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The Role of the Healthcare Professional in Health Care Policy Making: Analytical Essay

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Policies regarding health are essentially plans that are subsequently put into action. These policies help to guide health care professionals in providing care to achieve specific health-related goals. (WHO, 2019). My personal interpretation of health policy is basically rules and regulations set forth by various government agencies to guide health care professionals in providing evidence-based, ethical medical care. A health care policy is considered to be successful if it can clearly define goals and targets for both the short and long term. (WHO, 2019). Health policies that provide guidance to health care professionals are created and regulated by local, state and federal governments. Due to the fact health policies are created and regulated by government agencies health care professionals often have limited knowledge of how to become involved with policy-making.

I admit prior to this course I had very limited interest in health policy, mostly because I didn’t think health care professionals had a true role in helping to determine and guide health policy. Professionally I’m a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Through my membership I receive research articles and email blasts with emerging information that impacts registered dietitians (RDs). A portion of these communication emails focuses on public policy. Most of the work the academy is doing focuses on funding for obesity programs and programs for food security across the federal government. Personally, I never read much into these articles because I originally thought that I wouldn’t have a say in what was happening. This week’s readings had me interested and I took some time to go back through those deleted files and read up on the work the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is doing. Currently there is a focus on the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act which was first introduced in 2017. Due to increase costs accrued with a nation suffering from obesity, an act was passed that allows coverage under Medicare for behavioral therapies associated with obesity. Providers that are not primary care physicians will be able to provide obesity related therapies and subsequently bill for them. (Congress.Gov, 2017). The bill was reviewed twice before it died. The academy called on support from RDs in promoting the bill by acting as an advocate for the profession. There was a call to action to get more involved, to share our voice, to write to local senators and to get involved with state sponsored RD advocacy groups to promote the passing of this bill. A new bill was later established recently, on February 28, 2019, and it is currently in the first stage of the legislative process. (gov.track, 2019). It is amazing what can be accomplished through continued support and advocacy for a health-related event or concern. I admit I didn’t participate in any of these call to actions. I didn’t think my one voice would make that much of a difference. I also admit, that I’ve lost passion in my professional field because I feel that RDs are under-utilized experts in disease management, including obesity. This got me to start thinking that I can’t expect anything to change for the profession, and I can’t expect to regain my passion for the field if I continue to sit silent. Following this week’s readings and assignments I realized the importance for health care professionals to get more involved in policy and to speak up. We hold a lot of evidence based knowledge and I imagine what could be accomplished for health care in the United States if health care professionals took a more active role in policy-making. I can honestly say going forward, I will pay closer attention to what is sent in those emails and actually look at the “how you can get involved portion”. As a health care provider and future administrator I cannot expect to improve the way health care is governed if I do not use my voice.

The Role of the Healthcare Professional in Policy Making

When discussing health care policy and the role of the health care professional in policy making, most professionals would have limited knowledge regarding the process. Personally, I know I have limited knowledge of how a health care professional has a role in policy making. This is most likely due to the fact that health policy decisions aren’t made by the professionals who do the hands on work. Health policies are created and regulated by various officials within the three branches of government. Political factors play a greater role in the creation of policies than the decision-making process of health clinicians and providers. (Blendon, 2001). Health care professionals can have a more active role in the creation of health policies, but first there must be a general understanding of how policies are created with regard to health care. Health care policies that are enacted upon in a federal level utilize the three branches of government. On a federal level, selected officials write policies with feedback from multiple medical professionals. (Duquesne University, 2018). Senators and representatives of the state create the policy. The president either approves or denies (vetoes) the policy. Finally, the judicial branch will interpret the policy should it be approved by the president. (Dusquesne University, 2018) Next, health care providers must understand who key decision makers are in the policy they wise to be more involved it. (Blendon, 2001). For example, if a health care professional wants to address policies created at the local level, they must understand who governs these policies, who the board members are that vote on the policy and what factors are taken into consideration regarding the policy. In understanding who is a part of the decision making process, health care professionals can work with these individuals and build a rapport with the idea that their expertise can be utilized for future policy regulation. Finally, a health care professional must decide their course of action, what they wish to do and accomplish. (Blendon, 2001). Professionals can become more involved in the political processes by understanding personal resources. A professional may have ties to a local ombudsmen, may know someone with ties to a senator and may simply be involved with the local government. Once they establish resources needed in the policy-making process providers can began to focus on areas that interest them to help promote the change they wish to seek. (Blendon, 2001).

