Stakeholders have an important role to play in US healthcare policies because they are often at the heart of supporting new services and products. Their work ensures the continued progress of medical treatments, practices, research, and technology. However, through campaigning and lobbying the government, they can also find ways to manage the related costs of these innovations. Stakeholders have a role to play in evaluating the worth of new projects, as well as planning how they will be rolled out in practice. Once the technology or service has been in operation for a while, they will appraise how successful it has been, and work out ways to obtain further funding if necessary. Stakeholders are active in each area of healthcare and health policy-making.
What are health policies?
Health policies are put in place by the government to improve the well-being of people in the US. They encompass a broad range of plans and actions. Through the media, campaigning, and research, issues are brought to the attention of lawmakers and, as a result, a representative can table a bill. If there is sufficient support for the bill, it will become part of health care policy. However, every law or piece of regulation that affects how care providers work or affects patient outcomes could be classed as a health policy. These stipulations could impact the work of care providers, such as hospitals and clinics, the health of individuals, and public health provision.
Working toward a better healthcare system
Stakeholders can have a huge impact on the success or otherwise of a policy idea or a medical program. In a healthcare setting, the key stakeholders are patients. But providers, such as hospitals, policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, local governments, and healthcare professionals are all instrumental in affecting change.
Through their frontline work and experience in patient care, many nurses become interested in leadership roles. A more senior rank gives any practitioner more credibility within their organization and when advocating for healthcare reform in public ways.
For some registered nurses, the opportunity to advance their practice through continued education is out of reach due to the length of medical courses and the mode of study. Now, however, several forward-thinking universities, such as the University of Indianapolis, are improving the situation by offering part-time, distance learning options for working nurses. At the University of Indianapolis, for example, you can take MSN to DNP programs online. These programs incorporate remote learning with professional support and placements close to a nurse’s home. They can be completed in six semesters. Students are taught to plan, fulfill, and monitor a range of healthcare systems, enabling them to act as informed advocates in both policy-making and patient care.
Nurse leaders across the healthcare system have a significant stake in the future of the medical industry, and its continued development. Here’s a closer look at the role they and other stakeholders play in designing and advancing healthcare in the US.
The work of pharmaceutical companies in driving healthcare policy
Companies that produce the medications that are used to treat patients at home and in healthcare settings target money and resources on developing the medical industry. This industry funds around 50% of the costs of advanced medical education in the US. Along with acting as benefactors for future clinicians, the industry invests heavily in developing new treatments that can have a huge impact on patients’ lives, and, through collaborations, they bring together experts from around the world to solve pressing issues.
For example, their work with researchers and healthcare professionals has resulted in the availability of many vaccines, including a treatment for the otherwise fatal SARS-CoV-2. These vaccines have enabled successive US governments to roll out healthcare policies that offer jabs to every citizen and, in doing so, prevent the spread of countless diseases. This is an incredibly cost-effective method of managing public health, as well as reducing pressure on hospitals and clinics.
Patients having a say in their care
As well as lobbying their local representative to argue for improvements to healthcare, patients can have a huge influence on the system through the feedback they provide following a stay in hospital or an appointment at the clinic. Hospitals are quick to act on patient satisfaction levels, primarily because it helps them improve outcomes, but also because happy patients are loyal to their facility. Patient retention ensures hospitals can remain financially buoyant in a competitive market and this allows them to make a consistent profit. As a result, they can employ more staff and offer better terms and conditions. This leads to higher levels of staff satisfaction and lower turnover among nurses and other medical workers. Therefore, hospitals are keen to listen to the opinions of patients and act on them decisively. Where possible, they will release research to show the evidence they have gathered on patient sentiment, then lobby Congress for changes to legislation or increased funding. In doing so they hope to affect the changes that their patients want to see.
How policymakers impact the healthcare system
People in positions of political power, such as elected local representatives and Congresspeople, have a personal impact on which healthcare policies become law. When they listen to the people they serve, be they nurses, healthcare educators, or patients, they can form a more rounded opinion of whether or not a bill should become a health policy. In their public role, they can communicate how certain areas of the healthcare system can be improved and give individuals or organizations recognition for the work they have done so far, be it in the field of research or campaigning. This, in turn, enables organizations or non-profits to find out about each other’s work and share ideas. When a bill is in an early stage, informed policymakers can use what they have learned from healthcare professionals to give the idea credibility or suggest amendments, in line with the advice they have received.
