Following the introduction of elements of managed competition in the Netherlands in 2006, General Practitioners (GPs) and patients were given the role to select treatment hospital using public quality information. In this study we investigate to what extent hospital preferences of GP’s are affected by performance indicators on medical effectiveness and patient experiences. We selected three conditions: breast cancer, cataract surgery, and hip and knee replacement.
After an inquiry 26 out of 226 GPs in the region signed up to participate in our study. After a 2:1 randomization, we analyzed the referral patterns in the region using three groups of GPs: GPs (n=17) who used the report cards and received personal clarification, GPs that signed up for the study but were assigned to the control group (n=9), and the GPs outside the study (n=200).
We conducted a difference in differences analysis where the choice for a particular hospital was the dependent variable and time (2009 or 2010), the sum score of the CQI, the sum score of the PI’s and dummy variables for the individual hospitals were used as independent variables.
The analysis of the conditions together and cataract surgery and hip and knee replacement separately, showed no significant relationships between the scores on the report cards and the referral patterns of the GPs. For breast cancer our analysis revealed that GPs in the intervention group refer 1.0% (p=0.01) more to hospitals that score one percent point better on the indicators for medical effectiveness.
Our study provides empirical evidence that GP referral patterns were unaffected by the available quality information, except for the outcome indicators for breast cancer care that were presented. This finding was surprising since our study was designed to identify changes in hospital preference (1) amongst the most motivated GP’s, (2) that received personal clarification of the performance indicators, and (3) selected indicators/conditions from a large set of indicators that they believed were most important. This finding may differ when quality information is based on outcome indicators with a clinically relevant difference, as shown by our indicators for breast cancer treatment. We believe that the current set of (largely process) hospital quality indicators do not serve the GP’s information needs and consequently quality plays little role in the selection of hospitals for treatment.