QUESTION: A physician new to our staff has taken it upon himself to personally “investigate” potential patient safety issues; he says that the medical staff committees are “useless.” He is not a member of any peer review committee. What can we do?
ANSWER: He should be counseled and advised (in writing) of proper channels for expressing his concerns. He should be asked to provide specifics so the matters can be reviewed. It is reasonable for hospital and medical staff leaders to develop a statement of expectations, which can be placed into the bylaws, credentials or peer review policy, or adopted separately, requiring that all medical staff members and privileged practitioners cooperate constructively in the peer review, patient safety and performance improvement processes. Careful procedures must be followed, to track any state peer review protection statutory requirements. It is also a fundamental principle of professionalism and respect that any practitioner who has concerns about hospital policies or other practitioners’ performance should take those concerns through appropriate channels. Otherwise, the practitioner raising these concerns could open himself or herself up to defamation claims by other practitioners whose care or practice he or she has criticized.
The peer review process depends on the willingness of all privileged practitioners to cooperate constructively. Having this responsibility set forth clearly in writing can be very helpful in the event a practitioner continues to act out inappropriately, and thus place the organization and medical staff leaders at risk. In the event an adverse action is necessary, it is best to have a solid written record that leadership reached out to the physician and provided specific directives as to avenues for presenting quality and safety concerns. If the practitioner persists after the counseling and written follow-up, he or she could be placed on a performance improvement plan or conditional continued appointment. That way, if this practitioner decides to sue, it will be easier to defend the claim because he or she will have brought about the action by his or her own conduct. You should, however, look into all the issues the practitioner has raised, through appropriate mechanisms.