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Habit Forming

By Jock Hoffman, CRICO

Related to: Publications

According to one study, a New Year’s Day resolution to change or establish a habit may not really take hold until mid-March, even for people fully committed to their resolutions.

But, for individuals who are contending with weight, fitness, or substance use issues—and begin the year with the determination to change their behavior—the odds of maintaining that commitment into February are dismaying. Nevertheless, finding ways to help your patients persevere could also help reduce the risk of diagnostic, treatment, or medication-related errors.

The health care rendered to patients involved in medical malpractice claims and suits is often complicated by the patient’s co-morbidities. Health conditions that are not the primary focus of the medical services being challenged may, however, have influenced both the patients’ and providers’ thought processes. In addition, patients with a range of health issues are likely to have more complex care scenarios: more interactions with multiple providers in diffuse settings. Each added encounter, provider, setting, and treatment regimen increases the risk of gaps in a patient’s health care coordination and miscommunication—two of the leading components noted in allegations of substandard care.


It’s a motivation gap, not a knowledge gap.

Encouraging patients to fulfill their resolutions now can help them avoid future complications.

Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions1

percent of US Population

eat healthier


get more exercise


get more sleep


read more


make new friends


1.  Source: YouGov

Top 5 Co-morbidities2

percent of patients

cardiovascular disease










2.  For patients involved in high-severity injury-related medical malpractice cases.
Source: National Comparative Benchmarking System, CRICO


Not surprisingly, the co-morbidities most commonly noted in malpractice cases (see Table) are among the most common health issues across the entire patient population. They are also conditions that often can be modified via lifestyle changes (eating better, exercising, smoking cessation, etc.). Alas, patients frequently opt not to follow such recommendations, much to the frustration—often exasperation—of clinicians trying to guide patients toward better health.

But many of those unhealthy patients do indeed vow to ring out their bad habits and ring in some good ones… particularly on New Year’s Day. At the beginning of every January, millions of Americans initiate health-related behavior modifications: promising to eat better, exercise more, quit smoking, etc. And they back it up by signing up, gearing up, and cutting down. Unfortunately, by Groundhog Day, the majority of enthusiastic individuals will have abandoned their New Year’s Day resolutions.

Getting to mid-March is not easy, especially when noticeable results aren’t immediate. Self-motivation is hard to sustain, your well-intentioned patients are more likely to keep their eye on the prize (and their feet on the treadmill) if they have specific health-related goals, and support from family members, peers, and caregivers. For those who persevere, the benefits may be much greater than a gym membership.

Additional Material

January 30, 2018
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