Dec 27 2012

Creating a System that Encourages Healthy Behaviors

Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.  He is a practicing physician at the Philadelphia Veteran Affairs Medical Center; and author of Clinical Wards Secrets, a guide for medical students transitioning from the classroom to the hospital wards. This post is part of the "Health Care in 2013" series.


While most people spend a few hours a year visiting the doctor, they spend another 5,000 waking hours without any direct contact from the U.S. health care system.  There has been an increasing amount of attention on how to design systems that encourage healthy behaviors among the population during their everyday activities.  Insights from behavioral economics provide opportunities to design systems that monitor, incentivize and provide feedback to encourage these changes. 

One proposal to change behavior is to increase price transparency in the U.S, with initiatives at the state and federal levels.  Lessons from other industries and concepts from behavioral economics demonstrate that this must be designed carefully to increase the likelihood that price transparency changes behavior. 

One example is the use of calorie-labeling in fast food restaurants.  While its intended outcome is to reduce consumer consumption, there are several reasons why it has thus far not been very successful. Consumers may not understand the caloric information or the problem may be self-control and not related to information at all. 

Using concepts from behavioral economics such as framing the information or making it more salient could improve its impact on reducing calorie consumption.

As the New Year approaches, millions of Americans will make resolutions to improve their diet, increase their exercise, or to quit smoking.  Let’s do our part to design systems that help our population meet their goals and increase healthy behavior. 

Tags: Clinical Scholars, Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Health Care in 2013, Healthy Food Access, Voices from the Field