Policies and Procedures: What Are They and Why Do Healthcare Practices Need Them?
Policies and procedures are essential tools in EVERY healthcare practice.
We use written policies and procedures to ensure consistent office procedures and good communication between team members, but it doesn’t stop there.
Before we get to the many benefits of healthcare policies and procedures, let’s cover exactly what these terms mean.
Policies and procedures defined
For our purposes today, this is what we mean by these terms:
Policy: A set of ideas or plans that is used as a basis for making decisions.
Procedure: A fixed, step-by-step sequence of activities or course of action.
Both policies and procedures serve several important purposes in a healthcare practice.
Policies and procedures can help you:
- Protect your practice with consistency in decision making and implementing routine tasks.
- Provide team members direction and guidelines; help avoid micromanaging. Here’s more information on how policy and procedure checklists help with employee privacy and security.
- Ensure quality and cost-effective processes.
- Well thought out policies and procedures reduce re-work and make for more efficient practices.
- Encourage team members to work to their full scope of responsibilities.
- Contribute to compliance, including professional standards, HIA, insurance.
- Protect your healthcare practice by demonstrating your administrative safeguards.
As powerful and effective as policies and procedures can be, they can also pose certain problems or risks if they’re not implemented properly — or if they don’t exist in the first place.
On that note, if you have policies and procedures in place, it’s also imperative to know where they are. Don’t miss this cautionary tale where I tell you why.
If your policies and procedures are unclear or non-existent, these are some of the risks you expose a healthcare practice to:
- Fines and even jail time for the healthcare provider
- Increased conflict and potential for misunderstanding within a practice
- Increased conflict between employees, misunderstanding, and poor customer service
- Poor business decisions and wasted time and money
Simply talking about your policies and procedures is not a good business strategy! You need to have clear healthcare policies and procedures in place if you want to reap all of their benefits.
So, let’s go over what makes a good healthcare policy with a clear and effective design.
Policies ask WHY and WHAT
Policies are the steps to put your goals into action — policies are proactive.
The WHY: Why is this policy needed? It is the general guide for decision-making.
The WHAT: What do you want to show for programs, activities, and services?
Each year, policies need to be reviewed and authorized by the clinic manager, privacy officer, healthcare provider and/or owners. Your team members need the opportunity to review and understand the policies regularly, too.
Review policies to assure that they reflect what the clinic is doing and that the clinic is following the written policy. Changes may need to be completed and approved.
Now, let’s cover what makes for good procedures before we get to how to create your manual.
Procedures ask HOW
The HOW: How you plan to carry out the objectives and details listed in your policies?
Your procedures should include sufficient detail so a new employee can complete a task based on the information provided.
We’ve discussed the objectives of your policies and procedures for your healthcare practice, now here are some useful tips for actually creating your policies and procedures manual:
- Include screen prints if computer-based.
- Include video explanations.
- Format the policy and procedures so that each policy or procedure is a separate, stand-alone document.
- Assign a NUMBER to each policy and procure to make it easy to reference in your PIA, or direct your staff to review. You can use any numbering system that you want — I usually use a sequential numbering system.
- Headings make it easier to group your information which makes it easier for the reader to review and then focus on the details that they need. Repeat the same headings throughout the policies and procedures to provide consistency across the manual. Use the headings as needed; not all policies or procedures need all the headings.
- Cite legislative and standards requirements, like the HIA.
When you’re implementing changes to these policies and procedures or creating them in the first place, be sure to involve key parties. This includes:
- Custodian/trustee/business owner
- Clinic manager/team lead
- Privacy officer
Remember, implementing a new procedure or policy successfully must always include training and discussion with your team.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we discuss which policies and procedures to include In your healthcare practice and your privacy impact assessment.