Applying persuasion science to save public money

At first glance someone missing a health appointment doesn’t seem that big a deal. In reality the problem is a huge one. Missed appointments in the UK alone cost the NHS over £700 million every year. In the US the number is considerably higher. The question is how to tackle such an important and commonly occurring problem without resorting to punitive, costly and often ineffective economic and system changes.

In partnership with a large UK public sector health provider, INFLUENCE AT WORK conducted a series of experiments to show how three behaviourally informed changes that increased people’s commitment to attending their appointments and changed the way healthcare workers communicate about patient no-shows led to an overall 31.4% reduction in missed appointments. Importantly, all of the interventions we tested cost nothing to employ, yet the resulting savings ran to many millions.

In addition to widespread media attention (BBC TV, Radio 4’s Today programme, The Times, Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, to name but a few) our studies were published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. In 2014 the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence included INFLUENCE AT WORK'S persuasion science interventions in a set of National guidelines to reduce missed appointments. To our knowledge these same insights (and others we have subsequently developed) are also being used to persuade people to stick to their commitments, attend business meetings, turn out and vote and even recycle more and reuse their towels in hotel rooms.