“We have an applicant who is refusing to answer one of the questions on our application form because she says that her lawyer told her it could violate a settlement agreement that she has with another hospital. We think that information is relevant to her request for appointment at our hospital. Can we still ask for the information? Should we ask for a letter from her lawyer? Should the application be held incomplete?”
Yes! Credentialers have a duty to review all of the relevant qualifications of each applicant for Medical Staff appointment and clinical privileges and cannot allow the legal interests of an applicant, in an unrelated matter, to interfere with that duty. Accordingly, the Medical Staff Bylaws (or related policies) should state very clearly that every applicant bears the burden of submitting a complete application and of producing information deemed adequate by the hospital for a proper evaluation of current competence, professional conduct, character, ethics, and other qualifications – and for resolving any doubts.
A similar issue arose in a 1997 case, Eyring v. East Tennessee Baptist Hospital, 950 S.W.2d 354 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997), in which a physician applicant refused to sign a release form authorizing a hospital where he had previously practiced to send information to another hospital where he had submitted an application. The physician argued that he received legal advice that signing the release could compromise his lawsuit against the other hospital, which had revoked his privileges. The court held that because the physician had not provided the additional information that the hospital requested – regardless of the fact that a settlement agreement was in place – he had not submitted a complete application and, thus, under its Bylaws, the hospital was not required to process his application further.