Question of the Week

Our peer review committee is wondering if the name of the physician under review should be redacted so that committee members are not aware of the physician’s identity.  Would this promote a fair review process?


While at first blush it might seem like a good idea, we do not recommend that the “blinding” of reviews be part of the peer review/professional practice evaluation (“PPE”) process.  Here’s why:

  • This practice could actually create unnecessary legal risk because it makes it more difficult to manage conflicts of interest. If a disqualifying conflict of interest exists between a committee member and the physician under review, the blinding of information might prevent this from being identified early on.  As such, there could be an allegation later that the committee member actually knew the identity of the subject physician but was deliberately not recused.
  • Obtaining input from the physician under review is an essential component of a fair and effective process. While this input is generally written, there are times a meeting is beneficial as well.  While you could probably shield the identity of physicians when they submit written comments, of course it would be impossible to do so for meetings.  Thus, physicians would be treated differently depending on whether a meeting was held or not.
  • If blinding of information is a component of the peer review process but members of the committee determine the identity of the physician in some cases (e.g., because they heard of a certain case or because there is only one physician in a certain subspecialty), it could lead to allegations by an unhappy physician that the committee violated its policy/practice because the committee knew the identity of that individual. It could be alleged this is “proof” that the committee members were biased in their review.
  • It would take a tremendous amount of careful work to attempt to blind reviews consistently and we think it is impractical on a day-to-day basis. It would stress the PPE specialists (i.e., those who support the review process) more than is necessary, distract them from assisting the process in other and better ways, and all for no great gain.
  • Despite everyone’s best efforts, it is exceedingly difficult to do this completely and ensure anonymity. In many cases, committee members will still know the identity of the physician subject to review.
  • There may be times when the committee members want to access a portion of the EHR during deliberations, which would clearly reveal the identity of the physician.

•   Once the case at issue is assessed, it is then critical for the committee members to know the physician’s history, personality, circumstances, etc.  This information will help the committee identify the most appropriate performance improvement tool (e.g., collegial counseling, educational letter, etc.) and who should be involved.