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Understanding the power of habits and how it may drive noncompliant behavior 

William E. Lucas ( is Ambulatory Care Lead at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, OR.

Do you consistently find reoccurring compliance deficiencies in your organization? Have you ever considered staff habits as the reason you may continue to see repeated noncompliant behavior?

Many books examine the power of habits and identify strategies to break bad ones and build good ones. Among them is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.[1] In it he explores habits and how they can drive certain behavior. Jud Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University School of Public Health, also discusses habits in his Harvard Business Review article, “How to Break Up with Your Bad Habits.”[2] Both authors reference the habit cycle as a key ingredient for understanding habits. These two authors did not discuss healthcare compliance in their writings, but their explanation of how habits function presents an interesting opportunity to view noncompliant behavior.

Neuroscientists have conducted many clinical studies on how the brain responds to stimuli or cues, and what drives people to engage in bad and good habits. Studies abound with details on the brain and how it changes as habits are formed and broken. This article will not attempt to dissect any of these clinical studies, but it will leverage the understanding that comes from them and explore possible implications for healthcare compliance.

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