Question of the Week

QUESTION:   “When a hospital receives a peer review incident report on a practitioner, is the medical director of an affiliated physician group practice that employs the practitioner allowed to see the occurrence?”

ANSWER:      This is a question that we receive quite frequently and one in which most hospitals are having to answer because they are part of a system with affiliated groups that employ physicians practicing at one or more hospitals within the system.  The bottom line is that information sharing among relevant entities within a system is an important part of credentialing, privileging, and peer review.  Information sharing ensures patient safety and the quality of care across the system.  However, before any information sharing occurs, there should be a process outlined in your Medical Staff policies so that you don’t inadvertently violate your state’s peer review privilege.

While the details of the process for information sharing in your policies is too detailed to fully outline in an answer to the Question of the Week, below are some important points you should consider addressing in your Peer Review Policy.

If the practitioner involved is employed by the hospital, the Peer Review Committee (or “Professional Practice Evaluation Committee” or “Committee for Professional Enhancement” depending on the terminology you use) may notify an appropriate hospital representative with employment responsibilities (such as the medical director of the group) of the review of the incident report and request assistance in addressing the matter.

Whether notification occurs may depend on the circumstances underlying the incident report and the contemplated intervention by the Peer Review Committee.  For example, the medical director of the group should generally be notified when the concern is more significant and an intervention such as a Performance Improvement Plan/Voluntary Enhancement Plan is being considered.  On the other hand, if a practitioner simply receives an educational letter (e.g., on the need to round daily on patients and record progress notes consistent with the Medical Staff Rules and Regulations), the Peer Review Committee may choose not to notify the group.

Nonetheless, if the group is notified, a representative may be invited to attend meetings of the Peer Review Committee, participate in discussions and deliberations, and participate in any interventions to make sure that the group and Peer Review Committee are on the same page.

You want to make sure you consult your state’s peer review statute because it could affect the way that this process is structured and carried out.  Some state laws specifically address the sharing of peer review information with physician group practices while others are silent.  You also want to be mindful of the fact that some state courts have interpreted peer review statutes to limit what you can do with peer review information.  For example, in a case called Yedidag v. Roswell Clinic Corporation, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded that “the acquisition and use of confidential peer review information for purposes of employee discipline is not a statutorily permissible use of peer review information.”

Finally, it is helpful also to have an Information Sharing Policy in place that, among other things, spells out the rationale for the Policy, the types of information sharing that will occur, the entities that will be subject to the Policy, and an explicit statement that the Policy has been drafted to comply with the state peer review law and is not intended to waive any applicable peer review privilege.