About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ calls for better information from hospital accreditation Web site Date: 03/02/10

March 2, 2010

Len Bruzzese, AHCJ Executive Director, 573-884-5606, bruzzesel@missouri.edu

The Association of Health Care Journalists has called upon the Joint Commission, the nonprofit agency that accredits hospitals, to do a better and more complete job of telling the public what it knows about the quality of hospital care.

In a letter to Mark R. Chassin , M.D.,  the Joint Commission's president and CEO, AHCJ suggests improvements to the commission's Quality Check Web site, where many people go to find out whether to trust their local hospital.

The Web site also is a potentially useful tool for health-care journalists. "In a time of change in health care, the ability to do comprehensive research on local hospitals is more important than ever before," the association's letter said.

The association's Right-to-Know Committee has identified several problems with the site:

  • Hospitals with any level of accreditation are given "The Gold Seal of Approval" – even those whose accreditation is conditional or at risk of being denied.
  • It's difficult to find out which hospitals in a given region have less-than-full accreditation. To check on a hospital's accreditation status, one has to open each individual profile. The Joint Commission once had a mechanism to sort hospitals by accreditation status, but that has been taken down.
  • After a hospital loses accreditation, its past Accreditation Quality Reports are eventually removed from the site, leaving only the facility's name with no historical record.
  • There is no easy way to do a side-by-side comparison of more than six facilities simultaneously.

"The organization that accredits hospitals around the country, and voices support for transparency about hospital quality, has a Web site that obscures the reality of many hospitals' performance," said Charles Ornstein, AHCJ president.

"We understand that providing this kind of information on the Internet can be challenging," said Felice J. Freyer, chairwoman of the association's Right-to-Know Committee. "We're offering to help the Joint Commission with a task it has already identified as important – communicating with the public about the care patients can expect from their hospitals."

The Joint Commission is a private agency that sets performance standards and is hired by hospitals and other health-care organizations to measure whether they meet those standards. In many states, Joint Commission accreditation is the basis for hospital licensure.

The Association of Health Care Journalists represents about 1,000 health journalists from around the United States and the globe. It holds national and regional training sessions, hosts an extensive Web site of reporter resources and provides networking opportunities for reporters, editors and producers wishing to learn from each other. AHCJ has taken the lead in calling for openness in health care and its professional standards are cited as a model in avoiding conflicts of interest.