Urgent Care Accreditation
Over the last year, urgent care centers have started looking into, and becoming, accredited. Accreditation is proof that certain clinics are operating at high standards of success, and can set them apart from other centers that may not be accredited.
Steve Sellars, CEO of Premier Health, is proud to have 23 of his centers accredited by the UCAOA’s Accreditation Program.
“It was deemed that we had met or exceeded all of the highest level of patient care in an urgent care setting through the UCAOA,” Sellars says. “Our organization has always put a lot of emphasis on quality and trying to meet the highest standards of the urgent care industry.”
The UCAOA isn’t the only accreditation body out there. The Joint Commission also has an accreditation program. Jessica Pendola, Chief Compliance Officer for FastMed Urgent Care, says that FastMed was awarded Ambulatory Care-Urgent Care System accreditation by The Joint Commission in March 2014.
“There are only 37 independently owned, non-hospital urgent care centers that have achieved accreditation from The Joint Commission, and we are the largest urgent care system to have achieved The Joint Commission accreditation,” Pendola says. “We are extremely proud of this achievement since The Joint Commission accreditation is recognized as a ‘gold standard’ in health care accreditation.”
Pendola says the accreditation process was rigorous, but that it was well worth it.
“We had a sample of our clinics visited over a two week span, with surveyors reviewing FastMed processes, training and policies against the thousands of Joint Commission accreditation standards,” Pendola says. “There was a cost associated with The Joint Commission, but I absolutely think it was worth it. Accreditation has afforded us standardization within the clinics and a basis for continued quality improvement.”
Pendola says FastMed was provided a 24-hour notice of which clinics would be surveyed, and that surveyors also spent a day with FastMed leadership at the their administrative office reviewing administrative policies and procedures, and interviewing leadership members. FastMed now has 87 clinics that all hold The Joint Commission accreditation.
The UCAOA also had a similar surveying process.
“Surveyors didn’t visit every center; they visited 7 or 8 centers,” Sellars says. “But we didn’t know which locations they’d pick until they got here, which meant all of our centers had to be ready. The UCAOA survey team went to randomly selected locations to make sure that we were consistent.”
The UCAOA spent three days in total reviewing and surveying the sample Premier Health Centers, and Sellars says they also spent a considerable amount of time in their corporate office as well.
“It was a very comprehensive process, but they looked at a lot of different areas,” Sellars says. “The survey team wanted to know how we measure patient satisfaction, what our process is for measuring certain quality metrics and if we are capable of taking care of population that we serve from an urgent care standpoint. They were also interested in understanding our process for hiring, training and evaluating staff, which was extremely important.”
Sellars says he went with the UCAOA’s Accreditation Program because of the tremendous credibility of the organization.
“This is not to say that there aren’t other quality, credible organizations out there, but we feel like their program is one that was designed by urgent care professionals for urgent care,” Sellars says.
Accreditation is not currently mandatory, but both Pendola and Sellars recommend that other urgent care centers go for it.
“The accreditation process has been a success for our organization,” Pendola says.
“The emphasis on improving the quality of care provided in urgent care clinics continues to gain national momentum, and centers that successfully pass urgent care accreditation are well-positioned to continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve,” Sellars says. “I think other centers should consider pursuing accreditation. Overall, it improves quality, and as more urgent care centers become accredited, it will become clear that the urgent care industry as a whole is serious about delivering the best possible care to its patients.”
While accreditation can offer some benefits, not all urgent care centers are ready, or willing, to hop on the accreditation bandwagon.
“We have written policies and procedures in place, as well as an extensive patient satisfaction system with an extremely high patient satisfaction rate, and we have aggressive oversight of services and personnel to ensure we’re meeting patient expectations of service and quality, as well as medical standards such as CLIA,” Randy Johansen, President of American Family Care, says. “We have management and safeguards in place to make certain that we offer services of the highest quality that we can, so from our standpoint, we don’t see the need to pay the monies for an accreditation at this point in time. It’s also not required by anyone currently, so we don’t see a need to go that route.”
Johansen says that he hopes accreditation remains a voluntary choice.
“American Family Care has been in business for 33 years; I think we have a pretty good idea of how things are supposed to operate,” Johansen says.
In addition, Johansen says that accreditation requirements may actually impose some restrictions on centers.
“Our typical hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, but when you look at accreditation programs, they say that you have to be open until 7, 8 or even 9 p.m.,” Johansen says. “We’ve never subscribed to that or saw where that was necessary, so we’re not going to change our hours just to get accredited.”
According to Johansen, accreditation may not be the best metric for measuring quality standards.
“It’s not going to change my opinion of a clinic if they’re accredited or not,” Johansen says. “I’m going to look at what their patients say, their customer service, the compliments that they’re getting and the quality of medicine that they’re providing.”
Even though accreditation offers proof of high operating standards, it may not be necessary if you have a history of providing quality services.
“If you provide patients with a high quality service in a convenient location in a manner that respects them, accreditation is not the reason that they’re there,” Johansen says. “They’re there because they’re getting good medical services, and getting an acute need taken care of.”
Having that seal of approval may be important to certain clinics though.
“It may have more meaning to individuals or clinics in different areas where there’s a perceived value of accreditation,” Johansen says. “I’m not saying that accreditation doesn’t have any value, it just doesn’t have a value to us right now.”
Overall, Johansen says that listening to your patients is the best way to tell if you’re doing things right.
“The patients are the ones that are going to speak out, and you’re going to know how well you’re doing your job by how the patients in the community receive you,” Johansen says. “Accreditation is not going to change what your patients think of you.”
If a center does decide to apply for accreditation, and passes, the accredited status will last for three years.
“Our accreditation is good for three years,” Sellars says. “But, clinics should continually focus on the process that helped them become accredited.”
Sellars says that making sure his clinics are up to date on the latest urgent care quality standard is an on-going process.
“Without that kind of commitment, the chances of being re-accredited are slim,” Sellers says. “To maintain UCAOA accreditation, an urgent care clinic must undergo site surveys every three years.”
“The full accreditation survey process with The Joint Commission is a triennial process, but annually, you’re required to do your own benchmarking and review,” Pendola says. “The Joint Commission also reviews the growth of FastMed annually to determine whether we have met the next threshold requiring additional site surveys.”
Pendola says accreditation by The Joint Commission isn’t a one-time thing, and that on-going accreditation is a difficult process.
“Internally, we have to continue to review current practices to ensure ongoing accreditation with accreditation standards,” Pendola says.
As more centers choose to seek accreditation, it could diminish the value of centers that are currently accredited, but Sellars says he’s not bothered by that.
“The end result of it is that we’re improving quality overall for the community that we serve,” Sellars says. “That’s a good thing! That’s not negative.”
While urgent care accreditation isn’t the right option for everyone, those that pass the rigorous process are proud of their hard work and efforts.
“Accreditation by The Joint Commission is recognized nationwide as a symbol of healthcare quality,” Pendola says. “We’re obviously very proud that FastMed holds The Joint Commission seal of approval.”
“Achieving accreditation provides a mark of excellence,” Sellars says. “There was a lot of pride for our team members to go through that process and receive a mark of excellence from one of the highest standards in the urgent care industry.”
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