After criticism over a contract to sell data to payers affiliated with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations officers met via telephone with hospital industry leaders.
One of the aims of the Sept. 1 teleconference with members of a subcommittee of the JCAHO's hospital advisory council was to assure the hospitals that the JCAHO won't make the same mistake twice, according to Joint Commission officials.
"There was a sharing of anxiety, but I think at the end of the call, they acknowledged they were supportive of the Joint Commission and they were trying to figure out whether (the data-mining) was a good thing or a bad thing," said Chuck Mowll, executive vice president for government external relations at the Oak Brook Terrace, Ill.-based accreditation group. "We woefully underestimated the sensitivities around this," added Jerod Loeb, vice president of research for the JCAHO.
Late last year, Joint Commission Resources, a JCAHO wholly owned subsidiary, contracted with the Blues association to provide 19 of its affiliated health plans with four quarterly reports using performance data submitted to the JCAHO by the hospitals under its Oryx quality-improvement program. Joint Commission Resources also included in the reports analysis of patient safety data gathered for the Blues by another vendor, HealthShare Technology, now called WebMD Quality Services.
Though some of the participating Blues plans went over the data with hospitals before the reports were issued, Loeb said, some did not. So those hospitals first learned the JCAHO was the source of the data when the Blues presented them with the first batch of reports in May. The ensuing flap prompted JCAHO President Dennis O'Leary on July 11 to send a letter of apology and explanation to all accredited hospitals.
Pat Merryweather, senior vice president of the Illinois Hospital Association, said, "The day the reports went out, our phones started ringing." Merryweather said those hospitals, both JCAHO-accredited and not, had put a great deal of time and effort into the Hospital Quality Alliance, a public reporting program in conjunction with the CMS, "So I think there was a great deal of disappointment."
Anger is another word to describe hospital leaders' reaction, said Richard Wade, spokesman for the American Hospital Association. "There was an enormous amount of concern in the field," Wade said. "The surprise element was one thing. The other was: Is this a legitimate action by the Joint Commission? Under the contracts, I don't think anybody understood that was a legitimate use of that data."
In fact, Wade said, the legal implications are still being studied. "These contracts are very complicated. There are HIPAA aspects to all this. We can't undo what has been done but we can have some clear understanding how these sorts of things can be handled in the future."
Blues association spokeswoman Claire Sheahan said the data are to be used for a quality improvement program but declined to provide details, saying they are being withheld until an official launch in October.