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American Heart Association Quality Certifications: Navigating the Maze of Nonhospital Care

By John Meiners

Navigating the continuum of care for out-of-hospital patients and residents is like wandering in a maze of providers, payers, services, and facilities.

Quality of care is a driver for every path through the maze, and each new intersection brings questions. How can quality of care be measured objectively? How can agencies or facilities assure their patients or residents that the care they provide is based on the current scientific guidelines? And how can consumers make better informed decisions about choosing a center?

The goal of the American Heart Association (AHA) is to help every person have the opportunity for a full, healthy life, and the AHA has recently expanded its certification program to allow for measurable quality improvement in nonhospital care settings.

Costs, outcomes, referrals, readmissions, transitions of care—ultimately, every cycle of improvement in all these factors can be traced back to quality of care. Costs can decrease when quality increases: factors such as reduction in readmissions, patient volume, and improved transitions of care are cost drivers that can improve when best practices and quality improvement practices are followed. Outcomes can improve when science-based best practices are followed.

Many of the people in US assisted living facilities transition to other types of care as their needs change or become more intense. Add to that the number of people of all ages already in skilled nursing facilities—people who need at-home heart failure care, specialized care for hypertension, and hospice care—and the picture is clear: the need for quality care is growing faster than ever.

The AHA’s Quality Certification Science Committee provides oversight of the development of the standards, criteria, and processes for the program. This committee also evaluates the impact the certification has on improving the quality of care. Similarly, the Quality Certification Business Management Committee provides strategic direction, integration, and oversight of the AHA certification program, including business operations and performance of business plans and accompanying goals.

Alice K. Jacobs, MD, FACC, FAHA, MSCAI, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and chair for clinical affairs in the department of medicine at the Boston Medical Center, is the chairperson of the Quality Certification Science Committee. “Science guidelines, best practices, and the growing need for quality certifications in nonhospital care settings and senior living facilities are a great place to start,” Jacobs says. “But, to really achieve a cycle of reliable quality improvement, it helps to have a trusted organization working with nonhospital care facilities and senior living facilities—an organization that can help guide facilities toward measurably improved health and quality of life for their residents by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to develop clearly defined programs for care and wellness.”

Each certification is focused on creating environments that follow the most up-to-date, science-based care guidelines with a focus on establishing standardized care that targets the best possible outcomes. The certificate framework evaluates nonhospital care organizations and older adult living facilities against AHA science and guidelines.

Cory Woods, DNP, MHA, MSN, RN, is the assistant chief clinical officer and senior vice president of population health for Rockport Healthcare Services and volunteer chair of the Quality Certification Business Management Committee at the AHA. “These certifications seek to work with independent and assisted living facilities to help guide them toward improved care and quality of life for their residents. Participation in the certification program provides facilities with the necessary tools and resources to develop programs based on best practices and current American Heart Association science,” Woods says. “There’s no guesswork: American Heart Association support is available every step of the way, providing the necessary education, tools, and resources to develop a clearly defined quality improvement program with standardized care, quality initiatives, best practices, and the latest scientific guidelines. Organizations are evaluated every three years with an annual check-in.”

For patients and residents who are entering the maze, AHA certification gives them the support to weigh the approaches of these organizations and facilities when they’re looking for a place for themselves or a family member.

Currently available certifications in this growing suite include the following:

• skilled nursing facility heart failure;
• home health heart failure;
• healthy senior living for assisted and independent living facilities;
• palliative/hospice heart failure; and
• hypertension: comprehensive hypertension centers and hypertension practice centers.

Centers meeting criteria for certification will receive opportunities to promote their certification, join the national collaborating network at the AHA, and access live and online educational activities from the AHA.

For more information, visit https://www.heart.org/en/professional/quality-improvement/healthcare-certification/certified-care.

— John Meiners is chief of mission aligned business at the American Heart Association.