QUESTION: The medical staff recently began an investigation of one of our employed physicians. We have decided to exercise our right to terminate the physician without cause which, per the terms of his employment agreement, will result in the automatic expiration of his medical staff appointment. Is this reportable? Is there anything else we should consider?
ANSWER: This situation is not reportable to the Data Bank. How do we know – the Data Bank told us. We also have some other recommendations that you should consider.
First, the termination of the Physician’s appointment due to the terms of an agreement is not reportable. That is true even if the physician is under medical staff investigation at the time of the termination.
When asked about a similar situation, we received the following response and analysis from the Data Bank:
Regulations and Policies:
Under 45 CFR §60.12(a)(i), “[e]ach health care entity must report to the NPDB…[a]ny professional review action that adversely affects the clinical privileges of a physician or dentist for a period longer than 30 days.”
Under 45 CFR §60.3, a professional review action is “…an action or recommendation of a health care entity; 1) taken in the course of professional review activity; 2) based on the professional competence or professional conduct of an individual health care practitioner which affects or could affect adversely the health or welfare of a patient or patients; and 3) which adversely affects or may adversely affect the clinical privileges or membership in a professional society of the health care practitioner…” Additionally, a professional review activity under 45 CFR §60.3 is “an activity of a health care entity with respect to an individual health care practitioner…[t]o change or modify such privileges.” According to the NPDB Guidebook, the reporting entity generally decides when a professional review has occurred.
According to the NPDB Guidebook, “[a]dministrative actions that do not involve a professional review action should not be reported to the NPDB.”2 This point is illustrated in Q&A#2.3 In Q&A#2, the hospital used its employment termination procedures, not a professional review process, to revoke the practitioner’s clinical privileges. Since the hospital did not take the action through the professional review process, the revocation of the clinical privileges was not reportable.
In this scenario, the facility is terminating its employment arrangement with a physician due to the physician’s past non-compliance. The employment agreement requires that the physician relinquish his or her privileges if requested by the facility. Should the facility report the relinquishment of the privileges? Based on these facts, and similar to Q&A#2, the facility in this scenario is using its employment termination procedures to remove the practitioner’s privileges. Since it is using its employment termination procedures and not its professional review processes to remove the privileges, the relinquishment of the physician’s privileges would not be a reportable action.
We also have some practical advice for employers everywhere. When preparing an employment agreement, give some thought to the length of the notice period to terminate the agreement without cause. This period should be long enough to provide time to find a replacement, but not so long that it will create a financial strain on the employer’s finances if it decides to provide the physician with pay in lieu of working out the notice period (which is common).
While the decision to terminate the employment agreement must be made solely by the employer, the employer should make the medical staff committee involved in the investigation aware of its decision. Also remind the Committee members that if they receive a request for a recommendation about this physician, they should inform Hospital management of the request. The Hospital’s medical staff office should then inform the physician requesting the recommendation that no information will be provided without the physician executing a release that is specific to your hospital.