Does it matter if a cancer center is accredited?

By Katherine Sharpe, MTS


Recently, in a meeting, a representative from another patient advocacy organization made a comment that caught my attention. He said, “People vet their plumbing company more than they do their hospital.” I reflected on this comment and for many people that is probably true. The Better Business Bureau has long offered “grades” on businesses, based on certain criteria. But with about 5,000 hospitals nationwide, how do you know which are the most trustworthy and are best to give treatment?

What is accreditation?

One way is through accreditation. Accreditation, simply put, is a formal process to show that a hospital meets certain standards. The standards are designed to improve the safety and quality of care provided to patients and encourage continuous improvement efforts within a hospital.

The standards focus on how patients receive care, what kinds of rights patients have, and hospital functions that are essential to providing safe, high-quality care. These might include things like clinical ethics (the making of “right” decisions in the delivery of health care), infection control and prevention, how the building is managed and maintained, and how patient information is managed. Accreditation standards are usually seen as cutting-edge yet achievable for hospitals.

These quality measures have been developed for several disease types. In cancer, for example, a facility might be required to have wide-ranging diagnostic and treatment services on-site and participate in cancer-related clinical research.  

Also, there can be varying categories of accreditation, so that the best fit can be established for a particular type of center. Standards for pediatric cancer facility might be different from those for an adult cancer center, for instance. [more]

The value of accredited facilities

So what is the value of an accredited facility? In cancer, it means that the hospital is more informed about cancer and its treatment, as well as appropriate resources. It can offer more consistent and better quality care to its patients. Getting treatment at an accredited facility can strengthen your confidence in the quality and safety of your care, treatment, and services. This can lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life for patients.

Accreditation is important for hospitals as it allows them to participate in Medicare. Because of that fact, 80% of hospitals have sought the Joint Commission accreditation. And hospitals that have Joint Commission accreditation have demonstrated better performance than non-accredited hospitals. Interestingly, it remains unclear as to whether accreditation is solely responsible for improved performance in hospitals. It might be that the facility has general hospital characteristics that are associated with good performance.

It is important to note, though, that accreditation does not necessarily mean the hospital has expertise in a particular kind of cancer care, so you should still find a hospital that has experience treating your type of cancer. And if you don’t have an accredited facility in your area, recent studies show that non-accredited hospitals shouldn’t necessarily be considered less capable than accredited facilities. They often meet the same standards as accredited hospitals in a reasonably strong manner, according to recent studies

Organizations responsible for accreditation:

Joint Commission

National Cancer Institute

American College of Surgeons:

Commision on Cancer (COC)

National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC)



Who sets the standards?

There are a number of organizations that develop accreditation standards for cancer care many of which work closely with the American Cancer Society on a number of survivorship projects. 

The Joint Commission is an independent, not-for-profit organization which accredits and certifies more than 20,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States.

The Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons is a consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients. The CoC has established standards to ensure quality cancer care delivery in health care settings. Another accreditation program administered by the American College of Surgeons is the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). NAPBC-accredited centers have expertise in diagnosing and treating breast cancer patients.

National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers program recognizes cancer centers that meet rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research. NCI-designated cancer centers are dedicated to research toward the development of more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Each organization makes accreditation decisions following a periodic on-site evaluation conducted every 1 to 3 years by a team of reviewers who are considered experts in their field.  The surveyors conduct on-site interviews and review medical documentation to determine how hospitals are performing, based on the standards established for hospital accreditation.

Hospitals that meet the standards are awarded accreditation.

Learn more about finding accredited treatment centers.

Katherine Sharpe, MTS, is the vice president, health systems, for the American Cancer Society, South Atlantic Division.

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