Did you brush your teeth?


Margaret ScavottoBy Margaret Scavotto, JD, CHC
President, Management Performance Associates

My kids sometimes ask me why they have to brush their teeth every day. Or put away their dirty laundry EVERY DAY. We did that yesterday, Mom. Isn’t that enough? Come on.

This always prompts a conversation about habits, and what happens when we skip them.

If we skip brushing our teeth once, we are likely to skip brushing our teeth again. And again. And again. Until not brushing our teeth becomes the habit.

Until…. It’s time to go to the dentist. If we’ve skimped on brushing, we might not get that sticker. No Dora the Explorer toothbrush. Nope, you’ve got cavities. That means TWO trips to the dentist. For grown-ups, who always have the most fun, it could mean a root canal or an impacted tooth – maybe even THREE trips to the dentist.

You know where I’m going with these oral hygiene horror stories.

How are your compliance habits?

Compliance is a routine. It’s not a one-and-done job. There are annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily tasks.

What happens if we forget to log a compliance complaint? Just one. Or two? What does that do the integrity of our documentation? How will we defend questions or concerns about this complaint at a later date? How will it impact the data we have available to identify complaint trends? How can we prove we handled this complaint?

What happens if we forget to do our HIPAA walk-through audit this quarter? And maybe next quarter, because things are still really busy? How long have employee passwords been left up on post-it notes for visitors to see? How long have the water cooler patient conversations gone unchecked? What are we missing that we haven’t even thought about?

What happens if we skip our weekly compliance rounding, when we walk the halls and interact with employees? How many interactions do we miss? How many employees stop recognizing us – and think a little less about compliance?

The biggest habit of all is, of course, a semi-annual visit to the dentist. In the compliance world, this is your annual compliance program review. If we have been keeping up compliance habits, that annual review will find more successes to celebrate (Dora the Explorer toothbrushes for everyone!) If, however, we have let those habits fall by the wayside, we might need to fill some cavities in the next year. Or worse – conduct a root canal.

At the dentist’s office and in the compliance department, habits matter. Skipping them can have a big impact. Focus on the habits that keep your compliance program effective and commit to them. And do not, under any circumstances, make a habit of skipping the annual compliance program review.

So I ask you: Are you regularly brushing your teeth?



  1. Margaret,

    As usual you hit the bullseye!

    The power of habits cannot be denied. Habits have long been the focus of research studies and social scientists have explained (as you did here) how habits are fundamental in driving our behavior in what we do on a regular basis. Taking the idea of habits and applying it to compliance as you described in your blog….genius!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

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