Hospitals often surprised by the fully-loaded cost of international accreditation

While many equate accreditation with something specific to medical tourism, it really isn’t about medical tourism. Hospitals seek accreditation to assure patient quality, safety, through external observation and verification that a healthcare organization’s practices, principles, policies and procedures are real, implemented, and followed consistently for every patient that enters its doors, not just those who are visiting from some faraway land.

Throughout the world, licensing is required for a health care organization to care for patients. By comparison, accreditation is an elective undertaking in most developed countries.

For many underdeveloped and developing nations keen on launching a medical tourism program, raising the funds the budget for preparatory consultation and guidance can be quite the financial challenge. We’ve helped many hospitals prepare for accreditation throughout the world– all with 100% success. The average cost for a hospital of  300 beds or more to prepare for accreditation by JCI or another accrediting body can run nearly $250,000 (USD) after all is said and done. That’s not to say that the cost to pay JCI is that much. When one adds up the cost of the preparation, training, consultation, gap analysis, mock survey, documentation and little operational and physical plant “tweaks” here and there, one can easily understand how the number can get that high, or in the case of larger or older hospitals, much higher.

Many international hospitals select the Joint Commission International (JCI) as the set of standards they elect to follow, but there are several other accrediting bodies from which to choose as the adopted standards. When you compare them side by side in a comparison table, as we have, they are all essentially the same. The biggest difference is the cost. Of course, there are some subtleties, but after all, that’s what branding is all about.  Some hospitals are under the impression that insurance companies in the USA require “Joint Commission International” accreditation in order to be considered for network acceptance. This is a rumor, and as the doyenne of managed care contract analysis in the USA, I can tell you that in my collection of more than 2000 hospital client contracts from every major insurer and health plan in America, no such requirement exists. Not even for American hospitals.  Furthermore, “Joint Commission International” and “The Joint Commission” are two different companies, two different sets of standards and both happen to have offices in the same Chicago suburb, actually in the same office complex. But they are not the same by any stretch of the imagination.

Accreditation efforts may be underwritten by the hospital alone, or if the choice to seek accreditation is part of a branding initiative to raise the awareness of the destination, then the cost could be jointly underwritten by an agency of the government, the regional or national medical tourism economic cluster, or an economic development council that’s involved raising the brand visibility and attractiveness of the destination as a whole. Another option is to seek a grant or a loan a development or reconstruction bank, but we don’t advocate that because we haven’t seen the return on investment from medical tourism revenues high enough to be able to service the debt.  While the hospital often afford to pay the accreditation survey fee, the cost of the manual and the surveyor travel costs, there are many internal soft costs in addition to the cost of the consultation along the preparation stage.  This commitment has to be made with the understanding that every three years, the entire undertaking must be repeated.

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