Association of Primary Care Physician Compensation Incentives and Quality of Care in the United States, 2012-2016

David S. Burstein*, David T. Liss, Jeffrey A. Linder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Physician compensation incentives may have positive or negative effects on clinical quality. Objective: To assess the association between various physician compensation incentives on technical indicators of primary care quality. Design: Cross-sectional, nationally representative retrospective analysis. Participants: Visits by adults to primary care physicians in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2012-2016. We analyzed 49,580 sampled visits, representing 1.45 billion primary care visits. Main Measures: We assessed the association between 5 compensation incentives – quality measure performance, patient experience scores, individual productivity, practice financial performance, or practice efficiency – and 10 high-value and 7 low-value care measures as well as high-value and low-value care composites. Key Results: Quality measure performance was an incentive in 22% of visits; patient experience scores, 17%; individual productivity, 57%; practice financial performance, 63%; and practice efficiency, 12%. In adjusted models, none of the compensation incentives were consistently associated with individual high- and low-value measures. None of the compensation incentives were associated with high- or low-value care composites. For example, quality measure performance compensation was not significantly associated with high-value care (visits with quality incentive, 47% of eligible measures met; without quality incentive, 43%; adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.02; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.91 to 1.15) or low-value care (aOR, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.82-1.19). Physician compensation incentives that might be expected to increase low-value care did not: patient experience (aOR for low-value care composite, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.65-1.05), individual productivity (aOR, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.88-1.22), and practice financial performance (aOR, 1.05; 95% CI, 0.81-1.36). Conclusion: In this retrospective, cross-sectional, nationally representative analysis of care in the United States, physician compensation incentives were not generally associated with more or less high- or low-value care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-366
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Incentives
  • Physician Compensation
  • Primary Care
  • Quality of Care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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