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Association between quality domains and health care spending across physician networks

Rahman F, Guan J, Glazier RH, Brown A, Bierman AS, Croxford R, Stukel TA. PLoS One. 2018; Apr 3 [Epub ahead of print].


One of the more fundamental health policy questions is the relationship between health care quality and spending. A better understanding of these relationships is needed to inform health systems interventions aimed at increasing quality and efficiency of care. We measured 65 validated quality indicators (QI) across Ontario physician networks. QIs were aggregated into domains representing six dimensions of care: screening and prevention, evidence-based medications, hospital-community transitions (7-day post-discharge visit with a primary care physician; 30-day post-discharge visit with a primary care physician and specialist), potentially avoidable hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits, potentially avoidable readmissions and unplanned returns to the ED, and poor cancer end of life care. Each domain rate was computed as a weighted average of QI rates, weighting by network population at risk. We also measured overall and sector-specific per capita healthcare network spending. We evaluated the associations between domain rates, and between domain rates and spending using weighted correlations, weighting by network population at risk, using an ecological design. All indicators were measured using Ontario health administrative databases. Large variations were seen in timely hospital-community transitions and potentially avoidable hospitalizations. Networks with timely hospital-community transitions had lower rates of avoidable admissions and readmissions (r = -0.89, -0.58, respectively). Higher physician spending, especially outpatient primary care spending, was associated with lower rates of avoidable hospitalizations (r = -0.83) and higher rates of timely hospital-community transitions (r = 0.81) and moderately associated with lower readmission rates (r = -0.46). Investment in effective primary care services may help reduce burden on the acute care sector and associated expenditures.

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