Joint Commission Quarterly Testing Requirements

Q: Do you find that TJC only enforces the quarterly plus or minus 10 days from the MONTH of last test on quarterly inspections (instead of the day)? This is what others are learning at the JCR base camps evidently, and they showed me a page from their training book, which appears to show that TJC is using the ‘month of testing’ as the basis unlike we thought when first discussed.

A: You have touched on an issue that is very interesting. The Joint Commission standards say one thing, but the Joint Commission Engineering Department says something different.

To be sure, Joint Commission has always said that their official position is only found in their standards, in their Frequently Asked Questions and in their Perspectives magazine. No other Joint Commission or Joint Commission Resources publication is official. Therefore, when referencing their ‘official’ position on quarterly testing, we must look at their Hospital Accreditation Standards.

On page EC-3 of the Joint Commission 2015 Hospital Accreditation Standards (HAS) manual, it states: “Quarterly/every quarter = every three months, plus or minus 10 days”. This implies that if the last activity was March 15, then the next activity is due June 15, plus or minus 10 days. So the window for the next activity is June 5 to June 25, or 20 days.

There is no reference in the HAS manual that the “every three months” is from the month of the last activity, just the date of the last activity. Now, representatives from the Joint Commission Engineering department have stated at various times that they are interpreting the above requirement for quarterly testing to be 3 months from the month of the last activity (not the date of the last activity), plus or minus 10 days. This means if the last activity was March 15, then 3 months from March is June, so plus ten days is July 10 and minus ten days is May 21. So, based on this interpretation, you have an open window of 50 days instead of the tighter window of 20 days.

I believe the Joint Commission Engineering Department is honestly trying to help hospitals by making an interpretation that is easier for their clients to have larger window of opportunity for quarterly testing. And who can say that is wrong? But the basic premise is the HAS standards do not clearly state that this is the official interpretation. Since the Engineering Department’s interpretation is not cited in Perspectives, the Frequently Asked Questions, or in the Standards, then it is not official.

As long as the surveyors stick with the Engineering Department’s interpretation you should not have any problems. But what happens when a surveyor holds you accountable to what their HAS standards say? Then you have no recourse since the other interpretations are not official.