March 12, 2020

QUESTION:        We had an applicant who “forgot” to disclose two hospitals where she practiced in the past when she completed her application form.  We found out about one of them through a National Practitioner Data Bank query and the other when we directed her to correct her application form.  She was very apologetic and said it was an accident because her office manager completed the form.  What do we do with this now that we feel like she wasn’t honest? It seems unlikely that she “forgot” an affiliation where they restricted her privileges.

ANSWER:          Misstatements and omissions on application forms can certainly be very serious and the concerns that your medical staff leaders have are justified. The act of completing a medical staff application form is a practitioner’s very first administrative contact with the hospital.  As an administrative function, we recommend having an administrative response when this type of discrepancy is discovered.  That response should not be an invitation to “correct” the application form, because through the use of such language, it implies to the practitioner that there are no concerns raised by their initial completion of the form or that those concerns are fully resolved by their “correcting” the erroneous information.

Rather, we recommend having medical staff bylaws/credentials policy language that clearly states that the hospital will stop processing an application if a misstatement or omission is discovered – and if it is not discovered until after appointment has been granted, that appointment will be automatically relinquished.  The applicant should be notified of the misstatement or omission and given an opportunity to respond, and then there should be an administrative-level review of that response to determine whether or not to move forward.  The same language should be on the application form release that the individual signs upon completing the application form.  Addressing this issue on an administrative level means avoiding words like “rejection” or “termination” of the application or “denying” the application – which is an action that is only ever taken following a comprehensive review of the application and all supporting materials in its entirety.

May 16, 2019

QUESTION:        A registrant at our recent Complete Course for Medical Staff Leaders in New Orleans in April asked:  Can we call a past Department Chief, as you did in the case study, without the applicant’s specific consent?

ANSWER:          Yes, you can and should! Your Bylaws or Credentials Policy, and application forms, should contain an authorization, as a condition to consideration of the application, to obtain full information about an applicant’s qualifications, including education, training, practice experience, current competence, and professionalism from all educational institutions and organizations where the candidate has practiced.  You should contact department chiefs at hospitals where an applicant has most recently practiced.  The applicant may not have listed recent past department chief(s) as references, but you are not limited to contacting those listed as references by the applicant.  Those providing information should be released by the applicant to the fullest extent permitted by law.

September 13, 2018

QUESTION:        We are reviewing an application from a new applicant who has excellent credentials with respect to his education, training, experience and current clinical competence.  However, the applicant has had trouble working with others and was even subject to a behavioral performance improvement plan at his last hospital.  The Credentials Committee is split over how important behavior really is when a candidate otherwise has excellent credentials.  How should we proceed?

ANSWER:            This is a question we hear often.  You finally find a physician who has excellent credentials, but acts out a little.  While everyone has a “bad hair day” once in a while, it is a mistake to bring someone into your organization whose behavior will undermine your culture of safety.

This is the terminology used by The Joint Commission when it issued its 2008 Sentinel Event Alert.  According to the Sentinel Event Alert:

“Intimidating and disruptive behaviors can foster medical errors, contribute to poor patient satisfaction and to preventable adverse outcomes, increase the cost of care, and cause qualified clinicians, administrators and managers to seek new positions….All intimidating and disruptive behaviors are unprofessional and should not be tolerated.”

The Sentinel Event Alert was followed by the adoption of a leadership standard that required hospitals to adopt a code of conduct or professionalism policy.

Recognizing the importance of working professionally and respectfully with others, most credentials policies require applicants to demonstrate an “ability to work harmoniously with others, including interpersonal and communication skills sufficient to enable them to maintain professional relationships with patients, families, and other members of health care teams.” The bottom line is that behavior matters in the quality of care you provide in your hospital.

So in credentialing the applicant, get as much information from previous hospitals and past employers about his or her ability to work with others.  Ask for a copy of the behavioral performance improvement plan.  Ask for a copy of the underlying concerns that led to the adoption of the performance improvement plan.  Request a copy of any correspondence that relates to behavioral concerns.  And don’t forget to make follow-up phone calls to references and to others who may have worked with the applicant in the past to get a candid evaluation of any problems.

A physician who experienced a problem period because of personal issues, but then improved should not be problematic.  A physician with a longstanding pattern of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior is not likely to change when he or she lands at your hospital.  Don’t forget the middle option of conditional appointment which can also be useful in laying out expectations and consequences should the inappropriate behavior reoccur.

Please join us in our national program – Credentialing for Excellence – where we discuss this and other credentialing challenges.

March 23, 2017

QUESTION:        We have an applicant for medical staff appointment who disclosed that he was under probation for a time during his residency. Despite our requests, he has refused to provide any additional information related to this matter. He also has declined to sign an authorization that would allow us to talk freely with his program director.

We have language in our Medical Staff Credentials Policy stating that the burden is on the applicant to provide any information requested, or his or her application will be held as incomplete.  Is this a situation where we can rely on this provision?

ANSWER:            Most definitely.  When it comes to enforcing such a provision, the law is on your side. Courts from jurisdictions across the country have held that a hospital can refuse to process an application that is incomplete.  For example, an Illinois appeals court, in a case with facts very similar to the situation described above, held that an applicant must “provid[e] all information deemed necessary by the hospital…as a condition precedent to the hospital’s obligation to process the application.”  Similarly, an appeals court in Tennessee ruled in favor of the hospital in a case where a physician up for reappointment refused to release information on pending malpractice claims.  In that case, the court found that that application for medical staff membership clearly required the physician to assist in providing the information necessary to determine his qualifications.

Of course, having good language in your Medical Staff documents (and on your application form) that makes it clear that the burden to provide information is on the applicant – and that an incomplete application will not be processed – is key.  Since you stated that you have this language in place, you can feel confident in holding this application as incomplete until the applicant meets his burden of providing the information you need.

July 21, 2016

QUESTION:        We have an applicant for appointment and clinical privileges who seems to have an unusual number of malpractice cases in his history.  Do we need to do anything with this information if everything else about the applicant checks out?

ANSWER:            Every application for appointment and reappointment asks applicants about their malpractice history.  But many hospitals don’t know what to do with the information they receive. The Joint Commission requires hospitals to consider “any evidence of an unusual pattern or an excessive number of professional liability actions resulting in a final judgment against the applicant” in granting privileges. But what is “an unusual pattern or an excessive number”?

A physician’s malpractice history cannot be ignored.  Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule on what constitutes reasonable due diligence when it comes to reviewing these types of disclosures.  The key is to know what to look for:

  • Not all malpractice claims are created equal, so information should be obtained to understand the nature of the claims.
  • The number of claims may not tell the whole story, but patterns or trends do.
  • Don’t compare apples to oranges – know which states and which specialties are more “at risk” for malpractice claims.
  • There is a big difference between malpractice claims and malpractice verdicts.

To learn more about how to consider an applicant’s malpractice claims history, as well as other hot topics in the world of credentialing, please join LeeAnne Mitchell and Ian Donaldson this fall at The Credentialing Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.