• The Role of Incentives

    Posted on August 17, 2011 by in health behaviors, health technology

    There’s a stage in the health technology life cycle when we’ve finished beta testing and set up client contracts, but still need to get employees/members to actually use the product/service. Increasingly, companies use incentives to drive participation, engagement and adherence. For example, employers are embracing incentives—some smaller incentives like tchotchkes or $10 cash and some more significant like hundreds of dollars in insurance premium discounts—to drive healthy behaviors. Providers are increasingly incentivized to adopt patient safety practices, electronic medical records, or other health technologies.

    The incentives market

    Some of the more established companies in the incentives space include Virgin HealthMiles, IncentOne and Hallmark Business Connections (formerly Hallmark Insights). These companies offer reward programs to employers, government entities, insurers and providers to help drive behavior change. Along with incentive programs, they are developing metrics to measure the health and cost outcomes attributable to rewards.

    There are a rising number of up-and-coming incentive companies, many of which are focused on technology. Earndit, for example, rewards consumers for exercise using a points-based system. Another newcomer, Keas, founded by Adam Bosworth of Google fame, offers employers a package of incentives, quizzes, point and games to improve the well-being of their employee populations.

    Healthcare IT Incentives to Physicians

    The U.S. government, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed in 2009, is incentivizing physicians in their practice and healthcare organizations to use electronic health records (EHRs) with the goal of improving safety, quality and efficiency. By demonstrating “meaningful use” of “certified” EHRs physicians could be eligible for up to $64,000 over six years. As with most incentive plans—large or small scale—part of the challenge here is in educating physicians and effectively communicating about the incentive plan. My next blog post will discuss communication strategies for implementing new programs like incentive plans.

    A word of caution

    While there is a role for incentives in introducing a new behavior or driving greater use, there are instances in which providing an external reward actually lowers the chances of adoption or adherence. In his book, “Drive”, Daniel Pink argues that incentives can sometimes have the opposite effect of fostering intrinsic motivation, particularly when the behavior isn’t a routine task. He states that driving more complex behaviors take strategies that focus on autonomy, mastery and purpose. Harish Rao also wrote a good Fast Company blog article this week on incentivizing using recognition, autonomy and growth opportunities, in this case in motivating top employees.

    On balance, incentives can be useful tools; just make sure to carefully consider any unintended consequences and your objective behaviors before implementation.

    (This blog post first appeared at chicagohealthtech.org)

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