Written by Sarah Deedat, Head of Behaviour Change, Bupa UK
Many of the most deep-rooted challenges in health today are social or behavioural in nature rather than purely medical. Too often, solutions that are implemented to overcome these challenges are based on how we want individuals to behave, rather than how they actually behave in the real world.
For example, obesity rates continue to climb despite efforts to provide consumers with information about nutrition and exercise, so there must be other factors at play. Worse still, some interventions can even backfire: one study found that teens exposed to graphic anti-smoking warnings were more likely to begin smoking.
To change these harmful behaviours, we need to know what is driving them, and what gets in the way of healthier alternatives. Behavioural insights have been used to understand how humans make choices, applying thinking from diverse fields including psychology, behavioural economics, sociology and anthropology. Research from these areas has shown that often we behave in ways that can be counterintuitive and not always in our own best interest. We tend to follow the herd and copy what others around us are doing. This has important and varied implications for healthcare ranging from food choices to the tendency of doctors to prescribe antibiotics. Understanding these can help us design products and services that improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and populations.
Here at Bupa UK, we are on a journey of embedding behavioural insights in our products and services, with the aim of supporting our customers and our people to make better choices and lasting lifestyle changes. The Behavioural Insights Team is made up of individuals with a range of backgrounds, including behavioural economics, psychology and public health. Our evidence-based, interdisciplinary approach enables us to create simple and targeted interventions to improve health and wellbeing.
With this expertise, we offer insight into topics like how to increase participation and adherence to health programmes, how to encourage people to engage with and respond to information, and how to run experiments and measure the impact of our interventions on a variety of outcomes. By taking this approach, our interventions are more likely to have the desired effect on the target behaviour, without any unintended consequences, which also means they tend to be more efficient and cost-effective than traditional methods.
My team and I sit within the Clinical Development team, which enables us to work across Bupa UK’s various businesses including insurance, dental and clinics. We act as an internal consultancy, taking on behavioural challenges and opportunities that other parts of the business approach us with, particularly focusing on those with a direct impact on health and wellbeing. For example, working together with colleagues in care services and internal communications we doubled the uptake of the flu vaccination. We achieved this by performing a behavioural diagnosis that allowed us to pin point the reasons for low uptake, and design an approach which included several established behaviour change techniques, such as helping care home staff to create action plans which have been shown to help people follow through with their desired behaviour.