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Health Policy: Introduction: The Policy Process

What is health policy?

​Health policy is defined by the World Health Organization as the decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific healthcare goals within a society. There are many categories of health policy, such as:

  • Public health 

  • Mental health

  • Health care insurance 

Due to the extensive nature of health policy, it is one area of law that affects virtually everyone in a given community.

Some notable examples of health policy in the United States include:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

  • The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision

  • regulatory bodies like the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS)

How does health policy happen?

The policy process in the American political system generally entails these steps:

  1. A bill is introduced in Congress (legislative branch). Evidence is presented to promote or oppose the bill. It is debated and voted upon.
  2. If the bill is passed into law, regulatory agencies (executive branch) begin drafting rules and regulations to enforce the law.
  3. If a law or regulation is challenged on legal grounds, the Supreme Court (judicial branch) intervenes to interpret the law or overrule it. 

This process is also influenced by non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, which includes non-profits. These groups produce research that is then used to promote particular health policy initiatives. Individual members of these groups may be called to testify before Congress on specific health policy matters. 

Here are some examples of governmental groups that play a role in health policy in the United States:

And here are some examples of non-profits related to health policy:

In other countries, health policy may be determined in different ways. Use the World Health Organization's Country Health Policy Process Tool to learn more about how health policy is created outside of the united States. 

How does research contribute to the health policy process?

Policy and research can sometimes be at odds. In an ideal world, all health policy would be based on scientific research. In reality, however, health policy is sometimes determined by political ideology.

However, policy makers do often look to researchers for information, even if the process is imperfect.


  • Just like in a courtroom hearing, the U.S. Congress sometimes calls upon researchers to give information, called expert testimony, to persuade members to vote for or against a bill.

  • Pharmaceuticals undergo clinical trials (research) before being put on the market to determine dosage, whether the drug can be sold over the counter or only by prescription (policy).

  • Once upon a time, cigarettes were prescribed by doctors, as shocking as that may seem now. Research came out linking tobacco smoke to lung cancer. Policies have since been put into place to limit the sales of tobacco products to minors, to include a warning label on packages, to limit where people can smoke, etc. New research directly shaped health policy.

How can individuals impact federal rules and regulations?

The American public also plays a role in shaping health policy. By lobbying their elected representatives, publicly commenting on proposed regulations, and protesting policies they don't agree with, American citizens help determine health policy. Here are some ways the general populace can contribute to the health policy process.

  • Learn about the federal rule making process and how to make your voice heard.

  • Become informed about the public policy and the health policy issues currently under consideration at the federal level of government.

  • Check out the Federal, and/or for information about proposed rules, changes to existing rules, and instructions on where to send your comments and the deadlines for the public comment period.

  • Work with your state nurses association by offering your expertise to help prepare comments on proposed regulations, develop new regulations, or modify existing regulations.

What is my role in health policy?

Everyone, regardless of profession, is a stakeholder in public health policy.​ As a health professional and scholar-practitioner, though, you have special role. You influence healthy policy by:

  • researching and publishing on subjects you care about

  • identifying and indicating areas where policy is needed

  • creating connections with colleagues in your field and engaging them in meaningful dialogue

  • working to your full potential and maintaining your intellectual curiosity

  • volunteering to participate in policy meetings

  • continuing to engage with the relevant scholarly literature

  • speaking out against ill-advised policy and promoting sound policy

  • putting Walden's mission of positive social change into practice