C2E2 2017 Annual Lecture - Abandoning Illusions, Confronting Biases: What Behavioural Economics Tells Us About Strategies to Improve Health Care

Oct 12, 2017 - 3:00pm to 4:30pm
VGH Paetzold Lecture Hall, 899 W. 12 Ave., Vancouver, BC
Steven Lewis

Health care and neoclassical economics have always been uneasy bedfellows, but now it hardly matters. After a century or so of social science dominance, the economists' claims about what motivates people and what makes systems function optimally have been knocked off their pedestal. In the past 30 years, behavioural economics - the marriage of psychology and economics - has challenged the rationalist, income maximizing assumptions of standard economic theory. A large body of research has revealed that we are a species with hard-wired cognitive biases, and the human brain cannot be reduced to a series of mathematical calculations. We have multiple reasoning strategies and inconsistent preferences. Our decisions can be nudged by how choices are framed. We are less like Mr. Spock than many would hope and more like Homer Simpson than many would acknowledge. 

This is cause for celebration, not despair. It does not mean that standard economic theory is rubbish, only that it explains far less of human behaviour than its fundamentalist adherents would have us believe. When we understand the limits of our rationality we can be more successful in avoiding cognitive traps. The insights of behavioural economics show us that the mystery of why so much good evidence and so many incentives have failed to improve safety, quality, and efficiency is no mystery at all. This presentation aims to identify strategies doomed to failure and to point the way to more creative alternatives based on an expanded view of rationality and a more empathetic understanding of what makes people tick.

Click here to attend our 2017 Annual Lecture.