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A Simple Social Experiment to Boost Vaccination

A Simple Social Experiment to Boost Vaccination

This article was originally published in Knowable Magazine. Death from colorectal cancer can be prevented by regular screenings. Controlling high blood pressure could prolong the lives of the nearly 500,000 Americans who die from this disease each year. Vaccinations help prevent tetanus, which could otherwise be lethal. Clearly, preventive medicine can make a big difference to health. And yet most people don’t get the preventive care that could save their lives. Indeed, as of 2015, only 8 percent of U.S. adults 35 and older had received all immunizations, cancer screenings, and other high-priority services recommended for them. Researchers seeking to change that are borrowing a page from Facebook, Google, and other tech companies. By rapidly comparing small differences in how they communicate with patients—a process known as A/B testing—health-care workers can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. The approach has already delivered several actionable improvements, though not everyone is convinced of its value. Tech-oriented companies use A/B testing to make decisions about marketing slogans, web-page colors, and lots of other options. The key is …