The Art of Writing a Good Policy

The world of health care does not suffer from a lack of policies. Most organizations have dozens or even hundreds of policies addressing everything you can imagine. Each time something happens or there is an adverse event, the natural reaction is to develop a new policy so the next time the situation arises the organization will be ready. Unfortunately, before long the organization has a thick binder, or two, or three…full of policies, none of which are ever consulted by anyone and most of which are way too complicated to read and understand. If staff cannot read and understand a policy, they sure as heck are not going to be able to follow it.

Well-written policies don’t just happen, they require deliberate effort to achieve clarity and conciseness; the goal is to make it difficult for someone to not follow the policy. By that I mean make the policy so crystal clear that someone would have to act intentionally in order to not follow the road map set forth in the policy.

Each organization has a general template or style in which its policies are written. There is no magic to any particular policy format so long as each of the basic elements is included in the policy. Those basic elements are:

  1. Statement of Policy – a short statement setting forth the objective or subject of the policy.
  2. Legal Authority – if there is a legal or regulatory reference for the policy it is recommended that reference be listed right in the policy to ensure any regulator can look at the first page of the policy and determine the applicable regulatory citation. In addition, including the legal or regulatory reference allows anyone to access that law or regulation for additional information.
  3. Supporting Procedure – a policy without a procedure setting forth how the policy is to be implemented is a house without a foundation. Including the exact procedure to be followed in order to achieve the objective of the policy ensures a much higher rate of compliance with the policy because people don’t have to guess on how to implement the policy, the road map is right in front of them.
  4. Date – each policy should include the date it was first adopted and the date(s) on which it has been reviewed (hopefully annually!) so the organization will know the policy is up to date.

I recommend all policies be written at an 8th grade reading level. We all know if a staff member picks up a policy and it is just a bunch of legalese more than likely they are just going to put it down and do what they feel is best. Policies that are hard to understand and rarely followed.

A well-written policy is clear, concise and easy to read. The world of health care moves at a high rate of speed these days and it has never been more important for an organization to ensure its policies can be read, understood and followed by everyone on staff.