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Behavioral Economics: “Nudging” Underserved Populations to Be Screened for Cancer
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  • Alternative Title:
    Prev Chronic Dis
  • Description:
    Persistent disparities in cancer screening by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status require innovative prevention tools and techniques. Behavioral economics provides tools to potentially reduce disparities by informing strategies and systems to increase prevention of breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. With an emphasis on the predictable, but sometimes flawed, mental shortcuts (heuristics) people use to make decisions, behavioral economics offers insights that practitioners can use to enhance evidence-based cancer screening interventions that rely on judgments about the probability of developing and detecting cancer, decisions about competing screening options, and the optimal presentation of complex choices (choice architecture). In the area of judgment, we describe ways practitioners can use the availability and representativeness of heuristics and the tendency toward unrealistic optimism to increase perceptions of risk and highlight benefits of screening. We describe how several behavioral economic principles involved in decision-making can influence screening attitudes, including how framing and context effects can be manipulated to highlight personally salient features of cancer screening tests. Finally, we offer suggestions about ways practitioners can apply principles related to choice architecture to health care systems in which cancer screening takes place. These recommendations include the use of incentives to increase screening, introduction of default options, appropriate feedback throughout the decision-making and behavior completion process, and clear presentation of complex choices, particularly in the context of colorectal cancer screening. We conclude by noting gaps in knowledge and propose future research questions to guide this promising area of research and practice.

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