It pays to be healthier: Targeted financial incentives for patients can lead to health behavior change

Financial incentives work for doctors. Could they work for patients, too? Could they encourage them to change unhealthy behaviors and use preventive health services more? In some cases, yes, according to Dr. Marita Lynagh from the University of Newcastle in Australia, and colleagues. Their work, looking at why financial incentives for patients could be a good thing to change risky health behaviors, indicates that incentives are likely to be particularly effective at altering 'simple' behaviors e.g. take-up of immunizations, primarily among socially disadvantaged groups. Their article is published online in Springer's International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Following the proliferation of pay-for-performance programs for , the application of the same principles for individual behavior change is becoming an attractive option. But is it fair and does it work? To answer these questions, Lynagh and colleagues reviewed recent research looking at the effectiveness of personal aiming to change health behavior, principally in the fields of and weight loss.

They found that the effectiveness of incentives depends on the types of behaviors targeted. Incentives appear to be most effective at altering behaviors which are simple, discrete and time-limited such as take up of immunization and attendance at health and education services, and less effective for complex and entrenched behaviors such as smoking, diet and exercise. However, in the case of these more complex behaviors, supporting the financial incentive with social support and skill training significantly increases the likelihood of success.

Financial incentives are also more likely to work with socially disadvantaged groups, particularly when the incentives address real barriers to change such as transport, medication and child-care costs.

However, there is currently little evidence for long-term behavior change with one-time incentives. Regular reinforcement with a measured schedule of incentives (i.e. escalating size of incentive with frequent monitoring and rewards) is more effective at both initiating and maintaining behavior change. This especially applies in the case of more complex behaviors like drug treatment and smoking cessation, where long-term change is the real challenge.

The authors conclude: "We need effective public health interventions that clinicians can adopt easily to encourage people to change their , to produce improved health outcomes for populations and a reduced burden on health care systems. Financial incentives are not the panacea to all health risk behaviors, but do hold promise for encouraging certain population groups to modify particular health behaviors."

More information: Lynagh MC (2011). What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Guiding principles for the use of financial incentives in health behaviour change. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. DOI 10.1007/s12529-011-9202-5

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Don't let high altitude ruin your holiday trip

59 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—When you're planning your holiday get-away, don't forget to factor high altitude into your vacation sports—such as skiing or hiking, a sports medicine specialist cautions.

How physicians are adapting to payment reform

8 hours ago

Private and public healthcare providers in the U.S. are increasingly turning to the "pay-for-performance" model, in which physicians and hospitals are paid if they meet healthcare quality and efficiency targets. ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2011
Proving once again that American's value money above all things. Including life.

Worthless Money Grubbers.
Mezrael
not rated yet Nov 23, 2011
Proving once again that American's value money above all things. Including life.

Worthless Money Grubbers.


There you go again about America.. what Cesspool of a country do you come from? Hmmm..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.