In my own understanding, health care professionals can play a role in the decision-making portion regarding health policies by first understanding areas they excel in and are passionate about. They can further promote these areas by becoming more involved in community outreach and local and state governments. Specific medical organizations, such as the one I’m apart of for RDs, can help medical professionals voice their opinions and promote understanding on important topics regarding policies. In health care professionals becoming more involved in their local and state governments they can help to educate and provide evidence-based information to the individuals who vote on and ultimately determine current and future health care policy. In promoting their voice on a state level, and working with legislation they can help to be involved in the decision-making progress on a federal level in an indirect way.

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Opportunities for Policy Making: Current and Future Roles:

To be honest, I had to research how a RD may get more involved with policy making. As I expressed before, I always shied away from this topic. Policies are intimidating, but so far this class has opened up my eyes regarding how an RD can get more involved in policy. Policies just look frightening but taking the time to read them, research them and dissect them helps to promote my confidence in springing into action. Getting involved is a lot simpler than I originally thought. Through my research I learned getting involved is as simple as reading, writing, speaking, volunteering, starting, joining, getting involved, meeting officials and being brave enough to be a change. (integrativeRD.org, 2017). As an RD the number one way to get involved is to simply read, read what is happening in the news in terms of health and health care reform, read to understand the information and be well-versed in present topics. Another way to get more involved is to write, write about what interests me and about evidence based practice. Write to local newspapers, local mayors, state governors and even state senators which can help to promote my feelings and voice being heard on multiple levels. Join some type of political organization or governing body with regards to health and nutrition. Being present, showing my face and interacting within those organizations can help to promote my ideas and voice. Get more involved by attending a town meeting, an advocacy meeting, or get more involved on an election campaign, with special attention being paid to those who support dietitians or health care in general. Once again, showing up and being present to share my expertise will help to support positive change. I can’t just assume my ideas won’t be taken into consideration it seems simple but if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Meet with legislators on the local, state and federal level and offer assistance with policy making, or with ideas for future policies on health care topics. Finally, an RD can get more involved by “being the change” and running for a government office or a position on a government advisory board. (IntegrativeRD.org, 2017). I also learned a valuable tool as I get more interested and involved in public policy. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has an “Action Center” on their website. By simply clicking the “Take Action” button you can send a message to a member of congress on any nutrition related actions. (Eat Right Pro, 2019). I was stunned to learn this and actually embarrassed I didn’t know it existed until now. After completing my research getting involved isn’t as scary and impossible as I originally thought. While some individuals may be interested in running for office to truly promote change, just because I want to promote change on a smaller level doesn’t mean my ideas should never be heard. As I begin to pay more attention to policy issues sent via my Academy of Nutrition membership, I’m challenging myself to step up and become more involved if a topic interests me. It might be as simple as writing a letter or just becoming more versed in the topic. However, practicing now will be an important skill I take with me as a future hospital administrator.

My future career goals include becoming an administrator involved with renal dialysis. I worked in the field of dialysis for a short time period but was intrigued by the amount of nutrition involved with the kidney. I learned a lot during my time there and met some incredible patients with poor outcomes due to limited resources. Across the board individuals on dialysis fight for medication coverage and have poor outcomes due to the inability to pay for medications and food. I had some patients who had to decide between paying their electric bill, buying food, or picking up their medications. Medications are crucial in controlling phosphorus levels, calcium levels and decreasing secondary conditions that decrease quality of life. When I decided to purse my masters in Health Care Administration I knew my future goals instantly, I’d like to make a significant difference in those individuals’ lives by changing policies that regulate prescription drugs and binder medication reimbursement. I can also make a difference by getting more involved with bills and acts that promote food security especially in the elderly population or for those with lower socioeconomic status. I can get involved with this by reading more on coverage under Medicare and Medicaid for phosphate binders and assistance programs currently in place. I can get more involved with the National Kidney Foundation and stay true to my original career by getting more involved in the Academy of Nutrition. I can write to, and interact with senators and congressmen on the need for reform on these issues as well. I may not make a huge difference but if I improve the life of just one individual on dialysis I will feel accomplished that I made a significant impact on someone’s life.

