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Ga. Code Ann. §31-7-15. Review of professional practices in hospital or ambulatory surgical center
(a) A hospital or ambulatory surgical center shall provide for the review of professional practices in the hospital or ambulatory surgical center for the purpose of reducing morbidity and mortality and for the improvement of the care of patients in the hospital or ambulatory surgical center. This review shall include, but shall not be limited to, the following:
(1) The quality of the care provided to patients as rendered in the hospital or ambulatory surgical center;
(2) The review of medical treatment and diagnostic and surgical procedures in order to foster safe and adequate treatment of patients in the hospital or ambulatory surgical center; and
(3) The evaluation of medical and health care services or the qualifications and professional competence of persons performing or seeking to perform such services.
(b) The functions required by subsection (a) of this Code section may be performed by a “peer review committee,” defined as a committee of physicians appointed by a state or local or specialty medical society or appointed by the governing board or medical staff of a licensed hospital or ambulatory surgical center or any other organization formed pursuant to state or federal law and engaged by the hospital or ambulatory surgical center for the purpose of performing such functions required by subsection (a) of this Code section.
(c) Compliance with the above provisions of subsection (a) of this Code section shall constitute a requirement for granting or renewing the permit of a hospital or ambulatory surgical center. The functions required by this Code section shall be carried out under the regulations and supervision of the department.
(d) Proceedings and records conducted or generated in an attempt to comply with the duties imposed by subsection (a) of this Code section shall not be subject to the provisions of either Chapter 14 or Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50.
(e) Nothing in this or any other Code section shall be deemed to require any hospital or ambulatory surgical center to grant medical staff membership or privileges to any licensed practitioner of the healing arts.
§ 31-7-130. Purpose
It is the intent of the General Assembly to provide protection for those individuals who are members of peer review groups which evaluate the quality and efficiency of professional health care providers and to protect the confidentiality of their records.
§31 -7-131. Definitions
(1) “Peer review” means the procedure by which professional health care providers evaluate the quality and efficiency of services ordered or performed by other professional health care providers, including practice analysis, inpatient hospital and extended care facility utilization review, medical audit, ambulatory care review, claims review, underwriting assistance, and the compliance of a hospital, nursing home, convalescent home, or other health care facility operated by a professional health care provider with the standards set by an association of health care providers and with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.
(2) “Professional health care provider” means an individual who is licensed, or an organization which is approved, to practice or operate in the health care field under the laws of Georgia, including, but not limited to, the following individuals or organizations.
(A) A physician;
(B) A dentist;
(C) A podiatrist;
(D) A chiropractor;
(E) An optometrist;
(F) A psychologist;
(G) A pharmacist;
(H) A registered or practical nurse;
(I) A physical therapist;
(J) An administrator of a hospital, a nursing or convalescent home, or other health care facility;
(K) A corporation or other organization operating a hospital, a nursing or convalescent home, or other health care facility, as well as the officers, directors, or employees of such corporation or organization or the members of such corporation’s or organization’s governing board who are performing a peer review function;
(L) A rehabilitation supplier registered with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation; and
(M) An occupational therapist.
(3) “Review organization” means a nationally recognized health care accreditation body or any panel, committee, or organization:
(i) Is primarily composed of professional health care providers;
(ii) Is an insurer, self-insurer, health maintenance organization, preferred provider organization, provider network, or other organization engaged in managed care; or
(iii) Provides professional liability insurance for health care providers; and
(B) Which engaged in or utilizes peer reviews and gathers and reviews information relating to the care and treatment of patients for the purposes of:
(i) Evaluating and improving the quality and efficiency of health care rendered;
(ii) Reducing morbidity or mortality;
(iii) Evaluating claims against health care providers or engaging in underwriting decisions in connection with professional liability insurance coverage for health care providers;
(iv) Compiling aggregate data concerning the procedures and outcomes of hospitals for the purposes of evaluating the quality and efficiency of health care services. Under no circumstances shall any such aggregate data or any other peer review information relating to an individual professional health care provider be disclosed or released to any person or entity without the express prior written consent of such health care provider, but such aggregate data or other peer review information may be released to another review organization upon the written request of such organization if such requesting review organization has specific reason to believe that immediate access to such aggregate data or information is necessary to protect the public health, safety, and welfare. Such aggregate data and other peer review information shall be used for peer review purposes only and in no event shall such aggregate data or any other peer review information be sold or otherwise similarly distributed, but a review organization shall be authorized to utilize the services of and pay a fee to another person or entity to compile or analyze such aggregate data;
(v) Evaluating the quality and efficiency of health care services rendered by a professional health care provider in connection with such provider’s participation as or request to participate as a provider in or for an insurer, self-insurer, health maintenance organization, preferred provider organization, provider network, or other organization engaged in managed care; or
(vi) Performing any of the functions or activities described in Code Section 31-7-15.
