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Using the Hawthorne effect to examine the gap between a doctor's best possible practice and actual performance


  • Leonard, Kenneth L.
  • Masatu, Melkiory C.


Many doctors in developing countries provide considerably lower quality care to their patients than they have been trained to provide. The gap between best possible practice and actual performance (often referred to as the know-do gap) is difficult to measure among doctors who differ in levels of training and experience and who face very different types of patients. We exploit the Hawthorne effect-in which doctors change their behavior when a researcher comes to observe their practices-to measure the gap between best and actual performance. We analyze this gap for a sample of doctors and also examine the impact of the organization for which doctors work on their performance. We find that some organizations succeed in motivating doctors to work at levels of performance that are close to their best possible practice. This paper adds to recent evidence that motivation can be as important to health care quality as training and knowledge.

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  • Leonard, Kenneth L. & Masatu, Melkiory C., 2010. "Using the Hawthorne effect to examine the gap between a doctor's best possible practice and actual performance," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(2), pages 226-234, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:deveco:v:93:y:2010:i:2:p:226-234

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leonard, Kenneth L. & Masatu, Melkiory C., 2008. "Moving from the lab to the field: Exploring scrutiny and duration effects in lab experiments," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 100(2), pages 284-287, August.
    2. Leonard, Kenneth L. & Masatu, Melkiory C., 2005. "The use of direct clinician observation and vignettes for health services quality evaluation in developing countries," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 61(9), pages 1944-1951, November.
    3. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
    4. Stephen R G Jones, 1991. "Was There a Hawthorne Effect?," Department of Economics Working Papers 1991-01, McMaster University.
    5. Das, Jishnu & Hammer, Jeffrey, 2007. "Money for nothing: The dire straits of medical practice in Delhi, India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 1-36, May.
    6. Kenneth L. Leonard & Melkiory C. Masatu & Alexandre Vialou, 2007. "Getting Doctors to Do Their Best: The Roles of Ability and Motivation in Health Care Quality," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(3).
    7. Leonard, Kenneth & Masatu, Melkiory C., 2006. "Outpatient process quality evaluation and the Hawthorne Effect," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(9), pages 2330-2340, November.
    8. Abhijit Banerjee & Angus Deaton & Esther Duflo, 2004. "Wealth, Health, and Health Services in Rural Rajasthan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 326-330, May.
    9. Abhijit Banerjee & Angus Deaton & Esther Duflo, 2004. "Health care delivery in rural rajasthan," Framed Field Experiments 00120, The Field Experiments Website.
    10. Nazmul Chaudhury & Jeffrey S. Hammer, 2004. "Ghost Doctors: Absenteeism in Rural Bangladeshi Health Facilities," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 18(3), pages 423-441.
    11. Mæstad, Ottar & Torsvik, Gaute, 2008. "Improving the quality of health care when health workers are in short supply," Working Papers in Economics 14/08, University of Bergen, Department of Economics.
    12. Uri Gneezy & John A List, 2006. "Putting Behavioral Economics to Work: Testing for Gift Exchange in Labor Markets Using Field Experiments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(5), pages 1365-1384, September.
    13. Leonard, Kenneth L., 2008. "Is patient satisfaction sensitive to changes in the quality of care? An exploitation of the Hawthorne effect," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 444-459, March.
    14. Jishnu Das & Jeffrey Hammer & Kenneth Leonard, 2008. "The Quality of Medical Advice in Low-Income Countries," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 93-114, Spring.
    15. Chaudhury, Nazmul & Hammer, Jeffrey S., 2003. "Ghost doctors - absenteeism in Bangladeshi health facilities," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3065, The World Bank.
    16. Filmer, Deon & Hammer, Jeffrey S & Pritchett, Lant H, 2000. "Weak Links in the Chain: A Diagnosis of Health Policy in Poor Countries," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 15(2), pages 199-224, August.
    17. Das, Jishnu & Hammer, Jeffrey, 2005. "Which doctor? Combining vignettes and item response to measure clinical competence," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 348-383, December.
    18. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Simons, Andrew M. & Beltramo, Theresa & Blalock, Garrick & Levine, David I., 2017. "Using unobtrusive sensors to measure and minimize Hawthorne effects: Evidence from cookstoves," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 68-80.
    2. Barbara McPake & Anthony Scott & Ijeoma Edoka, 2014. "Analyzing Markets for Health Workers : Insights from Labor and Health Economics," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 18780.
    3. Nicholas Wilson, 2015. "Can Disease-Specific Funding Harm Health? in the Shadow of HIV/AIDS Service Expansion," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(5), pages 1671-1700, October.
    4. Godlonton, Susan & Okeke, Edward N., 2016. "Does a ban on informal health providers save lives? Evidence from Malawi," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 112-132.
    5. Fuhai Hong & Tanjim Hossain & John List & Migiwa Tanaka, 2013. "Testing the Theory of Multitasking: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment in Chinese Factories," Natural Field Experiments 00388, The Field Experiments Website.
    6. Rudy Douven & Minke Remmerswaal & Robin Zoutenbier, 2015. "Do Extrinsically Motivated Mental Health Care Providers Have Better Treatment Outcomes?," CPB Discussion Paper 319, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    7. Anja Sautmann & Samuel Brown & Mark Dean, 2016. "Subsidies, Information, and the Timing of Children’s Health Care in Mali," Working Papers 2016-2, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    8. Renfu Luo & Grant Miller & Scott Rozelle & Sean Sylvia & Marcos Vera-Hernández, 2015. "Can Bureaucrats Really Be Paid Like CEOs? School Administrator Incentives for Anemia Reduction in Rural China," NBER Working Papers 21302, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Esther Atukunda & Anne Fitzpatrick, 2015. "An Evaluation of Factors Affecting Drug Quality: Evidence from the Antimalarial Market in Uganda," Working Papers 2015_03, University of Massachusetts Boston, Economics Department.
    10. repec:ebd:wpaper:147 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Motivation Practice quality Health care Tanzania Hawthorne effect;

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O2 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy


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