November 30, 2023

Our hospital is part of a regional system, and while there had been some low-level discussions about whether we may want to have a unified medical staff, the consensus was that we aren’t there yet – however, there is a strong desire for our medical staff processes to become more integrated even if unification isn’t our ultimate outcome.  Are there options short of formally becoming one unified medical staff?

Absolutely!  While one of the main objectives of medical staff unification is consistency in core processes such as credentialing, privileging and peer review – with the goal towards promoting a single standard of care and reducing the administrative burden for the medical staffs and their leaders – many of these benefits can be obtained even in the absence of a unified medical staff.

A good first step is having similar (or identical) policies for credentialing, privileging and peer review at each system hospital that use the same eligibility criteria for appointment and privileges and the same process for evaluating applications among similar types of hospitals.  The same is true for policies governing clinical peer review, professionalism and health.  Consistent bylaws, policies and procedures across the system help the medical staff leaders to do their jobs, and are also helpful for members of the medical staffs who may practice at more than one system hospital to know what the rules are.

Even if a system has the same process for credentialing, privileging and peer review and has adopted the same standards for these activities, there remains the potential for different outcomes when different committees are making decisions.  Steps that the system and its medical staffs can take to address this concern – short of unification – include things such as:

  • Utilizing a central Credentials Verification Office to ensure each medical staff gets the same information about applicants;
  • Utilizing a system (or regional) Credentials Committee, which includes representation from all relevant hospitals, to avoid inconsistent recommendations being made by individual Credentials Committees on practitioners who are applying to more than one system hospital. The same goal can be accomplished in the peer review process by utilizing a system Peer Review Committee – a process that can be even more helpful when system hospitals include much smaller facilities that may have fewer individuals able to serve on such committees; and
  • Incorporating provisions into the medical staff bylaws/credentials policies for each system hospital which state that certain types of significant actions that directly implicate a practitioner’s qualifications to practice – such as performance improvement plans, precautionary suspensions, automatic relinquishments and final actions by the board – become effective immediately at each system hospital where the individual practices, unless the automatic action is waived by the “receiving” hospital’s MEC and the Board.

While these steps don’t achieve the same level of consistency that a unified medical staff would, they are definite steps along the “continuum of integration” that most systems are exploring and implementing.  Also, as the medical staff sees these integration steps in action, they can also help to quell the concerns that are sometimes voiced about possible unification and can be good first steps towards that goal.

If you have a quick question about this, e-mail LeeAnne Mitchell