Behavioural Economics in Health(care)

beA “project colleague” mentioned recently (during a brainstorming discussion) that he encountered difficulties in gaining user adoption for a particular trial and was hoping that a tweak in technology (miniaturizing the device) would help solve the issue.

I went into “consulting mode” and posed a few questions, after which I suggested that he might want to adopt a few basic principles of  behavioural economics as part of the solution.

His first (and to be honest, very typical) reaction was “Is that even a real thing? I’ve never heard of it before”. Because this is such a common response, I kicked into “auto mode’ and suggested that he “google it” and take some time to read up on that subject.

The gentleman came back 15 minutes time thanking me for the suggestion and exclaiming wonders on the subject – because Prof. Richard Thaler recently won Nobel for his work in Behavioural Economics.

Prior to Prof. Richard Thaler winning the Nobel price, this positive reaction was not common at all. I’ve been teaching the basics of Behavioural Economics for quite some time (it is also part of Mini-HI‘s curriculum) and I distinctively remembered my first attempt to deliver the topic in a public lecture (hoping to raise awareness to stakeholders on why their Digital Health projects keep failing and why blaming it on end-users and/or technical folks isn’t the solution).

That particular conference was the mHealth Forum, part of the HIMSS Digital Healthcare Week, Singapore, held back in October 2013. The topic of my presentation? “Behavioral Economics in Consumer Health Informatics – Unleashing Patient Centric Workflow“.

While I did managed to deliver the lecture, getting it through “peer review” was nearly impossible – because the folks reviewing the topics are not real Health Informaticians. To these IT and business folks, I was trying to talk about something irrelevant and the speaking slot was better off given to someone blabbing on the latest buzzwords like Cloud etc. (I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah Grant, the Education Manager at HIMSS Asia Pacific at that time for helping me push the presentation though).

So in a way I am really glad that Prof. Richard Thaler won the Nobel for his work in Behavioural Economics because it has become so easy to convince people to look into this subject.

Now the only “regret” I have in this context is not pushing through on my awareness efforts on cyber security threats in health(care). I published and talk about the subject back in 2004 (I actually have a IT Security qualification) but was repeatedly told by everyone that they are not interested. Ah well, I can’t help them all.

About Adam Chee

Health Informatician
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