Health Information Management

Tip of the week: Help staff defeat the ’Joint Commission jitters’

HIM-HIPAA Insider, December 18, 2007

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Even the best-trained staff members can find themselves a bundle of nervous energy on the day of a Joint Commission (formerly JCAHO) survey. That fear can lead to uncertainty or even panic if the staff member is pulled aside to answer questions from a surveyor. However, there are a number of methods to prevent the 'Joint Commission jitters.' These tips include the following:

  • Make sure you understand the surveyor's question. If you do not understand the question, don't be afraid to ask for a clarification. "You can ask them to phrase it in a different way," says Jackie Smith-Helmenstine, quality resources analyst and regulation and accreditation coordinator for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) in Madison. "This can also buy you a few seconds to mull over your answer."
  • When asked a question, just answer the question the surveyor asked. There is an understandable tendency to "over-answer" a question, particularly when the staff member is nervous. This can have a domino effect, leading the surveyor down a path he or she had not intended to follow.
  • Don't be afraid to use examples of your work. "When you answer the question, you can follow it up with an example," says Smith-Helmenstine. If the question is regarding medication reconciliation, it may be helpful to talk about a recent patient for whom there was some uncertainty regarding his or her initial list of medications. Talk through the process that you underwent to reconcile that list. "This shows the surveyor that not only do you know the answer, you can give an example about how the facility applies that policy, and how we use it," says Smith-Helmenstine.
  • If you don't know the answer, don't make one up. This may seem like an obvious tip, but when nervousness kicks in, it is more common than one would think for a staff member to throw out what feels like the right answer-but isn't. "Rather than make up an answer, tell the surveyor how you would find out the answer," says Smith-Helmenstine. "You're saying you don't know the answer off the top of your head, but you do know where to find the correct information."

Editor's note: This tip is adapted from an December, 2007 article in Briefings on The Joint Commission. For more information, click here.

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