Go to content

Primary care services and emergency department visits in blended fee-for-service and blended capitation models: evidence from Ontario, Canada


Introduction — It is well-known that the way physicians are remunerated can affect delivery of healthcare services to the population. Fee-for-service (FFS) generally leads to oversupply of services, while capitation leads to undersupply of services. However, little evidence exists on the link between remuneration and emergency department (ED) visits. We fill this gap using two popular blended models introduced in Ontario, Canada: the Family Health Group (FHG), an enhanced/blended FFS model, and Family Health Organization (FHO), a blended capitation model. We compare primary care services and rates of emergency department ED visits between these two models. We also evaluate whether these outcomes vary by regular- and after-hours, and patient morbidity status.

Methods — Physicians practicing in an FHG or FHO between April 2012 and March 2017 and their enrolled adult patients were included for analyses. The covariate-balancing propensity score weighting method was used to remove the influence of observable confounding and negative-binomial and linear regression models were used to evaluate the rates of primary care services, ED visits, and the dollar value of primary care services delivered between FHGs and FHOs. Visits were stratified as regular- and after-hours. Patients were stratified into three morbidity groups: non-morbid, single-morbid, and multimorbid (two or more chronic conditions).

Results — 6184 physicians and their patients were available for analysis. Compared to FHG physicians, FHO physicians delivered 14% (95% CI 13%, 15%) fewer primary care services per patient per year, with 27% fewer services during after-hours (95% CI 25%, 29%). Patients enrolled to FHO physicians made 27% more less-urgent (95% CI 23%, 31%) and 10% more urgent (95% CI 7%, 13%) ED visits per patient per year, with no difference in very-urgent ED visits. Differences in the pattern of ED visits were similar during regular- and after-hours. Although FHO physicians provided fewer services, multimorbid patients in FHOs made fewer very-urgent and urgent ED visits, with no difference in less-urgent ED visits.

Conclusion — Primary care physicians practicing in Ontario’s blended capitation model provide fewer primary care services compared to those practicing in a blended FFS model. Although the overall rate of ED visits was higher among patients enrolled to FHO physicians, multimorbid patients of FHO physicians make fewer urgent and very-urgent ED visits.



Hong M, Devlin RA, Zaric GS, Thind A, Sarma S. Eur J Health Econ. 2023; May 8 [Epub ahead of print].

View Source

Contributing ICES Scientists

Associated Sites