Healthcare Regulators: What They Do & Why They Do It

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The global healthcare industry is staggeringly expansive, encompassing treatments and services that can achieve remarkable things ? and we tend to associate it with reliability. Most of us trust medical professionals without giving it much thought. They?re highly trained, of course, and have the resources to reach reasoned conclusions about health issues of all kinds.

Like every vital industry, though, it?s kept in line through oversight. As a user of healthcare services, you need to know roughly how this oversight process works in case you encounter quality problems. In this piece, we?re going to run through why healthcare regulation is essential, how it works, what regulatory bodies actually do, which bodies regulate healthcare in the UK (and in other countries), and how you can gauge the safety of a healthcare website.


Why healthcare needs to be regulated

Healthcare is literally a matter of life and death, but there?s a lot of money to be made through cutting corners, and there will always be unethical people and companies willing to risk people?s health if it means they can boost their profits. There are also people who mean well but don?t understand the dangers involved with the treatments they recommend. If they aren?t kept in check, their unearned confidence will lead trusting patients into disaster.

Additionally, most services you can use have clear and predictable outcomes that reflect competency, professionalism, and resource investment ? but this isn?t the case with medical treatment. The finest care can still result in a negative outcome, albeit one better than would have been achieved through inferior care, while bad care can still get a positive outcome if that was always likely to be the result. Factor in medical jargon and it becomes hard for the average user of a medical service to determine its level of quality.

Whether you?re having a triple bypass or simply getting a routine checkout, then, the care you receive needs to be regulated to ensure that it meets a strong minimum standard.


How healthcare regulation works

Different countries (and some areas within countries, as with US states) have different laws concerning what healthcare providers can and can?t do, and these laws name regulatory bodies that work exclusively to monitor services and product distribution in an effort to ensure quality. Private medical practices can adhere to greater quality standards if they wish, of course, but private and public services alike must adhere to the general standards.

Those regulatory bodies are fully funded at the government level, making corporate bias less likely, and overseen by their own overarching regulatory bodies that look out for signs of corruption and make managerial changes when necessary. Due to their legal founding, they can (and do) change with the law, merging or splitting as governmentally decided.

Healthcare providers are bound to comply with regulations, and must make prompt changes when they fail to do so and are reprimanded by regulators. The regulators do actively seek to rate services and products, but also rely on tips from patients to expediently locate offenders.


What do regulatory bodies actually do?

Though their exact responsibilities can vary (some target particular types of medical professionals, for instance), healthcare regulators chiefly do the following four things:

  • Set standards for how medical professionals work, determining what they need to know and how they must operate. These standards inform entire medical careers from beginning to end, providing the baseline against which regulated professionals and providers are rated. This process is always running to keep up with progress.
  • Track qualified medical professionals and periodically check that they?re keeping up with the latest medical developments. Medical science is always developing, as noted, and medical professionals need to keep their skills and knowledge banks updated to remain in line with standards and provide high-quality care.
  • Rate materials and instructors for medical education courses to confirm that they?re fully fit for purpose. The education pipeline for healthcare roles is vitally important, and mistakes made during education will lead to incompetent graduates.
  • Follow complaints about healthcare providers to determine their merit and decide whether offenders are fit to practice. When complaints are logged, regulators must investigate to gauge the veracity of the claims and act accordingly. Complaints aren?t always reasonable, it bears noting, so innocence must be presumed.

When healthcare providers are found to be falling short of standards, regulatory bodies must decide how to respond. They can require them to follow certain actions (such as attending counselling or getting further qualifications), suspend them as punishment, or outright ban them from practising medicine (this is unusual).


What are the UK?s regulatory bodies?

Within the UK, there are various regulatory bodies that cover general healthcare, and others that register and monitor specific professions within distinct healthcare disciplines. Let?s first look at the general healthcare regulators:

  • Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). As the main UK-wide regulatory body, the MHRA focuses on regulating medical treatments, pieces of medical equipment, and services and products pertaining to giving or receiving blood.
  • Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC is an England-specific regulator that checks the quality of care provided by healthcare services of all kinds, including NHS services, regional care facilities, and even private care facilities.
  • Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS). HIS is a Scotland-specific regulator that carries out inspections of NHS healthcare facilities with a focus on improving the treatment of elderly patients.
  • Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW). CIW is a Wales-specific regulator that focuses on regulating social and early-years care at a local level.

Now let?s list the regulatory bodies monitoring specific professions. There are nine overall in the UK, with each regulated by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. The names are self-explanatory, so we don?t need to go into detail:



How to check if a medical website is safe

If you visit a healthcare website and you?re uncertain if it?s safe to use, you need to be extremely cautious. Services can be unprofessional and exorbitantly priced but be presented in ways that sound very appealing. Product sellers, meanwhile, will often claim to have authentic drugs at bargain prices but actually acquire them from questionable sources and/or cut them with other substances to increase their profits. Cut drugs will be less effective at best and dangerous at worst since the additional substances they contain can cause harm.

The first thing you should do is search for the business online to see what results you get. Can you find a registration with the relevant healthcare regulator? Are the medical professionals mentioned on the website (assuming there are any) listed as fit to practice? You should be able to find some proof of regulation. If you can?t, reach out to the appropriate regulatory body to register your concern. If there?s been a mix-up with naming, they can clear it up.

If you can find registration but remain suspicious, aim to confirm that the company running the website is actually the one listed on the register. It?s easy to simply create a website, take a trusted name, and shut it down once someone notices. Is the domain legitimate? Can you find another site with the same name?

Lastly, full and up-to-date registration with all relevant regulatory bodies still doesn?t guarantee that you?ll receive a great service. It merely establishes an acceptable baseline. Service quality can slide between inspections, too, so look into recent comments. What are people saying on forums and social media websites? Take public sentiment with a pinch of salt (health problems can lead people to be unreasonable), but still consider them very seriously.


Healthcare regulators around the world


A directory of links to pharmaceutical, medical and health-related government and regulatory bodies around the world.

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