Framing & Information Processing in Health Policy Analysis

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are interested in health care policy and policy analysis, you might be curious to learn about how people perceive and make sense of policies. This lesson discusses framing and information processing as they apply to health policy analysis.

Understanding Framing

Sharon has been curious about health care policies for as long as she can remember, and now that she is in medical school, she has a more acute awareness of how these policies will affect her life and work.

Lately, she has been more and more curious about how people make sense of health policies and use this sense making to make personal and broader decisions. Sharon learns about something called framing, which is essentially the process of applying a specific theoretical framework to understanding a situation or decision.

She starts thinking about the relevance of framing to health care policies, health care practice, and the medical decisions that people and groups make.

Framing and Health Policy

As Sharon learns, framing can play a role in health policy on multiple levels. First of all, lawmakers operate under a specific framework when making policies. Then, individuals work with their own frameworks and belief systems as they adhere to these policies and make medical decisions.

Political Framing

For example, Sharon can see how a theoretical framework that privileges longevity has been really important to health care policies in the United States. In general, laws and policies in the U.S. are oriented toward helping people lead longer lives.

Sharon has seen how this theoretical framework has made it difficult for states and individuals to enact policies related to, for instance, assisted suicide. This theoretical framework also plays a role in supporting pharmaceutical company efforts to manufacture medications that prolong life.

Sharon knows that there are advantages and disadvantages to this way of framing things. However, she can see how this framework has played a role in political decision making, and how it would be politically unpopular to support a health care policy that did not assume longevity as a general goal.

Public Awareness Framing

Framing also makes a difference in how people in general become aware of and connected to health care policies. Sharon's mom remembers that when she was a kid, everyone she knew smoked, and no one really talked much about the medical dangers of smoking.

A combination of advertising campaigns, increased research, and political debate really changed the public's opinion about cigarette smoke. Sharon and her sisters are completely shocked when their mom tells them how commonplace smoking used to be. A change in the public awareness framework has both assisted and been assisted by changes in laws and policies regarding access to cigarettes and smoking in public places.

Information Processing

Sharon learns that framing in health care policy analysis is also related to information processing, or how individuals and groups make sense of different medical and policy information that they are presented with.

Individual Level

Some information processing occurs at the individual level. For example, at one of Sharon's rotations through a hospital clinic, she watches a doctor explain to a patient how important it is to cut back on salty foods. The doctor presents the patient with a small amount of evidence for the dangers of salt to his hypertension. The doctor also shows the patient some pamphlets about a lower salt diet.

After the patient leaves, the doctor explains to Sharon that their hospital has a new policy about working with patients on nutrition, and this was part of the doctor's adherence to the policy. Sharon could see the patient thinking through what the doctor was presenting, taking the pamphlets home, and generally working to assimilate the evidence.

Later, the patient calls the clinic and asks for a referral to a nutritionist. In this case, the doctor's way of framing the information, guided by hospital policy, was helpful to the patient.

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