Importance of policies and procedures for student health services

Student health services can be a complex entity with a lot of moving parts, but proper policy management practices can help.

July 13, 2021

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Meeting the daily compliance requirements of student health services is challenging enough, but a sound policy management strategy has a variety of benefits. It provides a standard of care for all students, improves communication among staff, protects patient data, and achieves or maintains accreditation.

In contrast, incomplete and inconsistent policies (or poor policy management) can lead to employee disciplinary problems, incidents of non-compliance, fines and lawsuits, or a loss of accreditation or licensing. You may have experienced some of these risks firsthand or heard stories of other student health service centers that have.

It’s impossible to completely eliminate incidents of non-compliance, but you can drastically reduce the risk by optimizing your policy and procedure processes.

In doing so, you empower your student health services staff to treat patients according to industry best practices, meet regulations (federal, state, and local), and adhere to accreditation requirements for accrediting bodies like AAAHC.

In this article, we'll talk more about the importance of policies and procedures for student health services, what types of policies and procedures you'll need, and how you can best manage those policies.

Why are policies and procedures important in student health services?

Student health services are accredited and certified by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), which sets the standards for most healthcare centers, including ambulatory surgery centers, office-based surgery facilities, student health centers, medical and dental group practices, and community health centers – to name just a few.

As Ashley Campos from the UC Berkeley University Student Health Services said in a recent podcast, AAAHC holds ambulatory healthcare clinics to a higher standard. They have a lot of quality improvement measures and standards around things like research and patient care. And they make sure each healthcare operation is offering the best services possible while holding them accountable to training and development.

These standards become the policies and procedures that student health services providers follow in order to care for their patients. These standards can include patient care, administrative policies, medicine policies, IT policies, and HR policies. (More on those in a minute.)

Without these policies and procedures in place to ensure consistent compliance, the quality of care would vary from day to day, patient to patient. As such, there are several reasons why it's important to have policies and procedures for student health services.

For one thing, it improves the quality of patient care as caregivers are held to higher standards. There are already studies that show accreditation greatly improves the quality of patient care. Since policies and procedures are usually based on accreditation, we can see the positive benefit policies have on student health services.

It can also help student health services operate more efficiently. Healthcare systems are being asked to both find efficiencies and cut costs. Administrators often say management issues are the biggest challenges they face, including ethical issues, governmental mandates, and poor patient outcomes. While it's not a panacea, a strong policies and procedures manual can help guide staff to answer these ethical issues, explain governmental mandates, and improve patient outcomes.

Policies and procedures also help to reduce lawsuits and to avoid violating regulations. There are so many different federal healthcare regulations – HIPAA, the False Claims Act, EMTALA, the HITECH Act, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, to name a few – that student health services always need to make sure they're following the latest policies and procedures, and have up-to-date information at their fingertips.

Finally, a policies and procedures manual can help you achieve accreditation. A good policy manual, ideally a cloud-based one, can incorporate all of your accreditation requirements and best practices. Which you can then circulate to your entire staff and ensure they have read and understood all new updates. 

Achieving and maintaining accredited status becomes even easier with policy or accreditation management software. The right software will simplify and automate many of your daily compliance tasks, so you can focus more of your time and attention elsewhere.

Types of policies and procedures for student health services

There are several different types of policies and procedures for student health services. Each of them will affect a different department or division. These policies and procedures include:

  • Administrative policies. These cover the day-to-day business management of the student health center. It covers things like vendor requirements, credentials, and accreditation, equipment management and purchasing, and record keeping.
  • Medicine policies. They cover how medications, prescriptions, and dosages are tracked, inventoried, and disposed of. It prevents errors in prescriptions and dosages, which can be deadly, making these policies some of the most important policies and procedures for student health services.
  • Patient care policies are the most comprehensive policies because they direct how the doctors and nurses are to provide care for your patients. Some of these are more administrative in nature, such as patient admission and discharge, but others are important to patient safety, such as infection prevention, sanitation, and dealing with bio-hazardous waste.
  • HR policies cover the employee and personnel issues of a student health service, regardless of the person's job, which makes them more like regular corporate HR policies. For example, they'll cover vacation and sick days, shift policies, sexual harassment, and bullying.
  • IT policies are dictated by HIPAA and HITECH governmental regulations because they deal with patients' medical records. A health center's IT policies should set up safeguards on all IT systems, which need to be updated in order to ensure the strictest compliance for safety and cybersecurity practices.

How to manage your policies and procedures

As you can see, there are many different policies and processes affecting nearly every aspect of the student health services practice. Inefficient systems often lead to different versions of policies and procedures being used between departments, different departments taking responsibility for their own policies (which can lead to inconsistent and contradictory policies), and the latest departmental policies being hidden on someone's computer, even after they've long retired or have gone on vacation.

That means that not only is regular policy and procedure management difficult, but it can be even worse when you are seeking accreditation from a group like AAAHC.

To best manage your policies and procedures, you should first make your policy manual digital, and then storing it in a central location. By doing this, you avoid using multiple binders for different types of policies being delivered to every staffer within the health center.

A digital policy and procedure manual stored in the cloud can also help those people who don't normally have desks or workstations. For example, nurses, orderlies, and even janitorial staff, all need access to these policies but don't have access to a regular computer. 

A digital policy and procedure manual can be accessed via the cloud through a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, so people can review it at their convenience or whenever they have a question they need an immediate answer to.

With a digital manual, you can also review and update your policies regularly. Since laws and regulations change all the time, as do accreditation requirements and best practices, you need to send out updates to new policies immediately, and only to those people who are affected by it. Rather than sending out paper updates and hoping people put them in their binders, you can update your digital policy manual and then push out notifications to your employees to read the new policies.

Finally, you should have a training plan for your policies and procedures, as well as an implementation plan for all new policies. You can't just train people on policies and procedures during their onboarding process. Not only will that knowledge eventually dissipate over the years and get replaced by bad habits and misinformation, but they'll miss out on new policies and procedures that are implemented after onboarding. A regular training and implementation plan will keep staff up-to-date on new requirements and practices.

Learn more about policy and procedure management in healthcare in this helpful guide.

Making policy management easy for student health services

We can't stress the importance of policies and procedures for student health services enough. While the scope and size are often lighter and easier than, say, a full-service hospital, there are still a lot of moving parts you have to oversee.

Having centralized and online policies and procedures manual can help you run the entire operation more smoothly. It can reduce the likelihood of lawsuits and regulatory violations, and provide for unified policies that cover all departments, while still sharing department-specific policies. And it can help you meet accreditation standards through organizations like the AAAHC.

PowerDMS has been in the policy management software business since 2001, helping healthcare services, law enforcement agencies, and corporations manage their digital policies and procedures manuals. If you would like to learn more, you can visit our website for a free demonstration.

Or you can visit our Guide to Healthcare Policy and Procedure Management to learn more about issues surrounding policies and procedures in healthcare.

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