Accreditation is a widely employed quality assurance concept in health care and the survey visit is the central method for assessing participating organisations’ compliance with accreditation standards. Despite this, research on the survey visit as a method for assessing compliance is scarce. In Denmark a mandatory accreditation programme was introduced for general practice clinics in 2016. We performed a qualitative, explorative study of the reflections and actions of surveyors and general practice professionals (GPs and staff) concerning the production of information about compliance with the accreditation standards in relation to the survey visit.
We conducted qualitative interviews with GPs and staff from general practices in two Danish regions before and after their survey visit. We also interviewed the surveyors. We observed survey visits to qualify the interviews and analysis. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analysed using an integrative approach.
The surveyors combined documents, questioning of the professionals, and visual impressions of the clinic to assess compliance. They sought to de-dramatise the survey visit and to generate a natural conversation with attention to workflows. Trust in the professionals’ statements was fundamental to the surveyors’ approach, and they were confident in their ability to assess compliance. Their level of scrutiny was influenced by their observations and the quality of documents. The general practice professionals had generally sought to comply with the standards and to give an authentic portrait of the clinic. The few cases of misrepresention concerned standards that the professionals found too excessive.
The validity of the survey visit as a method to assess compliance was highly dependent on the professionals’ willingness to convey a realistic picture of their practice. Since they were generally willing to do so, the trust-based approach seemed suitable for identifying cases of non-compliance caused by insufficient understanding of the standards. However, it can be difficult for the surveyors to detect when the professionals engage in misrepresentation due to disagreements with the standards. Thus, when adopting a trust-based approach to the survey visit, it seems particularly important to ensure that the professionals view the standards as meaningful and manageable.

© 2021. The Author(s).