Payment & Delivery Models

What is value-based care?


Value-based care is health care designed to focus on five key goals:

  1. Provide the best patient experience.
  2. Advance health equity.
  3. Improve patients’ health outcomes.
  4. Deliver health care services at a reasonable cost.
  5. Support the well-being of the health care workforce.

Unlike traditional fee-for-service that links payments to the number and type of services performed, value-based care arrangements tie payment amounts for services provided to patients to the results that are delivered. By aligning incentives and payment, this approach can potentially result in more evidence-based, preventive and equitable whole-person care.

It can also promote better coordination among health care professionals, potentially reducing redundancies, unnecessary or avoidable services and errors, along with promoting expanded access for more historically marginalized or clinically complex populations.

Note: While sometimes used interchangeably with “value-based care,” the term “alternative payment model” is statutorily defined specifically for the Medicare program by Congress in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA).

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“Value-based care is really a care-delivery system that rewards for patient outcomes and quality of care, managing a population rather than transactional care,” said Maria Ansari, MD, CEO and executive director at The Permanente Medical Group, in a January 2024 interview recorded as part of the AMA Update video series. “It's more continuous care, population health and being rewarded for patients who live longer, healthier lives, as opposed to more siloed, transactional care that's more episodic.” 

Key components and challenges of a high-value health care system

The AMA Ed Hub™ module, “What Are the Components of Value-Based Care?” notes that an ideal high-value health care system features the following key attributes:

  1. A clear, shared vision with the patient at the center.
  2. Leadership and professionalism of health care workers.
  3. A robust IT infrastructure.
  4. Broad access to care.
  5. Payment arrangements that reward quality improvement over volume.

Fee-for-service, however, remains the most prevalent payment arrangement for physicians in the U.S., according to a 2023 AMA Policy Research Perspectives report.

That being said, there continues to be growth of value-based care arrangement, including physician participation in accountable care organizations (ACOs) which has increased steadily since 2014, with nearly 60% of doctors working in a practice that’s part of an ACO.

Related Coverage

3 ways health systems can find value-based care success

Physicians play an essential role in value-based care model

In a Private Practice Simple Solutions AMA webinar, Hattiesburg Clinic CEO Bryan N. Batson, MD, discussed Hattiesburg Clinic’s plan to pursue value-based care with a commitment to remaining an independent practice. While quality had improved as measured by various value-based care indicators and EHR tools, Dr. Batson also said, “It makes me very proud that we have been able to deliver better health care, especially in a state that is often known for poor health care outcomes.”

As the landscape of value-based care evolves, physicians continue to play crucial roles in achieving the goal of improving health outcomes, equity, patient and clinician experience, and overall health care spending:

  1. Quality over quantity: This includes incentivizing quality improvement and promoting expanded patient access, including for historically marginalized or clinically complex populations.
  2. Patient-centered care: Physicians are empowered to enhance patients’ experiences by actively partnering with patients in their health care decisions and education.
  3. Enhanced care coordination: Physicians are encouraged to work more collaboratively within care teams, including via additional payments and advanced infrastructure, fostering a physician-led, team-based approach.
  4. Increased data access and analytics: With a focus on data-driven decision-making, physicians can better leverage timely, actionable data to focus on areas such as chronic care, disease prevention and population health management. This can also provide key insight to better inform patient care decisions, quality performance, operations and financial accountability.
  5. Better affordable care: Physicians are rewarded for appropriately maintaining costs, in addition to both quality improvement and high achievement. It is important to recognize, however, costs may appropriately increase, at least in the short term, when expanding access for historically marginalized or clinically complex patients.
  6. Digitally enabled care delivery and continuous learning: Health care technologies can help streamline and enhance care delivery and care team coordination and communications,  alongside enriched data analytics to inform more proactive care interventions and workflow process improvements.

Advancing the adoption of value-based care

While there is no single recommendation on how to best implement value-based care arrangements, the AMA has identified several best practices for value-based care that help ease participation and foster sustainable success. In partnership with AHIP and the National Association of ACOs, these voluntary best practices were informed by real-world insights from the direct experience of physicians, value-based care entities and health plans currently participating in these arrangements.

The playbooks discuss critically important elements for value-based care success related to two key topics: data sharing and underlying payment methods.

The data sharing playbook addresses key categories including:

  • Improving data collection and use to advance health equity: Collect and share data to identify and address health disparities.
  • Sharing timely, relevant and actionable data: Prioritize sharing focused on insights and data early, often and in accessible ways to improve care.

The payment methods playbook includes best practices focus on key domains, such as: 

  • Attribution: Correctly identify the patient population, and their associated medical costs, to be held accountable for during a performance period. 
  • Benchmarking: Establish a predictable, transparent and achievable financial target that rewards efficiency and improvement.
  • Transparent feedback: Have frank conversations on data, building a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship with payers and physicians.

Related Coverage

What value-based care is and why everyone is talking about it with Maria Ansari, MD

The AMA offers a variety of resources to support a sustainable future for value-based care.

Reviewed by: Christopher Botts, AMA Care Delivery and Payment Senior Manager

Reviewed on: May 14, 2024