That people actually behave differently than they say they will, has been long acknowledged by almost every industry in the world. These insights on actual human behavior are often successfully implemented to further business interests. The healthcare sector, however, is conspicuously lagging behind in this respect. But if there’s one field that can’t afford to ignore behavioral economics, it’s health. “The combination of global health, health, and social science, is incredibly important, has a huge potential. I’m proud to be part of the Joep Lange Institute.” Ariely said during his lecture today.
Interventions in helping patients make better decisions should therefore be focused on lowering the barriers to taking healthy decisions. Just handing patients information or asking them how they feel or what they think is not enough. “We know what is the right thing to do, but still we don’t do it” – human motivation is incredibly complex, we have all the information on the detrimental effects of eating too much, not exercising enough, or not taking our medication as prescribed. But information rarely helps in changing behavior, Ariely stated. The most effective interventions to change people’s behavior are focused on changing their environment and social context.
Take tooth brushing as an example. How come its compliance is so incredibly high compared to actual life-saving behavior such as adhering to your doctor’s drug and lifestyle recommendations? Why do we all agree that we should brush our teeth at least once a day – and actually do it, too? According to Ariely, we are not doing this because we still want to have all our teeth in ten years’ time: “We do this because we want to be socially accepted.”
Joep Lange Chair & Fellows Program
Anticipating patient behavior and applying well-known techniques to help them make better health decisions has yet to become part and parcel of medical thinking. In chronic care, for example, many doctors see that their patients have great difficulty taking their medicines consistently and on time. If we can better understand human decision-making – and design global health systems and treatment regimens accordingly – we can reduce costs, increase access to care and improve health outcomes.
Forging synergies between different fields of expertise is a key ambition of the Joep Lange Chair & Fellows program. This program is hosted by the Global Health department of the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Center (AMC), with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It brings together experts from different backgrounds and geographies to collaborate on research and innovation that will help drive change in the field of Global Health.