With the rapidly rising number of urgent cares in the US, accreditation is fast becoming a way for centers to showcase their safety and quality. Patients are more likely to trust providers that are certified by recognized bodies, and payers often recommend accreditation as an important prerequisite for credentialing.
After deciding to obtain accreditation, the next step will often be to determine what accreditation option best suits the needs and goals of the center. Two of the more popular options around are Joint Commission accreditation and UCA accreditation. Both bodies are highly respected in the industry, and accreditation with either provides all the benefits of being sanctioned by a recognized organization.
In certain cases, urgent cares have the choice taken out of their hands, especially in the case of hospital-affiliated centers. However, where there is space to choose, how do you determine which program best meets the needs of your urgent care operation? In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of Joint Commission accreditation vs UCA accreditation, as well as how to pick between both options.
The Urgent Care Association (UCA) created its accreditation program to provide a more streamlined process specifically for urgent cares. As relative newcomers in the healthcare industry, urgent cares have not always had made-to-measure programs that catered specifically to their needs.
The UCA compensates for this with an increasingly popular accreditation program that is seeing wider acceptance by the day. The accreditation involves a dual certification and accreditation program. The certification aspect qualifies a center as having the minimum services and programs that patients and employees require. Accreditation confirms an urgent care operation as possessing the right standards, people, and equipment to deliver quality care.
The process begins with an application to the UCA. Pricing is determined based on the number of centers that each operation has. For instance, accreditation of a 5-center operation will cost $4,860 (get more details on pricing here), including costs of travel and expenses for surveyors. Accreditation for a 12-center operation will cost $8,640, including travel and expenses. All payment is due upon application.
The accreditation process itself takes the form of a survey to observe and validate the operation’s implementation of certification criteria and 7 stated categories of standards. The standards include the following:
The survey takes place over a period of time primarily determined by the number of centers under review, and their geographical distribution. However, each applicant is expected to schedule their survey for a date within 6 months of application, but not earlier than 90 days after receipt of standards. Once granted, accreditation is valid for 3 years. Learn more about the program here.
Obviously, the most important advantage of UCA accreditation is its tailored program created specifically for urgent care centers. Arguably, the program equips operators with the standards they require to run a quality operation, without burdening them with unnecessary requirements.
Another important point urgent cares will note, especially newly established centers, is the relatively inexpensive cost of UCA accreditation. As you will see below, Joint Commission accreditation vs UCA accreditation is far more expensive – up to three times as much. In addition, new centers can apply for early accreditation up to 6 months before they open their doors. This allows you to hit the ground running even if your operation is recent.
The accreditation process is straightforward, with the body providing a “facilitative and collaborative” process during their site visit. They also provide an optional annual compliance review program to help operators continue to demonstrate compliance in the lead up to re-accreditation.
Although the UCA has done remarkably well to provide a streamlined, and credible, accreditation process solely for urgent care centers, Joint Commission accreditation is still the global gold standard. Their rigorous accreditation requirements and extensive standards means any operator that qualifies for accreditation can be satisfied they are right up there in terms of quality and safety. The requirement that all payments must be made upon application may also be a bit problematic for new or young urgent cares.
Finally, the UCA allows centers to qualify for accreditation when they have not demonstrated a history of compliance with a standard, so long as they can show a process has been put in place that meets the standards. This might be a bit of a concern for patients and payers.
The Joint Commission was primarily formed to propose and monitor standards for large-scale ambulatory care organizations. It is more common to see the body being mentioned in relation to sprawling health systems, than with small urgent cares. Despite this, the Joint Commission maintains a robust accreditation program that urgent cares can opt to be a part of.
The accreditation program includes a massive 13 categories of standards that urgent cares must comply with to qualify for certification. The required standards constitute a subset of the wider ambulatory care standards that larger health providers must comply with. They include:
The application process begins with contacting the commission and passing necessary pre-qualification criteria. Applicants may be ineligible if the operation is new and has not started seeing any patients, their services do not fall within Joint Commission standards, or if they have no performance improvement process. Although, the Joint Commission also provides an early survey process for urgent cares that are new and want to begin payer credentialing before opening.
Pricing for Joint Commission accreditation is based on both the number of centers in the operation and the total patient volume. Accreditation of a 5-center operation with an average of 12,000 annual patient visits costs $23,960, travel and expenses inclusive. A 12-center operation for an average of 12,000 annual patient visits will cost $33,400, travel and expenses inclusive.
The survey takes place within 2-3 days by surveyors who are also employees of the commission. Both the Joint Commission and the applicant will agree on the initial survey date. However, after this first survey, the commission will send surveyors for further impromptu follow-ups within the next 18-36 months. Once granted, accreditation here is valid for 3 years as well. You can learn more about the Joint Commission process here.
The most important consideration for most urgent cares is the reputation that comes with a Joint Commission accreditation. However, another important advantage is the potentially wider competence that operators can develop here, considering the stringent nature of the 13 standards required.
The Joint Commission also takes a facilitative approach towards its accreditation process. It provides dedicated payer relations experts to assist applicants with all they need for successful credentialing with payers. In addition, every applicant is assigned an account executive who stays in close touch with the center and ensures they have all they need for a successful process.
The Joint Commission also includes potentially higher expertise in its accreditation process. Surveyors are employees of the commission and they receive a minimum of 10 days of training yearly. They have access to the commission’s significant resources, which includes a group of experts on ambulatory care standards.
Joint Commission accreditation is clearly more expensive. This may prove prohibitive for urgent care centers with 2-3 centers, and especially for new or relatively young centers. In addition, the Joint Commission does not provide accreditation for new centers that have not started seeing patients. This means early accreditation may be a bit dicey here.
The aspect of impromptu follow-up surveys may leave certain urgent cares feeling a bit uneasy. While the commission’s goal certainly isn’t to catch applicants doing something wrong, waiting on a surprise visit from a surveyor can feel a bit more stressful for operators.
The fact that the program is not specifically tailored to urgent cares may also be a point of concern. While this does not mean that operators will be required to comply with unnecessary standards, there is a general feeling that the process may be a bit of an overkill considering the limited services urgent cares provide.
Most urgent care operators will admit that both Joint Commission and UCA accreditation offer obvious benefits. And in truth, on the balance of advantages, both programs seem to offer significantly similar benefits. However, you can only pick one. What determines which of these programs you should go with?
It boils down, eventually, to the unique goals and needs of your urgent care. How much does the specialized nature of UCA accreditation matter to your urgent care? Will the relatively costly fees of Joint Commission accreditation be a problem from the perspective of your urgent care? Certain operators look at the star profile of Joint Commission accreditation and think that’s what they want to aim for.
Overall, what you need to think about is how these features fit what you believe is necessary or acceptable for your urgent care, and then go with that.
Hopefully, this article helps you achieve a better idea about what accreditation option best fits the goals of your operation. Once you’re ready to proceed, Uptime Health supports you with a compliance-management tool that helps you organize your entire process in one convenient spot. Check out what our tool can do. It’s entirely free.