Doctor’s Orders: What Compliance in Medicine Can Teach Us About Leadership

Categories: Behavior change, Conference, Leadership, One on One Coaching, Reinforcement, TrainingTags: , , , , , Author:

This blog post is a summary of a talk that I gave at our last BMT for Leaders conference titled, “Doctor’s Orders”. Watch the edited video here.

Why should we as business leaders be talking about compliance in medicine? A lot of research has been done in the medical field on adherence and compliance, and there are a lot of parallels between compliance in medicine and compliance in business and safety that we could learn from.
What is compliance? Compliance means taking medications in the way they were prescribed, complying with diet and lifestyle advice, and being honest with your doctor. In business, we can think of it as completing tasks on time and in the manner they were meant to be done, behaving in appropriate ways in the workplace (professionally, safely, etc), and being honest with supervisors and leaders.

5 factors that impact compliance:
Complexity
The more complex a demand is, the less chance of compliance. A patient is much less likely to take a pill 5 times a day correctly than a pill once a day.
Reinforcement
Compliance is better in medicine when the patient is experiencing some discomfort that is made better by complying with advice. It’s harder when the disease isn’t as obvious (hypertension), and especially when the impact of the drug or advice is hard to feel/perceive/measure. You have to provide other reinforcers in order to maintain behavior when the performer doesn’t perceive any consequences.
Side Effects
When a patient experiences negative side effects because of a medication, compliance rates drop dramatically. It’s important to minimize the impact of side effects as much as possible.
Understanding
Having an understanding of why you’re being asked to comply with medical advice dramatically increases the chances that you’ll do it.
Relationships
Surprisingly or not, the relationship between the patient and the practitioner has a large impact on compliance. The more you like your doctor, the more likely you are to comply with their advice/requests. In fact, the more a doctor interrupts a patient in the exam room the less likely it is that the patient will comply with the doctor’s advice.

In medicine, compliance starts with the doctors in the exam room. In business, it has to start with leaders. Keeping things simple, explaining why, and focusing on relationships are the first steps to creating the conditions where people comply with your requests because they want to, not because they have to.

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