Red flag for Joint Commission for its gold seal approval to former stem cell clinic firm

The Lung Institute Joint Commission
Screenshot from Lung Health Institute website

Joint Commission Gold SealThe Joint Commission apparently has given some kind of seal of approval to the unproven stem cell clinic-related firm, the Lung Institute, or as it is now often called the Lung Health Institute. For me this raises concerns about the Joint Commission itself or at least its ambulatory care accreditation program through which Lung Health got its thumbs up.

What’s the back story here?

The Joint Commission is a respected U.S. entity that reviews standards at a variety of thousands of health care organizations including big hospitals. If you’ve been to a big hospital there’s a good chance they were accredited by the Joint Commission. However, the Commission apparently gives accreditation to smaller clinics of various kinds too.

When I saw the Joint Commission gold seal of approval on The Lung Health Institute website, I was concerned and puzzled. Frankly, I saw it as a red flag for the Joint Commission since my opinion of The Lung Institute isn’t very positive.

Why?

I’ve been following them on this blog for years. Up until just months ago it seemed like the Lung Institute was a stem cell clinic marketing some kind of non-FDA approved “stem cells” for respiratory problems, which didn’t make a lot of sense at least to me as a stem cell biologist. Now I’m not clear if they use stem cells any more at their clinics based on the text on their websites. They seem to be using some kind of IV of a PRP-containing cellular medicine substance to try to treat lungs and other respiratory tissues. This also doesn’t make much sense to me.

As I’ve written before there also has been a proposed patient class action lawsuit pending against the Lung Institute. Was the Joint Commission aware of this? A Commission official doing an audit could have easily found information on the lawsuit and other concerns on the web. For instance, a brief search I did just now found this concerning news article from last year. I’m not sure of the current status of the lawsuit.

The Lung Institute Joint Commission
Screenshot from Lung Health Institute website mentioning approval from the Joint Commission. Did the Joint Commission carefully examine safety and quality of care? Even do a simple web search?

Beyond the seal of approval for Lung Health, the Joint Commission seems to positively gush with praise in the press release (PR):

“Joint Commission accreditation provides ambulatory care organizations with the processes that contribute to improvements in a variety of areas from the enhancement of staff education to the demonstration of leading practices within the ambulatory setting,” said Michael Kulczycki, M.B.A., CAE, executive director, Ambulatory Health Care Accreditation Program, The Joint Commission. “We commend the Lung Institute and its staff for achieving this pinnacle, demonstrating a commitment to patient safety and quality. Your passion, dedication and tenacity can ultimately improve patient care. Thank you for your commitment to patient safety and entrusting The Joint Commission to assist you.”

Pinnacle? Passion? Dedication? Tenacity?

My junior high English teacher Mrs. Smith would have dinged me for such flowery writing. To me it seems almost like words from an infomercial on TV rather than a statement from a respected, sober clinical compliance organization like the Joint Commission.

Out of curiosity, I searched the web for “Your passion, dedication and tenacity can ultimately improve patient care” and found hundreds of mentions of that exact phrase related to the Joint Commission’s Ambulatory Health Care Accreditation Program. They even provide a MS Word template (note that if you click on that link it will automatically download the template so if you don’t want it, don’t click) with this exact verbiage for use by clients.

Is that a good idea?

How does an organization get this ambulatory care accreditation and the right to use the glowing press release? In part you pay a large fee as the Joint Commission charges for accreditations. From their FAQ page:

“Q: What’s the cost?

A: Accreditation fees include an on-site survey fee and annual fee, both based upon your “average daily census” and services provided.

The average accreditation annual fee for an organization serving approximately 100 patients or residents each day is $2300. The average on-site survey fee for a nursing home of the same volume is $3315 (this is due in the year of the on-site survey).”

