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Why do we need to think about healthcare practice behaviourally?

People are complex, and many elements influence what we do, especially in work and healthcare practice. The behaviours of HCP's affect all aspects of healthcare and are crucial in determining the quality of care received by patients and the extent to which practice is evidence-based and focused on patient needs and concerns.

Using behavioural science and thinking behaviourally allows you to look at people’s behaviours and perspectives, as well as your own, and provides the ability to translate this into healthcare practice.

It is thought that if HCPs know how to improve healthcare practice, then they will act accordingly, however, this is not necessarily the case.

To use a common example, we know that exercising is good for us and we should be exercising weekly. However, this doesn’t always translate to physical activity. In the context of healthcare, just because practitioners and patients know what is likely to improve health outcomes, that knowledge does not necessarily lead to action.

We can fall into this ‘knowledge’ trap, the belief that we need to ‘know’ more about a situation to bring about positive change. The gap between knowledge and action is where behavioural science comes in. We need to think about change from a behavioural perspective to implement ‘behaviour change’.

What is behaviour change?

The term "behaviour change" refers to the practice of changing someone’s behaviour through committed action or intervention.

In relation to healthcare practice, it refers to the process of moving from our current behaviour or habit to a new target behaviour that positively influences the health of individuals or groups.

Some past examples of this in healthcare include:

  • Implementing mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Vaccine campaigns
  • The introduction of medication administration records
  • Implementing restrictions on prescribing antibiotics on the reserve list

All of the above involve people doing something differently to improve safety and healthcare outcomes.

The key message of behaviour change and behaviour change intervention is:

"We need to stop asking ‘what more could I learn about this?’ and move toward ‘what could I be doing differently?"