More Information On The Merit Award Program

  1. Recognition through the Planetree Merit Recognition Program is different than other quality awards.  

What distinguishes Planetree Merit Recognition among other health care quality awards is its distinctive focus on patient-centered care, defined as a model of care delivery in which health care professionals partner with patients and families to identify and satisfy the full range of patient needs and preferences. The only program of its kind to recognize excellence in patient-centered care across the healthcare continuum, Planetree Merit Recognition is conferred based on a variety of factors, including performance on traditional quality indicators, review of policy documents and, most importantly, how patients, their loved ones, and staff assess the organization’s patient-centered culture. As part of the recognition assessment process, focus groups facilitated by a Planetree assessment team are conducted with patients (residents in long-term care settings) and family members, as well as staff from a multitude of disciplines and divisions within the medical center. The function of these focus groups is to give these key stakeholders a voice in assessing the organization’s patient-centered culture.

  1. The Merit Recognition Program is not only a recognition vehicle.  It is a roadmap and dashboard for patient-centered care implementation.

Reward and recognition are important functions of the Planetree Merit Recognition Program. Experience has shown that such third party acknowledgement for a job well done can uplift staff, generate momentum to take on even greater challenges and help organizations to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Without diminishing this important function of the program, it should be noted that that the program also serves to provide structure and a barometer of progress to the patient-centered care journey. By translating the concepts of patient and family engagement, compassion and empathy, personalization and choice, and the creation of a nurturing work environment into specific and actionable criteria, the program, in essence, converts patient-centered care from a good intention into a concrete goal that can be set, measured and attained. It provides organizations and leaders with a roadmap to guide patient-centered care prioritization and goal setting, and progress toward Bronze, Silver and/or Gold-level recognition become tangible measures of how far an organization has come.

  1. The Program is comprised of three levels of recognition, each serving as an important milestone in organization’s culture change journey.

The program features three levels of recognition:

    • Bronze Recognition for Meaningful Progress in Patient-Centered Care
    • Silver Recognition for Significant Advancement in Patient-Centered Care
    • Gold Recognition (or Patient-Centered Designation) for Excellence in Patient-Centered Care.
The recognition levels provide organizations an array of opportunities to have incremental, sustained progress in their culture change journeys formally commemorated and celebrated by an established authority on patient-centered care. Designed as milestones along a structured pathway to patient-centered excellence, each recognition tier can serve as a concrete target for goal setting, tracking progress and celebrating successes.
  1. Three three levels of recognition are organized around a consistent set of criteria.

The Planetree Merit Recognition Program is organized around a set of evidence-based and experience-based criteria derived from focus group work with patients, long-term care residents, family members, and healthcare professionals about what it means to deliver patient-centered care and what it takes to do it. Each level of recognition is awarded based on fulfillment of a percentage of the complete criteria set, with Gold-level recognition for patient-centered excellence (also referred to as Patient-Centered Hospital Designation) awarded upon demonstration that 100% of applicable criteria have been satisfied.

Within the required number of criteria that must be met to be awarded each tier, sites have considerable flexibility in determining which criteria they will undertake at any one time. However, there are some parameters. A small number of baseline required criteria have been identified for each level. (This does not apply to Designation, since all the criteria are required.) These baseline requirements have been identified as foundational elements of a patient-centered culture that are essential to establishing the groundwork for sustainable culture change.

Bronze Recognition for Meaningful Progress in Patient-/Resident-Centered Care

75% of Planetree Designation Criteria must be met (including the Bronze baseline required criteria)

Silver Recognition for Significant Advancement in Patient-/Resident-Centered Care

88% of Planetree Designation Criteria must be met (including the Silver baseline required criteria)

Gold Recognition for Excellence in Patient-/Resident-Centered Care (Planetree Designation)

100% of Planetree Designation Criteria must be met

  1. The criteria and applications for each tier can be downloaded on-line.  

They are available at

  1. The process for applying for Planetree Merit Recognition includes a written component, a review of outcomes measures and an on-site visit.

The application and assessment process for any level of Planetree Merit Recognition (be it Bronze, Silver or Gold) are all comprised of the following steps:

    • Submission of a written application (also called the self-assessment), along with required documentation
    • On-site visit by a Planetree assessment team, inclusive of observation, stakeholder interviews and focus groups with key stakeholder groups
    • Review of performance on an array of quality indicators, including measures of patient experience, employee experience, clinical quality, patient safety culture and physician engagement.

Within these established process steps, there are two different pathways organizations may take in pursuit of Bronze or Silver-level recognition.  There is no difference in the components of the assessment process; the difference in these pathways is the sequencing.  As a result, which pathway an organization opts for has no bearing on the cost of applying.

Option A: Site Visit First

Some organizations will find it beneficial to begin their pursuit of Planetree Merit Recognition with the site visit*. Based on the findings of the site visit, the on-site Planetree team will make a recommendation of a recognition level the organization is well-positioned to target. Within six months, the site then submits its written application, declaring which level of recognition being targeted. This application will include details on efforts undertaken by the organization to address specific gaps that emerged during the site visit.

Option B:  Written Application First

Organizations also have the option of initiating the Merit Recognition Program with submission of their written application.  This option is well-suited for organizations that have a variety of effective mechanisms in place for hearing the voices of stakeholders and have already identified what recognition level they will be pursuing.  Submission of written materials, though, is not sufficient for demonstrating patient-centered care in action.  Following submission of the written application, a validation assessment visit* will be scheduled.  During this visit, a Planetree team will come on site to validate that what is captured on paper is consistently experienced by patients, family members and staff.  The application will remain open for one year from the date of the site visit in order to give an organization the opportunity to shore up any identified gap areas.

Sites applying for Gold-level recognition (Designation) are required to follow Option B.  The application for designation must be submitted first, to be followed by a designation assessment visit.        

  1. The direction is established, but your organization sets the pace of your recognition pathway.

Some organizations will want to move gradually and receive recognition at each individual tier, beginning with Bronze and making their way on to Gold.  Others may prefer to hold off on applying until they feel ready to achieve either Silver recognition or Gold-level Designation. Either approach is supported through this process.

  1. ***Clarification for VA Applicants***For the patient experience measurement criterion requiring an established performance level against national benchmarks (criterion XI.A), VAs applying for Bronze and Silver level recognition will be compared to their peers. 

As of April 2013, the national benchmarks for comparing VAs’ performance on the HCAHPS questions (as included in their SHEP survey) will be the publicly reported VA national benchmarks.  Until further notice, the HCAHPS performance of VAs applying for Bronze and Silver-level recognition will no longer be compared to the CMS national averages posted on Hospital Compare.  

Please note:

·         The HCAHPS criterion for Gold-level recognition (Designation) remains unchanged.  Until further notice, the CMS national averages as reported on  will continue to be the comparative benchmarks used.

·         VAs’ performance on the process of care indicators will continue to be compared to the CMS national averages reported on

* Note: for Planetree affiliates, this visit would equate to a progress assessment