Joint Commission unveils voluntary health equity certification, strengthens existing standard

The Joint Commission is kicking off a new advanced, voluntary certification for hospitals with processes in place to address healthcare disparities and promote equity among staff, the accreditation organization announced Tuesday.

Effective July 1, hospitals and critical access hospitals accredited by the organization or in compliance with applicable federal laws will be able to apply for the group’s Health Care Equity Certification Program. An abbreviated pre-application questionnaire may be submitted prior to July 1.

The certification process “is well-suited for organizations that are already on their journey to healthcare equity and would like to formalize structures, processes and goals for identifying and addressing health disparities,” according to an information page on the certification.

Following application, it will “typically” take four to six months for facilities to receive their final decision, according to the page.

“The Health Care Equity Certification Program will distinguish those organizations making healthcare equity a strategic priority and are collaborating with patients, families, caregivers and external organizations to identify and address needs that help translate equitable healthcare into better health outcomes,” Jonathan B. Perlin, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of The Joint Commission, said in an announcement.

The July 1 kickoff also coincides with a planned elevation of a Leadership Standard addressing healthcare disparities, LD.04.03.08, to a National Patient Safety Goal for hospitals and critical access hospitals as well as some ambulatory care organizations and behavioral health care and human services organizations.

The Joint Commission had announced these plans back in January, noting at the time that the elevation did not constitute a practical change to its current accreditation requirements. It said the “intent” behind LD.04.03.08 would stay in place—for instance, accredited care organizations will still be required to analyze quality and safety data to identify disparities—but would now be more emphasized by the organization to help increase focus on the issue.

“Healthcare equity is not only an issue of social justice, it is a fundamental issue of patient safety and quality of care,” Perlin said of the new accreditation and elevation. “This is why I made it a top priority for The Joint Commission to advance healthcare equity. COVID-19 sharpened health care’s focus on fractures in care that are unacceptable. All people deserve access to safe, high-quality care.”

The Joint Commission has also put together a curated resource center for organizations seeking to pursue the certification, which includes strategies, toolkits, templates, videos and synopses of the requirements.

Earlier this year, The Joint Commission announced it had trimmed down roughly 14% of its 2023 requirements for accreditation and would be freezing fees “in recognition of the many financial challenges hospitals and health systems continue to face” after the height of the pandemic. The group said it expected to announce a second round of cuts and revisions this summer.

The Joint Commission has also been pursuing new measures for hospitals and critical access hospitals focused on sustainability, though it appears those proposed requirements will become an optional goalpost following negative industry feedback.