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Tracer Methodology

  • A key part of The Joint Commission’s onsite survey process, the tracer methodology uses information from an organization to follow the experience of care, treatment, or services for a number of patients through the organization’s entire health care delivery process.
  • Tracers allow surveyors to identify performance issues in one or more steps of the process or interfaces between processes.

The types of tracers used by The Joint Commission during the survey are:

Individual tracer activity: These tracers are designed to “trace” the care experiences that a patient had while receiving services from the organization. It is a way to analyze the organization’s system of providing care, treatment or services using actual patients as the framework for assessing standards compliance. Patients selected for these tracers will likely be those in high-risk areas or whose diagnosis, age or type of services received may enable the best in-depth evaluation of the organization’s processes and practices.

System tracer activity: While individual tracers follow a patient through his or her course of care, the system tracer evaluates the system or process, including the integration of related processes, and the coordination and communication among disciplines and departments in those processes. The three topics evaluated by system tracers are data management, infection control and medication management.

Accreditation program-specific tracers: The goal of these tracers is to identify risk points and safety concerns within different levels and types of care, treatment or services. Program-specific tracers focus on important issues relevant to the organization — such as clinical services offered and high-risk, high-volume patient populations.

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