Effect of Financial Incentives on Patient Use of Mailed Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Mar 1;2(3):e191156. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.1156.


Importance: Mailing fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kits to patients' homes has been shown to boost colorectal cancer screening rates, but response rates remain limited, and organized programs typically require repeated outreach attempts. Behavioral economics has shown that offering salient financial incentives to patients may increase participation in preventive health.

Objective: To compare the impact of different financial incentives for mailed FIT outreach.

Design, setting, and participants: This 4-parallel-arm randomized clinical trial included patients aged 50 to 75 years who had an established primary care clinician, at least 2 visits in the prior 2 years, and were eligible for colorectal cancer screening and not up-to-date. This study was conducted at urban primary care practices at an academic health system from December 2015 to February 2018. Data analysis was conducted from March 2018 to September 2018.

Interventions: Eligible patients received a letter from their primary care clinician that included a mailed FIT kit and instructions for use. They were randomized in a 1:1:1:1 ratio to receive (1) no financial incentive; (2) an unconditional $10 incentive included with the mailing; (3) a $10 incentive conditional on FIT completion; or (4) a conditional lottery with a 1-in-10 chance of winning $100 after FIT completion.

Main outcomes and measures: Fecal immunochemical test completion within 2 and 6 months of initial outreach.

Results: A total of 897 participants were randomized, with a median age of 57 years (interquartile range, 52-62 years); 56% were women, and 69% were black. The overall completion rate across all arms was 23.5% at 2 months. The completion rate at 2 months was 26.0% (95% CI, 20.4%-32.3%) in the no incentive arm, 27.2% (95% CI, 21.5%-33.6%) in the unconditional incentive arm, 23.2% (95% CI, 17.9%-29.3%) in the conditional incentive arm, and 17.7% (95% CI, 13.0%-23.3%) in the lottery incentive arm. None of the arms with an incentive were statistically superior to the arm without incentive. The overall FIT completion rate across all arms was 28.9% at 6 months, and there was also no difference by arm. The completion rate at 6 months was 32.7% (95% CI, 26.6%-39.3%) in the no incentive arm, 31.7% (95% CI, 25.7%-38.2%) in the unconditional incentive arm, 26.8% (95% CI, 21.1%-33.1%) in the conditional incentive arm, and 24.3% (95% CI, 18.9%-30.5%) in the lottery incentive arm.

Conclusions and relevance: Mailed FIT resulted in high colorectal cancer screening response rates in this population, but different forms of financial incentives of the same expected value ($10) did not incrementally increase FIT completion rates. The incentive value may have been too small or financial incentives may not be effective in this context.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02594150.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / economics*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Postal Service

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02594150