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Access to primary care outside of regular working hours is limited in many countries. This study investigates the relation between the after-hours premium, an incentive for primary care physicians to provide services after hours, and less-urgent visits to the emergency department in Ontario, Canada. We analyzed a retrospective cohort of a random sample of Ontario residents from April 2002 to March 2006, and a subcohort of patients followed from April 2005 to March 2016. We linked patient and primary care physician data with emergency department visit data. We used fixed-effects regression models to analyze the association between the introduction of the after-hours premium, as well as subsequent increases in the value of the premium, and the number of monthly emergency department visits. The sample consisted of 586 534 patients between 2002 and 2006, and 201 594 patients from 2005 to 2016. After controlling for patient and physician characteristics, seasonality and time-invariant patient confounding factors, introduction of the after-hours premium was associated with a reduction of 1.26 less-urgent visits to the emergency department per 1000 patients per month (95% confidence interval -1.48 to -1.04). Most of this reduction was observed in after-hours visits. Sensitivity analysis showed that the monthly reduction in less-urgent visits to the emergency department was in the range of -1.24 to -1.16 per 1000 patients. Subsequent increases in the after-hours premium were associated with a small reduction in less-urgent visits to the emergency department. Ontario's experience suggests that incentivizing physicians to improve access to after-hours primary care reduces some less-urgent visits to the emergency department. Other jurisdictions may consider incentives to limit less-urgent visits to the emergency department. © 2021 Joule Inc. or its licensors.


Michael Hong, Amardeep Thind, Gregory S Zaric, Sisira Sarma. Emergency department use following incentives to provide after-hours primary care: a retrospective cohort study. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne. 2021 Jan 18;193(3):E85-E93

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PMID: 33462144

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