VAL Health: Behavioral Economics Consulting | Health Care | Engagement

Copy of Behavioral Economics

Human behavior is irrational yet predictable


David Asch, VAL Health Co-Founder and Principal, is the Executive Director of the Penn Medicine Center for Innovation. In 2018, David received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation David E. Rogers Award, given for “major contributions to improving the health and health care of the American people.”

Health behavior change is about helping people achieve goals they already have, but have a hard time accomplishing.

Until a few decades ago, people were thought to have stable preferences and act in predictable, “rational” ways. But if that was true, people wouldn’t eat dessert when on a diet, start smoking despite known risks, or waste heard-earned money on lottery tickets.

Then, the idea was to use traditional economics to steer behaviors. Yet people consistently behave irrationally with money – most members on high deductible health plans don’t use cost comparison tools to shop for the cheapest care, and many patients don’t get preventive screenings even when the copay is dropped to $0.

Our understanding has evolved

Recent scientific research has uncovered that we are subject to common decision biases that get in the way of us behaving perfectly “rationally” and achieving our goals, such as:

  • Inertia
    We tend to stick with the status quo, so it's difficult to start or stop a behavior

  • Choice Overload
    We get overwhelmed when we have too many choices, often leading to indecision or regret

  • Present Bias
    We value rewards in the present more than equivalent rewards in the future

  • Loss Aversion
    We are more affected by losses than we are by equivalent gains

  • Social Proof
    We are social beings, caring what others think of us and what others do

Through the field of behavioral economics, we now understand that while we might not be perfectly rational, our decisions tend to be predictable. At VAL Health, we harness this knowledge to create health behavioral economics solutions to nudge consumers, patients, members, providers, and other stakeholders to become more engaged in and proactive about their health.




We design the choice environment to make the preferred path the easy path, through tools such as strategic ordering, defaults, and enhanced active choice



We enhance the impact of communications with proven techniques, such as social norming, anchoring, and scarcity


We maximize the impact funds through benefit design and salient financial incentives, including designs like at-risk accounts and contests

Health programs are more likely to be successful if designed not based on how perfectly rational people ought to make health decisions but on how they actually make them.
— Dr David Asch