QUESTION: Our hospital recently received a request from a former Medical Staff member for a complete copy of his credentials and peer review files. The files are thick – he had a fair number of clinical and behavioral concerns while on our staff. Are we required to provide the copies as requested?
ANSWER: State law needs to be reviewed. However, in most states, hospitals are not required to provide former Medical Staff members (or even current members) copies of their credentials and peer review files. (In contrast, state law often does require that employees be granted access to personnel files maintained by Human Resources.)
Assuming state law is silent, the next question is whether the hospital has a policy addressing such requests. Naturally, if a policy exists, it should be followed.
If there is no such policy, the hospital should consider how such requests from former Medical Staff members for copies have been handled in the past. While a hospital is not bound by the past and is always free to adopt new procedures, it should be careful to avoid allegations that individuals are being treated differently for a discriminatory reason.
The best practice, of course, is to adopt a policy that governs Medical Staff members’ access to their credentialing and peer review files. For existing Medical Staff members, the policy might describe the rules for accessing “routine” and “sensitive” documents, with sensitive documents receiving special protection (for example, names of those who raised a concern will be redacted). For former Medical Staff members, the policy could state simply that copies will not be provided, but that the hospital will provide information upon request to other hospitals as directed by the former Medical Staff member for credentialing and peer review purposes.