Question of the Week

We have a physician who has been working his way through our peer review process with very little sustained success.  Recently, there were several significant clinical events that caused Medical Staff Leaders to escalate the matter to the Medical Executive Committee which decided to commence an investigation.

Our question is “do we have to re-do all the great work done by our Peer Review Committee, or can we use that as part of our investigation?”

This is an excellent question and one that we hear quite frequently.  We know from experience Medical Staff Leaders will be able to address and resolve most issues that come to their attention, whether they are of a clinical or behavioral nature, using collegial and progressive steps.  However, every once in a while, a practitioner can’t or won’t change and Medical Staff Leaders will need to escalate concerns to the Medical Executive Committee for a formal, capital “I” investigation.

The procedure for conducting an investigation is laid out in your credentials policy, bylaws or investigation manual.  Once you get to an investigation, the stakes are high for everyone, so it is very important to follow the procedures outlined in your documents.

It is also important that the investigation is thorough, fair, and objective.  However, that does not mean that you have to re-do all the work done by the Peer Review Committee.  That would simply make no sense.  The Medical Executive Committee, or more likely an investigating committee appointed by the Medical Executive Committee, should have access to any documents that it deems relevant, including documents from the practitioner’s credentials file and quality file.  The investigating committee can and should review and rely on informational and educational letters along with letters of awareness, and letters of counsel or guidance.  It can and should review and rely on prior performance improvement plans (aka voluntary enhancement plans).  The investigating committee can and should rely on case reviews and reports from external experts.

If you have worked your professional practice evaluation process, once you get to the investigation phase, you may have already done most of the heavy lifting.  The role of the investigating committee may be primarily to pull together all prior progressive actions that had been taken and consider potential patterns and trends.  Additionally, the investigating committee may want to conduct interviews of individuals with relevant information including staff, the department chair and members of the Peer Review Committee.  Critically, even if your governing documents don’t expressly require it, the investigating committee will want to provide the subject physician with notice of the concerns that have been identified and an opportunity to discuss, explain or refute those concerns.

So, the bottom line is you can and should consider information reviewed by and generated for the Peer Review Committee at part of an investigation.  But you should also use the investigation to answer any outstanding questions and to meet with the subject physician.