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    Behavioral economics focuses on decision making, based on principles of both economics and psychology, to help people make choices consistent with their own long-term interests. As applied to health care, behavioral economics can inform policy, advance health equity, improve health care delivery, and increase healthy behavior. Formal nudge units lead the way within health systems, and research units participate in interventions that can have large-scale impact on improving health.

    Studying Behavioral Economics at Penn

    The University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Health Care Innovation and Graduate Certificate in Health Care Innovation offer unique opportunities to learn the principles and practice applying behavioral economics in health care.

    Faculty are leading researchers from the Center for Health Care Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE). In the course Behavioral Economics and Decision Making, Dr. Kevin G. Volpp provides foundational lessons in human behavior. He teaches students how to leverage the human tendency to not be rational. His own research and experience as director of CHIBE brings cutting-edge expertise to students in the Master of Health Care Innovation program. 

    The Behavioral Economics and Decision Making course covers:

    • Framing

    • Avoiding common decision errors

    • Setting effective defaults

    • Improving health incentives

    • Leveraging social pressure

    • Nudging people to make better health decisions without restricting choice

    Guest lecturers in the course explore:

    • Paying doctors differently. Matthew Press, MD, MSc, lectures on incentivizing value-based care over fee-for-service.

    • Nudge units. M. Kit Delgado, MD, MS, discusses how behavioral insights can improve health system outcomes.

    • Implementation science. Rinad Beidas, PhD, speaks on the intersection of behavioral economics, research, and principles of implementation science to create evidence-based practice.

    • Design thinking. Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, talks about how behavioral science informed a design thinking project to encourage colorectal screening.

    As a final project in Behavioral Economics and Decision Making, students will design a behavioral intervention plan, with a funding request, to address poor health metrics.

    Students synthesize their learning and apply it to their workplace. They may develop resources for their patient community, design approaches to incentives for clients, or acknowledge decision biases.

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    Behavioral Economics Topics

    Principles of behavioral economics are applied to health care to address topics such as:

    • Health equity

    • Medication adherence

    • Provider payment

    • Clinician behavior

    • Mental health

    • Digital health and technology

    • Global health

    • Vaccines

    • Healthy eating

    Alumni Applications of Behavioral Economics

    Nick Felici, MHCI ’20, was looking to improve provider engagement in value-based programs. Behavioral Economics and Decision Making taught him how to achieve his goal. Felici incentivized providers by measuring success as “improvement over yourself” rather than against others in the network.

    “For example, if you were in the 5th percentile in a certain measure, and we say you’ve got to achieve the 90th percentile, the providers aren’t going to be engaged—it’s impossible for them to improve that much in one year,” he says. Behavioral economics taught him to reframe the incentive to “just improve 5 percent over yourself. Then you’ll still be eligible for shared savings,” which led to more buy-in.

    Renee Caslow, DO, MHCI ’20, credits concepts from the MHCI course Behavioral Economics and Decision Making with helping her catalyze changes that improved processes and patient health outcomes for Memorial Health System in rural Ohio. Successes include increased engagement in their homegrown Electronic Health Records initiative, improved efficiency in completion of Medicare Annual Wellness visits, and strengthened relationships between primary care physicians and specialists.

    “Behavioral science is huge. I rely a lot on what I learned there when managing my relationships and interactions with providers, because getting them to change or consider things outside the box—you get that status quo bias,” says Caslow, the Physician Executive Director of Primary Care. “The biggest step forward is I feel confident I can get my primary care team to consider something different.”

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    Get Started on Your Master's Degree in Health Care Innovation

    If you are ready to shape health policy, improve health equity, and study emerging fields like behavioral economics, then apply to the Master of Health Care Innovation online degree program today.

    Learn how to apply          Start your application