Policies vs. Procedures

Policies and procedures go hand in hand; however, they are different and the terms cannot be used interchangeably.

In risk management we often speak of policies and procedures: the importance of having them, using them and keeping them up to date. Sometimes, we use terms with the mistaken belief that everyone understands our intended point. However, if the communicator is not clear, there is no way the receiver of the message will thoroughly understand what is being communicated. 

Therefore, when it comes to a topic which we may think is simple, like policies and procedures, it can be incorrect to assume everyone understands the terms. What exactly is a policy? What is a procedure? How are they different? Can the terminology be used interchangeably?

Policies and procedures go hand in hand; however, they are different and the terms cannot be used interchangeably. Simply put, policies describe what needs to be addressed and why; while the procedures detail how the policy will be achieved and by whom. For example, a policy regarding patients who fail to show up for their appointments might be entitled a “No Show Policy”. The policy states the importance of following up with patients who do not show up for appointments, and the critical effect this can have on their health and wellbeing.

The procedures for following up with a no show patient should include the steps to be taken and by whom to alert the attending provider, contacting the patient and the required documentation.

Four paramount issues in regards to policies and procedures include: (1) you should have both policies and procedures, (2) you should use them consistently, (2) you should review them for compatibility with current best practices and (4) when they are updated, the documents should be noted as being reviewed (by whom and dated). Outdated policies should be maintained in a file so they can easily be referenced when needed.

For more information on how you can implement policies and procedures at your practice, visit our dental learning center

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