The money could really add up. How many Commission clients are there just in the ambulatory care area? The Lung Health PR mentioned a remarkable 8,500 accredited sites of just ambulatory care (assuming I read it right) so if that’s accurate, that could add up to nearly $20 million in annual fees just in this one narrow area for The Joint Commission.

I emailed the Joint Commission to ask both about the Lung Health Institute seal of approval and the Joint Commission promoting such a gushy press release for hundreds of firms. Their reply didn’t really address my concerns about their over-the-top publicity verbiage, but they did clarify that the “accreditation” of this kind from them has an extremely narrow definition:

“The Joint Commission does not assess or address specific clinical methods or clinical treatment. As such, per our guidelines to health care organizations when they receive accreditation and permission to refer to their accreditation and the Gold Seal: Accreditation does not endorse a program or organization’s quality of care. Nor does it “prove,” “assure” or “testify” that a program or organization provides quality care.”

There’s not even an endorsement of quality of care? In my opinion this seems to conflict with both the gushy PR statements related to the Commission accreditation and with the interpretation of the accreditation on The Lung Health Institute website (see screenshot above).

In my brief searching around the web I also found another concerning issue with the Joint Commission. According to a recent piece in Modern Healthcare the Joint Commission is being probed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency:

“The CMS has faced pressure to address the concerns that the Joint Commission and other accrediting agencies engage in conflicts of interest by acting as both an enforcer of Medicare rules for hospital participation while taking on hospitals as clients to improve their performance.”

A recent article in The WSJ in addition suggested The Joint Commission has continued to collect fees and not pull accreditation from seriously problematic client institutions.

I’m sure the Joint Commission does a huge amount of good overall, but the ambulatory care “gold seal” approval to this one former stem cell clinic suggests a bigger problem to me with how the Commission approves firms via this ambulatory care program. In my view this isn’t likely to be in the best interest of patients.

7 Comments

  1. A paid for “approval” from the Joint Commission is essentially of no clinical importance because of what the Joint Commission has turned it into selling their seal with no real investigation or oversight. The Lung Institute has treated many patients in Dallas with a blood draw and called it a stem cell injection which is medically inaccurate…especially for a price that averages $8000. I have not found a medical director who actually has any specific training in pulmonology or even in regenerative medicine…the Dallas medical director has none. A simple wed search shows their website lists their treatment as cellular therapy (PRP-PC)….a curious designation and something none of us in the regenerative medicine business use. There are no stem cells in circulating whole blood and the fact that they are selling PRP as a stem cell procedure (a fact confirmed by multiple patients of mine) is clinically and ethically problematic at least. Plus….to inject PRP back into the venous blood system defies logic and seems at best to be a procedure designed to separate sick patients from $8000 (their average stated cost) and NOT to give them a clinically proven therapy.

    • Yes, in my view as well this kind of PRP by IV approach doesn’t make much sense.
      As to the “gold seal” unfortunately many patients are likely to see that and interpret it as meaning very good things.

  2. From their site: “Cellular therapy (platelet-rich plasma platelet-concentrate)(PRP-PC). When patients receive cellular therapy (PRP-PC), a sample of the patient’s own blood is taken for the cells to be separated and isolated.
    Concentrated cells are then returned into the bloodstream. This may repair damaged tissue and reduce inflammation…”

    So, they take some plasma and cells out… and then put it back in? So you already had those cells and plasma in you, and in your blood stream. That sounds crazy.

    • @Matt, it does seem puzzling. Take it out, put it back in a bit different form, especially given the huge volume of the bloodstream and its ability to dilute. To me this approach doesn’t make either scientific sense or common sense.

  3. In answer to Mr. Knoepfler’s comment about the Lung Health Institute not offering stem cell treatment any longer. Well, yes they are. I know because about a month ago I called them to ask about these treatments after seeing and advertisement on National TV about the use of these treatments at their facility. I called and was told they did not accept insurance because their treatment program was still experimental. The cost for C.O.P.D. stem cell treatment started at 10,000.00.
    Mckay

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