Hospitals should still use Sentinel Event Alerts

Much to the relief of many peer review professionals, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations is backing off a plan to require that providers respond to its Sentinel Event Alerts in ways that could be assessed by a surveyor. But you still need to pay attention to the alerts, and formal scoring is not ruled out for the future.

The original plan was for the Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Alerts to be used in calculating the hospital’s patient safety management score. The Sentinel Event Alerts are published periodically by the Joint Commission and bring attention to the type of dangers involved in a particular type of sentinel event, plus the lessons learned by the health care providers. Joint Commission officials wanted the alerts to be used as criteria for determining how well a hospital has addressed patient safety — each alert was to be considered a lesson on that topic and then accredited hospitals would have to put those lessons to use.

Ken Shull, FACHE, president of the South Carolina Hospital Association in West Columbia, tells Hospital Peer Review that there was considerable resistance among providers who thought they would be unable to prove they had utilized the Sentinel Event Alerts in a short time. Shull chairs the Joint Commission’s Accreditation Process Improvement Implementation Task Force.

Joint Commission issues moratorium

In response to that criticism, the Joint Com-mission recently announced "a moratorium on the scoring of health care organizations with Sentinel Event Alert recommendations." The notice from the Joint Commission makes clear, however, that providers should continue making use of the alerts, even though formal scoring has been put on hold.

Janet McIntyre, Joint Commission spokes-woman, says surveyors still will look for evidence that providers are using the alerts, and she says the moratorium could be lifted if the Joint Commission develops a satisfactory scoring system.

"Current standards require organizations to review all Sentinel Event Alert recommendations, determine their applicability to their organization’s services, and, where applicable, implement the recommendations or reasonable alternatives within 90 days of publication in Joint Commission Perspectives," according to the Joint Commission statement.

"Although the implementation of recommendations will not be scored during the moratorium, surveyors will assess, for consultative purposes, the organization’s knowledge of Sentinel Event Alert recommendations and how the organization plans to implement these recommendations."