Policy and Advocacy

Health policy can be defined as the “decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society.” According to the World Health Organization, an explicit health policy can be used to: define a vision for the future (which can help establish targets and points of reference), outline priorities and the expected roles of specific groups, build consensus, and inform people.

Health policies fall into many categories including: personal health care, pharmaceutical, public health (e.g., vaccination or breastfeeding promotion). These policies may cover financing and delivery of health care, access to care, quality of care, and health equity.

Health advocacy promotes health and access to health care for individuals, families, communities, and the population at large. Health advocates:

  • Support and promote the rights of the patient (client) within the health system
  • Help build capacity to improve community health
  • Enhance health policy initiatives that focus on available, safe, and quality care

Health advocates are best suited to address specific challenges that occur within complex—or underdeveloped—health systems. For example, health advocates may promote patient/client-centered care, that is, health care that: 1) establishes a partnership among practitioners, patients (clients), and their families (where appropriate) to ensure that decisions respect patients’ (clients’) wants, needs, and preferences; 2) ensures that patients (clients) have the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care. The overreaching goals of health advocacy include: patient/client-centered care, safer medical systems, and greater patient (client) involvement in health care delivery and design.

Within the policy arena, health advocates from a variety of affiliations (e.g., government agencies, disease-specific voluntary associations, grassroots and national health policy organizations, and the media) work for: positive change in the health care system, improved access to quality care, and protection and enhancement of patients’ (clients’) rights.

Some areas of health advocacy are growing rapidly (e.g., advocacy that focuses on protecting human subjects during medical research in clinical research settings, disease-specific advocacy that centers on genetic disorders or widespread chronic conditions, and advocacy for clients in the private practice arena).

Sources: World Health Organization (WHO). Health Policy.; Harvard Medical School, Department of Health Care Policy. About Health Care Policy.; Institute of Medicine Committee on Quality of Health Care in America (2001-01-01). Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century.; Earp JL, French EA, and Gilkey MB. Patient Advocacy for Health Care Quality: Strategies for Achieving Patient-Centered Care.