Exploring Why Financial Incentives Fail to Affect At-home Colorectal Cancer Screening: a Mixed Methods Study

J Gen Intern Med. 2022 Aug;37(11):2751-2758. doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-07228-z. Epub 2022 Jan 17.


Background: Despite success in increasing other health behaviors, financial incentives have shown limited to no effect on colorectal cancer (CRC screening. Little is known about the factors shaping why and for whom incentives improve screening.

Objective: To explore the perspective of participants enrolled in a larger, four-arm pragmatic trial at urban family medicine practices which assessed and failed to detect significant effects of financial incentives on at-home CRC screening completion.

Design: We performed a mixed methods study with a subset of randomly selected patients, stratified by study arm, following completion of the pragmatic trial.

Participants: Sixty patients (46.9% enrollment rate) who were eligible and overdue for colorectal cancer screening at the time of trial enrollment and who continued to receive care at family medicine practices affiliated with an urban academic health system completed the interview and questionnaire.

Main measures: Using Andersen's behavioral model, a semi-structured interview guide assessed motivators, barriers, and facilitators to screening completion and the impact of incentives on decision-making. Participants also completed a brief questionnaire evaluating demographics, screening beliefs, and clinical characteristics.

Key results: The majority of patients (n = 49; 82%) reported that incentives would not change their decision to complete or not complete CRC screening, which was confirmed by qualitative data as largely due to high perceived health benefits. Those who stated financial incentives would impact their decision (n = 11) were significantly less likely to agree that CRC screening is beneficial (72.7% vs 95.9%; p < 0.05) or that CRC could be cured if detected early (63.6% vs 98.0%; p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Financial incentives are likely not an effective behavioral intervention to increase CRC screening for all but may be powerful for increasing short-term benefit and therefore completion for some. Targeting financial incentive interventions according to patient screening beliefs may prove a cost-effective strategy in primary care outreach programs to increase CRC screening.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer screening; Financial incentives; Mixed methods research; Population health; Primary care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Early Detection of Cancer* / methods
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Motivation