall, this was not a statistically significant difference. In fact, there was no difference in any sub-group of hospitals.

I gave a talk last week to a bunch of local hospital and healthcare executives on how health policy often fails to be evidence based. My last example was pay for performance. They seemed least likely to believe that example was right, though.

It's not that I don't think we can incentivize physicians to practice better. I'm sure we can. My problem is that we assume we can pick an easy to measure metric (30-day mortality), tell everyone that this is the one to measure. That that will translate into improved quality, and then expect results. It still feels like the drunkard search. It still feels like it ignores other differences outside the healthcare system's control. Most important, it still doesn't seem to work. But, you know, full steam ahead.


Healthcare Triage is supported in part by viewers like you through, a service that allows you to support the show through a monthly donation. We'd especially like to thank our research associates, Joe Sevits and M.T., and our surgeon admiral, Sam. Thanks Joe, M.T., and Sam! More information can be found at