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Patient advocates seek public access to hospital accreditation surveys

A collection of more than 50 patient advocates, including doctors, lawyers and chief executive officers, are asking Congress to allow public access to hospital accreditation surveys.

“In comparable public services sectors such as public health and education, inspections of restaurants and performance of schools are transparent to the public. Hospitals should be held to the same standard. Their performance should no longer be shielded from the public,” reads the patient advocates’ letter to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The letter was sent almost two weeks before the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies healthcare organizations and programs across the country, released its report listing the country’s top performing hospitals. The report, “Improving America’s Hospitals,” is based on evidence of hospital performance.

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[See also: Joint Commission names top performing hospitals.]

As noted in the letter to Harkin, which was also sent to Mark Chassin, president of the Joint Commission, and Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services secretary, under section 1865 of the Social Security Act, results of hospital accreditation surveys conducted by national accreditation bodies, such as the Joint Commission, may not be made public. The public may access accreditation results conducted by state agencies, but, said the letter, the majority of hospitals choose national accreditation over state.

“We believe that the public has a right to information irrespective of the entity that conducts the surveys,” the letter to Harkin reads. “The present situation creates a double standard. It also raises the question as to why the federal government allows two different standards.”

In addition to requesting that Congress repeal section 1865 of the Social Security Act, the patient advocates asked that the results of investigations and any improvement plans created to correct deficiencies found during surveys or investigations be made available to the public and individuals who have submitted complaints of substandard care.

“We believe it's in the public interest to have all accreditation survey findings of The Joint Commission and other bodies accessible to the public," Kevin Kavanagh, MD, told the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. On behalf of the patient advocate group and representing Health Watch USA, Kavanagh signed the letter sent to Harkin. "Since the country is now starting a push toward greater healthcare transparency, shouldn't opening these accreditation surveys be our first step?"

Follow HFN associate editor Stephanie Bouchard on Twitter @SBouchardHFN.