A new state law could eliminate some redundancy in Pennsylvania hospital regulation.
Currently, all hospitals are subject to licensure surveys by the state Department of Health every two years. About 75 percent of the state’s hospitals also seek accreditation from national organizations including the the Joint Commission, which require routine surveying visits.
Under the new bill, the Department of Health will accept the accreditation of these third-party organizations, eliminating the need for direct surveys from the department. If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania will join more than 40 other states in the U.S. that have already made this change.
The legislation has been praised by the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, which supports hospital’s interests before state and federal lawmakers.
Curt Schroder, regional executive of Delaware Valley Healthcare Council of HAP, said the current system of two-surveys is taxing for hospitals.
“When the Department of Health comes in with a survey like that it takes a tremendous amount of hospital resources to be devoted to the survey and away from the other operations of the hospital,” Schroder said.
In addition to time and energy concerns, motivation for the chnage stemmed from the fact that the Department of Health surveys use outdated standards.
“Part of what we’re doing is because we have regulations that are, at this point in time, older than they should be and the idea of the use of national accreditation is we’re looking at standards that are updated dramatically more frequently than what ours have been over the past 30 years,” says Michael Wolf, secretary of the state Department of Health.
In fact, the department is missing key hospital procedures from their current standards. There is no guide for telemedicine, for instance, or check sheets used in preparation for surgery.
Whereas state guidelines have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s, national accreditation organizations update their standards about every two years. The more modern and strict approach of these organizations explains hospitals’ reasoning for wanting their accreditation, Schroder says.
“Hospitals do see it as a higher standard and a standard more reflective of the actual practice of medicine and the advances in medicine that have occurred,” Schroder said. “They do view that as certainly a more desirable level to attain and believe that it is more beneficial for the patients that they serve as well.”
The Department of Health will retain overall regulatory control and will continue to investigate complaints filed against hospitals as well as new construction projects. Additionally, the department will still survey the 25 percent of rural and city hospital that are not accredited by an approved national organization.
Wolf says the new bill will ensure a high level of health care and patient safety while relieving the extra “regulatory burden.” He expects that there will be no personnel changes within the department as a result of the bill and that the funding distribution to the quality assurance team will stay the same.
The bill passed in the state House on Monday and in the Senate on Wednesday. It has been sent to Corbett for signature after which it will be implemented within 180 days.