Healthcare Behavior Change

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what really changes someone’s behavior. Since this is a health care blog I’m obviously thinking about it in the context of how you can get someone to change the behaviors that are impacting someone’s health. Certainly there’s a wide range of things that motivate people and there’s likely no “miracle drug” that changes everyone’s behavior (or more rightly said motivates someone to change their behavior), but most of us change our behaviors throughout our lives. What really gets us to change?

Yes, this is one of my posts where I’d love to hear from readers. I’d love specific examples. Anecdotal examples are welcome as well. I’m also interested if it usually takes a mix of factors and not just one factor. Obviously, going to the doctor and seeing the lab results that says you’re a diabetic would change your behavior. I’ve also heard a lot about social pressures and using peer pressure to motivate positive changes. Are there other examples that really work to change people’s behavior?

I guess at the core of my thinking is that in order to improve health care, we need to find out how to motivate people to change. We’ve all seen the stats that say that our behaviors are what cost healthcare the most. So, what really motivates people to change? Do you know of research around this? Do you have your own stories and experiences? How about doctors with your patients? What have you seen that helps your patients change and live more healthy lives?

It might be interesting to start with some of the major health care problems like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc (I know I’m leaving some out). I guess I think the first step to solving our healthcare problems is to figure out how to motivate people to change. If we can do that, then maybe we’ll make a dent in our health care costs.

Of course, once we’ve motivated people to change, then we have to consider which options/services/apps/etc can actually help a person achieve the change and keep it. That’s not easy either. However, I think there are a ton of these services out there. We just don’t get people motivated enough to actually use the services. Or many people don’t know about these services and so they never actually use them.

I hope you’ll share your thoughts on this subject in the comments.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • To persuade people to change their health-related behaviors, one must first know what constitutes healthful behavior — an area where the medical establishment and government agencies are woefully ignorant. As long as the establishment continues to promote falsehoods about the role of fats, carbs, meats, salt, cholesterol, proper blood pressure, and exercise in our lives, the general public will remain confused and apathetic.

    I’ve personally had to educate myself over the years as to what constitutes healthful eating (less carbs and sugars) and exercise (just get off your butt periodically). I first found out about the Weston A. Price Foundation and read his famous 1939 work (“Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” – and the summary (“Nasty, Brutish and Short?” – Though I admit to a still-ample midsection, I at least know what’s basically good and what’s bad for me, maintain a [healthy?] skepticism of FDA (Big Pharma) and USDA (Cargill et al) recommendations, and maintain good A1C and cholesterol RATIOS on a diet heavy in meats and saturated (the good) fats.

    As a webmaster for a Northern Virginia taxpayer alliance web site, I also post non-taxpayer-related issues including the Environment and Health (, and one could do worse than browse through this index page.

    It’s a shame that REAL health issues are not being actively studied by the so-called scientific community (Why are we REALLY so obese now vs 30 or 50 years ago?). Unfortunately, there’s lot of money to be made in keeping you unhealthy. And many paid-advertising sites would quickly run afoul of the status quo. So, just like the news or the internet, the savvy reader must maintain a health skepticism and decide for himself what constitutes a healthful (and maintainable) regimen.

  • [First time/Long time] The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg discusses how much of our day-to-day activities forge themselves into habits. Once the mechanism for how habits are formed and reinforced is understood, the individual, enterprise, NFL team, hospital or congregation can be transformed. Check out in particular the chapter on how the toxic culture at Rhode Island Hospital was changed. A great read.

  • A few years ago Statistics Canada released the result of a 12yr study of patient behavior change after being diagnosed with a chronic illness. What they found was surprising…that facing a stark new health reality DID NOT result in significant lifestyle change. Smokers with respiratory issues continued to smoke. People with high blood pressure did not take steps to manage their condition. Only diabetic patients showed an uptick in healthier lifestyles. You can read the report here:

    Personally I believe that it’s going to take a combination of things to really change behavior. Gamification, rewards (financial), social support, health literacy and professional medical advice is what it’s going to take to change habits. Each one of these individually can help spur change, but without a combination of motivators, that change is short-lived. I may lose 10lbs in order to get a discount on my premiums, but after a while, I’ll likely fall back into old habits if I don’t have the social support and health literacy along with the $$$.

  • Thank you John for activating this discussion! Behavior change is a primary intervention method in self -care management education. As a Certified Diabetes Educator, my role is not to educate on facts and information, as it is available everywhere these days but partner with people with diabetes (PWD) to make small modifications to their lifestyle habits. In many cases, it is unlearning behaviors that produce undesirable outcomes. The process of behavior change is dose dependent and the more we do it the better the outcomes. Many times patients start with just writing what they eat and self realize what needs to be change. Or, even just an act of wearing a pedometer creates un undersanding to increase activity. Behavior change happens when a person internalizes the need to change and is willing to take the ownership of what needs to be done…not to give up, be persistent and keep on trying. Barbara

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