How Health Care Professionals Can Be More Involved With Policy Making

Health care professionals from various fields can become more involved with policy making effortlessly. I think a common misconception from medical providers, myself included until now, is that to become involved or become a voice in policy making you must run for government office or be involved with a governmental agency. Health care professionals can become involved with health care policy making by four simple steps. These steps include advocacy, policy, lifelong learning and philanthropy. (Olson, 2016). Simply stated, being an advocate for the profession a medical professional works in is a huge first step in become more involved with policy making. Being an advocate includes promoting the profession, staying on top of recent happenings of the profession and being involved in call to action type scenario’s when input is needed. Second, understanding current policies that related to the profession and health care organization or the type of care provided. Being well-versed in these topics helps professionals to write to public health officials, congressmen and senators to share their personal thoughts and the reasoning behind what should occur. Committing to life-long learning for the profession, and not shying away from areas that concern policy making and hot-topics in legislation. To make an impact in regards of policy making, health care professionals want to be viewed as the expert in their chose field and a sound voice of reason for whatever the health care policy is promoting. Without adequate learning and understanding of these policies and the profession, when a medical professional’s voice is sought after to establish or amend a policy, it may not be used if the professional is not well educated on the topic. Finally, becoming more involved through policy is easy by becoming more involved in philanthropy opportunities. Professionals who get out into the community for health care related activities such as blood drives, walks and 5K’s or community days will build trust with elected officials and individuals within that area. Building a rapport is a huge step in helping to be sure an individual’s voice is heard and respected when a need for policy making arises.

In short, showing up and being more vocal with regards to health policy is important when professionals are looking to become more involved. Showing up may be researching current events and writing to senators or using a system such as the “call to action center.” Showing up may also mean attending advocacy meetings, town hall meetings or assisting senators in writing policies or running for office. Regardless of what type of route the health care professional wishes to take in terms of policy making, some type of action can be done by every individual to impact health care and the future of health care.

References

  1. Blendon, R. & Mebane, F. (2001). Political Strategy 101: How to Make Healthy Policy and Influence Political People. Journal of Child Neurology. Vol 16. (7). 513 – 519. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://eds-a-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=e0d5aeb8-a28a-4bcb-b45b-c04dee3d4623%40sdc-v-sessmgr03
  2. Congress.Gov. (2017). H.R. – 1953: Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. Retrieved March 25 2019, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1953
  3. Duquesne University. (2018). How Healthcare Policy is Formed. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://onlinenursing.duq.edu/blog/healthcare-policy-formed/
  4. Eat Right Pro. (2019). Action Center. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved March 25 2019, from https://www.eatrightpro.org/action-center
  5. Gov.track. (2019). S.595 – Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2019. Retrieved March 25 2019, from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/s595/text
  6. IntegrativeRD.org. (2017). 10 Ways Dietitians Can Get Involved in Policy and Advocacy (infographic). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from https://integrativerd.org/10-ways-dietitians-get-involved-policy-advocacy-infographic/
  7. Olson, K. (2016). Influence through Policy: Four Steps YOU can take. Reflections of Nursing Leadership. Retrieved March 25 2019, from https://www.reflectionsonnursingleadership.org/commentary/more-commentary/Vol42_2_influence-through-policy-four-steps-you-can-take
  8. WHO. (2019). Health Policy. Retrieved March 25 2019, from https://www.who.int/topics/health_policy/en/
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