The way to Nudge Individuals Into Getting Examined for the Coronavirus

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How to Nudge People Into Getting Tested for the Coronavirus

In a randomized clinical trial of nearly 5,000 emergency patients, researchers found that the proportion of patients willing to undergo a rapid H.I.V. The test rose from 38 percent to 66 percent when the test was presented as a medical service that they had to purposely decline rather than one that they had to proactively request.

Similarly, if they are not enabled, but disabled, the likelihood of wider coronavirus screening program involvement is higher. "The more you ask people to put their own cognitive and behavioral efforts into this cause, the less likely they are to do so," said Derek Reed, who heads the Laboratory of Applied Behavioral Economics at the University of Kansas.

And of course, the actual testing process should be quick and convenient, experts say, with strategically placed test locations and streamlined procedures that allow people to easily incorporate testing into their routines.

Experts also suggested asking people to think about the logistics of when and how to get tested. Studies show that people who clearly formulate a plan for how they want to achieve something – whether it's voting on an upcoming election or getting a flu vaccine – are more likely to understand.


April 1, 2021, 11:02 p.m. ET

One way, said Dr. Reed, would be to text people reminders of their test appointments and ask them to reply, for example, with a 1 if they want to go to the appointment, a 2 if they want to drive, or a 3 if you plan to to take the bus. "And then, depending on the answer, just automatically ping back Google map directions or a link to maps or timetables on the campus or community bus system," he said.

These type of nudges are likely most effective for people who are already motivated to get tested but may have trouble getting through. "Often times, you have to nudge them a little just removing friction to get rid of those small costs," said Sebastian Linnemayr, behavioral economist at RAND Corporation, a California think tank.

Health officials could also reward people who participate in testing programs. "There must likely be some patient-level incentive," said Dr. May. "We saw the same thing with cancer screening. We saw health insurers incentivize patients to participate in healthy lifestyles and to participate in screening programs."

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