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Physician Membership in Health Systems Linked With Higher Patient Costs

Commercially insured patients had higher average costs from primary care physicians who were members of health systems compared with primary care physicians not in health systems, according to findings published online in Health Services Research. 

“A growing share of physicians is part of a health system from 2012 to 2016,” researchers wrote in the study. “Providers in health systems are not delivering primary care more efficiently than nonsystem providers for the commercially insured.”

The study focused on four states: Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Utah. 

Researchers were interested in the state of primary care physician health system membership between 2012 and 2016, and whether there was a difference in quality and costs between in-system providers and nonsystem providers for a commercially insured population. 

During the 5-year period, the share of physicians in health systems grew steadily. In 2016, 48% of primary care of physicians in Colorado and 63% in Utah were in-system providers, researchers of the study found.  

Performance on most Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set quality metrics analyzed was similar between in-system and nonsystem providers. However, rates of ambulatory care sensitive admissions were about 40% higher with in-system physicians. 

Meanwhile, in-system physicians were associated with $29 higher average costs per month than nonsystem physicians for commercially insured patients, according to the study.  —Jolynn Tumolo 

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