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What Does Accreditation Mean to You?

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media, July 29, 2008

If you manage a medical tourism organization and are looking to emphasize the legitimacy of your services to prospective patients, you can soon submit your application to the Medical Tourism Association and in return you could get a nifty gold seal of accreditation to put on your company's Web site.

As I noted in last week's column, a prepared statement from the Medical Tourism Association says this new accreditation program will focus only on "medical tourism" and is not intended to accredit quality or replace any accreditation system; instead it complements existing accreditation systems that an organization might currently have in place.

Some in the industry have complained to me over the past couple of weeks that the term "accreditation" carries such a powerful connotation of quality healthcare delivery that they object to any lesser form of accreditation. Regardless, it appears that the bar for being an accrediting body really isn't that high. I checked with some lawyer friends of mine, and they are not aware of any laws that restrict an association from saying it is an accreditation agency, as long as those claims are truthful and don't violate state consumer protection statutes.

I wrote last week that I felt the Medical Tourism Association's announcement of the accreditation program—with a press release, a Web page explaining the benefits of accreditation, and the aforementioned gold-seal logo—was premature because it offered so few specifics about its accreditation standards. I don't see a whole lot of value in calling an external review of non-quality-related processes and procedures an "accreditation program."

If you want, call it a certification, designation, or seal-of-approval—just not accreditation.

Anyway, a couple of nice folks from the Medical Tourism Association disagree with me. In fact, Chief Operating Officer Renee-Marie Stephano took me to task for raising the matter at all. She says the association's accreditation standards, which she expects will be available online in a week or two, will clear up any confusion I might have. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about this new program. Here are the highlights of that conversation:

Johnson: If there's anything you think I got wrong in my column last week, this is your opportunity to correct me.

Stephano: I think the whole thing is a little bit misleading, like nobody knows what's going on, and we're not qualified to be accrediting on quality. We're not accrediting quality. We're working with establishing standards and best practices for medical tourism companies, for hotels, for clinics, and hospitals specifically in the area of international patient services, which is facilitation services primarily, which is communication services, which is informed consent forms. It is procedural and not involved at all with infection rates and quality indicators or anything that really JCI or any other accreditation system is doing.

Johnson: You say that you're accrediting medical tourism companies, but what specific types of organizations are you going to accredit?

Stephano: We will provide accreditation for hospitals' international patient departments. For hotels, do they have appropriate after-care facilities? If they are marketing themselves as a venue for patients to recover in, do they have a sterile environment? Do they have access to nursing care? Have they created special dietary menus for certain types of patients? This is something that can affect an overall patient experience. It's great to go to a JCI-accredited hospital in say Costa Rica, but then where are you recovering? If you're recovering at a recovery resort that doesn't have the appropriate environment for you that's where the adverse result is going to occur. Does the facilitator follow up with the patient a couple months afterwards? All of these things are questions that are out there right now, and many of these are questions patients don't even know to ask, but they will be able to identify what our system is and what those services are and the organizations that are accredited through it. And I think that will definitely provide a value added to international accreditation agencies like JCI that are looking at hospitals.

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