Is 66 days enough?

In Checklists, Human Factors, Patient Safety, Safety climate on October 6, 2010 at 12:20 pm

One of the difficulties in infusing safety into the healthcare environment is getting safety behaviors habitually into bedside practice. The previously referenced degradation of the anesthesia safety policy published in Quality and Safety in Health Care is a perfect illustration of this dilemma. View the full text of this article The natural lifespan of a safety policy: violations and system migration in anaesthesia.

A recent experiment published in the European Journal of Social Psychology contained the results of a study focused on the length of time it took to insinuate a behavior into habit…. These were simple tasks such as eating a piece for fruit with lunch. These researchers determined that the behaviors did not become automatic until practiced daily for an average of 66 days! The average was longer for more complex tasks. One potential limitation of this study was that the subjects self-reported the automaticity of the behavior rather being under researcher observation.

The findings in these kinds of psychological studies should be considered when introducing new policies or procedures into the health care environment. Some barriers to habituation would include: flexible scheduling, the complexity of the task and the availability of reminder cues.

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