We are at the beginning of an era in which the pressure to secure the biggest possible “bang” for the health care “buck” is perhaps higher than it ever has been, on both sides of the Atlantic, and within the health policy discourse, incentives, for both professionals and patients, are occupying an increasingly prominent position. In this article, we consider issues related to motivating the professional and the patient to perform targeted actions, drawing on some of the evidence that has thus far been reported on experiences in the United Kingdom and the United States, and we present an admittedly somewhat speculative taxonomy of hypothesized effectiveness for some of the different methods by which each of these two broad types of incentives can be offered. We go on to summarize some of the problems of, and objections to, the use of incentives in health and health care, such as those relating to motivational crowding and gaming, but we conclude by positing that, following appropriate consideration, caution, and methodological and empirical investigation, health-related incentives, at least in some contexts, may contribute positively to the social good.

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