UCLA Health is collaborating with marketing experts to incentivize patients to screen themselves at home for cancer.
Starting in May, UCLA Health, with the help of researchers at the Anderson School of Management, provided custom letters with take-home colorectal cancer screening kits to encourage patients to use them. The letters have increased the amount of patients who completed the kit by 33 percent, said Folasade May, an assistant professor-in-residence of medicine who contributed to the project.
Colon cancer screening is important because it helps prevent colorectal cancer, which begins as abnormal growths and can be easily removed before progressing into cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Suzanne Shu, an associate professor of marketing and behavioral decision making, said the original letters accompanying the screening kits were generic. Shu and Noah Goldstein, an associate professor of management and organizations, used persuasion techniques based on behavioral economics to better convince patients to use the kits.
“Just taking it from official sounding and making it jump out more, put pictures, bullet points, made it more exciting to look at,” she said. “The big thing we wanted to do was use ideas from behavioral research, really helping people feel like this is a special opportunity to do this test instead of another medical chore.’’
Shu said she used her research on feelings of ownership when designing the letters and wanted patients to feel like the kits were their own and that they were chosen to use it.
“If a person owns a car, they are more likely to take care of it more than a rented car,” she said. “A lot of it is taking things we know about persuasion and marketing and changing messages to help motivate people more and apply it to medical situations.”
Colon cancer is the third-most common cancer in the U.S. and the second-most common cause of cancer-related death, May said. She added UCLA Health hopes to contribute to national efforts to get 80 percent of Americans screened for colon cancer.
May said UCLA Health may collaborate with Anderson researchers in the future to encourage more patients to use other home testings kits or return for follow-up appointments.