November 14, 2019

QUESTION:        Is there any way to ensure that practitioners at our hospital keep patients within the community and don’t unnecessarily transfer them to other facilities for the practitioners’ convenience or profit, without going through all of the rigamarole of summarily suspending the physician and then revoking his appointment and privileges, as in the Patel case that is featured in the “NEW CASES” section of this week’s Health Law Express?

ANSWER:            Yes!  Hospital and medical staff leaders can use a number of strategies to help ensure that patients who present to the hospital for treatment do not end up being unnecessarily transferred away to other organizations and/or other communities.  Most organizations’ Medical Staff Bylaws or Credentials Policy includes, as a threshold eligibility criterion for Medical Staff appointment, that an individual live and/or maintain an office within a certain geographic distance of the hospital.  The intent of such requirements is to ensure that practitioners are routinely available to respond to their patients when needed and to participate in medical staff affairs.  Further, it helps to ensure that follow-up, outpatient services are available to patients within the community.

Note that some organizations choose to have a general geographic distance requirement for medical staff membership (e.g., “within 30 miles” or “within 30 minutes driving”) and to also have specialty-specific requirements for those specialties where patient needs may be more urgent or demanding.  For example, it is not uncommon for there to be more stringent geographic requirements (e.g., “within 10 miles” for trauma).  Further, some organizations impose a loose requirement for general medical staff appointment (e.g., “within 50 miles”) but require individuals within certain specialties to be closer to the hospital when serving on call for the emergency department.

In the end, each organization has to choose how to define its geographic requirements, based on the unique nature of the community and the services offered by the hospital’s practitioners.  There’s not a “right” or “wrong” answer with respect to that.  So long as the Bylaws and/or Credentials Policy are appropriately drafted, an individual who fails to meet the geographic distance requirement need not have an application for appointment denied but, rather, can simply be told that he or she has been deemed ineligible to have an application  processed and considered.  Further, so long as those documents call for automatic relinquishment of appointment and privileges when an individual fails to satisfy any eligibility criteria, an individual whose status changes during the course of an appointment term could simply be informed of his or her automatic relinquishment, rather than the Medical Executive Committee and Hospital having to go through the motions (and possible hearing, appeal, and litigation) associated with revocation of appointment and privileges.

Finally, with respect to employed physicians, many organizations require (either in the employment contract or in separate employment policies) that services to be provided within the employer’s facilities unless certain, enumerated circumstances apply (e.g., the patient’s best interest requires transfer to another facility with more specialized capabilities, the patient’s health insurer insists, the patient requests transfer).

October 24, 2019

QUESTION:        We are in the process of negotiating with insurers to conduct “delegated credentialing.”  We would like to use our Medical Staff Credentials Policy to perform delegated credentialing, but during a pre-delegation audit, the insurer informed us that our Policy does not comply with accreditation standards.  Why is that and what do we need to do?

ANSWER:          By way of background, we are seeing significant interest from hospitals in pursuing delegated credentialing with insurers.  Delegated credentialing means that the hospital performs the credentialing that insurers are required to do before accepting individual providers for participation with the insurers’ plans.  Since the hospital is conducting the credentialing for the insurer, the regulatory requirements and accreditation standards that control are those to which the insurer is subject.  The majority of these requirements and standards come from the Medicare Managed Care Manual, state Medicaid rules (if the insurer has Medicaid managed care plans), and insurer accreditation entities such as NCQA and URAC.

For the most part, these credentialing requirements and standards overlap with those for hospitals.  However, there are a few differences that need to be addressed if you plan to use your Medical Staff documents for delegated credentialing.  For example, the URAC accreditation requirements instruct that the Credentials Committee is tasked with making a “final determination” on applications.  This can be a sticking point for insurers accredited by URAC and which are delegating credentialing to a hospital using its Medical Staff policies for delegated credentialing.  The reason for this is because the Medicare Conditions of Participation and hospital accreditation entities, such as the Joint Commission, require the hospital’s board to make final decisions on applications for appointment and clinical privileges.

