Change is hard. Like the dog who doesn’t want to learn a new trick, most of us choose to stick to what we know. In healthcare, that translates into patients who don’t comply and providers who hesitate to adopt proven new practices. Enter behavioral economics.

Work with the Realities of Human Nature

Behavioral Economics (BE) holds that people are “predictably irrational” rather than objectively sensible. We make decisions based on our emotions, our environment and our desire to avoid discomfort and loss. Led by BE’s psychological insights, healthcare companies are testing new approaches to their thorniest challenges.

By uncovering people’s true motivations, some companies are exploring more effective ways to:

  • Persuade physicians to embrace change. Physicians are often influenced more by data that shows what their colleagues are doing than data about treatment. With this knowledge, practices may use peer pressure to nudge doctors to adopt new methods.
  • Discover the right incentives for smoking cessation, diet and exercise. One employer found the most successful incentive was a reward program requiring a cash deposit returnable only if you comply.
  • Improve patient medication adherence. People are motivated to avoid regret that may stem from a missed opportunity. For example, trials are underway for a smart pill bottle that transmits data when the patient takes the medicine. If they miss a day, they may regret missing out on a daily lottery prize.

Make the Decision Path Easier

A BE “nudge” makes one path easier and the other less so. For example, an opt-out versus opt-in approach offered for organ donation. When “yes, I will donate” is the default choice, it forces you to opt-out to say no, and donation rates rise. When the default is “no” and you have to opt-in to donate, donation rates drop.

Will behavioral economics deliver success if we work with human limitations instead of fighting against them? Healthcare providers, payers and pharmacy benefit groups are rushing to find out.

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