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Exploring the Difference Between Nursing Procedures and Policies

Male nurse looking down at nursing procedures on tablet

Exploring the Difference Between Nursing Procedures and Policies


As a nurse, it is crucial to understand the difference between nursing procedures and policies. Both are essential elements that contribute to patient and employee safety. Nurses need a basic understanding of the differences between the two concepts. A nursing procedure is a set of steps necessary to carry out a specific activity, such as administering medication. Policy, on the other hand, is a statement that guides an organization’s decisions and actions. This blog post will explore the differences between nursing procedures and policy and discuss why both are necessary for healthcare settings.


Difference Between Policy and Procedure In Healthcare


Although people often use them interchangeably, fundamental differences exist between the terms policy and procedure. Together, they create structure and consistency throughout an organization. The heart of all policies and procedures in healthcare is to provide patient safety.


Policies are written statements that describe an organization’s guiding principles and structure. A healthcare organization’s written policies are like an umbrella that covers everything from organizational structure and human resources to nursing care and emergency management. 


Healthcare organizations create policies per CMS regulations, other applicable laws, accreditation organization standards and industry best practices. Policies are typically written in broad terms that do not require frequent revision.


Procedures are the instruction manuals for how to implement policies. They outline who will carry out tasks from beginning to end, the resources needed, and the required documentation. Procedures are more likely to need more frequent revision than policies.


Nursing Procedure vs. Policy


Nursing policies and procedures are essential for many reasons. Think of them as the toolkit that guides every aspect of care delivery. 


Nursing policies provide structure and outline expectations. From a national perspective, professional organizations such as the American Nurses Association develop policy statements to define practice and guide the future of the nursing profession. 


Hospital systems use policies to guide care delivery within the scope and parameters of their organizations. 


Nursing procedures function as the instruction manual with explicit details and directions for carrying out a policy. These details could include who is responsible for ensuring task completion, required documentation, supplies needed, and if/when delegation is appropriate.


Why Are Policies and Procedures Important in Nursing?


On a good day, you might not think about the policies and procedures behind the nursing care you provide. However, when faced with an unfamiliar situation or seldom-used technique, a well-written policy or procedure increases clarity and guides performance.


Policies and procedures together promote consistent, high-quality clinical care throughout an organization. Therefore, organizations should write clinical policies and procedures with great care to ensure they align with current evidence-based research, accepted industry best practices, and applicable laws and regulations. 


Nursing Procedure vs. Policy Example


Let’s look at an example of nursing procedure vs. policy: medication administration. 


Policy: An overall medication administration policy would outline basic principles of safe medication administration. However, it would not include the detailed steps a nurse needs to follow when administering intravenous (IV) medications.


Procedure: The IV administration procedure would include detailed information regarding the following: 


  • Employees authorized to administer IV medications 
  • Steps for proper IV site access and care
  • Resources for questions and concerns


The policy and procedure complement one another. 


Policies and Procedures In Healthcare


Let’s look at a few more hospital policy and procedure examples.


Examples of Health Care Policies


Some examples of healthcare policies include:

  • Infection Control Plan
  • Emergency Management
  • Human Resources: PTO, the hiring process, performance evaluation


As you can see, each of these areas encompasses a broad, overarching umbrella that contains a lot of information. 


Examples of Health Care Procedures


A few examples of procedures that you might find under an organization’s Infection Control plan include:


  • IV management: insertion, care, troubleshooting
  • Urinary Catheter insertion, maintenance, and removal
  • Environmental care and cleaning procedures
  • Standard Precautions vs. Isolation Precautions


The number of procedures could go on and on. 




Ideally, there would be a clear delineation between all policies and procedures. However, many organizations combine policy and procedure into a single document. To avoid confusion, think of policies as guidelines and procedures as instruction manuals.


MCN Healthcare is the leading provider of policy management explicitly built for the healthcare industry. Schedule a Policy Manager Demo today to see how our software simplifies the complex world of policy and procedure management.




Missouri Dept of Health & Senior Services.


National Institute of Health. Policies and Procedures – PMC


Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. State Operations Manual Appendix A – Survey Protocol, Regulations and Interpretative Guidelines for Hospitals

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