A Final Word on International Accreditation

Rick Johnson, for HealthLeaders Media , September 9, 2008

While I've been quiet lately on the subject of trade groups attempting to launch medical tourism accreditation programs, others have advanced the story.

First, Avery Comarow, of U.S. News & World Report, blogged about the Medical Tourism Association's bid to become an accrediting body.

Comarow reports that Karen Timmons, president and CEO of the Joint Commission International, resigned from the MTA's board of advisors "after the program was announced and featured on the MTA Web page." An advisory board to the trade group told the MTA's president that the association cannot accredit, according to Comarow, so the MTA swapped out "accreditation" for "certification" on its Web site.

After talking with Renee-Marie Stephano, chief operating officer of the MTA, back in July, I had anticipated that more information about the program would be on the association's Web site by now, but only promotional copy can be found at the time I'm writing this story. On the U.S. News blog, a comment attributed to Stephano states in part: "The media seeks comments from people in the 'quality' sector of healthcare to create controversy where there is none. MTA certification is not about the quality of medical services as clearly stated from the beginning."

I'm sure some might consider me biased on the subject, but I wouldn't go so far as to pin the confusion about this program—whether it's called accreditation or certification—on members of the media. As a business-to-business writer, I find that readers in the healthcare industry are much more grateful when we can provide them with useful, concise, and clear information than when we rile them. To that point, I remain interested to see the association's certification standards spelled out in a way that removes all doubt about its benefits and intent.

The International Medical Travel Association has also responded recently with written comments on the topic of international accreditation. In the IMTA's view, "it is neither sufficient nor professionally acceptable for an organization to simply declare itself a grantor of accreditation while lacking the requisite infrastructure and oversight."

The IMTA paper points out four common-sense guidelines for determining whether an organization is a legitimate accreditation agency. "We believe that with patient safety at stake, accreditation standards and processes must be vetted by internationally recognized accreditation organizations and government agencies," Steven Tucker, MD, president of the IMTA says in a prepared statement. "The emergence of trade groups and others declaring themselves as quality accreditors or certification authorities not only threatens the integrity of existing organizations, but also creates market confusion at a time when global outsourcing of medical care is a growing phenomenon."

Rick Johnson is senior online editor of HealthLeaders Media. He may be reached at rjohnson@healthleadersmedia.com.
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