As frontline healthcare workers, nurses experience unparalleled exposure to the impact of healthcare policies. However, their extensive experience isn’t usually matched by an equally prominent place in the decision-making table. As a nurse, you might often experience tensions between the unique needs of a specific case and the prevailing policies in that area.
Nurses must play an important role in how policies are shaped and implemented, and they are ethically and morally obliged to make the most of every opportunity they come across to influence healthcare policies. By actively participating in the development, execution, and review of healthcare policies, nurses can help ensure improved outcomes for everyone.
In the following sections, we’ll take a high-level overview of healthcare policies and how they shape the nursing experience. We’ll examine the most important categories of policies for nurses and their medical, political, and economic ramifications.
Following that, we’ll look at the various impediments limiting the participation of nurses in policy-making, as well as various ways that you can make an impact on healthcare delivery as a nurse.
What Is health policy?
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially defines healthcare policies as the “decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific healthcare goals within a society.” The influence of these policies spans every aspect of healthcare delivery, from treatment and care plans to access to healthcare delivery and acceptable healthcare practices.
Healthcare policies come in multiple layers; each layer is crafted within the confines of the superseding layers. For instance, it’s the purview of healthcare facilities to create their own policies relating to patients, healthcare workers, and other aspects of the organization. But this must be done within the framework of governing laws at the local and state levels, which are in turn subservient to overarching federal laws.
Since healthcare policies are often multifaceted, requiring more than just medical considerations, they are often developed and implemented by teams dominated by non-medical experts. At the state and federal levels, it’s often they are often dictated by politicians and people who may not possess extensive medical knowledge but have wide experience with public policies. As we can see, a lot goes into policy-making, from financial considerations to social, political, and administrative elements.
But while they can be multifaceted, healthcare policies are also often specific and relate to a particular aspect of healthcare delivery. Policies that contain elements of global health, health insurance, mental and physical health, and drug development and administration, must have input from medical professionals, such as nurses, to ensure the relevant specific medical expertise is applied to the process.
Why are healthcare policies important to nurses?
Healthcare policies come with many ramifications for nurses. They work as a guide for nursing practice and influence many of a nurse’s day-to-day activities. By actively participating in developing and implementing policies, nurses can enhance the possibility of better outcomes for patients, better working environments for staff, and benefit thecommunity as a whole.
In more specific terms, here is why it’s highly critical to stay on top of healthcare policies as a nurse:
Establishing guidelines and frameworks
Healthcare policies provide rules and standards for daily activities. On a specific level, they offer guidance on how to use patient data, communication strategies, and treatment protocols. On the broader level, they set standards for equipment and inventory, personnel management, and other non-medical aspects of a healthcare facility.
Defining roles and responsibilities
Policies also establish roles and expectations for different healthcare officials. They cater to cross-functional activities, guiding communication among multidisciplinary teams and different participants in the healthcare system.
Providing a general vision
Policy cannot define every specific detail of a nurse’s responsibilities, but it can offer nurses guidance on how best to navigate the grey areas. Policies provide a sense of vision and purpose, empowering nurses to use their intuition and expertise in areas where there might be policy gaps or ambiguities. It creates what the WHO defines as “a vision for the future which… helps to establish targets and points of reference for the short and medium term.”
Setting patient expectations
Policies also define the standard of care that patients can expect from healthcare facilities. They clarify a wide range of issues influencing a patient’s experience, from informed consent to patient data and privacy, health insurance, etc. Nurses need to stay abreast with patient-related policies as patients will expect their experiences to correspond with what they’ve read about the facility’s care policy.
Ties to broader societal issues
Healthcare policies are not immune to socio-political forces. They expose nurses to sociocultural issues such as social determinants and staff shortages and unequal distribution of healthcare workers. The influence of healthcare policies can cascade beyond the medical arena, affecting rules and regulations in areas such as food, lifestyle, border control, and non-medically related public standards.
