Patient safety standards not always backed by strong evidence, Northwestern researchers find

Of 20 actionable standards issued by The Joint Commission during a one-year period, only six were fully supported by cited references, according to a recent study led by researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. 

When a new standard or rule is issued, The Joint Commission typically lists citations and medical article titles associated with the issued rules. To conduct the study, researchers analyzed the citations listed to support 20 standards issued from July 2018 to July 2019. They found the citations, in many cases, didn't offer compelling evidence the rules would improve patient safety or quality of care. Six of the 20 actionable standards issued during the one-year period were fully backed by references, six were partly supported and eight were not, according to the findings published June 23 in the British Medical Journal. 

"Because TJC rules are so influential and impactful, it is important that these rules really improve patient care and safety. Our finding is concerning because unhelpful rules can waste money in the healthcare system and take attention from more important activities," said Murad Alam, MD, lead study author and vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern. 

Researchers suggested the accreditation organization provide information to patients, physicians and administrators on reasons why standards are important in cases where they are not fully supported by publicly available evidence. 

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