21 July 2017

Behavioral responses to health innovations and the consequences for socioeconomic outcomes

Researchers and the industry produce new knowledge, treatments, and technologies that constantly improve the population's health. But the benefits of the health innovations are unequally distributed. New health technologies spread at different pace across different groups in society, seeming to benefit better-educated groups more and thus allowing them to be more productive, work for longer periods, and invest more to finance an extended period of healthy retirement. This continuously growing gap in health is a challenge for society that the research team from the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen will shed light on over the next 4 years.

Mette Gørtz is the principal investigator in close collaboration with the leaders of two of the project's work packages, Miriam Gensowski and Torben Heien Nielsen, as well as a number of other colleagues from both the University of Copenhagen and abroad.

Watch this short video about the research project.

Better health, bigger pension?

The project consists of three parts. The first part will establish the foundation, by analyzing the impact of health innovations on social and economic factors: If someone expects to live longer this will not only impact his long-term planning but already his actions today. Improvements in health can improve productivity and employment options and facilitate a longer work life – all of these, in turn, impact for example  savings decisions.

Headed by Mette Gørtz, the group collaborating on this first working package will study users of two specific health innovations, namely HIV and diabetes treatments, with the aim of answering the key question: How do innovations in health affect individual economic decisions regarding employment, investment and savings? And what are the consequences, ultimately, for the economy?

Who benefits from health innovations?

Studies show that life expectancy has risen and mortality has declined over recent decades. But not all groups in society have experienced the same progress and the socioeconomic gap in health is growing. Is this because richer and better-educated people adhere better to physicians' advice, or adopt new health technologies faster than others? This could be the case if health innovations are characterized by complex technology and knowledge, whereas if the innovations aim to remedy diseases that are known to more often affect people with low incomes, then we can expect an equalization in health inequality.

Torben Heien Nielsen is in charge of this second part of the project treating the development of life expectancy and mortality for a wide range of diseases across income groups in society. The group will follow the development of the last 35 years identifying shifts in mortality for groups in society and investigating whether the shifts are related to emergence of new medicine, new health technologies or new knowledge within the field of health.

The meeting between the patient and the doctor

Previous studies point to a strong link between education and health: the better educated live healthier and longer lives. But we know that there are large differences in health behavior across the population, in terms of lifestyle, diet and exercise habits, as well as the tendency to seek medical attention. The question is: what role does education itself really play?

This third part of the project aims at opening the black box of knowledge on the  behavioral mechanisms that could drive the observed relationship between education and health. Notably, this project will focus on one known driver of educational attainment and behavior, cognitive and socio-emotional skills, and the role of these skills in the patient-doctor interaction. Miriam Gensowski heads the group that will work to establish the patient's socio-emotional skills and behaviors that drive the health production process, and their effect on the interaction with physicians and the physician'sability to prescribe successful treatment.

The research team

In addition to a number of unnamed junior researchers, the complete research team consists of:

Novo Nordisk Fondation invests in knowledge of health economics research

The grant for the project Behavioral responses to health innovations and the consequences for socioeconomic outcomes is one out of three grants awarded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation through its social science research program, Socioeconomic impact of research in Denmark.

"In awarding grants to these three projects, we want to contribute to developing new knowledge on the economic impact on welfare systems and their priorities to benefit patients and health in society," says Thomas Alslev Christensen, Head of Operations at the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Principal investigator: Mette Gørtz

Grant provider: Novo Nordisk Fonden
Project period: January 2018 – December 2021