Linking Golf Behavior to Healthcare Green

Feb 20, 2013
A behavioral hiccup that afflicts many pro golfers – loss aversion – may help health plans lower costs and keep patients adherent to their medications.

A behavioral hiccup that prevents many pro golfers from surging to the top of the leaderboard may make winners of patients and health plans.

An analysis of over 1.6 million tournament putts using laser instrumentation reveals that professional golfers work harder to avoid a bogey than to achieve a birdie or better. The percentage of successful putts for par far outstripped the putts for birdies even when distance and curvature of the green were accounted for.

The phenomenon is called “loss aversion” among behavioral scientists. It means that people tend to give more psychological weight to potential losses than to potential gains.

Loss Aversion's Role in Adherence

Loss aversion may stink up a golf game, but it can reduce costs and improve outcomes in healthcare when properly applied. Express Scripts applies loss aversion in the way we frame messages to patients to help them improve their adherence to their prescribed medication therapy.

People are much more sensitive to increases in their copayments (which feel like losses) than they are to copayment decreases (which feel like gains). This means that programs that reduce copayments to encourage better medication adherence may not work as well as we’d think.

On the other hand, when an authoritative voice, such as a doctor, talks to patients about potential losses from certain choices or behaviors, the positive impact on adherence equals that of a $10-$12 decrease in copay.

These two insights enable employers, the government and other plan sponsors to lower their healthcare costs and focus their resources on the tactics that really make a difference in improving patient health.

Whether it’s shaving a stroke off your game, or finding ways to get more value in healthcare, the idea is the same: playing to win yields better results than playing not to lose.

 

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