Hospital accreditation is a voluntary ranking and assessment program that gauges hospital safety, staff competency, and overall quality of patient care. Accreditation is typically granted or denied by independent accrediting agencies who are unaffiliated with either the hospital or any sort of official government body. The agencies conduct objective studies of how participating hospitals work. If granted, accreditation acts as a sort of “seal of approval” for hospitals. Accreditation is not typically required for hospitals to operate, or even for them to receive government funding, but it can be an asset. Benefits of hospital accreditation include better doctor retention and a strengthened ability to attract patients and grant money, among other things.
In most countries, hospitals are bound by national law to maintain certain safety and health standards. Although national requirements are often strict, they do little more than provide broad brushstrokes of appropriate hospital conduct. The managers and boards of hospitals, as well as others like patients, insurance companies, and private funding institutions, often want to know more than whether a hospital is meeting the minimum standards. Hospitals often elect to participate in hospital accreditation programs as a way of distinguishing their services. Accreditation also can help hospitals identify internal problems, and correct potential pitfalls before they become bigger issues.
There are not typically any set rules governing who may perform hospital accreditation services, and there can accordingly be different types of accreditation offered in any given place. Most of the time, however, there is one accreditation service in each country that is recognized as having the authoritative say. That service is usually responsible for providing accreditation assessment services to any hospital that wants it, anywhere in the country. Accreditation is a significant undertaking in any jurisdiction, but the task can be quite significant in large countries like Canada and the United States.
Getting hospital accreditation is usually a matter of hiring an accreditation service to perform an assessment. Hospitals that choose to participate open their doors to scrutiny, and invite the accreditation assessors to investigate any hospital happening. Most of the time, the accreditation service will send a team of inspectors to the hospital to observe for a period of weeks or months. Inspectors are usually medical experts, hospital safety advisers, or others with expert knowledge of how hospitals should be run.
The inspectors will typically meet after the requisite observation time has passed to share notes and come to a determination about whether to award the hospital accreditation. Awards usually depend on a variety of factors. Often, these factors come in the form of both an objective checklist and inspectors' subjective impressions.
Most of the time, the accreditation service will present the hospital with a full report along with its decision. The report will explain the reasons behind the decision in more detail, and will set out any notable observations — even those that were not influential to the accreditation determination. Even hospitals that routinely meet the accreditation standards usually find the reports helpful as a means of self-assessment, as they identify issues and achievements that the hospital could have trouble objectively seeing about itself.
Private hospital accreditation is never a requirement, but it is usually an asset. A hospital that can market itself as accredited by the leading national accreditation body is able to convey to the public that the work it does is both sound and safe. It is common for patients to only want treatment from an accredited hospital, and many medical grants and private endowments are only available to hospitals that are accredited.