Wednesday, July 21, 2004

JCAHO hit in GAO report for CMS.

If you can understand the title of this post without a translator, you're a true health-law nerd!

As the Associated Press reports today (courtesy of the Indianapolis Star), the Government Accountability Office (GAO (formerly the "General Accounting Office")) has filed a report that is extremely critical of the performance of the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO (formerly the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospitals)) in its role as the designated Medicare accreditation-surveyor for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS (formerly the Health Care Financing Administration). (The link to the GAO report is probably not a stable address; if it stops working, try here.)

The report includes the following:
JCAHO’s pre-2004 hospital accreditation process did not identify most of the hospitals found by state survey agencies in CMS’s annual validation survey sample to have deficiencies in Medicare requirements. In comparing the results of the two surveys, CMS considered whether it was reasonable to conclude that the deficiencies found by state survey agencies existed at the time JCAHO surveyed the hospital. In a sample of 500 JCAHO-accredited hospitals, state agency validation surveys conducted in fiscal years 2000 through 2002 identified 31 percent (157 hospitals) with deficiencies in Medicare requirements. Of these 157 hospitals, JCAHO did not identify 78 percent (123 hospitals) as having deficiencies in Medicare requirements. For the same validation survey sample, JCAHO also did not identify the majority -- about 69 percent -- of deficiencies in Medicare requirements found by state agencies. Importantly, the number of deficiencies found by validation surveys represents 2 percent of the 11,000 Medicare requirements surveyed by state agencies in the sample during this time period. At the same time, a single deficiency in a Medicare requirement can limit the hospital’s capability to provide adequate care and ensure patient safety and health. Inadequacies in nursing practices or deficiencies in a hospital’s physical environment, which includes fire safety, are examples of deficiencies in Medicare requirements that could endanger multiple patients.

The potential of JCAHO’s new hospital accreditation process to improve the detection of deficiencies in Medicare requirements is unknown because the process was just implemented in January 2004. JCAHO plans to move from using announced to unannounced surveys in 2006, which would afford JCAHO the opportunity to observe hospitals’ operations when the hospitals have not prepared in advance to be surveyed. In addition, the pilot test of the new accreditation process was of limited value in predicting whether it will be an improvement over the pre-2004 process in detecting deficiencies. Limitations in the pilot test included that hospitals were not randomly selected to participate; that observers from JCAHO accompanied each surveyor, thus possibly affecting surveyors’ actions; and that JCAHO evaluated the results instead of an independent entity.

CMS has limited oversight authority over JCAHO’s hospital accreditation program because the program’s unique legal status effectively prevents CMS from taking actions that it has the authority to take with other health care accreditation programs to ensure satisfactory performance. For example, requiring JCAHO’s hospital accreditation program to submit to a direct review process or placing the program on probation while monitoring its performance. Further, CMS relies on a measure to evaluate how well JCAHO’s hospital accreditation program detects deficiencies in Medicare requirements that provides limited information and can mask problems with program performance, uses statistical methods that are insufficient to assess JCAHO’s performance, and has reduced the number of validation surveys it conducts.
The AP story provides a little more detail:
Many of the overlooked problems related to fire safety, while others involved substandard care.

In a Texas hospital, a patient died after receiving a double dose of narcotics in the emergency room. A California hospital lacked "a sanitary environment to avoid sources and transmission of infections and communicable diseases and failed to develop a system for ensuring the sterilization of medical instruments," the report said.
Predictably, JCAHO isn't pleased with the report:
Commission President Dennis O'Leary said his group made sweeping changes to the accreditation process earlier this year.

"In our view, it is irresponsible to alarm the public using statistics that have little meaning," O'Leary said in response to the GAO report.
What the AP story doesn't say (and I can't find it in the GAO report, either) is that in the 20+ years JCAHO has been in the "deeming" business with CMS, a few provisionally accredited hospitals have been denied full accreditation, but no fully accredited hospital has ever lost its accreditation. (If any reader can cite me an example that disproves this statement, I'd love to see it.) Long viewed as a toothless tiger by many in the industry, JCAHO ought to feel the sting of this GAO report. And, as denials go, President O'Leary's face-saving comment that "we're better than that now" isn't much of one.

posted by tommayo, 8:24 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter