The Joint Commission conducts surprise inspections of hospitals at least once every 39 months. Just what the commission finds, however, is rarely disclosed to the public, according to ProPublica, a not-for-profit news gathering organization. In fact, the commission makes the 4,018 hospitals on its list sound almost too good to be true: 99% have full accreditation (although seven could possibly lose the commission’s gold seal of approval). Nearly 9 in 10 hospitals are inspected by the commission or other private accreditors, not the government.
Are hospitals really that good? The only way to find out is to make the inspections by the private accreditors public knowledge. That’s what would happen under what ProPublica describes as a “groundbreaking” proposal by CMS, which would require detailed public reports by the accreditors. The proposal would also require the hospitals to disclose how it is fixing the problems. (The Joint Commission told ProPublica that it is still reviewing the CMS proposal.)
Right now, critics argue that the commission offers very little feedback on what it finds. As ProPublica reports: “For one hospital, the explanation is: ‘Existence at time of survey of a condition, which in the Joint Commission’s view, poses a threat to patients or other individuals served.’ The threat itself is not disclosed.”
Officials with the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program, another private accreditor, wonder just what it would take to make the proposal work in the real world. What staff would be needed and at what cost? “It’s hard not to support the goals but we have to look at the execution,” Gary Ley, the executive director, told ProPublica.
The American Hospital Association also has some reservations. Nancy Foster, AHA’s vice president of quality and patient safety, said in a statement: “It’s important that the information shared with consumers has a clear purpose, is transparent and is readily understood by folks from all walks of life, not just those with deep expertise in health care. We are concerned that sharing a detailed report may not be the most useful or effective strategy for informing the public.”
She favors giving the public a one- or two-page summary of the findings that could “summarize how the hospital plans to address the findings.”
CMS is taking comments on the proposal until June 31.