The most important types of Healthcare Policies
Nurses can be easily dazed by the vast landscape of healthcare policies. But a respected degree such as the post-master’s FNP certificate online from Rockhurst University can provide a firm foundation for navigating healthcare policies successfully. This program empowers students with advanced nursing skills, building their scientific and theoretical knowledge while also providing thorough guidance on leadership, administrative, and policy issues. It tackles policy from a leadership and collaborative perspective, equipping students to leverage policies to promote greater satisfaction and fulfilment among everyone in healthcare facilities.
To give you a head start, these are some of the most important policy areas to be aware of as a nurse:
Global health policies
This refers to the global consensus on healthcare matters, and it’s usually developed and implemented by global institutions such as the WHO. While they set baseline healthcare standards for every country under the convention, global policies do include some local elements, catering to the unique needs of specific parts of the world.
For instance, global healthcare policies limiting the employment by Western nations of healthcare workers from second and third-world countries are designed to prevent the brain drain commonly experienced in those regions.
Public health policies
This is a catchall term for all healthcare policies at the national, state, and community levels. They’re geared towards the unique needs of specific geographical areas as well as society at large.
There are policies designed for the different types of healthcare facilities. They are designed to regulate access to pharmaceutical products. They touch on everything related to pharmaceutical experience, including the availability, affordability, and administration of healthcare products.
Financing and insurance policies
Financing is a huge part of healthcare delivery and therefore deserves special attention in policy-making. They determine how healthcare facilities are reimbursed for their services and the different options for financing care. They also set standards and regulations for institutions financing healthcare.
Mental health policies
Mental healthcare is a vast subfield of healthcare and therefore deserves a separate class of policies. The objective of mental healthcare policies is to enhance access to mental healthcare and also promote mental well-being in a community.
Health equity policies
Access to healthcare is another major issue that healthcare policies seek to capture. Health equity policies are geared towards fair and equal distribution of access to healthcare across all demographics and communities.
Healthcare services policies
These types of policies determine the kind of healthcare services available in a community or facility. They define the healthcare experience and the impact of available healthcare services on individuals and the community.
Patient care policies
This encompasses standards and regulations for administering care. Patient care policies provide guidance on treatment protocols, patient-nurse relationships, and other specific issues that influence a patient’s outcomes.
Employee health policies
While patient care policies are targeted at patient outcomes, employee health policies are designed to shape the experiences of workers in a healthcare facility. Employee health policies are geared towards protecting the health and well-being of workers in a care facility, touching on issues such as workplace health standards, safety protocols, time off and leave policies, etc.
This policy category caters to how drugs are obtained and administered in a healthcare facility. Drug policies encompass everything drug-related, from drug development and drug approval to prescriptions, over-the-counter distribution, and drug inventorying.
Technology is becoming increasingly integral to healthcare delivery. Technology policies provide guidance on how facilities can use different technologies to improve various aspects of healthcare delivery. They establish legality, standards, procedures, and security measures for the use of technologies.
Security and privacy policies
Cybersecurity is one of the many ever-growing threats faced by healthcare facilities. In 2020, for instance, the number of security breaches in healthcare increased by 55% on the previous year. On average, a security breach costs a healthcare facility $500.
Security and privacy policies establish protocols and standards for handling data and other relevant issues to prevent errors that could expose a facility to data leaks and other security threats.
Future challenges regarding healthcare policy
Every day, new healthcare policies are being introduced, and old onesare reviewed across all levels. It’s important to be aware of any new policies that might be needed, or old ones that require review, in order to address emerging challenges in the healthcare field.
Here are some areas where policy might need to be changed or updated to meet emerging healthcare challenges:
The number of uninsured patients has decreased significantly over the past few years, mostly thanks to the Affordable Care Act of 2010. However, a significant number of people are still uninsured or underinsured, and this often brings a lot of issues to healthcare facilities.
According to the United States Census Bureau, back in 2019, 92% of Americans had healthcare coverage of sorts – Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance, employee health insurance, etc.
However, the coverage potential of the different types of health insurance plans seems to have been maxed out, and policy-makers are divided over where to fit in the rest of the uninsured or poorly insured population. Some are advocating for increased participation in employee-provided coverage, while others believe government-run programs such as Medicare should be further expanded.
