Advocacy regarding child health policy is a core tenet of pediatrics. Previous research has demonstrated that most pediatric providers believe collective advocacy and political involvement are essential aspects of their profession, but less is known about how pediatric providers engage with families about policy issues that impact child health. The objectives of this study were to examine providers’ perceptions and practices with regards to discussing health policy issues with families and to identify provider characteristics associated with having these discussions.
In this cross-sectional mixed methods study, pediatric resident physicians, attending physcians, and nurse practitioners at primary care clinics within a large academic health system were surveyed to assess (1) perceived importance of, (2) frequency of, and (3) barriers to and facilitators of health policy discussions with families. Multivariable ordinal regression was used to determine provider characteristics (including demographics, practice location, and extent of civic engagement) associated with frequency of these discussions. A subset of providers participated in subsequent focus groups designed to help interpret quantitative findings.
The overall survey response rate was 155/394 (39%). The majority of respondents (76%) felt pediatricians should talk to families about health policy issues affecting children, but most providers (69%) reported never or rarely having these discussions. Factors associated with discussing policy issues included being an attending physician/nurse practitioner (OR 8.22, 95% CI 2.04-33.1) and urban practice setting (OR 3.85, 95% CI 1.03-14.3). Barriers included feeling uninformed about relevant issues and time constraints. In provider focus groups, four key themes emerged: (1) providers felt discussing policy issues would help inform and empower families; (2) providers frequently discussed social service programs, but rarely discussed policies governing these programs; (3) time constraints and concerns about partisan bias were a barrier to conversations; and (4) use of support staff and handouts with information about policy changes could help facilitate more frequent conversations.
Pediatric providers felt it was important to talk to families about child health policy issues, but few providers reported having such conversations in practice. Primary care practices should consider incorporating workflow changes that promote family engagement in relevant health policy discussions.