Do you want to get a flu shot? Write down a plan

A new PNAS paper “Using Implementation Intentions Prompts to Enhance Influenza Vaccination Rates” provides evidence of the power of plan-making in getting a flu vaccine shot (Full copy here. Hat tip: Prashant Srivastava). In an experiment, random sets of employees received a mailing that asked them to write down the date they planned to be vaccinated or the date and time they planned to be vaccinated. The first plan-making prompt didn’t work. The second did.

Vaccination rates increased when these implementation intentions prompts were included in the mailing. The vaccination rate among control condition employees was 33.1%. Employees who received the prompt to write down just a date had a vaccination rate 1.5 percentage points higher than the control group, a difference that is not statistically significant. Employees who received the more specific prompt to write down both a date and a time had a 4.2 percentage point higher vaccination rate, a difference that is both statistically significant and of meaningful magnitude.

Public health officials may be the ones most likely to read this study, but marketers at pharmacies should see a possible business opportunity here. When a customer arrives to pick up a prescription, a pharmacist could easily offer a flu shot, give the customer a piece of paper, ask them to make a plan, and tell them to take that plan with them and post it at home on their calendar.