Pay-for-performance rewards health-care providers by paying them more if they succeed in meeting performance targets. A new contract for general practitioners in the United Kingdom represents the most radical shift towards pay-for-performance seen in any health-care system. The contract provides an important opportunity to address disparities in chronic disease management between ethnic and socioeconomic groups. We examined disparities in management of people with diabetes and intermediate clinical outcomes within a multiethnic population in primary care before and after the introduction of the new contract in April 2004.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a population-based longitudinal survey, using electronic general practice records, in an ethnically diverse part of southwest London. Outcome measures were prescribing levels and achievement of national treatment targets (HbA1c ≤ 7.0%; blood pressure [BP] < 140/80 mm Hg; total cholesterol ≤ 5 mmol/l or 193 mg/dl). The proportion of patients reaching treatment targets for HbA1c, BP, and total cholesterol increased significantly after the implementation of the new contract. The extents of these increases were broadly uniform across ethnic groups, with the exception of the black Caribbean patient group, which had a significantly lower improvement in HbA1c (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 0.75, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.57–0.97) and BP control (AOR 0.65, 95% CI 0.53–0.81) relative to the white British patient group. Variations in prescribing and achievement of treatment targets between ethnic groups present in 2003 were not attenuated in 2005.
Pay-for-performance incentives have not addressed disparities in the management and control of diabetes between ethnic groups. Quality improvement initiatives must place greater emphasis on minority communities to avoid continued disparities in mortality from cardiovascular disease and the other major complications of diabetes.
Based on a population-based longitudinal survey, Christopher Millett and colleagues concluded that pay-for-performance incentives for UK general practitioners had not addressed disparities in the management and control of diabetes between ethnic groups.
When used in health care, the term “pay-for-performance” means rewarding health-care providers by paying them more if they succeed in meeting performance targets set by the government and other commissioners of health care. It is an approach to health service management that is becoming common, particularly in the US and the UK. For example, the UK's general practitioners (family doctors) agreed with the government in 2004 that they would receive increases to their income that would depend on how well they were judged to be performing according to 146 quality indicators that cover clinical care for ten chronic diseases, as well as “organization of care,” and “patient experience.” One of the chronic diseases is diabetes, a condition that has reached epidemic proportions in the UK, as it has also in many other countries.
Ethnic minorities often suffer more from health problems than the majority population of the country they live in. They are also likely to be served less well by the health services. Diabetes is a case in point; in many countries—including the US and UK—the condition is much more common in minority groups. In addition, their diabetes is usually less well “managed”—i.e., it becomes more severe more rapidly and there are more complications. In the UK, the government recognizes the need to ensure that its health policies are applied to all sectors of the population, including minority ethnic communities. Nevertheless, the advances that have been made in the management of diabetes have not benefited the UK's ethnic minorities to the same extent as they have the majority population. It is hoped that the use of pay-for-performance management by the UK National Health Service will lead to more efficient delivery of health care, and that one consequence will be that different communities will be more equally served.
Why Was This Study Done?
The researchers wanted to find out whether the introduction of pay-for-performance management in general medical practice in the UK was leading to a reduction in the gap in the quality of care provided to people with diabetes who belonged to ethnic minorities and other people with diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The research was carried out in Wandsworth, an area of southwest London that is considered to be “ethnically diverse.” Over 4,200 people with diabetes are registered with general practitioners in this area. The researchers used the electronic records kept by these doctors and they focused on diabetes “treatment targets” set by the government, according to which the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of people with diabetes should be kept below defined levels. There is also a target level for glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), which is a substance that can be used to measure the extent to which a patient's diabetes is under control. The researchers calculated the percentage of patients who were meeting these treatment targets. Overall, more patients met their treatment targets after the introduction of pay-for-performance management than were doing so before. All ethnic groups seemed to have benefited, but the black Caribbean group did not benefit as much as the other groups; the number of these patients who met the targets did improve, but the gap between them and patients with diabetes from other ethnic groups remained about the same.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The researchers concluded that, while the introduction of pay-for-performance did seem to have been beneficial, it had not addressed disparities in the management and control of diabetes between ethnic groups. They say that, in all initiatives to improve the quality of health care, special efforts must be made to reduce such gaps. The UK's use of pay-for-performance in general practice is regarded internationally as a very bold step, but, as other countries are also considering moving in this direction, the lessons from the study will be relevant in many other parts of the world.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040191.
Wikipedia has an entry on pay-for-performance in health care (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
Information about how the NHS works in England
Diabetes UK is the largest organization in the UK working for people with diabetes and its website includes a useful Guide to Diabetes
The London Health Observatory is one of nine health observatories set up by the NHS to monitor health and health care in England. There is a page devoted to “ethnic health intelligence”
Introductory information about diabetes as a medical condition may be found on the MedlinePlus website; there are several MedlinePlus pages on diabetes as well