Driving home from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi with nothing but open road in front of me and time on my hands, I took a long, slow pull on the little vapor device which supplied me with a precisely replicated cigarette smoking experience – without the cigarette.
That prompted me to recall when I first started using this nicotine replacement device. It was around 8:30 one evening in the midst of a cocktail hour when I found myself OUT of cigarettes. I did not feel comfortable making a run to the store and became agitated when I couldn’t find a smoke.
That’s when Tony, one of my best friends, held out this little apparatus and said, “Here… try this. It ain’t exactly the same, but it will get you through the night.”
I was not trying to quit smoking, not even thinking about it, but I haven’t had another cigarette since. That was more than 6 months ago.
The Story Behind the Habit
I am the oldest child of a sailor who smoked. It’s not surprising that I took up the habit when I was in the 7th grade. In fact, nearly every man and most of the women in my family were smokers.
When I started thinking about how little thought I gave to all those years of smoking, I was inspired to do some research. I found a study that revealed that “a twelve-year-old whose parents smoked were more than two times as likely to begin smoking cigarettes on a daily basis between the ages of 13 and 21 than were children whose parents didn’t use tobacco.”
Bad habits are passed down from generation to generation, like an inheritance of sorts. In business and among social groups this is what is known as tribal learning. My Mom has always put “a little sugar” in her cornbread. When I asked her why, she mused for a moment then said, “Heck, I don’t know; I just know your grandma always put a little sugar in her cornbread.” A classic example of tribal learning.
In the healthcare setting, it’s no different. Good people learn and propagate bad habits through tribal learning.
Bad Habits Make Hackers Happy
Industries and workforces are very similar in this regard, especially when it comes to cybersecurity habits. Businesses are made up of people after all, and this pattern of passing down habits goes double for the healthcare industry.
Healthcare providers (HCPs) manage a chaotic landscape. They deal with life and death on a daily basis. It’s easy to push cybersecurity to the side when you’re trying to keep people ALIVE, but cybercrime has grown to a level that we just can’t ignore anymore. Negative tribal learning is making many facilities vulnerable.
If one employee has bad password habits – if they’ve found a shortcut to get around security, then there’s a strong probability they will share that habit with someone else perpetuating the mistake. It is estimated up to 70% of breaches are caused by some type of human action within the organization.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
I do like to look on the bright side of things and tribal learning does have a bright side. If a hospital’s staff is trained to adhere to a culture of strong cybersecurity vigilance, then that positive, powerful message is what will be passed on to the next team of employees.
We all know it takes A LOT of effort to quit smoking. The same goes for cybersecurity habits. You’re better off starting out with good ones.
I urge you to set up a Healthcare Security and Compliance (HSC) team that meets regularly to ask tough questions about your cybersecurity practices and to make sure you are creating a culture where EVERYONE is a deputy in your fight against cybercrime. One thing is for sure, the hackers are not going to quit. You can’t either.