- The Joint Commission, an independent accrediting body for hospitals, will introduce new standards on Jan. 1 aimed at reducing healthcare disparities, calling the effort a quality and safety priority.
- Targeted interventions to detect and address differences in care among racial, ethnic and other historically marginalized groups should be integrated into providers' quality improvement programs, alongside efforts to prevent healthcare-acquired infections, medication errors and workplace violence, the commission said in a report out this summer.
- The commission's new accreditation requirements will apply to organizations in its ambulatory care, behavioral healthcare and human services, critical access hospital and hospital accreditation programs.
Despite extensive research into the problem, disparities in access to healthcare and quality of care persist. The issue is a priority for the Biden administration, which has directed federal agencies including the HHS to advance racial equity initiatives. The CMS announced in its final inpatient rule that it was going to update its measurement and reporting methods to identify potential gaps in care between groups of patients.
The pandemic has widened disparity gaps. In November 2021, the Joint Commission published a report that showed that Black and Hispanic people with COVID-19 infections experienced nearly three times the rate of hospitalization as White patients.
While racial care disparities have been documented in published research, studies have also shown disparities in care for women, older adults, people with disabilities and other historically marginalized groups, according to the report.
"Although health care disparities are often viewed through the lens of social injustice, they are first and foremost a quality of care problem," the commission said.
Many special projects to reduce disparities have been successful but were not sustained or expanded across organizations, according to the report. "A different approach is needed," the commission said.
The Joint Commission’s new accreditation requirements for providers include:
- designating a leader or leaders to direct activities to reduce healthcare disparities within an organization.
- assessing patients' health-related social needs and providing information about community resources and support services.
- identifying healthcare disparities in the patient population by stratifying quality and safety data using socio-demographic characteristics.
- developing a written action plan that describes how the organization will address at least one of the healthcare disparities identified in its patient population.
- taking action when the goals in its plan to reduce health disparities are not achieved or sustained.