Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Coventry University's online course, Policy Formulation and Analysis in Healthcare. Join the course to learn more.

What do we mean by healthcare policy?

The provision of a clear and universally acceptable definition of healthcare policy has proven to be a daunting task.

The many definitions of healthcare policy

There are many definitions of healthcare policy, as there are many scholars who have attempted to define it. As a result, healthcare policy means different things to different people. From a wide range of perspectives, it may be concerned with the allocation of scarce resources, the process of influencing the determinants of health to improve health, or the actions of the government to promote health (Walt 1994).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO 2020):

Health policy refers to decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health care goals within a society. An explicit health policy can achieve several things: it defines a vision for the future which in turn helps to establish targets and points of reference for the short and medium term. It outlines priorities and the expected roles of different groups; and it builds consensus and informs people.

Similarly, Barker (1996) suggests that healthcare policy relates to the networks of interrelated decisions which together form an approach or strategy in relation to practical issues concerning healthcare delivery.

Health policy generally involves the set course of actions which are adopted by governments or health care organisations to achieve a desired outcome (WHO 2020).

How the health policy process is perceived in developed countries

Contemporary views of the health policy process, as conceptualised in developed countries, are concerned with government policies providing subsidies and regulating the patient-insurer-healthcare provider relationship. These include tax exemptions, subsidies on private health insurance, and public health insurance.

Regardless of the institutional framework in which policy operates, contemporary health care policies increasingly deal with ‘managed competition’ via price and volume control, and effective governance of competition among healthcare providers (Immergut 2001).

How the health policy process is perceived in developing countries

In developing countries, the goals are universal health coverage (UHC), and managing the balance between access to healthcare and the quality of the provision. As progress is made on greater access to healthcare, lower and middle-income countries are experiencing greater demand for screening and care related to complex non-communicable diseases such as cancer (Rubinstein, Barani and Lopez 2018).


Barker, C. (1996). The Healthcare Policy Process. Sage

Immergut, E. (2001). Health Policy. In N.J. Smelser and P.B. Baltes (eds.), International Encyclopedia Of The Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 6586-6591). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/04500-9

Rubinstein, A., Barani, M., and Lopez, A. (2018). Quality First for Effective Universal Health Coverage in Low-income and Middle-income Countries. The Lancet Global Health, 6(11), e1142-e1143. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(18)30447-9/fulltext

Walt, G. (1994). Health Policy. Zed Books

World Health Organization. (2020). Health Policy. https://www.who.int/topics/health_policy/en/

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Policy Formulation and Analysis in Healthcare

Coventry University