The differences and relationships between a protocol and procedure.

Protocol is a word that is mostly heard in relation with diplomacy and bureaucracy. It is similar in meaning to policy and procedures that are put in place to avoid chaos or ineffective operations at facility level. Foreign offices, Ministries of Health and local implementation partners needs protocols in place to ensure there is no untoward event or situation in times when senior management is not at duty.

Despite similarities, there are difference between protocol and procedure.

Talking of differences, every department in an organization has policies or procedures in place that are more or less generalized descriptions of how to go about performing a task. A protocol is a rung above, a step by step descriptive guideline to achieve completion of a task. So the major difference between a protocol and a policy is one of sanctity or intensity. Whereas protocols are to be followed in letter and spirit in all circumstances, procedures, though to be observed, can be altered or modified to suit requirements.

Another difference lies in the fact that policies and procedures are like laws that can be modified to suit present circumstances, whereas protocols are deemed to be the most effective way of doing a particular task. Procedure may not be the best or the most effective way of doing a task, but it is adopted as a way of doing things at a particular institute or hospital because if suits the requirements.

EQUIP provides clear operational guidelines, standards and protocols for effective service delivery in EQUIP-supported countries. EQUIP and local implementation partners review and propose new protocols and monitoring procedures used for the training of healthcare workers, as well as information management systems needed for monitoring client registration, intake and referral mechanisms. Quality improvement processes are also provided for auditing adherence to policies, protocols and procedures, to establish and improve staff competency, counsellor skills, counselling protocols, the adequacy of laboratory testing and the perspective of clients on the accessibility and acceptability of testing and counselling services.

Clear operational guidelines, quality standards and protocols are required for service delivery.

The areas that may be covered by EQUIP include:

  • patient registration and intake;
  • delivery of HIV testing and counselling;
  • PEP;
  • laboratory protocols;
  • pre-test counselling;
  • obtaining informed consent;
  • maintaining confidentiality;
  • beneficial disclosure;
  • post-test counselling, care and support;
  • ensuring non-discrimination in service provision;
  • referral mechanisms.

Protocols and monitoring procedures are regularly reviewed and used for the training of healthcare workers. Information management systems are also provided by EQUIP in order to monitor client registration, intake and referral which maintain confidentiality and can be used to reconfigure services and protocols as required.