Financial incentives prompt doctors to step up care for patients

How do you get doctors to do a better job of controlling their patients’ high blood pressure? Pay them, according to the results of an unusual clinical trial.

It may not sound like much, but apparently it was enough to make a difference. The trial results were published in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers hoped the money would help them overcome “clinical inertia” and “increase their interest in” managing their patients’ blood pressure, according to the study.

The research team recruited doctors from 12 Veterans Affairs outpatient clinics to test the power of financial incentives.

They focused on high blood pressure because it’s a common chronic condition that requires doctors to monitor patients carefully and communicate with them effectively.

All four groups of doctors did a better job of managing their patients’ blood pressure medications over the course of the study.

One clear benefit of the incentives was that they prompted doctors to check for feedback from study coordinators that was posted to a special website — 66 percent of doctors who were eligible for extra payments logged on to see the reports, while only 5 percent of those in the control group did so.