The Role of Nursing in Healthcare Policy
Few industries are as fluid as the healthcare system. As societal expectations, pressures and risks develop and evolve, the medical industry must change alongside them. One of the ways the field changes is through healthcare policy. Healthcare policy shapes the way nurses work, and the way patients are treated. Nurses must be able to not only interpret and apply healthcare policies but also to stand up and protest changes that are not in the best interests of their patients while encouraging those who are.
This article will explore healthcare policy in nursing and how nurses can navigate changes in nursing practice.
What does healthcare policy mean?
Policies that impact a population’s health are known as healthcare policy. Healthcare policy impacts the healthcare system and is designed to address current healthcare needs. It treats healthcare as an organized enterprise responsible for treating disease, disability and infirmity, and includes regulations regarding what healthcare professionals are allowed to do, the way in which they are allowed to do it, as well as how medication is distributed through the pharmaceutical industry. Healthcare policy can also directly affect funding to specific healthcare systems.
From changing the way care is provided to requiring the adoption of new regulations and technologies, healthcare regulations have a profound effect on the way patients experience the healthcare system as well as how healthcare workers look after their patients.
Healthcare policy encompasses the regulations and policies that govern the entire medical system in the United States. The people who make the policies shape the very fabric of healthcare in the country.
Developing healthcare policy
Now that you understand what healthcare policy is and how it impacts patients and medical professionals, let’s talk about how healthcare policy is made. There are three main elements of the healthcare system in the United States, and the way policies are created in each of them differs just a bit:
Each of these systems functions independently, but all are in effect at the same time. Without all three of them working, the healthcare system in the United States would have a difficult time adjusting, presenting patients with more tenuous access to important healthcare. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with the terms! Chances are good that you know what each one of them is talking about. Let’s take a look at each of them in detail:
Microsystems are the smallest of the systems we’ll discuss in this article. The word refers to a single facility. A local hospital is a microsystem in the healthcare industry, for example, and the policies developed and put in place by the facility are the lowest priority of the healthcare system. With that said, they still impact the nurses and patients at that facility and there might be regulations that simply don’t work. Nurses can try and effect change in microsystems by engaging with the decision-makers in the organization.
Mesosystems are one step up above microsystems and refer to policies developed and implemented at the regional and state levels. This differs from microsystems in that the policies in mesosystems are not exclusive to a single facility, but rather apply to either all the hospitals within a system, all of the healthcare systems in a given area, or all medical facilities in the region or state.
Policies made at this level override internal policy developed at the microsystem level. Nurses interested in impacting state-specific healthcare policies will interact with more politically motivated systems than they would at the microsystem level. This includes attending state or local government sessions, working with the local media on stories showcasing how harmful policies are affecting patients and professionals, and protesting harmful policies directly to the decision-makers themselves.
Macrosystems override almost all other healthcare policy sources and refer to the federal level of the healthcare system. Policies developed and enforced by the federal government are known as macrosystem regulations, and they overrule policies and regulations developed at both the microsystem and mesosystem levels. If a mesosystem rule states that all mothers must remain in the hospital with their newborns for three days, for example, but a macrosystem policy dictates that mothers spend two days in the hospital, local hospitals cannot enforce their two-day rule.
Nurses with the desire to change federal policies must be prepared to not only interact with high-ranking government officials but also to complete advanced educational opportunities to garner as much authority as possible.
A note about changing macrosystem policy
While all healthcare professionals work hard, some of them have studied longer than others or have more experience than others. In general, macrosystem regulations require lobbyists who have completed the highest-level education in their niche if they want to wield a significant amount of authority. Your opinion doesn’t matter less if you don’t have an advanced degree, but your ability to influence policymakers at the federal level will likely be impeded by the lack of it.
Nurses with the desire to lobby for change at the federal level should consider enrolling in an advanced program such as a Master’s in Nursing Management through a reputable institution such as the University of Indianapolis. This program was designed to provide working nurses with an advanced education and foundation of knowledge specifically so that they can speak from a place of authority in their chosen niche. The University of Indianapolis’ Master’s in Nursing Management program focuses on teaching students decision-making, strategic planning and organizational structure to improve healthcare for staff and patients. Through this program, students prepare to advocate for change in outpatient clinics and hospice care centers, as well as long-term facilities and assisted living residences.
