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Dissemination Centre
Patient Incentives

 Financial incentives for patients


Whether attending screening appointments, taking medication correctly, quitting smoking, or increasing physical activity, there are many situations where changing behaviour is important for health. However, it is often not clear how best to help people make healthy changes. In the case of tobacco or alcohol consumption, there is good evidence that financial disincentives, such as increasing sales taxes, do deter these harmful behaviours. But these approaches are not suitable in many situations. There is increasing interest in the use of financial incentives, such as small cash rewards, to promote particular desirable behaviours.

Evidence to date about the effectiveness of financial incentives is mixed. The NIHR has funded a range of studies exploring the use of incentives in different circumstances, and how people feel about them. This Highlight explores this evidence and considers how incentives can be helpful in healthcare, for who and in what circumstances.

GP and patient

Key Messages from this highlight

A quick look at the key messages which come through from the research in this area. 

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What are financial incentives?

How financial incentives work and what we already know about their effectiveness. 

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Someone having an injection

Do financial incentives work?

Evidence suggests that incentives are generally more effective than usual care or no intervention.

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Someone taking tablets

Are financial incentives acceptable?

Financial incentives can evoke strong reactions.

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GP and patient

About the research

Find out more about the NIHR-funded, supported and wider studies featured in this highlight.

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GP and patient


Professor Ivo Vlaev, an expert in financial incentives in healthcare, explains how incentives work and how they could be used.

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