The Effectiveness of Financial Incentives in Promoting Cancer Screening

January 13, 2017
by Aleena Karamally

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. However, motivating individuals to be screened for colorectal cancer, especially those with financial barriers or a fear of screening methods, has proved challenging.

Principles of behavioral economics show that financial incentives can be used to alter behavior. As such, offering a small financial incentive to vulnerable populations has been suggested as a solution to insufficient colorectal cancer screening rates. Rady School Associate Professor Ayelet Gneezy recently conducted and published a study in which primary care patients were mailed colorectal test outreach, outreach plus a $5 incentive, or outreach plus a $10 incentive.

The necessary screening completion rates of the groups were 36.9 percent with a financial incentive, compared to 36.2 percent with no financial incentive. These results did not vary significantly based on age, sex, ethnicity, or neighborhood poverty rate. As a result, the study concludes that financial incentives in the amount of $5 or $10 do not have any significant effect on completion of colorectal cancer screening.

The study was conducted in Fort Worth, Texas on a sample of 10,000 uninsured individuals aged 50 to 64 who had visited their primary care physician at least once in the previous year. Individuals were randomly assigned to be in either the control group with no financial incentive, in the $5 compensation group, or in the $10 compensation group.

These findings are some of the first regarding small financial incentives and cancer screening. Although they cannot be applied to other types of cancer screening or larger financial incentives, the findings are important in understanding the applications of behavioral economics.

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