With an advanced degree in hand, you might find it significantly easier to demand attention and deference when lobbying for change at the federal level. In some cases, an impressive amount of experience can be substituted for a degree, but only rarely. The most influential nurses have both a reputable degree and plenty of time working one-on-one with patients.
The nurse’s role in healthcare policy
The basics of healthcare policy are discussed above, but there is more to talk about when it comes to nursing and regulations. While it is crucial that both patient and professional needs are taken into consideration when healthcare policies are created and implemented, sometimes they are not. In these instances, nurses must stand up and rally the alarm to protect their patients as well as themselves. Sometimes these side effects are completely unexpected by the policymakers, and it is important to be loud and clear about the issues.
Nurses play a few different roles in healthcare policy, with the most important two being patient advocacy and population health protectors.
One of the most important roles nurses play in healthcare policy is patient advocacy. Nurses are uniquely positioned to observe the impact new rules and regulations are having on everyday patients. Document the problems and be honest when the time to share your opinion comes. Conversely, when policy changes or regulations make nurses’ lives a bit easier, be loud about that too. Sometimes policymakers consider the reaction of healthcare professionals when creating future healthcare policies.
Population health protectors
Another of nurses’ important roles in healthcare policy is that of population health protectors. As we discussed above, nurses are perfectly placed to recognize patient needs and the way patients are being served, or underserved, by public policy. In this role, nurses strive to protect the health of a specific community or population by addressing the needs of families, individuals and broader groups across the country. Nurses in this position advocate for education, resources and basic supplies the communities in question desperately need.
How to adapt to changes in healthcare policy
Even if you aren’t trying to change the system, but rather simply want to work within it, you might find that understanding healthcare policy is important to your work. Whether you agree with a policy or not, your job might be impacted by it, and sometimes sweeping changes are introduced that take some getting used to. Now that we’ve talked about healthcare policy and a nurse’s role within it, let’s talk about how nurses can adapt to changes in the system.
If you encounter a policy or regulation that doesn’t make sense to you, especially if it is research or technology-based, don’t be afraid to reach out for more information. Your nurse leader or manager should be able to inform you about any changes in more detail.
Some changes come with documentation about why the policy or regulation is being implemented, the impact it is supposed to have and the things that you must do to comply with the change. It might be a good idea to look for this information before approaching your boss for more information. When you know what the policy change says and can demonstrate that you’ve put in the time to learn more about it, other professionals tend to be more willing to spend their time talking through things with you.
Change can be challenging, and the in-between stage after the policy is announced but before it becomes second nature can sometimes be frustrating. One of the best ways you can adapt to new policy is to be patient. Instead of being annoyed that something is changing and you have to adjust the way you work, allow yourself and the people around you time to work through the new regulations. If you, or someone around you, has trouble adapting, working together as a team can be a good way to build a positive environment for steady change.
Sometimes it’s tempting to ignore a change to the way you work, especially if you believe your way is better. Dragging out the change will do nothing but make your work life frustrating, but it can also make the lives of the people around you more difficult. Even if you don’t want to change, don’t put off adopting the rule or guideline. Be proactive once the change has been officially ordered by your superiors and make a real effort to change the way you are working before it becomes a problem.
As the field of medicine is so massive, it is constantly changing. New healthcare policies are passed to update old healthcare policies and sometimes regulations governing an entirely new aspect of healthcare are put into place. Whether the rule in question is implemented at a single hospital or is federally enforced, healthcare policy directly affects patients and professionals alike. This is why it is so important for nurses to understand how policy is made, how they can help shape it, and how to adapt to change.
Are you interested in learning more about healthcare policy and how you can influence it as a nurse? Using the information in this article as a guide, branch out a bit and explore schools that offer high-quality programs designed for working nurses.