Brandeis wins grant to study if incentives boost routine mammography rates

Researchers apply behavioral economic concepts to pioneering approaches

Screening for breast cancer with routine mammography can save lives, but many eligible women do not obtain the screening. This is a concern for people of all socioeconomic classes, including the privately insured. 

“Using incentives to shape health behaviors is a major new trend and this study is one of several being conducted at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management to examine the impact of incentives. This study can inform the field about what really works,” says Dr. Constance Horgan, associate dean for research and director of the school’s Institute for Behavioral Health (IBH).

The study is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio and the Donaghue Foundation through its initiative, “Applying Behavioral Economics to Perplexing Health and Health Care Challenges” and represents a collaboration between Brandeis and Tufts Health Plan.

The $100,000 grant is one of only eight awarded nationwide from over 300 responses to an open solicitation. The study will be co-directed by Drs. Elizabeth Merrick and Dominic Hodgkin, both at IBH, and will evaluate the benefit of financial incentives for patients to increase rates of recommended mammography screening. 

“Behavioral economics offers a new paradigm which incorporates insights from psychology in order to make economic models more realistic and accurate,” says Hodgkin, a health economist. The financial incentives include modest guaranteed payments, prize-based payments and unique “person-centered incentives” based on patient preferences. If effective, these approaches can be widely adopted by other health care organizations. 

Dr. Merrick, a health services researcher who studies access to care and consumer perspectives says “this is an exciting opportunity to examine the impact of affordable financial incentives and how they might be best structured, with the goal being improved preventive care.” 

Along with Drs. Merrick and Hodgkin, key Brandeis co-investigators include Dr. Constance Horgan, Director of IBH, and Dr. Laura Lorenz, a qualitative researcher.  

Working with Drs. Merrick, Hodgkin, Horgan and Lorenz are Paul Kasuba, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Debra Poskanzer, M.D., Director of Clinical Quality Improvement and Medical Affairs, Renee Altman Nefussy, Manager of Quality Performance and Informatics and Elizabeth Goheen, Health Care Analyst from Tufts Health Plan.

“Our collaboration on this study is part of Tufts Health Plan’s ongoing commitment to finding new ways to improve strategies that will improve health and wellness,” said Kasuba.  “Having a better understanding of how we can improve mammography rates in certain populations will allow us to improve care management and realize more early detection of breast cancer in this group of women.”

Categories: General, Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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