A Trial of Disclosing Physicians' Financial Incentives to Patients | Ethics | JAMA Internal Medicine | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
March 27, 2006

A Trial of Disclosing Physicians' Financial Incentives to Patients

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston, Mass (Drs Pearson and Kleinman and Ms Rusinak); and Department of Medicine, St Michael's Hospital, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario (Dr Levinson).

Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(6):623-628. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.6.623

Background  Concern regarding financial conflict of interest for physicians has led to calls for disclosure of financial incentives to patients. However, limited data on the outcomes of disclosure exist to guide policy.

Methods  This randomized trial was conducted among 8000 adult patients at 2 multispecialty group practices based in the Boston, Mass, and Los Angeles, Calif, areas. Intervention patients were mailed a compensation disclosure letter written by the chief medical officer of their physician group, and all patients were surveyed approximately 3 months later.

Results  Disclosure patients were significantly more able to identify correctly the compensation model of their primary care physician, in Boston (adjusted odds ratio, 2.30; 95% confidence interval, 1.92-2.75) and in Los Angeles (adjusted odds ratio, 1.37; 95% confidence interval, 1.03-1.82). Disclosure patients also had more confidence in their ability to judge the possible influence of incentives on their health care: in Boston, 32.5% vs 17.8% (P<.001); and in Los Angeles, 31.8% vs 26.4% (P = .20). The disclosure intervention did not change trust in primary care physicians overall. However, of patients who remembered receiving the disclosure, 21.4% in Boston and 24.4% in Los Angeles responded that the disclosure had increased trust either greatly or somewhat, while in both cities less than 5% of patients responded that the information decreased trust. Patients' loyalty to their physician group was higher among disclosure patients in Boston (73.4% vs 70.2%; P = .03) and Los Angeles (74.1% vs 66.9%; P = .08).

Conclusions  Among diverse patient populations, a single mailed disclosure letter from physician groups was associated with improved knowledge of physicians' compensation models. Patients' trust in their physicians was unharmed, and their loyalty to their physician group was strengthened. For physician groups with similar compensation programs, disclosure to patients should be considered an effective method to enhance the patient-physician relationship.