Picture your worst professional nightmare. What would it be? Leaving a sponge inside a patient? Operating on the wrong limb? Painfully misdiagnosing a disease?


For us reporters, our nightmares are of much smaller scale. No lives are on the line. But that didn't make my freak-out session this morning any less severe when I realized that I lost my digital voice recorder, that precious little depository with a week's worth of interviews stowed away, including the one I wanted to use for this blog.

Okay, sorry I'm dillydallying; I'll get to my point. The Joint Commission revealed its 2012 annual report recently, highlighting what it says are 620 of the nation's top-performing hospitals. That's a more than 50 percent increase from the previous year's results, Mark Chassin, M.D., president of the organization, told reporters during a conference call.

All told, hospitals took the necessary steps to comply with the commission's accountability measures about 96.6 percent of the time on 16 million opportunities to "provide the right care." That's up from about 95.6 percent on 12 million instances the previous year.

"The Joint Commission began releasing this information as a way to shine a light on and encourage excellence on accountability measures," he says. "The significant increase in the number of hospitals achieving top performers status demonstrates that these organizations are intently focused on delivering high-quality care within their communities."

This is the 10th year that the Joint Commission has been collecting such health care data, Chassin says, and its "Top Performers on Key Quality Measures" dates back to September 2011. The program gives a nod to hospitals that have performed well in 45 different "accountability measures," relating to everything from heart failure, to pneumonia, to surgical care. Top performers achieved a composite score of 95 percent or higher on all accountability measures for which it reports data to the commission.

Three new measures sets were added in this iteration: stroke, venous thromboembolism and inpatient psychiatric services. And as such, for the first time, 43 freestanding psychiatric hospitals or hospitals with inpatient psychiatric units were included on the top performers tally.

Some of the industry's biggest and most-admired players were noticeably absent from the list. But Chassin pointed out that the bigger providers have a much higher volume of patients to serve, and more accountability measures to meet. Plus, 17 percent of the 3,300 Joint Commission-accredited hospitals reporting data to the organization missed being a top performer by only one measure, he added.

"When we raise the bar and provide the proper guidance and tools, hospitals have answered with excellent results," Chassin said in a letter introducing the annual report. "Their capacity for continual improvement points toward a future in which quality and safety defects are dramatically reduced and high reliability is expected and achieved. Day-to-day progress will slowly but surely transform today's health care system into one that achieves unprecedented performance outcomes for the benefit of patients we serve."

What's your experience been like in tracking and reporting data to the Joint Commission? Have you seen dramatic improvements in the care you're providing? Or are you still living out your nightmares in the doctor's office? And have you seen a little black Sony voice recorder?