When it comes to patient support, habit formation can be impactful. And before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that habits don’t always have a negative connotation. Sure, there are unhealthy habits. But we’re talking about how you can help patients form habits that brand marketers would care about.
What is habit formation?
Simply stated, habit formation is the process by which new behaviors become automatic.
Habit formation can be a key component of patient support programs to ensure that patients achieve optimal success with a product. One example of this is medication adherence. Success involves not only taking the medication every day but also getting the patient in the habit of taking the medication the right way. Other examples are lifestyle-related habits that lead to better outcomes for patients with a chronic condition. For instance, dietary changes may be necessary to help reduce symptoms or improve the patient’s overall experience with the product.
So, what should pharma consider when trying to encourage the patient to form a habit?
Often pharma incorporates elements of habit formation in patient programs through the use of reminders, rewards, and incentives. And although these external drivers of behavior can impact short-term engagement with patients, they most likely won’t lead to long-term habit formation.
Dispel myths. Move toward long-term behavior change.
It’s important to take a step back and separate facts from myths or opinions. Let’s look at some key topics about habit formation through a behavioral science lens.
Myth: Habit formation is quick.
Fact: You might think that habits can be formed in a matter of days, but health behavior change is complex and is driven by many factors. Even something that seems as simple as taking a pill every day is multifaceted because the patient is multifaceted. Behavior change takes time. You cannot push a button and expect the patient to change their behavior. You have to push multiple buttons. This involves going beyond external cues and incentives to address internal patient cues such as attitudes, beliefs, and feelings.
Myth: Rewards will help form habits.
Fact: Pharma might think that offering rewards, reminders, or prizes when someone is starting a new behavior will help them form a habit. However, rewards won’t drive long-term behavior.
Imagine that someone is starting a weekly injectable medication for multiple sclerosis. Each time she reports that she has completed her injection, she receives a small prize. After 4 weeks of self-administering the injections, she no longer receives a prize. She is disappointed and begins to wonder if she should start spreading out her injections. The next week, she doesn't self-administer an injection.
The patient in this scenario is working toward the goal each week of receiving that prize, and when it is no longer an option, the behavior has stopped. The patient was only working toward the goal of being rewarded.
Instead of rewarding the patient, it is important to address the patient’s beliefs, assess what motivates that patient to take their treatment, and help the patient build the skills and confidence to perform the behavior. Habit research shows that motivation and confidence are high when initiating a behavior which can lead to more success early on. As time goes on, the motivation may begin to wane, but if the behavior has become a habit, the person is likely to continue the behavior despite not feeling motivated.
How can pharma go deeper to unlock internal motivations and build patient skills?
To cultivate long-term behavior change, pharma needs to include evidence-based approaches to address both internal and external patient motivations. Pharma solutions that are geared only to external motivations are temporary and won’t drive lasting behavior change.
- Address patient self-efficacy. Patients may get off track when something unexpected happens because they are not confident that they can overcome obstacles that get in their way. If the patient is not equipped with the confidence to initiate and maintain the behavior, then they likely won’t be successful.
- Unlock internal motivation. What are the patient’s personal reasons for taking their medication, changing their lifestyle, or trying a new treatment approach? I want to see my granddaughter get married. I want to be there for my family. If the patient doesn’t have internal motivations, then when the external motivation is taken away, the behavior does not continue.
While there is a place for incorporating external motivators to influence behavior, behavioral science tells us that this is only part of the solution. Longstanding behavior change produces better patient outcomes—and brand advocates.
For more information about how MicroMass is using evidence-based behavioral science strategies to change patient and provider behavior, visit micromass.com.