One of the challenges we often see in our medical device clients is driving utilization of their devices after a physician has been trained. Recruitment of new users is usually not difficult, the consistent use of the products is where it gets tricky.

The Habit Loop Composes of a Cue, an Action and a Reward

If you haven’t read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, you need to. The research of Duhigg led to a simple construct of how habits operate and what can you do to disrupt and change them. Think of any habit you may have and you can deconstruct them into these three elements.

  1. Cue: this is the trigger someone experiences that starts the cycle (I’m hungry and I see a Snickers bar)
  2. Action: this is the expression of the routine, whether mental, emotional or physical (I eat the candy bar)
  3. Reward: this is where your brain reinforces the loop if the reward is worthwhile (I taste the gooey sweet chocolate and caramel, feeling less hungry)

My salivary glands are chugging away as I’m writing this last line. I’m sure you wish physicians were salivating for YOUR products.

Habits and Routines are the Foundation of Predictable Results

While we are trying to change or instill a new habit, their current habits are what make clinical outcomes predictable and reliable. It’s sticking to routines and practicing their procedures over and over again that make our physicians fantastic at what they do. If we had the choice, no one will choose a newly minted physician over one that had performed a thousand procedures.

But They Also Prevent Positive Change

Herein lies the conundrum; while habits and routines are an absolute reason why physicians become really good at what they do, they can also be a barrier to something newer and potentially better. They have to develop a new habit or worse, displace an existing one. This is what many medical device companies face when introducing a new product, and even more so when establishing an entirely new procedure.

Forming or Adjusting Habits

Whether you are trying to form a totally new habit with a new procedure or adjusting habits by altering a routine, the thought process is largely the same:

1. Keep changes to a minimal – Right off the bat, make sure you deviate as little as possible from the existing procedural workflow. Every change requires effort. Keep the change small if you can.

2. Motivate to adopt a new habit – Leverage the initial motivation and openness of your customer, if they are already taking a step to be trained, continue to help them see why this change is valuable.

  • Highlight the issue – think about doing an unbranded education to bring attention to the disease and the patients you are trying to help. It could be a patient population suffering from a specific issue that is not very well known or previously not addressed because there were no good solutions, until now. Unbranded is key as your device brand cannot take on disease education and being the solution at the same time.
  • Feature the bright spots – as you scale, there are going to be stories that showcase the new future. Find them, shoot those videos and start to syndicate the bright spots so they surround your target audience as social proof.

3. Address each step of the habit loop – Give your customers explicit examples for each step and put in place a system that reinforces them.

  • Define the cue – Establish what the trigger is. Who is the patient? What physical or emotional scenario will spark this chain reaction? What are some tools that will help uncover these triggers more often? How can you flag these triggers in a way your customer cannot ignore?
  • Teach the action – Make training explicit and memorable. How does it work? What does your customer need to do to become proficient? How can you speed up the proficiency curve? What systems can you put in place so the action step is easy?
  • Architect the reward – Help your customer experience success. What does success look like? How do you highlight success in a repeatable way? How do you make that experience even more impactful? What system can you put in place so the reward keeps paying dividends?

New habits don’t come easy, especially when you’re trying to replace old ones. Trim down your marketing plan and focus on new habit formation so more patients can benefit from a potentially better option and your training efforts don’t go down the drain. Habits take time to form, so continue to tweak your habit-forming system and give it some time to take shape and become institutionalized. Let’s go form some habits!