QUESTION: Our Professional Practice Evaluation Committee recently asked a physician to attend one of its meetings to discuss several of his cases that are under review. The physician says he’ll only attend if his attorney is with him. Do we have to allow the attorney to attend?
ANSWER: No. The best way to address quality or behavioral concerns is for physicians to speak with physicians in a collegial and professional manner. The presence of an attorney would likely cause committee members to speak less candidly and be concerned that their comments – no matter how accurate and honest – would be viewed as hostile or “defamatory.” Also, an attorney might try to raise procedural arguments that distract from the substantive concerns being evaluated.
Physicians who are subject to a review are welcome and encouraged to consult with an attorney prior to the meeting if they wish. They may also ask the attorney to accompany them to the hospital. However, the attorney should be required to remain outside the meeting room.
We recommend that applicable policies clearly state that no attorneys (neither the hospital’s nor the physicians’) will attend meetings between the physician under review and the reviewing committee (or individuals). At most, the policies could state that a physician may bring a colleague to such a meeting (such as a partner). However, in such case, the guest should not be permitted to speak for the physician and should be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.