Implementing risk stratification in primary care: Challenges and strategies

Jesse Wagner, Jennifer D. Hall, Rachel L. Ross, David Cameron, Bhavaya Sachdeva, Devan Kansagara, Deborah J. Cohen, David A. Dorr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Introduction: Primary care risk stratification (RS) has been shown to help practices better understand their patient populations’ needs and may improve health outcomes and reduce expenditures by targeting and tailoring care to high-need patients. This study aims to understand key considerations practices faced and practice experiences as they began to implement RS models. Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews about experiences in RS with 34 stakeholders from 15 primary care practices in Oregon and Colorado and qualitatively analyzed the data. Results: Three decisions were important in shaping practices’ experiences with RS: choosing established versus self-created algorithms or heuristics, clinical intuition, or a combination; selecting mechanisms for assigning risk scores; determining how to integrate RS approaches into care delivery. Practices using clinical intuition found stratification time-consuming and difficult to incorporate into existing workflows, but trusted risk scores more than those using algorithms. Trust in risk scores was influenced by data extraction capabilities; practices often lacked sufficient data to calculate their perceived optimal risk score. Displaying the scores to the care team was a major issue. Finally, obtaining buy-in from care team members was challenging, requiring repeated cycles of improvement and workflow integration. Discussion: Practices used iterative approaches to RS implementation. As a result, procedural and algorithmic changes were introduced and were influenced by practices’ health IT, staffing, and resource capacities. Practices were most successful when able to make iterative changes to their approaches, incorporated both automation and human process in RS, educated staff on the importance of RS, and had readily accessible risk scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-595
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019


  • Chronic Disease
  • Colorado
  • Disease Management
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Health Expenditures
  • Information Technology
  • Medical Informatics
  • Oregon
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Adjustment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workflow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Family Practice


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