The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is expanding to telemedicine, where it has issued its first official endorsement.
PDSHeart, Conyers, Ga., a provider of cardiac-monitoring services, won a three-year accreditation last month. The foray into the flowering telemedicine market marks another opportunity for the JCAHO to expand its customer base. Telemedicine programs nationwide grew 20% to 206 programs in 2001 from 170 companies in 1999, according to the Association of Telehealth Service Providers, Portland, Ore.
The JCAHO charges a base fee of $7,800 for each survey plus additional site fees, said Michael Kulczycki, the JCAHO's executive director of ambulatory-care accreditation. It already accredits nearly 50 other types of ambulatory-care organizations, he said.
PDSHeart said it invested two years, $20,000 in hard costs and another $150,000 in labor costs to win accreditation. President and Chief Executive Officer Sean Heyniger said the accreditation will help marketing efforts and set standards for the telemedicine industry, although he said it was "a difficult process to first embrace."
"There are a lot of small mom-and-pop (companies) and therefore the quality of care is inadequate in many markets," Heyniger said. Accreditation also could streamline the credentialing process with private payers, Heyniger said.
Although accreditation has no bearing on Medicare certification, "we are going to talk to Medicare about that-it should be a prerequisite in my opinion," he said.
That could be a hard sell. Telemedicine benefits under Medicare are limited and services are covered only if the originating site is a hospital, rural health clinic, critical-access hospital, federally qualified health center, or certified physician or practitioner-all of which must be accredited in their own right, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.
It remains to be seen if other telemedicine companies will follow suit. Kulczycki said another firm, Memphis, Tenn.-based Telerhythmics, plans to go through the inspection process later this year and there have been "a couple of other calls from other telemedicine firms since word got out."
News of PDSHeart's accreditation had not yet reached the industry, said Josie Henderson, executive director of the telemedicine trade group, the Association of Telehealth Service Providers.
Michael Breslow, executive vice president of research and development for Visicu, a Baltimore vendor of telemedicine products for hospital intensive-care units, said his company probably won't be seeking accreditation "until we understood it better-what it involved, how it might be good for us, the hospital and the patients."
Meryl Weinberg, executive director of the Health and Home Care division of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., said the JCAHO's accreditation is "a seal of approval that we respect." The home health agency pays virtual house calls to HIV/AIDS patients using telemedicine (Dec. 16, 2002, p. 18). But accreditation from the commission would only make a difference to the agency if the telemedicine company were providing interpretation and analysis along with a product, Weinberg said.
PDSHeart offers services via land line or cellular telephone from two call centers in Atlanta and West Palm Beach, Fla. Customers include 3,500 clinics, 11,000 doctors, 110 hospitals and 30 universities nationwide. Founded in 2000, the company generates $20 million in annual revenue, Heyniger said. He said accreditation helped it win contracts with three Chicago-area hospitals.