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The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) and Medical Malpractice in Kentucky

In today’s healthcare environment, it is critical that healthcare organizations (such as hospitals) are constantly working to improve healthcare and ensure safety to its patients. There are many organizations, policies and procedures aimed at this very goal. One of the most widely recognized organizations for policing and implementing necessary healthcare standards is the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).

When there are rules, regulations, policies and procedures, patient safety increases. Accountability and evaluation are also critical to the goal of increasing patient safety. Sometimes, however, hospitals and other healthcare organizations fail to meet required standards. If medical malpractice or medical negligence are alleged, the JCAHO Standards can greatly assist those investigating the allegations in determining whether a valid claim of medical malpractice of medical negligence should be pursued. Such investigations are performed by the healthcare providers or hospitals, the JCAHO, insurance companies, attorneys for the healthcare providers and attorneys for the patient that is alleging an injury or death due to negligence.

The JCAHO was originally formed in 1951 by many different professional healthcare organizations and the American Medical Association. It is now one of the most universally accepted institutions for accrediting and certifying healthcare organizations across the United States. JCAHO creates guidelines for hospitals and healthcare organizations directed at continuously evaluating and improving healthcare for the general public. These guidelines are annually updated and distributed to participating hospitals and healthcare organizations. These healthcare facilities are then accredited based on compliance with these standards. Participation is voluntary, however, in order for hospitals and healthcare organizations to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, they must be accredited by the JCAHO.

Many JCAHO guidelines and standards are geared toward preventing medical errors from occurring. Thus policies are largely driven from the reporting of medical errors by hospitals and other organizations. The JCAHO introduced its Sentinel Event Policy in 1996 to aid in the reporting of medical errors. A “Sentinel Event” is defined as an occurrence of serious physical or mental injury or death to a patient that is not related to the patient’s illness during the course of healthcare treatment.

In other words, if a serious injury or death occur and such injury or death was not an anticipated complication or did not arise from the condition for which the patient was being treated, a sentinel event investigation will occur. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations report such incidents to the JCAHO, which then mandates performance of a root cause analysis and an action plan by the healthcare facility so as to understand what happened and prevent future medical mistakes. Again, reporting is not mandatory, but these facilities are motivated to use this process to prevent future problems and avoid the repercussions of “covering up” such medical errors. The JCAHO compilation of Sentinel Events greatly affects the annual changes to the published guidelines and standards.

It is prudent to know the current JCAHO recognized standards when evaluating a medical malpractice case. Kentucky attorneys that practice hospital negligence cases and medical malpractice cases often look to the JCAHO guidelines and use expert witnesses, such as hospital administrators to understand the role of the guidelines and any deviation from the guidelines.

In cases where a hospital or other healthcare provider violated the guidelines or standards of care and a serious injury or death resulted, it is important to consider having a Kentucky attorney evaluate the potential for pursuing a medical malpractice case or wrongful death case.

If you have questions about treatment received in a Kentucky hospital that resulted in serious injury or death, you are welcome and encouraged to contact Kentucky medical malpractice attorney Brett H. Oppenheimer, PLLC at (502) 242-8877.