Memo to John Q. Public: Got a problem with your local hospital? Just dial 800-994-6610. Somebody in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., will be listening.
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has set up a toll-free number consumers can use to discuss their concerns about the quality of care they receive from their accredited providers.
The Joint Commission has always accepted consumer complaints but is trying to making the process easier to use.
The JCAHO established the hotline March 3 in response to suggestions from participants at consumer forums held in January and February. The Joint Commission says it will "thoroughly evaluate" each complaint that relates to quality issues addressed by accreditation standards.
"Because the Joint Commission cannot be in every facility every day, we look to patients, their families and health professionals to be our eyes and ears in monitoring the performance of healthcare organizations," said Dennis O'Leary, M.D., Joint Commission president, in a statement.
The hotline represents another attempt by the Joint Commission to raise its profile with the public. Late last year it started a radio advertising campaign in selected markets to encourage patients to look for the Joint Commission seal of approval when they need hospital services (Nov. 9, 1998, p. 12).
The hot line is staffed from 8: 30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Standard Time on weekdays. The public can also register complaints through e-mail, at [email protected]
Visitors to the Joint Commission's World Wide Web site will notice a "report a complaint" icon on the first screen. They can print a "quality incident report form" from their computers.
Laura Kinch, who answers the hot line at the Office of Quality Monitoring, said the volume of calls was picking up. "We do not take complaints over the phone. We work with the callers to put their complaints in writing," she said.
Callers are asked to summarize their complaints on no more than two pages and mail, fax or e-mail the pages to the Joint Commission. They should indicate whether they want the complaint kept confidential.
The Joint Commission will accept anonymous tips. "They do not have to sign the complaint they send to us," Kinch said. The Joint Commission will acknowledge receipt within 10 days.
After receiving a complaint, the JCAHO will add it to the quality monitoring database, ask the organization to respond in writing or review the complaint at the organization's next scheduled accreditation survey. Serious issues may prompt the Joint Commission to conduct an unannounced site visit.
Anyone who asks about a specific hospital will find out how many serious complaints have been filed against that facility and whether those complaints caused the JCAHO to recommend improvements.
An on-site review could lead to recommendations for improvement or a change of accreditation status.
People who register complaints will find out the performance areas related to any recommendations for improvement, but they will not receive specific responses to each issue in the complaint.