Importance: In the United States, hospitals receive accreditation through unannounced on-site inspections (ie, surveys) by The Joint Commission (TJC), which are high-pressure periods to demonstrate compliance with best practices. No research has addressed whether the potential changes in behavior and heightened vigilance during a TJC survey are associated with changes in patient outcomes.
Objective: To assess whether heightened vigilance during survey weeks is associated with improved patient outcomes compared with nonsurvey weeks, particularly in major teaching hospitals.
Design, setting, and participants: Quasi-randomized analysis of Medicare admissions at 1984 surveyed hospitals from calendar year 2008 through 2012 in the period from 3 weeks before to 3 weeks after surveys. Outcomes between surveys and surrounding weeks were compared, adjusting for beneficiaries' sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, with subanalyses for major teaching hospitals. Data analysis was conducted from January 1 to September 1, 2016.
Exposures: Hospitalization during a TJC survey week vs nonsurvey weeks.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was 30-day mortality. Secondary outcomes were rates of Clostridium difficile infections, in-hospital cardiac arrest mortality, and Patient Safety Indicators (PSI) 90 and PSI 4 measure events.
Results: The study sample included 244 787 and 1 462 339 admissions during survey and nonsurvey weeks with similar patient characteristics, reason for admission, and in-hospital procedures across both groups. There were 811 598 (55.5%) women in the nonsurvey weeks (mean [SD] age, 72.84 [14.5] years) and 135 857 (55.5%) in the survey weeks (age, 72.76 [14.5] years). Overall, there was a significant reversible decrease in 30-day mortality for admissions during survey (7.03%) vs nonsurvey weeks (7.21%) (adjusted difference, -0.12%; 95% CI, -0.22% to -0.01%). This observed decrease was larger than 99.5% of mortality changes among 1000 random permutations of hospital survey date combinations, suggesting that observed mortality changes were not attributable to chance alone. Observed mortality reductions were largest in major teaching hospitals, where mortality fell from 6.41% to 5.93% during survey weeks (adjusted difference, -0.38%; 95% CI, -0.74% to -0.03%), a 5.9% relative decrease. We observed no significant differences in admission volume, length of stay, or secondary outcomes.
Conclusions and relevance: Patients admitted to hospitals during TJC survey weeks have significantly lower mortality than during nonsurvey weeks, particularly in major teaching hospitals. These results suggest that changes in practice occurring during periods of surveyor observation may meaningfully affect patient mortality.