Financial Rewards for Healthy Behavior Can Be Effective

But the practice can be fraught with moral dilemmas
By Jane Parry
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- Although paying people to engage in healthy behaviors or successfully tackle unhealthy ones can be effective, it may carry unintended consequences, according to an editorial published online April 9 in BMJ.

Theresa M. Marteau, Ph.D., of King's College London in the United Kingdom, and colleagues assessed the research to date on the use of financial incentives to encourage clinic visits and drug treatment plan adherence in low- and middle-income countries, as well as part of treatment for alcohol, drug and tobacco addiction, and obesity in developed world settings.

While financial incentives can encourage the desired behavior, there may be unintended consequences such as a shift in the doctor-patient relationship, which is customarily based on trust; downplaying of side effects in order to encourage compliance with drug treatments; and undermining intrinsic motivation to improve health behaviors, the researchers note.

"Even when effective, the use of financial incentives will depend on its acceptability to general populations, health care professionals, and policy makers alike," the authors write. "We need to clarify the frameworks within which to discuss and judge the acceptability of incentive schemes. Ultimately, if personal financial incentives prove to be effective and acceptable in only a few contexts, they may still offer an important means by which to improve population health."


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