The evidence base for US joint commission hospital accreditation standards: cross sectional study

BMJ. 2022 Jun 23:377:e063064. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2020-063064.


Objective: To evaluate the evidence upon which standards for hospital accreditation by The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (the Joint Commission) are based.

Design: Cross sectional study.

Setting: United States.

Participants: Four Joint Commission R3 (requirement, rationale, and reference) reports released by July 2018 and intended to become effective between 1 July 2018 and 1 July 2019.

Interventions: From each R3 report the associated standard and its specific elements of performance (or actionable standards) were extracted. If an actionable standard enumerated multiple requirements, these were separated into distinct components. Two investigators reviewed full text references, and each actionable standard was classified as either completely supported, partly supported, or not supported; Oxford evidence quality ratings were assigned; and the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) was used to assess the strength of recommendations.

Main outcome measure: Strengths of recommendation for actionable standards.

Results: 20 actionable standards with 76 distinct components were accompanied by 48 references. Of the 20 actionable standards, six (30%) were completely supported by cited references, six were partly supported (30%), and eight (40%) were not supported. Of the six directly supported actionable standards, one (17%) cited at least one reference of level 1 or 2 evidence, none cited at least one reference of level 3 evidence, and five (83%) cited references of level 4 or 5 evidence. Of the completely supported actionable standards, strength of recommendation in five was deemed GRADE D and in one was GRADE B.

Conclusions: In general, recent actionable standards issued by The Joint Commission are seldom supported by high quality data referenced within the issuing documents. The Joint Commission might consider being more transparent about the quality of evidence and underlying rationale supporting each of its recommendations, including clarifying when and why in certain instances it determines that lower level evidence is sufficient.

MeSH terms

  • Accreditation*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • United States