Question of the Week

We have a physician who was brought in through a contract with a locum tenens company.  Within the first couple of weeks, he had several horrible outcomes in cases.  We started to review his cases through our peer review process and we are considering a precautionary suspension.  Our CMO just told us that the hospital has instructed the company that the physician can no longer be scheduled at our hospital.  This will result in the termination of his clinical privileges.  Should we suspend his privileges anyway, continue with our peer review process, and then report him to the National Practitioner Data Bank?  We are concerned that he is just going to go someplace else and hurt patients again.

We understand the desire to follow your peer review process, especially when there are serious concerns about the clinical care provided by a physician.  The peer review process is, by design, thoughtful, deliberative, and educational with built-in collegial efforts, progressive steps, and, when needed, opportunities for improvement.  As successful as the peer review process can be, it is not well suited to address concerns about physicians who are brought into practice on a temporary basis.

That does not mean you should ignore those concerns.  However, your medical staff may not be in the best position to evaluate, address, and resolve the concerns identified in a physician who is practicing at your hospital on a temporary basis.  In fact, once the hospital has exercised its rights under the contract with the locum company and instructed the company not to schedule the physician again, there is not much left for the medical staff to do through its peer review process.  It difficult to review a physician’s care when the physician is no longer practicing at the hospital and there is no action left to take after the physician’s appointment and privileges have been terminated through the contract with the locum company.

In fact, this is an area where the National Practitioner Data Bank, through its Guidebook, has been very clear.  If a physician’s clinical privileges are terminated as a result of a contract, that termination is not an adverse professional review action and should not be reported to the Data Bank.

If you are concerned that the locum company is going to turn around and place the physician in another hospital, you may want to put the company on notice of your specific concerns.  The company should have a process for evaluating the care and competence of the physicians and other practitioners it is placing.  But be careful what you say to the locum company.  Your communication with the company may not be protected under your bylaws, or state or federal law.

To protect yourself, request the locum company to have the physician sign an authorization and release so that information about the physician’s practice can be shared.  Additionally, if you receive a request from another hospital who is seeking to privilege this physician, you can request an authorization and release before providing any information, including the standard “name, rank, and serial number.”  A request for an authorization should send a message that there are issues that require further review and evaluation.