Colon cancer screenings boosted by monetary incentive

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that offering a $100 incentive increased the rate of patients getting colorectal cancer screenings.


Approximately 50,000 people in the United States die every year from colorectal cancers, making it second only to lung cancer in the mortality rate.

The new study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the July edition of Gastroenterology, showed that rates of preventive colonoscopy screenings more than doubled when a $100 incentive was offered to eligible patients.
“Colonoscopy is challenging for patients, requiring a day off from work, a bowel cleansing preparation, and transportation, in addition to non-financial costs of anxiety and discomfort,” Dr. Shivan J. Mehta, an assistant professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine and associate chief innovation officer at Penn Medicine, said in a press release.

“The improvement we saw in the rate of screening colonoscopies was statistically significant, and shows for the first time that a financial incentive can at least modestly boost that rate.”

The study included 2,245 adults age 50 to 64 who were sent emails to opt in or out of a screening colonoscopy.

Using the behavioral economic method known as active choice, some participants were also offered a $100 cash incentive to complete the colonoscopy within three months.

Of the incentive, non-incentive and control group, only 1.6 percent of the control group and 1.5 percent of the non-incentive group had a screening colonoscopy within the three-month time period.

However, 3.7 percent of the monetary incentive group had a screening colonoscopy within the three-month time period.

Research showed that the rate of appointment scheduling was also more than double in the $100 incentive group compared to the other groups.

“Although a $100 incentive seems relatively large, this amount is comparable to what employers already offer for completion of health risk assessments or biometric screening activities,” Mehta, said. “Based on the results, the approach could be applied by employers or insurers to improve existing efforts to reduce the burden of colorectal cancer.”

By Amy Wallace