What role do hospitals play in the creation of effective healthcare policies?
The World Health Organization considers a hospital to be a ‘setting for education of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals and are a critical base for clinical research’. In this pivotal role, both hospitals that are publicly funded and those that are private can provide insight when it comes to developing effective health policies. In recent years, hospital and health leaders have lobbied the government with the help of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. They have requested increases in the Medicare payments received by physicians and hospitals, as well as additional relief for hospitals to help them manage in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospitals also collaborate through the American Hospital Association to identify policies they would like the US government to pursue; in fact, the AHA has a detailed advocacy agenda. The group works with people in Congress to get help for hospitals that need funding for the above-mentioned issues, as well as the problem of boarding patients, who have nowhere to be discharged after their hospital stay. Part of their work involves developing the kind of language that is needed to discuss these issues at a legislative level, as using the right terms is helpful when speaking to people who are in positions of power on Capitol Hill.
Healthcare professionals drive change by informing health policies
Although nurses have important views to share on the creation of health policies, they may not be used to advocating for their profession or their industry in a public way. However, there are many ways that nurses can develop the skills and confidence they need to make a difference.
How do nurses help to shape health policy?
Nurses have a central role to play in health policy change and it can start with their everyday work. Through advocating for their patients to have appropriate care, information that they understand, and access to Medicaid, they start to create more positive experiences for their patients. If they feel that some of the work standards and procedures in their organization could be improved, they can join a committee that pushes for the adoption of better practices.
Once they have a specialism, nurses can join a national association that can speak out with a collective voice, one that is often more authoritative than that of an individual. The Oncology Nursing Society, for example, has often testified before committees at the National Institutes of Health and the US Food and Drug Administration, as well as Congress, to highlight the issues they feel policymakers should prioritize.
The influence of nurses at a state level
As participants in state nursing groups, nurses can have a significant impact on policies that concern their state. They can join a nursing association and then contact the advocacy board to learn more about becoming active in the group’s campaigns. From writing letters and making phone calls to representatives to serving on the board and helping to develop policy statements, every nurse can become involved in advocacy in his or her own way. If they choose to be more active, attending legislative sessions in their home state can provide insight into the workings of the system and political decision-making. This enables nurses to approach legislators in a more informed, persuasive way.
How nurses can shape local health policies
At a local level, nurses can consider which kind of health policies would benefit the community, schools, and local clinics and then make recommendations. They may choose to gather evidence-based data to support their views, as legislators can make more informed decisions when presented with reports and literature that come from a healthcare source. To gain a deeper understanding of the political process in the area, it’s a good idea to subscribe to any legislative bodies, to be notified of meetings and other events. So many issues touch upon healthcare and there are many interested parties, therefore there are numerous causes and groups that a nurse could feel an affinity with.
Finally, when the local elections come around, nurses can support the candidate who has views that reflect their own when it comes to health policies. This could involve simply speaking to friends and colleagues about why voting for that representative could benefit the healthcare system. Or, a nurse may develop a closer relationship with the candidate and then go on to inform and support their policymaking decisions once they are in office.
How can individual nurses become influencers?
Individual nurses can use their knowledge and experience to influence health policies for the better. For people who have never been involved before, the first step is to understand how policy is made, both at a national and local level. It also helps to find out who designs the regulations that cover the workplace and consider which health policies feel most important there. Once they have established what they care about, a nurse could find out which lawmakers are supportive of the same ideals and write to them. The letter could include a discussion of the topics and issues the nurse feels are affecting patient care.
It’s also a good idea to meet like-minded people and share views. A good starting point is organizations such as the American Nurses Association or any other of the many nurse lobbying groups that exist, as they are dedicated to campaigning on behalf of medical professionals as well as patients. Finally, after educating themselves about the process of lobbying, nurses can speak to colleagues about the opportunity they have to become involved in policy change.
Nurses are important advocates for effective health policies.
As part of frontline teams, working in multiple and complex care environments, nurses are ideally placed to relate their professional experiences to policy-making. Every day, they get to see how changes to legislation can impact a patient’s healthcare journey and their recovery. All nurses, from people who are just setting out to leaders and managers, can use their influence to guide policy in their facility and the wider healthcare system.