Nudging People Toward Better Behavioral Choices
Most people want to be healthy. Many smokers lament their smoking and make plans to quit but don’t. Others have a new year’s resolution to lose weight, exercise more, or eat healthier but often fall short. The reality is, saying you want to do something is way easier than actually doing it, especially if you don’t have an immediate incentive.
Nudge units look for ways to move patients toward healthier choices. Nudge units are based in clinical areas, but the work they do is remarkably similar to marketing, including testing and optimization to discover the most successful approaches.
“I was talking to the senior advisor on health about ways we could encourage people to quit smoking,” said David Halpern, chief executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, during his keynote speech at the 2021 Nudges in Health Care Symposium. “I remember him saying [that] people don’t need an extra incentive to quit smoking. If they don’t quit smoking, it’ll kill them. What possible more incentive could you need?”
He added: “From a rational or econ perspective, of course, it is crazy, given how incredibly dangerous smoking is, yet we know from a behavioral point of view, it’s completely sensible to think about incentives.”
For three years, the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit has hosted a Nudges in Health Care Symposium to help other hospitals and health systems interested in developing nudge units by sharing ideas and the latest research in the field. In 2010, The UK Cabinet Office created the first nudge unit (the Behavioural Insights Team) to apply behavioral science to public policy. With nudge units, organizations need to think more critically about the way people approach decisions and then use those insights to create policy or programs.
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