§31-7-132. Immunity from liability
(a) No professional health care provider nor any individual who serves as a member or employee of a professional health care provider or review organization nor any individual who furnishes counsel or services to a professional health care provider or review organization shall be held, by reason of the performance of peer review activities, to have violated any criminal law or to be civilly liable under any law unless he was motivated by malice toward any person affected by such activity.
(b) No person, whether as a witness or otherwise, who provides information regarding peer review to a professional health care provider or review organization shall be held, by reason of having provided such information, to have violated any criminal law or to be civilly liable under any law unless such information is false and the person providing it knew that such information was false.
§31-7-133. Confidentiality of review records; exceptions
(a) Except in proceedings alleging violation of this article, the proceedings and records of a review organization shall be held in confidence and shall not be subject to discovery or introduction into evidence in any civil action; and no person who was in attendance at a meeting of such organization shall be permitted or required to testify in any such civil action as to any evidence or other matters produced or presented during the proceedings or activities of such organization or as to any findings, recommendations, evaluations, opinions, or other actions of such organization or any members thereof. The confidentiality provisions of this article shall also apply to any proceedings, records, actions, activities, evidence, findings, recommendations, evaluations, opinions, data, or other information shared between review organizations which are performing a peer review function or disclosed to a governmental agency as required by law. However, information, documents, or records otherwise available from original sources are not to be construed as immune from discovery or use in any such civil action merely because they were presented during proceedings of such organization, nor should any person who testifies before such organization or who is amember of such organization be prevented from testifying as to matters within such person’s knowledge; but such witness cannot be asked about such witness’s testimony before such organization or about opinions formed by such witness as a result of the organization hearings. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Department of Community Health may inspect and copy peer review materials maintained by certain providers when it is determined by the department to be necessary in the department’s licensure and certification responsibilities under Code Section 31-7-15; provided, however, such inspection and copying shall not waive or abrogate the confidentiality of such peer review materials as set forth in this Code section and in Code Section 31-7-15.
(b) This Code section shall not apply to prevent:
(1) The disclosure under Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50 of those documents in the department’s custody which are records, reports, or recommendations of a nationally recognized health care accreditation body and which are provided by an institution to the department for licensure purposes under subsection (b) of Code Section 31-7-3;
(2) The use of peer review documents in any proceeding involving the permitting or licensing of an institution pursuant to this chapter to the extent necessary to challenge the effectiveness of the institution’s peer review system, provided, however, such use shall not waive or abrogate the confidentiality of such documents as set forth in this Code Section and in Code Section 31-7-15; or
(3) A health care provider from obtaining the specific reasons and the records and proceedings related to such provider’s exclusion or termination as a participating provider in a health maintenance organization, provider network, or other organization which engages in managed care if such provider has brought a civil action against such health maintenance organization, provider network, or other organization for wrongful exclusion or termination.
§31-7-140. “Medical review committee” defined
As used in this article, the term “medical review committee” means a committee of a state or local professional society or of a medical staff or a licensed hospital, nursing home, medical foundation, or peer review committee, provided the medical staff operates pursuant to written bylaws that have been approved by the governing board of the hospital or nursing home, which committee is formed to evaluate and improve the quality of health care rendered by providers of health service or to determine that health services rendered were professionally indicated or were performed in compliance with the applicable standard of care or that the cost of health care rendered was considered reasonable by the providers of professional health services in the area.
§31-7-141. Immunity from liability for members of committees
There shall be no monetary liability on the part of and no cause of action for damages shall arise against any member of a duly appointed medical review committee for any act or proceeding undertaken or performed within the scope of the functions of any such committee if the committee member acts without malice or fraud. This immunity shall apply only to actions by providers of health services, and in no way shall this Code section render any medical review committee immune from any action in tort or contract brought by a patient or his successors or assigns. This Code section shall not affect the immunity of an officer or an employee of a public corporation.
§31-7-143. Introduction of records into evidence; testimony of members of committees
The proceedings and records of medical review committees shall not be subject to discovery or introduction into evidence in any civil action against a provider of professional health services arising out of the matters which are the subject of evaluation and review by such committee; and no person who was in attendance at a meeting of such committee shall be permitted or required to testify in any such civil action as to any evidence or other matters produced or presented during the proceedings of such committee or as to any findings, recommendations, evaluations, opinions, or other actions of such committee or any members thereof. However, information, documents, or records otherwise available from original sources shall not be construed as immune from discovery or use in any such civil action merely because they were presented during proceedings of such committee; nor shall any person who testifies before such committee or who is a member of such committee be prevented from testifying as to matters within his knowledge, provided that such witness may not be questioned regarding his testimony before such a committee or opinions formed by him as a result of such committee hearings.
*§51-5-7. Privileged communications
The following communications are deemed privileged:
(2) Statements made in good faith in the performance of a legal or moral private duty;
*See Murray v. Cmty. Health Sys. Prof’l Corp., 811 S.E.2d 531 (Ga. Ct. App. 2018) (holding that statements made by a hospital CEO to a hospital department chair regarding a practitioner’s termination are subject to the qualified privilege of OCGA § 51-5-7(2), where those statements were made in good faith).