The Healthy Nudge
September 2020
Welcome to The Healthy Nudge. Each month, we'll get you up to speed on the latest developments in policy-relevant health behavioral economics research at CHIBE. Want more frequent updates? Follow us on Twitter @PennCHIBE and visit our website.
How has the pandemic changed us?
sign about sanitizing hands
In this Atlantic article, "How the Pandemic Has Changed Us Already," CHIBE-affiliated faculty member Katy Milkman, PhD, talks about whether some of our current behaviors will last beyond the pandemic. She told The Atlantic that habits are more likely to stick if they are accompanied by “repeated rewards.” If the threat of the virus is neutralized, she said, “the reward for scrubbing your hands won’t endure, and I think the average person will go back to a simpler routine.” Read the full story here.
Tackling Vaccine Coverage
vaccine stock
In a new editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, CHIBE Associate Director Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, writes that "we may need to choose our battles in terms of which groups we focus on to achieve SARS-CoV-2 vaccine coverage." Dr. Buttenheim cites an April 2020 survey, which found that 6 in 10 adults in the US responded that they would get vaccinated when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, while 1 in 10 said “no” and 3 in 10 said “not sure.” Instead of focusing efforts trying to change the minds of those who responded that they weren't inclined to get the vaccine, Dr. Buttenheim argues that we should target those who plan to get the vaccine. "[E]ven persons who plan to get a flu vaccine often procrastinate, forget, or balk at seemingly small logistic or financial barriers," she writes. "Fortunately, interventions to close the intention-to-behavior gap for vaccines already exist, and they are often easy and inexpensive to implement." Read the editorial to learn more about how to close this intention-to-behavior gap.
Team Wins 2 Grants from NIA to Look at Tailoring Nudges to Improve Vaccination and Cancer Screening
vaccination in older adults
Photographer: Heather Hazzan
A team involving several CHIBE members has won two grants from the National Institute on Aging to study nudges in cancer care and vaccination. Congratulations to the four investigators: Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, a member of CHIBE’s leadership team and Director of the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit; Amol Navathe, MD, PhD, CHIBE Associate Director and Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine; Kristin Linn, PhD, CHIBE-affiliated faculty member and Assistant Professor of Biostatistics at Penn; and Joshua Liao, MD, MSc, Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Washington School of Medicine and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute.

One focus for this team will be to develop and test electronic health record-based nudges among older adults (including members of racial and ethnic minorities, individuals of low socioeconomic status, and other high-risk groups) to improve cancer screening rates and reduce disparities in care. The other project will test the use of personalized nudges directed at both clinicians and patients to overcome barriers to vaccination among older adults, with a focus on patients from disadvantaged minority groups for whom vaccination rates are lower compared with other groups. Read the full story here.
New PCORI Grant Will Be Used to Study COVID Watch’s Impact
Congratulations to Penn Medicine’s COVID Watch team, which recently won a $2.5 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to look at COVID Watch’s impact on health, especially among Black and Latinx patients. COVID Watch, according to the Way to Health website, uses text messages to check in with patients at risk for complications of COVID-19 who are self-isolating at home. CHIBE-affiliated faculty member M. Kit Delgado, MD, MS, serves as the study’s primary investigator. Read the Penn Medicine press release for more details.
“Vote Like Your Health Depends on It:” VotER Initiative Rolls out through Penn Medicine
penn voter info
Penn Medicine is participating in an online voter registration initiative called VotER ahead of the November election to help patients, visitors, faculty, staff, and trainees become more civically engaged. VotER, a national, nonpartisan organization, seeks to bring voter registration to health systems by helping patients and visitors easily register to vote and sign up for a mail-in ballot.

CHIBE Trainee Yoonhee Ha, MSc, MPhil, and her co-lead, Zonía Moore, a second-year medical student, have been working on the VotER roll-out at Penn by securing funding and printing 1,100 badge backers for distribution to health care providers throughout Penn Medicine and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They have also been leading grassroots efforts to recruit and train health care providers to use these badge backers and encourage all patients and visitors to register to vote. Ha noted that the concepts she learned from HCIN 602: Behavioral Economics and Decision Making, a course taught by CHIBE Director Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, a lab rotation with CHIBE Associate Director Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, and research projects with Penn Medicine Nudge Unit Director Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, MS, have been particularly helpful to her work with VotER. Read more about the VotER project here.
CHIBE Q&A: Rahul Ladhania, PhD
Rahul Ladhania headshot
Read CHIBE’s Q&A with Rahul Ladhania, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Health Informatics in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and visiting scholar at the Behavior Change For Good Initiative at The Wharton School. Dr. Ladhania is also a new CHIBE-affiliated faculty member. Read the full Q&A here.

