Question of the Week

QUESTION:    “What is the history of the peer review process in the United States?”

ANSWER:       In the United States, the evolution of the peer review process was pioneered by the American College of Surgeons (“ACOS”).  In 1913, the year of its founding, the ACOS appointed a man named Ernest A. Codman to chair a committee on hospital standardization.  Codman was an outspoken critic of contemporary hospital recordkeeping practices and made public appearances speaking on the importance of adequate medical records, which he believed were essential for studying patient outcomes.

By 1919, the ACOS had created and adopted a document on hospital standardization.  The 1924 version of the ACOS “Minimum Standard” for hospitals is archived and easily accessible online.  In the 1924 Minimum Standard, the ACOS set forth the following mandates:

  1. That membership upon the staff be restricted to physicians and surgeons who are (a) full graduates of medicine in good standing and legally licensed to practice in their respective states or provinces; (b) competent in their respective fields and (c) worthy in character and in matters of professional ethics…
  1. That the staff initiate and, with the approval of the governing board of the hospital, adopt rules, regulations, and policies governing the professional work of the hospital; that these rules, regulations, and policies specifically provide…[t]hat the staff review and analyze at regular intervals their clinical experience in the various departments of the hospital, such as medicine, surgery, obstetrics, and the other specialties; the clinical records of patients, free and pay, to be the basis for such review and analysis.

These efforts by the ACOS continued for several decades until they eventually evolved into the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals in 1951.  Since its inception, The Joint Commission has promoted and surveyed the use of peer review (sometimes called “medical audits”) on hospital medical staffs.

You can find more information on the website of the American College of Surgeons, available here.