Changing hospital policy from the wards: an introduction to health policy education.
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Although the need for physician participation in critiquing and setting health policies is great, physician participation in health policy activities is low. Many barriers hamper physician involvement, from limited time to ignorance of their potential roles, to minimal exposure to the issue during medical education. University of New Mexico School of Medicine family medicine residents and students on ward teams were trained to ask specific questions on rounds that framed individual patient encounters as windows into broader community health and policy issues. Teams selected problems on which to intervene, with the intent of influencing hospital policies to improve health care and outcomes. Ten projects were completed in six months, four of which are presented. Resident and student accomplishments included (1) identifying a free drug formulary at the Health Care for the Homeless pharmacy to reduce readmission rates of discharged homeless patients, (2) expanding hospital outpatient pharmacy hours to reduce preventable emergency room visits for medications, (3) expanding the hospital social service workforce to address the overwhelming need to discharge indigent patients needing extended care, and (4) certifying residents and faculty to provide outpatient buprenorphine treatment as a harm-reduction intervention for opiate-addicted patients, thereby reducing preventable hospitalizations for overdose or for medical complications from illicit opiate use. Hospital health policy is made more accessible to learners if issues that generate policy discussions emerge from their daily learning environment, if learners can intervene to improve those policies within a limited timeframe, and if faculty mentors are available to guide their interventions.