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Health Care: Where Quality Matters Most

Health Care: Where Quality Matters Most

Those working in health care, from policy makers to those providing care, are committed to providing you and your loved ones with quality care and services. As new technologies for diagnosis and treatment emerge, as new drugs come onto the market, and as new techniques and ways to organize and deliver care are identified, the complexity of health care continues to escalate. We know, through stories in the media and personal experience, that the health care system is under stress. Heavy workloads, delays in getting appointments, long waiting lists, and financial constraints are realities.

Within this health care environment, how is quality maintained or improved? How does a health care organization show you that it is committed to and accountable for providing you with quality care?

Accreditation is a key approach used by a wide range of health care organizations across Canada and internationally. It helps create an ongoing focus on quality to improve efficiencies and contribute to better and safer patient care.

What is Accreditation Canada?

Accreditation Canada, headquartered in Ottawa, is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides accreditation programs to help improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of health care received by all Canadians.

For over 55 years, we have been accrediting health and social services organizations across the spectrum, from home care, residential homes for seniors, long-term care homes, hospitals, and emergency medical services to Aboriginal health services and health care offered by the Correctional Service of Canada and the Canadian Forces. The reach is broad, covering over 35 health sectors, and the assessments are thorough.

While accreditation in health care began as a voluntary process, there is a movement toward it becoming mandatory in Canada and internationally. For instance, Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba have mandated accreditation for many health care services, as a means of improving quality and enhancing accountability. Further, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada mandates that health care organizations that offer a residency training program for doctors (e.g. neurosurgery, orthopaedics, anaesthesia) be accredited by Accreditation Canada. This means all academic health science centres (e.g. The Ottawa Hospital) across Canada are accredited by Accreditation Canada.

Accreditation Canada:  Our niche

Our focus is accreditation. The goal is to provide health organizations with a program that enables the assessment of their leadership and care provision against standards.   This process contributes to ongoing improvement to the quality of care for those requiring services, whether in the community or in a teaching hospital.

The foundation of the Accreditation Canada QmentumTM accreditation program is standards, –standards that are developed with the input of health care experts from across the country and in consideration of relevant research.   The standards focus on the essential components of safe and effective health care, including infection control, medication use,  emergency response planning, governance and leadership.

It’s a journey, not a destination

How do the standards contribute to the improvement of care quality?   Staff within organizations review the standards on a periodic basis to identify areas where they are meeting the standards and areas where improvement is necessary.

Every four years, using the standards as their guide, surveyors from Accreditation Canada visit the health care organization and conduct an independent review of the programs and services, from the Board through to the actual delivery of care.  The surveyors are administrative experts (e.g. chief executive officers) and clinical experts (e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists) who have in-depth knowledge of the area within which they are surveying. For example, a surveyor with a pharmacy background would be a member of the survey team who would assess the degree to which the medication management standards are met.  A surveyor who is a physician may assess the degree to which the surgical standards in the Operating Room are met. These surveyors undergo extensive training with Accreditation Canada, including a certification program that requires them to show ongoing skill development.

Following the on-site survey, which can last from two to five days, an Accreditation Report and accreditation decision are issued.  The leadership of the organization uses the recommendations to make improvements

Safeguarding our health care investment

AC1While accreditation is an investment in health care quality and safety, it is not a guarantee. As an analogy, consider driving. We’re trained and we get a license to drive. We gain experience. We know the rules of the road. And yet despite this, in 2010 there were over 120,000 car accidents, according to Statistics Canada. Now imagine how many more accidents might have occurred if none of these rules of the road  were in place. This is where Accreditation Canada comes in—establishing quality and safety measures within the health care standards and contributing to consistency in the provision of quality care.

As noted earlier, with research and advancements in diagnosis, treatment and other changes, health care is becoming increasingly complex. Patients are older and are living with multiple illnesses. As a result, there is a risk of unexpected outcomes.

By contributing to the standardization of policies, processes, and practices, the Accreditation Canada accreditation program helps reduce this inherent risk. As is the case with other industries like the airline or nuclear industries, it is founded on the premise that standards reduce variation and contribute to improved outcomes.

Contributing a unique perspective

The unique perspective of Accreditation Canada as the sole pan-Canadian health accrediting body helps stimulate dialogue about health care safety, quality, leading practices, and trends in the quality of health care in Canada.

We collaborate with organizations across the health system, including the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada, the Rick Hansen Institute, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Standards Council of Canada, provincial quality councils, and professional associations to help raise the bar on quality and safety.

Each year we publish two flagship reports—the Canadian Health Accreditation Report and the Report on Required Organizational Practices—that paint a picture of health care quality in Canada. The Leading Practices database on our website has close to 500 practices from across the country that have been identified as particularly innovative and effective in improving quality. Anyone who is interested may search our database to learn about the innovative practices being introduced in Canadian health care organizations.

Public input

We seek input from the public in a number of ways. In addition to health care leaders that are members of the Board of Accreditation Canada, there are two public representatives who serve on our Board and who actively contribute their advice.   Further there is a member of the public on our Program Advisory Committee, and we are in the process of identifying other areas where public input would be valuable.

A trusted source of health care information

Interestingly, as consumers, we often spend hours scouring websites and reviewing consumer reports on cars, appliances, vacuums, and televisions. We want to know if what we’re thinking of purchasing is reliable and of high quality. It’s just as vital to, at minimum, give the same time and effort to researching the most important thing of all, our health care, where quality matters most.

Ask yourself … if you needed surgery, or cancer treatment, or a nursing home, would you want a health service that has made a public commitment to providing quality care in all aspects of its daily activities?

Ask yourself … is your health care provider or organization accredited by Accreditation Canada?

If so, it’s a sign that they are striving to meet national standards of quality care and have made a commitment to providing you with safe and effective care. Next time you’re using a health care service, have a look around.

ü  Is there an Accreditation Canada banner displayed in a public space?

ü  Is there an Accreditation Canada certificate of accreditation on the wall?

Or, when you need health care provider (e.g. long-term care home, clinic, hospital), check the list of accredited organizations on our website ( We are a trusted source of information to the public on health care quality and safety. The work of Accreditation Canada is founded on a commitment and belief that all Canadians have a right to excellent health services and consistent quality of care. The pan-Canadian adoption of national standards and leading practices contributes to this goal in a tangible way.

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