What projects are you working on now?
A large part of my research is focused on using machine learning methods to answer causal questions in the public and behavioral health space. One of the projects that I am working on is personalizing treatment assignment rules to maximize treatment effects, when there are a large number of interventions to choose from. This goes beyond the “what intervention works best” to a “what intervention works best for whom” narrative. We are extending a machine-learning recursive partitioning method to adapt to a setting with a large number of interventions, and where statistical power to capture heterogeneity can become a key challenge. We are applying this method to large multi-arm randomized studies in the behavioral health space.

What has it been like to be a visiting scholar and post-doctoral researcher with the Behavior Change For Good (BCFG) Initiative?
Having been associated with BCFG for a year now, I think I can confidently say that joining BCFG was one of the best decisions I have made in my career, and I have CHIBE to thank for playing a useful role in making that happen. At the 2018 Roybal Retreat, Katy Milkman, who is the Director of BCFG Savings and Health, delivered the keynote presentation on the StepUp study, and it happened to be just before my talk on heterogeneity estimation. I learned of the post-doc position, which also happened to be completely in line with my research interests, at that retreat, and that’s how the ball started rolling and tada… the post-doc happened! So, thanks CHIBE!

Along with the BCFG group’s stellar team of scientists and the impressive research projects pushing the frontiers in behavioral science, I am most grateful to have worked with and be supported by a group of awesome (and genuinely kind!) people – Lyle Ungar, Katy Milkman, Sendhil Mullainathan, Jann Spiess, Dena Gromet, and everyone on the BCFG team. I feel it is rare that one gets to work with such an interdisciplinary group of world-class scientists, and have opportunities to not only develop and apply machine learning methods in real-world complex settings, but also be able to design studies that provide a fertile ground for testing state-of-the-art machine learning approaches.

You’re a cofounder of Friends of Kasam. Can you describe what this nonprofit does?
Friends of Kasam is a nonprofit that my friends and I began in 2014 to support under-privileged high school students at King’s Matriculation School (KMS) in Kasam (a village in Tamil Nadu, India). We essentially search for one-on-one sponsors and mentors for around 50 students in the school each year, and support their tuition and other programming activities. Most of these students belong to single-parent low-income households in the region, and they wouldn’t have been able to go to school or afford the quality of education that KMS provides. In addition to tuition funding and emergency financial support, we also endeavor to keep the sponsors invested in their students by keeping open lines of communication between them. In some cases, we have been able to sustain these relationships beyond high school, and sponsors have continued to support their students’ college pursuits too.
EVENT: Opportunities for the Food Industry to Help Create a Healthy and Equitable Food System
Guest speakers
TOMORROW, September 9
1-2:30 EST

CHIBE, the PEACH Lab, Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, and the Penn Prevention Research Center will co-host a virtual meeting on September 9 from 1-2:30 PM EST, on “Community Health and Economic Prosperity: Opportunities for the Food Industry to Create a Healthy and Equitable Food System.” Register here!
Our guest speakers will include:
  • Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, Surgeon General of the United States
  • Julie Greene, MPH, Director of Guiding Stars Ahold Delhaize USA
  • Kim Kessler, JD, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention, The New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
  • Jim Krieger, MD, MPH, Founding Executive Director, Healthy Food America: Clinical Professor of Medicine and Health Services, University of Washington
  • Sandra Noonan, MA, Chief Sustainability Officer, Just Salad
  • Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, Founders Presidential Distinguished Professor, Vice Chief of Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and CHIBE Director
  • Christina Roberto, PhD, Mitchell J. Blutt and Margo Krody Blutt Presidential Associate Professor of Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania, Director of the PEACH Lab, and CHIBE Associate Director
EVENT: Population Health Science Research Workshop
PHS workshop logo
December 11
9:30 AM - 1 PM EST

The Population Health Science Research Workshop is back! Sponsored by the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics and Boston University School of Public Health, this virtual workshop on December 11 will bring together scholars from economics, epidemiology, demography, sociology, and related disciplines to present papers on topics related to population health. This year's theme is Health Equity in the Age of COVID-19, and the call for papers is now open; submissions are due by October 2. CHIBE's Atheendar Venkataramani, PhD, MD, MPhil, is one of the lead organizers of this event. Find more details and the submission form here.
Selected Media Coverage
Selected New Publications
CHIBE's COVID-19 Research Projects and Media
CHIBE has launched a website showcasing all of the ways in which CHIBE faculty are involved in the response to COVID-19. Read about their research projects and activities, find media coverage, and resources. If you have a project to share with us, email us here.
The Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE) at the University of Pennsylvania conducts behavioral economics research aimed at reducing the disease burden from major U.S. public health problems. Originally founded within the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, our mission is to inform health policy, improve health care delivery, and increase healthy behavior.