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Beyond Measurement and Reward: Methods of Motivating Quality Improvement and Accountability

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Keywords: Physician payment; quality improvement; financial incentives; nonfinancial incentives; value-based purchasing; pay-for-performance

Objective: The article examines public policies designed to improve quality and accountability that do not rely on financial incentives and public reporting of provider performance.

Principal Findings: Payment policy should help temper the current “more is better” attitude of physicians and provider organizations. Incentive neutrality would better support health professionals’ intrinsic motivation to act in their patients’ best interests to improve overall quality than would pay-for-performance plans targeted to specific areas of clinical care. Public policy can support clinicians’ intrinsic motivation through approaches that support systematic feedback to clinicians and provide concrete opportunities to collaborate to improve care. Some programs administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, including Partnership for Patients and Conditions of Participation, deserve more attention; they represent available, but largely ignored, approaches to support providers to improve quality and protect beneficiaries against substandard care.

Conclusions: Public policies related to quality improvement should focus more on methods of enhancing professional intrinsic motivation, while recognizing the potential role of organizations to actively promote and facilitate that motivation. Actually achieving improvement, however, will require a reexamination of the role played by financial incentives embedded in payments and the unrealistic expectations placed on marginal incentives in pay-for-performance schemes.

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