The 3 big myths about the dreaded Joint Commission

Walk into a hospital anywhere in the country and announce the words “Joint Commission alert” and I can guarantee the response would be looks of sheer terror, desperation, and panic. Okay, so I over-exaggerate a tad. But in all seriousness, I think the looming idea of Joint Commission surveyors in a hospital puts most nurses on edge. The mere fact that these visits are unannounced is enough to make anyone nervous.

As a new nurse, I was terrified of stories about Joint Commission visits and always hoped that the visit would fall during a week of night shifts so I could avoid the torture. Elder nurses claim that the surveyors pick out weak (new) nurses to interrogate and basically lead you to believe that the hospital’s accreditation status falls on your shoulders, and only yours.

Similar to a college hazing period, if you can get through a Joint Commission visit, you can officially be an RN. It’s human nature to have a fear of the unknown, and for nurses new to the profession, simply the words Joint Commission sound daunting in themselves.

I’m here to dispel some of these myths about Joint Commission, formerly known as JCAHO, in hopes of decreasing anxiety and pointing out some benefits of the unavoidable survey at your hospital.

Myth #1 – the Joint Commission is the Big Bad Wolf

According to the website, “Joint Commission is an independent, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to continuously improve the safety and quality of care provided to the public by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value.”

Sounds great, right? Not yet all bright and cheery? How about this, the Joint Commission’s slogan, Helping Healthcare Organizations Help Patients. That has a nice ring to it. Looking past the negative stigma attached to the name, the concept behind assisting healthcare organizations in better caring for their patients is actually quite a novel one, and one that should be widely embraced by healthcare providers.

Myth #2 – the Joint Commission is unnecessary

Hospitals are surveyed at least every three years and receive an official gold seal of approval via Joint Commission standards if they pass the “inspection.” In many states, Joint Commission accreditation is necessary for receipt of Medicaid reimbursement.

Myths #3 – the Joint Commission hates nurses

Although the process can be  somewhat intimidating, the level of quality required to meet Joint Commission standards ensures that our patients, our friends, and our loved ones, if they should find themselves hospitalized, will receive proper, safe, and quality care. Prior to drafting this post, I perused the Joint Commission website and found some helpful and informative links including the master list of “do not use” abbreviations. I was also pleasantly surprised to read a document that highly promoted the nursing profession in suggesting ideas for advocating for advanced practice nurses, lowering nurse/patient ratio, how to create a more positive view of the profession in society, incentives for nursing school programs for recruiting students and faculty, and ideas to combat the nursing shortage, specifically the nursing faculty shortage. What came to mind after reading said article? Sometimes our biggest fans  are our biggest critics.

Four simple habits to prep for the Joint Commission

  1. Label all medications to prevent error
  2. Be diligent with charting and documentation
  3. Store food in the kitchen and away from the nurse’s station
  4. Learn what you don’t know

I used to compare the pre-Joint Commission preparedness time period at work to natural disaster preparation. But I started noticing the positive effects of working up to Joint Commission standards including labeling of all medications to prevent errors, increased effectiveness of transfer of care, diligent charting and documentation, and even small details such as less food at the nurse’s station to improve sanitation.

I even find myself seeking out information that I use to simply overlook if I didn’t know the answer. Sure, it’s out of fear of being audited but I’m a more well-versed nurse because of it.

Although a seemingly intimidating process, if looked at with an open mind and an educated perspective, my hope is that nurses can learn to embrace a Joint Commission visit as a challenge that will enhance their workplace, promote quality care, and push them to take pride in their profession.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.

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8 Responses to The 3 big myths about the dreaded Joint Commission

  1. Call me stupid, but I was never afraid or worried when JCAHO came to visit.
    If you are doing your job correctly, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

  2. Nicole Lehr Scrubs Blogger

    C. Comstock, thank you for your comment. I do agree that a nurse who is doing his/her job correctly should in reality have nothing to fear about a Joint Commission visit. However (and perhaps I may be the minority), regardless of who the auditing facet may be, any time my work/workplace/work habits are scrutinized or observed closely I naturally harbor some anxiety. Especially as a newer nurse, seeing the managers constantly prepping us for this visit and observing the hospital’s mock audits raises an increased level of awareness. Although I do think this level of awareness is a positive thing, don’t get me wrong, because I know it pushes me to evaluate every aspect of the care I’m providing, to make sure it’s the best and safest care I can provide. I hope to someday be as relaxed, laid back, and perhaps even as confident as you. Until then, I will look forward to the uneasy feeling I get when I hear Joint Commission is in the hospital and consequently the feeling of pride I get when my hospital gets accredited.

  3. Beth, RN

    I agree w/ C. Comstock. If you are doing your job right, no worries. And Ms. Lehr, it is obvious from your comment you are a new nurse and are still in the learning process.

  4. Nicole Lehr Scrubs Blogger

    Beth, RN: Thank you for your comment. New nurse or not, when there comes a point in my nursing career that I stop learning I will then start looking for another job.

  5. j.martin

    Nicole Lehr, I am a nurse and I agree with you if your in the healthcare field at all and you don’t learn something new everyday then something is wrong. There is SO much to learn about nursing and healthcare and I feel the same way if I don’t learn something new once a week if not everyday I will def. be looking for a new field to start a career in. Also when you get observed by anyone it makes me nervous weather i’m doing my job right or not it has to do with what they think is right I have been observed multiple time and everybody has their own way they like stuff to be done.

  6. I’ve never heard about that before. Good to know.

  7. Resi

    I dont mean for this to sound like an attack, but,
    Beth: your comment about Nicole being a new nurse sounds very condescending.

    And just as she and j.martin say, as nurses, there will always be something to learn. I also agree with what j.martin said in that the thing that makes a person nervous, no matter how experienced a person may be, is the fact that someone is observing you in scrutiny; and sometimes there are different ideas of how things should be done, resulting in a person nervously hoping they aren’t doing anything the person observing would consider “wrong”.

  8. sandy

    I have been a critical care nurse for over 30 years, pre inspection years. I witnessed patient deaths d/t wrong meds, amounts ect. so I do know a need to be regulated, but it has also caused a negative impact in hospital care. So much money is spent on being on the ready hospitals have had to make cuts. Increase in nurse patient ratio being a big one. Education is the key. Nurse educators on every floor is essential. New nurses are thrown out to fend for themselves, orientation hours have been cut. When i was a new nurse I had months of orientation. When I transferred to critical care I was in a class of 18 and we pretty much had our hands held for 6 months which included classes. This was all provided by the hospital. Now all I hear is productivity hours. I could go on and on but I think we all know what I am talking about.