No more surveyors as consultants after 2003

By March, surveyors must indicate intentions

Surveyors from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations no longer will be allowed to work as survey readiness consultants on the side after Jan. 1, 2004, according to a new rule. Working both sides of the fence created too much opportunity for a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of it, the Joint Commission says.

Surveyors long have worked as consultants, offering advice to health care providers on the best way to comply with standards from the Joint Commission and get ready for a survey.

Though many people thought the practice was questionable, the Joint Commission allowed the arrangements as long as certain criteria were met to avoid a conflict of interest. Joint Commission spokeswoman Charlene Hill tells Hospital Peer Review that a tougher stance will be taken after this year. "The perception of a conflict of interest is an unacceptable risk," she says.

In March 2003, surveyors must indicate their intention to act either as a Joint Commission surveyor or a consultant. As of Jan. 1, 2004, they can’t do both. Until then, surveyors and health care providers are free to continue with consulting agreements under the same provisions that already were in place.

Harold Bressler, JD, general counsel for the Joint Commission, says surveyors always have known the rules, but the Joint Commission never publicized them to accredited providers. He provides HPR with this summary of the rules about surveyors acting as consultants:

  • Only part-time Joint Commission surveyors may work as consultants. Full-time Joint Commission surveyors are strictly prohibited from consulting on the side.
  • A surveyor cannot consult with an organization that he or she surveyed in the past three years.
  • A surveyor cannot survey an organization that it consulted within the past three years.
  • The surveyor cannot suggest in any way that the accredited organization would benefit from the consulting "other than doing a better job at standards compliance. There can be no suggestion that there will be favored status of any kind."
  • The surveyor, or any consulting firm with which he or she works, must not have any financial interest in the accredited organization.
  • Surveyors are restricted in how they may solicit consulting business. In short, Bressler says, they may not solicit business during the survey process or use their association with the Joint Commission to pressure potential clients.

[For more information, contact:

  • Charlene Hill and Harold Bressler, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, One Renaissance Blvd., Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181. Telephone: (630) 792-5000.]