QUESTION: What happens if a member of our Medical Executive Committee is unable to attend a meeting? Should we require that member to designate a substitute and, if so, should the process for choosing a substitute be written into our medical staff bylaws?
ANSWER: Generally speaking, it is usually unnecessary to require members to send a substitute to cover their absence from a Medical Executive Committee meeting. While you certainly want people to attend and be engaged at meetings, an occasional absence is unlikely to affect matters substantially.
There are also certain drawbacks that come with designating substitutes to attend as alternates in case of an absence. For example, the substitute must be educated on all of the confidentiality requirements that attach to membership on an important committee. In addition, the substitute may lack the necessary background and training to understand the full significance of a particular decision (since he or she will only attend the meetings sporadically). This can potentially lessen the effectiveness of the committee.
If it is especially important for a particular set of views to be represented, you can always invite that person to present his or her perspective to the committee. To allow for this, we often add language in Medical Staff Bylaws that states: “Other individuals may be invited to Medical Executive Committee meetings as guests, without vote.” This gives you the option to bring in others as necessary, but does not mandate that a substitute cover every absence.