Academic accreditation offers a public seal of approval—a guarantee of quality in higher education programs. However, traditional evaluation processes for accrediting health professions programs are out of date with changes in the global health care and higher educational environments and need to change, according to a report by a task force directed by the UC San Francisco Center for the Health Professions.
The Task Force On Accreditation of Health Professions Education report recommends that accrediting agencies be more responsive to the needs of students and the public, adopt a uniform approach to accrediting all programs, and explore new technologies to streamline accreditation.
“Accreditation today is at a crossroads—caught between the ‘old way’ of doing things and demands for a ‘new way’ of doing business,” said Edward O’ Neil, PhD, director of the Center for the Health Professions, executive director of the Pew Health Commission, and a member of the task force. “Students have a right to know that the programs they enter will prepare them to be good physicians, nurses, dentists, or therapists. And members of the public have a right to know that the people to whom they entrust their health have the education they need to do their jobs well.”
The accreditation process has become complex and inefficient, focussing more on rigid compliance with arcane rules than on improving the quality of educational programs that graduate new health professionals, according to the report.
Part of the problem with accreditation lies in the number of accrediting agencies, according to the report. More than 50 accreditation programs evaluate higher education programs for physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, acupuncturists, and other health professionals. All of them use different standards and reporting requirements, creating more work for educational programs seeking accreditation and increasing the cost of accreditation.
“In addition, the process itself is far from ideal,” said O’ Neil. “Standards for accreditation are developed with little if any public input, teams of site visitors are notoriously uneven in their evaluations, and considerable human, physical, and financial resources are consumed by the accreditation process.”
## In the report, the task force identified four major issues in accreditation:
* the need for a simplified process,
* the development of, and transition to, a process focused on improvement,
* the creation of closer linkages between the accreditation community and its stakeholders, and
* the use of generic benchmarks or standards.
## After engaging in extensive discussions and consultations with educators, accreditors, professional associations, and government regulators, the task force developed the following core recommendations:
* Educational institutions, programs, and accreditors must recognize their shared responsibility for responding to the changing needs of the public, employers, professional bodies, and students.
* Educators and accreditors must work together to foster an organizational culture centered on educational assessment and improvement.
* Accreditation must reward innovative methods to enhance efficiency, minimize waste and duplication, and streamline assessment processes.
* All accrediting agencies should adopt a consistent approach to accreditation that uses five common criteria and one profession-specific criterion (5 + 1 approach).
* Accrediting agencies must continually review their own accreditation programs and make improvements to ensure that they respond to the needs of the people they serve.
Each recommendation is accompanied by a set of specific implementation strategies for both educators and accreditors.
James Kimmey, MD, MPH, Saint Louis University, is the chair of the task force and Sherril Gelmon, DrPH, FACHE, Portland State University and UCSF Center for the Health Professions is project director. The task force includes members from fourteen institutions nationwide.
The UCSF Center for the Health Professions seeks to assist health care professionals, health professions schools, health care delivery organizations, and public policy makers in responding to the challenges of educating and managing a health care workforce capable of improving the health and well being of people in their communities.
The UCSF Center for the Health Professions is part of the UCSF Center for Health and Community, a multidisciplinary center which assesses the challenges of the changing health care delivery environment and identifies policies and interventions to maximize the beneficial impact of the changing health care delivery system. The Center for Health and Community is comprised of programs and individual faculty from all UCSF Schools who have been at the cutting edge of health services and policy-related research for many years, and includes the basic social and behavioral scientists in epidemiology, health policy, anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, bioethics, economics, and clinical research.