More Than Money: Motivating Physician Behavior Change in Accountable Care Organizations

Original Investigation

Policy Points:

  • For accountable care organizations (ACOs) to be successful they need to change the behavior of their physicians. To stimulate this change, a broad range of motivators are being used, including ways to see a greater impact on patients (social purpose) and opportunities to be a more effective physician (mastery), in addition to personal financial incentives.
  • From our analysis of case studies, it does not appear that the full range of motivators is being deployed by ACOs, which suggests an opportunity to develop more sophisticated and wider-ranging portfolios of motivators for greater impact.

Context: There are approximately 800 accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the United States. In order to achieve the ACO goals of reduced cost, improved outcomes of care, and better population health, it is critical to change how physicians within ACOs deliver care. While knowledge of ACO development and evolution is growing, relatively little is known about the motivational drivers that are being used to effect change among participating physicians.

Methods: We synthesized 9 well-established and empirically tested theories of motivation into an overarching framework of 6 motivator domains. This framework was then used to explore the types of motivators that leaders use to stimulate change within 4 case study ACOs. We explored the organizational characteristics, strategies, and motivators for changing physicians’ behaviors through in-depth interviews and document review.

Findings: The case study ACOs more strongly emphasized nonfinancial motivators for changing physician behavior than financial incentives. These motivators included mastery and social purpose, which were used frequently across all case study sites. Overall, the ACO case studies illustrated variability across all motivational domains. While there was evidence of changing motivators as a result of the ACO, the case study ACOs found it difficult to comprehensively change the use of motivators, in part due to dispersed managerial attention and the complexity and diversity of programs and contracts that fragmented efforts to improve.

Conclusions: Motivating behavior change within ACOs goes beyond financial incentives. ACOs are using a broad range of motivators, including creating ways to make a greater impact on patients and opportunities to be a more effective physician. Overall, it does not appear that ACOs are deploying the full range of available motivators. This suggests an opportunity to develop more sophisticated and wider-ranging portfolios of motivators to drive behavior change.

Author(s): Madeline Phipps-Taylor and Stephen M. Shortell

Keywords: accountable care organizations, motivation, physician incentives.

Read on Wiley Online Library

Volume 94, Issue 4 (pages 832–861)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12230
Published in 2016