Increasing healthcare cost
While most Americans have some form of insurance, they still face exorbitant out-of-pocket healthcare costs. The cost of healthcare in the US is among the highest in the world. In 2020, Americans spent more than 11% of their household income on healthcare on average. To put things in perspective, that’s more than ten times the cost compared to what people would pay in the 1960s.
The pandemic further exacerbated the issue. With access to healthcare severely impeded by the COVID outbreak, adequate healthcare came at a much higher premium.
Policymakers have been searching for ways to reduce the cost of healthcare without sacrificing the quality of care. Solutions they’re advocating for include more government interference in the pricing of healthcare services, reducing the price of prescription drugs, and running public insurance programs for those who cannot afford the premiums of private providers.
Reducing costs and increasing insurance coverage can help improve access to healthcare, but a host of socio-cultural issues can still limit the impact and outcomes of healthcare delivery. These issues have deep roots that go beyond just medical considerations, requiring policies that have a much wider reach.
It’s usually quite challenging to resolve the root causes of these challenges, and policy-makers have chosen to devise strategies to mitigate their specific impact on healthcare rather than resolving the issue as a whole to bring quick relief to those most affected. This includes providing free access for disadvantaged populations to services such as wellness counseling, diagnosis for various ailments, and essential provisions such as housing, transportation, childcare, etc.
How policy can impact healthcare delivery
Nurses play a critical role in shaping the impact of healthcare policies. They’re at the frontline of healthcare delivery and therefore experience first hand the impact of these policies.
Healthcare policies shape many aspects of a nurse’s work, including how nurses interact with patients, provide treatment and care, and deal with socio-cultural issues that impact healthcare delivery.
Although nurses have a good grasp of how policies play out in reality, they often have little influence over these policies. This often leads to frustration and disillusionment in the workplace, as nurses have to work with policies crafted by individuals with limited knowledge and experience of healthcare issues.
However, there are still many avenues that nurses can explore to promote effective policies.
Analyzing existing policies
Nurses need to carefully analyze seemingly weak policies to properly articulate their strengths and weaknesses. They need to determine the causes of inefficiencies and research opportunities to make a difference.
Proposing new policies
Nurses shouldn’t just stop at analyzing policies and finding opportunities to improve them, they also need to have well-articulated alternative policies ready to propose. To come up with effective recommendations, nurses should tap into their specific skills and specialties.
For instance, family nurse practitioners are better placed to suggest policies for improving care for families from different demographics and backgrounds. Psychiatrists and mental health nurse practitioners can focus more on policies that can improve mental wellness among patients.
Mastering the process of policy-making
To bring policy suggestions to life, nurses need to first gain a good grasp of how healthcare policies are created and implemented. It is important that theyget to know the people involved in policy-making at various levels. Nurses can also learn more about individual policymakers that are likely to listen and consider their ideas and keep in close touch with them.
Becoming politically active
Politics can be defined as “the art of using legitimate power wisely.” Nurses can shape policies by becoming politically active using all the opportunities they can get to drive clinically sound policies. That means meeting with policy-makers to provide clinical insights, actively participating in events revolving around politics, joining pressure groups and professional bodies, and even campaigning and voting during elections.
Seeking support from friends and family
Dealing with policies can be quite daunting, and nurses need all the support they can get. As a nurse, you can get your friends and family to support you in your ideas and act as foot soldiers who can go out there to promote your cause on your behalf.
Getting professional training
A strong educational background can empower nurses to become agents of change. Advanced Nursing programs such as the post-master’s FNP certificate online from Rockhurst University equip nurses with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate and influence healthcare policies effectively.
Becoming a policy-oriented nurse leader
Every nurse is a leader in some capacity. They should always aim to promote compliance with effective policies at every opportunity. It is important that nurses learn to communicate healthcare policies effectively to members of healthcare teams, patients, and members of the community. Nurses should also find ways to monitor and encourage compliance to promote accountability among their healthcare teams.
Healthcare policies come with ramifications spanning every area of healthcare, from macro issues such as service distribution and overall cost to micro issues such as treatment and care policies for specific patients.
Nurses are constantly affected by healthcare policies in their work.Their influence over them, however, is often quite limited. As a nurse, you’re morally and ethically obliged to do your best in handling and shaping healthcare policies to improve outcomes for patients and staff alike.