Vertical integration has been a central feature of health care delivery system change for more than two decades. Recent studies have demonstrated that vertically integrated health care systems raise prices and costs without observable improvements in quality, despite many theoretical reasons why cost control and improved quality might occur. Less well studied is how physicians view their newfound partnerships with hospitals. In this article I review literature findings and other observations on five aspects of vertical integration that affect physicians in their professional and personal lives: patients’ access to physicians, physician compensation, autonomy versus system support, medical professionalism and culture, and lifestyle. I conclude that the movement toward physicians’ alignment with and employment in vertically integrated systems seems inexorable but that policy should not promote such integration either intentionally or inadvertently. Instead, policy should address the flaws in current payment approaches that reward high prices and excessive service use—outcomes that vertical integration currently produces.
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