Hospitals that think they've experienced a sentinel event soon will have a telephone hotline to call to find out whether they need to report it to their accrediting agency.
As part of its revision to the sentinel event policy, which takes effect April 1, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is setting up a phone bank to take calls from hospitals and other healthcare organizations that want to go over the finer points of its new self-reporting policy.
At the same time the JCAHO is going to revise its definition of what exactly constitutes a reportable sentinel event, which is an adverse patient incident.
The Joint Commission late last year changed its policy on reporting sentinel events. Now healthcare organizations that report an error or accident within five days will not be placed on accreditation watch and won't have that error publicly acknowledged.
The Joint Commission took this measure to remove the punitive sting from the old policy, which made accreditation watch a publicly known status, and to encourage hospitals to report errors. It wants to create a large database that will show patterns of preventable errors.
The new policy, however, raised a storm of protest from hospitals and their malpractice lawyers, who thought sending such sensitive information to the JCAHO opened them up to potential tort lawsuits from patients' attorneys. The Joint Commission instituted some steps to mitigate these concerns, such as discarding specific information on individual cases at identifiable hospitals.
The new hotline phone number (See box) is connected to the office of quality monitoring in the JCAHO's Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., headquarters. Healthcare facilities that call will have three options, said spokeswoman Janet McIntyre. They can:
Speak to a Joint Commission staffer about the sentinel event policy.
Request a sentinel event reporting form.
Get an update on the status of a sentinel event report if it has already been sent in.
The JCAHO Board of Commissioners will meet April 24-25 in Oakbrook Terrace to work on revising and narrowing the definition of what kinds of sentinel events it wants to hear about. There has been widespread frustration in the hospital and healthcare industry that the Joint Commission's guidelines for reporting sentinel events have not been clear.
There are seven major categories of events that the Joint Commission wants to know about: unanticipated death, major permanent loss of bodily functions, infant abduction, infant discharge to the wrong family, rape by a patient or staffer, transfusion reaction and surgery on the wrong patient or body part.
The board also will address the issue of how soon healthcare organizations must report sentinel events or submit a root-cause analysis before becoming at risk of being placed on accreditation watch.
While these policies are being refined, from April 1-25, the Joint Commission will not place any healthcare organization on accreditation watch simply for failing to report a sentinel event, McIntyre said.