A look inside BCBS of Massachusetts' new Nudge Unit

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is aiming to help its members make better choices with its new Nudge Unit.

The insurer is one of the first in the country to launch a Nudge Unit, it said in an announcement. Interventions it has launched so far include revisions to a letter sent alongside at-home colorectal cancer screening tests, which quickly drove a 3% increase in uptake or about 500 additional tests submitted.

In addition, updates to a letter to providers encouraging them to order statins for diabetes, which included a blank form to prompt doctors to prescribe these drugs, led to a nearly 14% increase in statin prescriptions.

"One of the most effective things you can do in health care is encourage people to make better choices," said Mark Friedberg, M.D., senior vice president of performance measurement and improvement at Blue Cross, in a statement.

"The guiding principle behind our Nudge Unit is that better decisions exist—and that clinicians and members are likely to make those decisions if information is presented in a slightly different way. We want to make it easy to make optimal decisions, in a way that respects rather than limits freedom of choice," Friedberg said.

Since its launch earlier this year, the Nudge Unit has deployed 53 innovations, Blue Cross said. The unit is led by Rebecca Oran, who joined the insurer to drive greater use of behavioral insights for new initiatives, and incorporates feedback from academic institutions and Behavioural Insights Team, a global social purpose company.

Other interventions include behavioral-insights-backed updates to the insurer's MyBlue app, which made it easier for members to report their race and ethnicity information to back Blue Cross' equity initiatives. An additional 300,000 people have submitted such data.

Blue Cross also launched notifications for clinicians that flag that they're an outlier in prescribing certain medications or ordering certain tests. The insurer said nudges like these can push clinicians toward more efficient and evidence-based care.

"These results show that behavioral science can achieve meaningful changes at low cost," said Michael Hallsworth, Ph.D., managing director at Behavioural Insights Team and national expert on behavioral insights and well-being, in a statement. "This is just a start—there are many other ways to help both patients and clinicians."