Sending the right message to the “worried well”?

Reports that the “worried well” could account for up to almost a fifth of GP appointments costing up to £2 billion annually, may lead to some debate as to what might need to be done.

There are a number of approaches that could be adopted:

1. A behavioural economics approach might be to look for the right mix incentives to discourage. For example some form of charge or even a “fine” could be levied to discourage people? However, whilst this might work well for a less sensitive issue, when it comes to tax-funded public goods like health, there is a problem that such a system could lead to widening health inequalities as some people who genuinely need more support for minor ailments are put off from attending a surgery.

2. The other approach, based more on social psychology might be more about a social redesign of the nature of the GPs surgery to create a social norm within similar communities. Thus the GP might have a system that more visibly identifies the worried well within reception area to have their case dealt with by a practice nurse or even reception staff. This would then create the social norm that perhaps discouraged some unnecessary attendance. Getting the community to police themselves might be a better solution in a health context as this is more likely to be perceived to be fair by everyone whichever values they might hold?

A good social marketing campaign on the issue of the “worried well” could thus be the solution to this issue as it would require in-depth insight work as well as identifying how various segments in the population might react to changes.  There will be various views depending on people’s values and it is thus important that those involved in public policy understand this before making any changes.

Charlie Mansell is the Research and Development Office of The Campaign Company

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