Incentives to Shape Health Behaviors

Members of a running club do warm up exercises outside their high school led by their coach.

Person-centered incentives may be a valuable tool to encourage individuals to improve their health behaviors.

The Issue:

Many employers and health plans are using incentives to encourage plan participants to become healthier people by adopting healthy behaviors and appropriately using health care. Many of these programs, however, lack a person-centered focus. This article examines why a person-centered focus is important and identifies effective incentive implementation. In identifying effective incentive implementation, dimensions to be considered include: risk preferences, personal tastes, competitiveness, altruism, and timing preference, among others.

Key Findings

  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 makes provisions for expanded use of incentives.

  • Person-centered incentives, versus the typically one-size-fits-all approach, would allow individuals to self-match to incentives and engage them in the decision-making process. This could lead to better participation and more successful goal achievement.

  • Dimensions to be considered when designing person-centered incentives include: risk preferences, personal tastes, competitiveness, altruism, timing preference, and others.


The authors acknowledge that incentive programs cannot include all possible options appealing to all possible persons. However, further research on the preferences, effectiveness, and qualitative differences of person-centered incentives can help improve the health of individuals.

About the Study:

This study includes an examination of incentives—patient-centered and person-centered—offering a review of current literature. The authors discuss implications of the literature, feasibility and constraint issues, and identify next steps.