Course Description

Professional Development > Course Descriptions > Behavioral Economics and Decision Making

Behavioral economics is a relatively new field at the intersection of economics and psychology. This course offers an introduction to behavioral economics and its applications to health and health care. In it, we will examine the key conceptual underpinnings of the field. We will discuss in detail the structure of choice environments and the ways that people are influenced by how choices are structured. We will consider the design of incentives and various approaches used to “supercharge” incentive programs using behavioral economic principles. We will consider the use of social incentives and social comparisons as a way of achieving better physician performance. We will conclude with a description of how behavioral economics is used in public policy, as well as the interesting question of when a “nudge” becomes a shove.

Taught by Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD, with Rachele Hendricks-Sturrup, DSc

Sample lecture video
LECTURE VIDEO SAMPLE: Defaults and Default Directives, from Behavioral Economics and Decision Making

Next Available Course Dates: February 5–April 1, 2019; registration is now open

Estimated Hours/Week: 8

Learning Objectives

Learners who successfully complete this course will be able to do the following:

  1. Distinguish key decision errors and other factors that contribute to observed patterns of human behavior.
  2. Identify strategies by which entities use behavioral factors in designing health and health care programs.
  3. Analyze your own work in health care through the lens of behavioral economics.
  4. Evaluate strategies for improving your work using behavioral economics concepts.

Target Audience

Clinicians, administrators, and researchers who are interested in testing and applying ideas from psychology to incentivize behavioral change in their workplace and among patients.  This course is project-oriented and does not require a background in economics.

Meet the Faculty

Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD

Dr. Kevin Volpp is the founding Director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI CHIBE), Director of the NIH-funded Penn CMU Roybal P30 Center in Behavioral Economics and Health and the Penn CDC Prevention Research Center, Vice Chairman for Health Policy for the Department of Medical Ethics and Policy, and a Founders President's Distinguished Professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor of Health Care Management at the Wharton School. He is a board certified practicing physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Dr. Volpp has received numerous awards for his work, including career achievement awards from the US National Institutes of Health and the Association of Clinical and Translational Science, the John Thompson Prize from the Association of University Programs in Health Administration; the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the Alice S. Hersh Award from AcademyHealth; and multiple "best paper of the year" awards from various societies, including Academy Health, the Society of General Internal Medicine, and the Association for Consumer Research. Dr. Volpp is an elected member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI), the Association of American Physicians (AAP), and the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences (IOM). He has also served as an advisor to many health plans and employers, including CVS Caremark, Weight Watchers, Ascension Health, and Mckinsey. He is a principal of the behavioral economic consulting firm VALHealth, serves on the advisory board of the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Behavior Change, is a Contributing Writer for the JAMA Editorial Board, and serves on the Editorial Board of Health Care: Delivery Science and Innovation.

Dr. Volpp’s work focuses on developing and testing innovative ways of applying insights from behavioral economics in improving patient health behavior and affecting provider performance. He has done work with a variety of employers, insurers, health systems, and consumer companies in testing the effectiveness of different behavioral economic strategies in addressing tobacco dependence, obesity, and medication non-adherence. He has competitively been awarded more than $60 million to lead or co-lead studies funded by the National Institutes of Aging as well as the National Heart Lung, Blood Institute; the National Cancer Institute; the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders; the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation; the CDC; VA Health Services Research and Development; the US Department of Agriculture; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Hewlett Foundation; the Commonwealth Foundation; the Aetna Foundation; Mckinsey; CVS Caremark; Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield; Hawaii Medical Services Association; Merck; Humana; Aramark; Advocate Health System; and Discovery (South Africa). His research has led to national programs on financial incentives and smoking cessation for 150,000+ GE employees in the U.S., 200,000+ CVS employees in the U.S., and numerous other widely implemented programs such as a prescription refill synchronization program for Humana members, a simple health insurance plan (“Humana Simplicity”), and an approach to increase medication refills using enhanced active choice among CVS members.

Dr. Volpp is inspired to work in health delivery innovation because of the enormous potential for us to do better in improving health than we currently do without increasing health spending. Currently our system is configured around treatment of acute illness; through the use of technology, behavior change strategies, and shifts in health financing towards value, enormous progress is possible in significantly reducing morbidity and mortality from common diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer in which health behaviors play a significant role.

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