Accreditation abroad: Ann Jacobson and JCI define international quality standards

August 1, 2007

Roughly 150,000 Americans traveled abroad for care in 2005, and many more are expected to follow suit in the next few years. Medical tourism, once associated mainly with cosmetic procedures, now represents an attractive alternative for consumers to obtain hip replacement, heart procedures and other surgical interventions at a lower cost than what the United States can offer.

Because the quality of overseas care is an important issue for multinational employers and insurers eyeing the medical tourism market, much of their attention is focused on the work of the Joint Commission International (JCI), an affiliate of the Joint Commission (formerly known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, or JCAHO, until earlier this year).

Among its missions, JCI sponsors an accreditation program that has become an international gold standard for quality. Last month, it introduced a revised set of accreditation standards for international hospitals. The new standards, which must be implemented by January 2008, are more rigorous than previous requirements and are organized so they more closely resemble Joint Commission standards used in the United States.

Q: Who develops JCI standards and how do they differ from Joint Commission standards?

The JCI standards cover the same areas as Joint Commission standards. For the new edition of the standards, the subcommittee worked to give greater parity between domestic and international standards. With medical tourism on the rise, it's very important for travelers to feel the same confidence in a JCI-accredited facility as they would feel visiting a hospital in the United States. That said, the standards are not always identical.

Q: What are the greatest challenges associated with the international accreditation process?

Q: Medical tourism is a hot topic right now, and the number of Americans traveling oversees for major procedures is increasing. What does that mean for the JCI?

A: Medical tourism is growing, and we expect it to continue to grow. We have a quality-monitoring program where patients can render complaints. Once we review those complaints, if we need to follow up with the organization to find out if they were following our standards, we will. It's very labor intensive. If it's a threat to life situation and/or multiple serious violations, accreditations can be removed.