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Quality and Efficiency in Small Practices Transitioning to Patient Centered Medical Homes: A Randomized Trial



There is growing evidence that even small and solo primary care practices can successfully transition to full Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) status when provided with support, including practice redesign, care managers, and a revised payment plan. Less is known about the quality and efficiency outcomes associated with this transition.


Test quality and efficiency outcomes associated with 2-year transition to PCMH status among physicians in intervention versus control practices.


Randomized Controlled Trial.


Eighteen intervention practices with 43 physicians and 14 control practices with 24 physicians; all from adult primary care practices.


Modeled on 2008 NCQA PPC®-PCMH™, intervention practices received 18 months of tailored practice redesign support; 2 years of revised payment, including up to $2.50 per member per month (PMPM) for achieving quality targets and up to $2.50 PMPM for PPC-PCMH recognition; and 18 months of embedded care management support. Controls received yearly participation payments.


Eleven clinical quality indicators from the 2009 HEDIS process and health outcomes measures derived from patient claims data; Ten efficiency indicators based on Thomson Reuter efficiency indexes and Emergency Department (ED) Visit Ratios; and a panel of costs of care measures.


Compared to control physicians, intervention physicians significantly improved TWO of 11 quality indicators: hypertensive blood pressure control over 2 years (intervention +23 percentage points, control –2 percentage points, p = 0.02) and breast cancer screening over 3 years (intervention +3.5 percentage points, control −0.4 percentage points, p = 0.03). Compared to control physicians, intervention physicians significantly improved ONE of ten efficiency indicators: number of care episodes resulting in ED visits was reduced (intervention −0.7 percentage points, control + 0.5 percentage points, p = 0.002), with 3.8 fewer ED visits per year, saving approximately $1,900 in ED costs per physician, per year. There were no significant cost-savings on any of the pre-specified costs of care measures.


In a randomized trial, we observed that some indicators of quality and efficiency of care in general adult primary care practices transitioning to PCMH status can be significantly, but modestly, improved over 2 years, although most indicators did not improve and there were no cost-savings compared with control practices. For the most part, quality and efficiency of care provided in unsupported control practices remained unchanged or worsened during the trial.

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The Commonwealth Fund supported the independent evaluation of this demonstration by the Ethel Donaghue Center for Translating Research into Practice and Policy (TRIPP Center) at the University of Connecticut Health Center from 1 December 2007 through 31 March 2010. EmblemHealth has provided continued evaluation support for the purposes of data analysis, 1 March 2011 through 31 May 2011 and 1 September 2011 to 31 December 2013. The full trial protocol can be accessed by contacting EmblemHealth.

Conflict of Interest

Judith Fifield, PhD, reports having received two honoraria from Zimmer in the last 3 years. All other authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Judith Fifield PhD.

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Fifield, J., Forrest, D.D., Burleson, J.A. et al. Quality and Efficiency in Small Practices Transitioning to Patient Centered Medical Homes: A Randomized Trial. J GEN INTERN MED 28, 778–786 (2013).

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  • patient centered care
  • outcomes
  • randomized trials
  • primary care