Unintended consequences of implementing a national performance measurement system into local practice

Adam A. Powell, Katie M. White, Melissa R. Partin, Krysten Halek, Jon B. Christianson, Brian Neil, Sylvia J. Hysong, Edwin J. Zarling, Hanna E. Bloomfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Although benefits of performance measurement (PM) systems have been well documented, there is little research on negative unintended consequences of performance measurement systems in primary care. To optimize PM systems, a better understanding is needed of the types of negative unintended consequences that occur and of their causal antecedents. OBJECTIVES: (1) Identify unintended negative consequences of PM systems for patients. (2) Develop a conceptual framework of hypothesized relationships between PM systems, facility-level variables (local implementation strategies, primary care staff attitudes and behaviors), and unintended negative effects on patients. DESIGN, PARTICIPANTS, APPROACH: Qualitative study design using dissimilar cases sampling. A series of 59 in-person individual semi-structured interviews at four Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities was conducted between February and July 2009. Participants included members of primary care staff and facility leaders. Sites were selected to assure variability in the number of veterans served and facility scores on national VHA performance measures. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and content coded to identify thematic categories and relationships. RESULTS: Participants noted both positive effects and negative unintended consequences of PM. We report three negative unintended consequences for patients. Performance measurement can (1) lead to inappropriate clinical care, (2) decrease provider focus on patient concerns and patient service, and (3) compromise patient education and autonomy. We also illustrate examples of negative consequences on primary care team dynamics. In many instances these problems originate from local implementation strategies developed in response to national PM definitions and policies. CONCLUSIONS: Facility-level strategies undertaken to implement national PM systems may result in inappropriate clinical care, can distract providers from patient concerns, and may have a negative effect on patient education and autonomy. Further research is needed to ascertain how features of centralized PM systems influence whether measures are translated locally by facilities into more or less patient-centered policies and processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)405-412
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding/Support: This work was supported by a Veterans Administration Health Services research grant (IIR-07-140).


  • Health care quality assessment
  • Performance measurement
  • Quality indicators
  • Unintended consequences


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