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Policy-Oriented Research on Improved Physician Incentives for Higher Value Health Care

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Keywords: Economic Incentives; physician payment; healthcare value; research opportunities.

Policy makers (both public and private) are seeking ways to improve the value delivered within our health care system, that is, using fewer resources to provide the same benefit to patients, or using equivalent resources to provide more benefit. One strategy is to alter the predominant fee-for-service (FFS) economic incentives in the current system. To inform such policy changes, this paper identifies areas in which little is known about the effects of specific incentives (FFS, salary, etc.) on the two components of value: resource use and quality. Specific suggestions are offered regarding research that would be informative for policy makers, focusing on fundamental “building block” studies rather than overall evaluations of complex interventions, such as accountable care organizations. This research would better identify critical aspects of the FFS model and salary-based payments that are particularly problematic, as well as situations in which FFS or salary may be less problematic. The research would also explore when alternatives, such as episode-based payment might be feasible, or simply be hypothetical solutions. The availability of electronic health record-based data in various delivery systems would allow many of these studies to be accomplished in 3–5 years with budgets manageable by public and private funding sources.

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