• Exploring how behavioural insights can be applied to an online procurement system, to generate cost savings without compromising quality. The project team will test how messages and prompts can be used throughout the buying process to encourage efficient and effective purchasing decisions.
  • Led by The Behavioural Insights Team in partnership with The Policy Institute at King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and Virtual Stock.
  • Completion date: Summer/Autumn 2018.

The NHS spends £9 billion on procurement each year, but an estimated £1 billion could be saved by adopting best practices and modern systems. This project aims to identify the optimal ways of presenting buying choices in an online procurement system, to reduce waste and improve efficiency.

The research will focus on the new online procurement portal at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. The project team will observe how staff use the system and how their working environment shapes procurement decisions, before developing a range of features to test on the live system. Each feature will be designed to influence buying choices, for example by:

  • prompting users to choose the most efficient delivery options.
  • using a range of design features to encourage people to buy best value products (such as listing these first, using symbols and colour, minimising the salience of misleading prices)
  • highlighting the most commonly purchased products within a category
  • asking users to reconfirm quantities to reduce error

The team will measure the effect that each feature has on outcomes such as total spend by product line or category, product re-ordering rates and patient outcomes wherever relevant in a series of online randomised controlled trials. The researchers will also undertake in-depth qualitative and ethnographic research with staff to understand their experiences of using the new system.

In the final phase of the project, the researchers will assess the overall impact of introducing the new system and make recommendations for how it could be rolled out across the NHS.

Contact details

For more information about this project, please contact Michael Hallsworth, Director of Health & Tax at The Behavioural Insights Team or Darshan Patel, Behavioural Insights Research Programme manager at The Health Foundation.

About this programme


Behavioural Insights Research


This programme offered £1.8 million to eight projects to support research that designs, tests and...

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