Using Behavioral Economics to Change Physicians' Behavior

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Historically, policymakers and health care delivery system leaders relied on traditional economic thinking to develop strategies for influencing physician behavior. Such thinking assumes that individuals provided with all the facts will respond "rationally" and make good business decisions. The notion of "the rational physician" has been used to design numerous interventions to alter physician behaviors, some as simple as automated electronic alerts to ensure physicians have all the information they need to make the best decisions.  Others are more complex, like pay-for-performance programs, which changes the way physicians are compensated to motivate decision-making more aligned with evidence-based standards of care and quality improvement initiatives. 

However, these interventions do not always work; how to make them better was the focus of a Commonwealth Fund–supported plenary session at the fifth biennial meeting at the American Society of Health Economists (ASHEcon), Behavioral Economics for Altering Physician Behavior. There, Craig Fox, professor of psychology and medicine at the University of California Los Angeles; Jason Doctor, director of health informatics at the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California; and Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine and health care management at University of Pennsylvania, discussed how such interventions could benefit from incorporating insights from behavioral economics, which recognizes that our brains may be hardwired in ways that often make us respond contrary to logical economic rules. 

Learn more about what Fox, Doctor, Volpp, and others have to say about the role of behavioral economics in changing physician behavior in these videos from the ASHEcon meeting.

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