NaviNet Admin on June 20, 2012

The Carrot or the Stick: Which One Motivates You More?

The demands of summertime are fast upon us…bathing suits, exposed skin, regrets of winter’s bad choices, to name a few. We found the antidote: “The Perfected Self” by David H. Freedman in this month’s The Atlantic headlined “The End of Temptation” in bold three-quarter-inch typeface...”How the creepy science of behavior modification is reshaping our desires.”

B.F. Skinner’s theories about behavior modification are again a hot topic of conversation. In short, he believed that consequences influenced behavior. Praise was great, but the avoidance of a negative outcome could be even more powerful (anyone else remember ruler-wielding Sister Mary Helen?). Both forces affect behavior, and reinforcement occurs over time. Freedman draws the following parallel, “Behavioral technology allows users to gradually and permanently alter all kinds of behavior, from reducing their energy use to controlling their spending. Now, with the help of our iPhones and a few Facebook book friends, we can train ourselves to lead healthier, safer, eco-friendlier, more financially secure, and more productive lives.”

At the recent NaviNet Chief Medical Officer Advisory Board meeting focusing on patient engagement, we discussed how real-time feedback enabled by cutting-edge technology does have a very real impact on engagement and, thus, on our behavior. Being engaged in using computers and touch pads and smart phones and apps is a choice that a consumer makes on a regular basis. Meghan Oates-Zalesky, Vice President of Marketing at NaviNet, spoke about the effect that her app, MapMyRUN, had on her behavior when her schedule caused her runs to drop off. The app started reminding her of friends that she had connected with and how they were doing. Sure enough, the app and the network (guilt trips) helped her get back to those early-morning runs.

Another behavior-modifying program that has caught our interest is Limeade. This innovative company is founded on one question, “Can we build an evidence-based way to measure and improve everything that creates human well-being?” As the company dug into what that question actually meant, they found that their mission was especially relevant to employers, who bring people together to achieve a shared goal. Healthier employees create a better company—and insurance costs decline as wellness improves.

According to a recent New York Times article, smoking-related healthcare spending is estimated at $96 billion. More than 17 million people in the United States alone are trying to quit smoking annually. Cessation Nation for Androids is a novel app that shows the date you quit smoking, time elapsed since your last cigarette, money saved since not smoked, and number of cigarettes not smoked. It also awards scores, details health benefits (like circulation, shortness of breath, and risk of coronary disease and stroke), and has a network support component.

The potential power of behavior modification on the healthcare continuum’s bottom line is significant. According to Dr. Peter Tippett, vice president of Verizon Connected Healthcare Solutions and a keynote speaker at the 2011 NaviNet Healthcare Forum: Raising the Standard, on average, self-insured employers spend $4,000 per employee per year on healthcare, but just $220 per employee on wellness programs. Freedman has a solution for that, too: “Mobile health’s potential savings to the healthcare system are enormous. A 2010 study by one research firm reckoned that the savings in the United States and Canada from mobile monitoring of patient health could climb to as much as $6 billion a year by 2014. If mobile apps could reduce obesity and its associated costs by just 5%, the savings would amount to about $15 billion a year in the U.S. alone. The effect on eldercare would be even larger; a Boston Consulting Group report from earlier this year projects a possible cost reduction of 25%, which by one study’s figures would amount to about $30 billion.”

Are you motivated by the carrot or the stick? Which app is your favorite? Take our 60-second survey. We look forward to hearing from you. Continue the discussion by commenting on our blog, and connecting with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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NaviNet, part of NantHealth, is America’s largest interactive healthcare network. Our flagship multi-payer provider website is built on deep payer integration and the innovative use of technology to deliver real bottom-line value for both payers and providers.