Background: Performance-based financing (PBF) both measures and determines payments based on the quality of care delivered and is emerging as a potential tool to improve quality.
Methods: Comparative case study methodology was used to analyze common challenges and lessons learned in quality of care across seven PBF programs (Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia). The eight case studies, across seven PBF programs, compared were commissioned by the USAID-funded Translating Research into Action (TRAction) project (n = 4), USAID’s Health Finance and Government project (n = 3), and from the Global Delivery Initiative (n = 1).
Results: The programs show similar design features to assess quality, but significant heterogeneity in their application. The seven programs included 18 unique quality checklists, containing over 1400 quality of care indicators, with an average per checklist of 116 indicators (ranging from 26-228). The quality checklists share a focus on structural components of quality (representing 80% of indicators on average, ranging from 38%-91%). Process indicators constituted an average of 20% across all checklists (ranging from 8.4% to 61.5%), with the majority measuring the correct application of care protocols for MCH services including child immunization. The sample included only one example of an outcome indicator from Kyrgyzstan. Performance data demonstrated a modest upward improvement over time in checklist scores across schemes, however, achievements plateaued at 60%-70%, with small or rural clinics reporting difficulty achieving payment thresholds due to limited resources and poor infrastructure. Payment allocations (distribution) and thresholds (for payments), data transparency, and approaches to measuring (verification) of quality differ across schemes.
Conclusions: Similarities exist in the processes that govern the design of PBF mechanisms, yet substantial heterogeneity in the experiences of implementing quality of care components in PBF programs are evident. This comparison suggests tailoring further the quality component of PBF programs to local and country contexts, and a need to better understand how quality is measured in practice. The growing operational experiences with PBF programs in different settings offer opportunities to learn from best practices, improve ongoing and future programs, and inform research to alleviate current challenges.