Nutrition safety is an integral part of the overall system of quality control in health care. Alongside with other safety regulations, this issue should be of primary concern when it comes to policymaking. Negative consequences of the neglected nutrition safety result from an underestimation of its impact not only as a preventive measure but also as a part of the treatment. The problem is currently aggravated by the fact that the harm associated with it is under-reported and generally unknown although a lot of research has already been done by the National Patient Safety Agency. No sustainable improvements have been achieved, which means that the problem remains unresolved. Moreover, the National Reporting and Learning System is reluctant to do any steps towards drawing the attention of policymakers to the issue (Shekelle et al., 2013).
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Contribution of the Studies to Proving the Importance of the Issue
Nevertheless, the studies performed in the area made a significant contribution as they provided the reasons nutrition safety is crucial to nursing (Carayon, 2016):
- malnutrition can exert an adverse influence on treatment outcomes because:
- patients whose nutrition safety is ignored are more likely to suffer from pressure ulcer;
- they are twice as likely to be affected by surgical-site infections (SSIs);
- nutrition safety regulations benefit patients because:
- they help reduce readmission rates by app. 30%;
- food-safety cuts off an average hospital stay by 2-3 days;
- the risk of pressure ulcer is lowered by app. 25%;
- patients whose diets are closely watched have a much lower chance to develop complications (app. by 60%).
Plan to a Legislative Visit
A legislative visit should address safety considerations in accordance with the following plan (Carayon, 2016):
- it should first and foremost touch upon the physical equipment and attributes of hospitals;
- it must cover the problem of safe staffing and the responsibilities of the personnel;
- the plan is to dwell upon safety policies;
- it has to provide details concerning emergency procedures (e.g. food poisoning or allergy);
- it is expected to suggest a system of reporting safety violations and follow-up actions;
- the plan must provide criteria for assessing the quality of nutrition;
- it should be specific about the training of both the staff and the patient.
Legislators and Ways to Contact Them: Communication Strategies
To achieve success, it is crucial to develop relationships with legislators of all levels: senior Medicaid, state agencies, and local policymakers. Visiting each stakeholder includes planning, application, and evaluation stages. Each of the legislators can be contacted by email, fax, phone call, or visited in person (Mahan & Raymond, 2016).
The most effective strategy is to approach senior agency leadership as high authorities (Medicaid Director, the Governor, and the Secretary of Health) are unique in their ability to affect the financial part of the program as well as its goals and design (Crowder, 2016). Therefore, it is highly important to involve them already during the development stage to evoke their interest in the future of the program.
The key evidence-based communication strategies to win the trust of legislators are (Crowder, 2016):
- gaining the required knowledge and increasing awareness: you must be well-prepared for the visit and possess enough information on the topic for being concise and convincing;
- developing a well-defined approach: the problem of nutrition safety does not seem dramatic to most policymakers, which means that you need a strategic approach to make it more appealing;
- presenting the problem from the profit perspective: a legislator is more likely to be interested if can be beneficial for his/her position;
- taking into consideration local authorities: even though high leaders are more powerful, it would be better to address them when you have the support of local health care policymakers;
- forming alliances with other health care professionals: the communication with a legislator is more likely to be effective if he/she is addressed collectively;
- choosing the right time and place: it is better to contact a legislator after or before his/her visit to your hospital during the election year.
Empirical Evidence of Effective Communication Strategies and their Implications for Nursing
To make sure that the message is conveyed properly and follow-up actions are guaranteed, you have to consider that the policymaker has both time and financial limits. This implies that the plan has to be realistic. You should have the advocacy and support of your local legislators and resort to various communication techniques to achieve success (Kunaviktikul, 2014). If we analyze specific cases of communication strategies implementation, we will see how they prove their significance for nursing (Carayon, 2016):
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- in Arkansas, nurses and state staff regularly meet with the Medicaid Director to share findings after Education and Learning System program has been launched; this fosters collaboration with senior leaders;
- in Washington, nurses managed to establish a lasting connection with state agencies to develop educational materials and assessment tools for safety programs;
- in Pennsylvania, state intensive care unit appoints nurse managers for identifying patients’ needs and finding the most suitable programs for them;
- in Wyoming, the same function is performed by nurse coordinators.
Thus, the empirical evidence suggests that effective communication with legislators may give significant results both for patients and nurses. If you manage to give a precise, accurate, and convincing presentation of your policy, you will attract the desired attention. Following these recommendations, you can create favorable conditions for communicating the key message of the policy: food safety is an influential constituent of the overall well-being of the patient and cannot be treated only as a preventive measure.
Carayon, P. (2016). Handbook of human factors and ergonomics in health care and patient safety. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Crowder, S. J. (2016). Preparing nurses to communicate with the media, policy makers, and the public. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 47(2), 58-60.
Kunaviktikul, W. (2014). Moving towards the greater involvement of nurses in policy development. International Nursing Review, 61(1), 1-7.
Mahan, L. K., & Raymond, J. L. (2016). Krause’s food & the nutrition care process. New York, NY: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Shekelle, P. G., Wachter, R. M., Pronovost, P. J., Schoelles, K., McDonald, K. M., Dy, S. M.,… Larkin, J. W. (2013). Making health care safer II: An updated critical analysis of the evidence for patient safety practices. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment, 11(2), 1-94.