Question of the Week

Our hospital is in the process of refining our peer review process.  Our existing framework involves a multi-tiered review where cases are evaluated and assigned a level of complexity or concern, ranging from Level 1 to Level 4.  We are actively exploring enhancements to our current process.  Any suggestions?

The peer review process is one of the most essential processes a hospital has in its toolbelt.  While a hospital’s peer review process should be tailored to fit its culture and needs, we do have some general guidelines that we suggest for everyone.

(1)        Ditch Numbering Systems
Reviewers should be assessing whether there was a concern with the care provided and how that concern could be addressed.  The problem with numbering is that no case ever fits neatly into one category.  So, more energy is put into deciding if a case is a 2 or 3 than what really matters in the review process (i.e., how to help a practitioner improve).

(2)        Incorporate Progressive Steps
Only rarely does peer review need to result in disciplinary action.  Some events can be addressed through a simple conversation or a letter educating the provider on what went wrong.  Other times, tools like performance improvement plans (for example, additional training) might do the trick.  Whatever you choose, your process should emphasize educational, collegial options with disciplinary action being the rare last resort.

(3)        Be Flexible
Do not create such a strict peer review policy that you box yourself in.  It’s not reasonable to create a rigid structure (i.e., first offenses will receive an educational letter, second offenses will receive a collegial conversation, etc.).  Make sure your process is constructed in a way that gives your peer review committee flexibility to identify the most effective performance improvement option under the circumstances.  A fundamental tenet should be to use the least restrictive option that will keep patients safe and help the practitioner to improve.  On the other hand, if a real red flag case comes through, you want to make sure your policy clearly states you can handle the case appropriately (by taking more significant action right away, if needed) instead of being required to work your way through each of the steps in the policy.

If you have a quick question about this, e-mail Hala Mouzaffar at