Public health policy encompasses various levels of healthcare, from federal legislation to state or local laws, community-based health initiatives, and facility-level policies. It impacts every area of healthcare, including interventions, access, and insurance. It also encourages good health and helps achieve designated health objectives. The administration’s role in public health is to implement appropriate policies effectively. The following article will discuss ways of overcoming challenges in public health policy implementation.
What Is Public Health Policy?
There are public health policies on a legislative level you are sure to recognize. These include The Affordable Care Act, which helps give Americans access to affordable health insurance, or The Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, which ensures access to clean water and clean air. State-level public health policy can involve vaccination requirements for school-age students or seatbelt and helmet laws. County-level public health policies include restaurant health inspections or emergency evacuation plans.
An example of public health policy that affects many facilities is the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) policy for Nationally Notifiable Diseases. The CDC has a surveillance program for many diseases that, should a patient test positive for any of the listed conditions, reporting is mandatory. This system is for the public good. Infectious diseases, like measles, diphtheria, or hepatitis, must be monitored country-wide and internationally to prevent larger outbreaks.
Infection control policies within your facility are institutional-level public health policies. If, for instance, a break out of Tuberculosis (TB), Clostridium difficile (C-diff), or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) occurs in your hospital, it puts patients, staff, and visitors at risk. If it is carried out of your facility, it will put the public at risk.
No Smoking Campus is a public health policy. A smoke-free campus protects patients, staff, and visitors from exposure to toxic secondhand cigarette smoke and diseases caused by secondhand smoke.
Common Challenges Associated with Public Health Policy Implementation
The public health sector faces unique challenges compared to the private sector. These challenges include the following:
- Resources: Designing and instituting public health policies requires human and monetary resources. In the federal and state arenas, this funding is often more accessible than in healthcare facilities. Research, documentation, and education on new policies takes time and resources you may not have..
- Educating staff: Educating staff affected by a policy is a big undertaking but integral to policy implementation. Compliance with any policy has a much better success rate when it is understood. Documented education provides accountability for knowledge of the information. It can be challenging to reach all necessary parties.
- Socioeconomic and cultural considerations: Socioeconomic and language barriers can make implementing public policy challenging. If the policy involves actions from the public, these need to be addressed. For example, your organization should make signs and statements in all languages spoken in your area to ensure public participation. Additionally, if the socioeconomic area you service has patients who will not have the economic means to participate, you would need to find ways to provide any necessary supplies, such as masks during suggested masking.
- Obtaining necessary information: Research is necessary to ensure the policy you are enacting does not tread on the legal rights of your patients, staff, or other populations. It’s essential to have your facility protected so you can continue to serve the public.
Strategies That Can Help Overcome Challenges in Public Health Policy Implementation
Various strategies can help overcome your organization’s challenges in public health policy implementation.
- Utilize software and templates to save money. Budgeting constraints are common in any business. It is cost-effective to streamline your policy writing and implementation process. Having a software system in which a library of policies for healthcare organizations has already been researched with written templates cuts staffing and research needs.
- Make education simple: Educating decision-makers and staff is essential to going live with a new policy. If your policy affects visitors, you must get the information out to the public to assure compliance. Let’s take masks during an outbreak as an example; if the public is unaware you require masks for all visitors, they can not comply. Local and social media can help get your new policy information to the populations your facility serves.
- Provide materials in multiple languages. For socioeconomic and language barriers, Health and Human Services (HHS) has a website dedicated to socioeconomic, cultural, and language barriers in healthcare called Think Cultural Health. Providing materials to patients and the public in their native tongue in a way they can understand the information breaks this divide.
- Hire a legal team: Consult with an experienced attorney or your in-house legal team. An attorney with healthcare policy experience can review policy documents before they are published and activated. They will focus on decreasing liability for your organization and maintaining an ethical and justice-oriented culture.
How Can Organizations Improve the Effectiveness of Public Health Policy Implementation?
Collaboration with physicians and interdisciplinary clinical staff can help pinpoint areas in your organizational infrastructure that require a new policy or update. Additionally, with communication through meetings, forums, or an interdisciplinary committee, you can discuss the objectives, benefits, and implications of the policies you are designing.
Well-trained staff with opportunities for education ensures everyone is aware of the objectives and specifics of your policy. Effective implementation can only occur if everyone knows their part in the policy’s success.
Public awareness using media or classes can educate the public on your new policy. An example of this would be a hospital having a policy that newborn children will only go home in an up-to-date car seat that is appropriately installed. Effective public engagement of this policy may include working with a local fire department or hospital safety staff or offering a public community-based clinic once a quarter on properly installing and fitting car seats.
Monitoring the adherence and impact of your policy is the only way to discern its success. Changes in regulations or evidence-based practice require organizations to update their policies and procedures. A robust policy software system, that includes a regulatory notification system, simplifies the process for your policy committees.
Utilizing a healthcare-specific policy management program will significantly improve the flow of public health policy maintenance. Excellent programs, such as MCN’s Policy Manager, seamlessly notify the proper staff when reviews or approvals of policies and procedures are required. A cloud-based policy repository provides templates of policies and procedures to work from so your committees do not need to reinvent the wheel.
Resources Available to Help Implement Public Health Policy
Many resources are available to assist with implementing public health policy.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an Office of Policy, Performance, and Evaluation. You can find information on project POLARIS, a portal for policy-related tools.
- Think Cultural Health is a website sponsored by The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH). The OMH helps to improve the health of racial and ethnic minority groups.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a vast information depository on regulations and guidance for healthcare policy.
Public Health Policy Is Challenging
Public health policy implementation certainly has challenges; however, they are not insurmountable. With the right tools and strategies, you can successfully navigate your facility’s needs. Set up a demo with MCN today to learn how our policy management software can partner with you to achieve your goals.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). National notifiable diseases surveillance system (NNDSS). https://www.cdc.gov/nndss/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). 2023 National notifiable conditions (historical). https://ndc.services.cdc.gov/search-results-year/
Mailman School of Public Health. (2021, May 6). Public health policy: definition, examples and more. Columbia University. https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/news/public-health-policy-definition-examples-more#:~:text=Public%20health%20policy%20is%20defined,legislation%20to%20community%20outreach%20efforts
United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). Resource library. https://thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov/resources/library