Cash incentives get patients into doctor’s office

Cash incentives improve the rate of low-income adults making an initial appointment when they become newly covered by a primary care program, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

Getting a patient to first book a primary care appointment is difficult but essential in delivering preventive care and chronic disease management. In the study, led by Cathy J. Bradley, PhD, an associate director for population health sciences at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, researchers analyzed how different types of cash incentives affected rates of primary care appointments for low-income adults.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: three groups provided members with $10 to complete a baseline survey during an interview and were then placed in a group given $50, $25 or no cash to visit their physician within six months. A nonincentivized control group was also included.

Results showed that participants in the $50 (77 percent) and $20 (74 percent) incentive group were more likely to see their physician than the no incentive group (68 percent).

“Cash incentives appear to be effective at increasing primary care use among low-income patients. If the use of primary care is shown to reduce overall health care use and improve health in this high-cost population, cash incentives may be a cost-effective way to steer low-income patients away from more expensive services and help them establish a relationship with a primary care provider,” wrote Bradley and colleagues. “This approach may be particularly effective for people newly offered health care coverage, regardless of whether that coverage is through the safety net or insurance. Providing less expensive but improved quality of care by preventing avoidable hospitalizations and nonurgent emergency department visits remains a national priority.”