Nonetheless, this is not a difficult fix and you have a couple of options.  The first is to adopt a Credentials Procedures Manual that works in conjunction with your Medical Staff Credentials Policy.  You want to be sure that you note in this Manual that the procedures specified are designed to comply with, and for use in, the delegated credentialing process.  A second option is to add an appendix to your Medical Staff Credentials Policy, which includes all the provisions needed to comply with the regulatory requirements and accreditation standards for insurers.  For example, with respect to the “final determination” issue noted above, the appendix could instruct as follows: “For purposes of delegated credentialing and reporting practitioner effective dates to third-party payors, the date that the Credentials Committee, or chairperson of the Credentials Committee (for those applications that meet the criteria outlined in the Credentials Policy for “clean applications”), approves the practitioner’s credentialing will be used as the practitioner’s effective date.”

August 29, 2019

QUESTION:        Our Credentials Policy says that applicants for Medical Staff appointment and clinical privileges will be interviewed by the department chair, the Credentials Committee, the Medical Executive Committee, the Chief of Staff, the Chief Medical Officer or the Chief Executive Officer.  Is there really any benefit to performing an interview as a part of the credentialing process or should we just eliminate this language from our Policy?

 

ANSWER:            There certainly is some debate about the effectiveness of interviews in predicting future job performance.  However, much of the research indicates that unstructured job interviews are ineffective.  On the other hand, structured interviews are one of the most effective selection techniques.

In structured interviews, applicants are asked to respond to the same set of questions and their answers are rated on a standard scale.  Sounds complicated, right?  Not necessarily.  We understand that the development of a complex, standard scale for rating would involve the participation of experts; however, a common set of straightforward questions that are structured to elicit information about past behavior (as opposed to questions designed to elicit information about how an applicant would respond in a hypothetical situation) and that are relevant to Medical Staff appointment, measured against a simple rating scale, can be useful.  This task shouldn’t be outside of the Credentials Committee’s wheelhouse.

There is always the risk of variability among interviewers, but this could be minimized by having at least two individuals conducting the interview, using the same scale but rating separately, and then comparing notes after the interview to reduce variability in rating.

Like we mentioned earlier, questions about past behavior are key because there is less opportunity for an applicant to provide a response that is not capable of being verified.  Interview questions can also elicit information about whether the applicant’s views and practice style are consistent with the medical staff and hospital’s culture.

For example:

Q:        What attracts you to this hospital/why are you interested in working here?

Q:        Tell us about a time in which a case of yours was reviewed through the peer review process and how you participated/responded.

Q:        Describe a situation in which you were asked to do something beyond your established responsibilities (e.g., service on medical staff committee, fill in a call coverage gap) and tell us how you responded.

Q:        Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with another physician and how you dealt with that conflict.

Q:        What role do you see the nursing staff playing in patient care in the hospital?

If interviewing every applicant simply isn’t an option because of time constraints, interviews should, at the very least, be conducted when there are questions or concerns about the applicant’s qualifications, experience, education, training, or other aspects of his or her practice that have been raised at any time during the review of the application.  Thus, rather than having a strict requirement that all applicants will be interviewed, you can adjust your Policy language to instruct that applicants may be interviewed.

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.

January 10, 2019

QUESTION:        A brand new member of our Credentials Committee, who is opposed to a request from a physician in a different specialty to apply for a privilege to perform a procedure that member performs himself, has been lobbying other committee members to deny the request and has asked that the request first be referred to his department for a vote.  A written application has not been submitted. The potential applicant did not have residency training in this procedure but, rather, took a short course conducted by an equipment vendor.  The physician requesting the privilege has threatened a lawsuit on antitrust grounds, because he has learned about the lobbying.  How can we manage this situation?

ANSWER:            If your Bylaws or Credentials Policy does not have a section on how to manage requests for privileges that cross specialty lines, consider deferring consideration until such language is adopted and implemented.  It is a best practice to have the Credentials Committee develop eligibility criteria before processing requests (both for new privileges and for practitioners seeking privileges in different specialties).  If current criteria refer to residency training in one specialty, the committee can review possible alternate pathways.  Any physician, including the potential applicant, can submit proposed criteria for education, training and experience.  The committee should also consider how FPPE would work, indications for the procedure, and how call coverage and complications would be handled. How much training is sufficient to demonstrate competence?   A survey of other hospitals would be a helpful step to demonstrate objectivity. Also, a Credentials Committee member who is in an affected specialty has a conflict of interest and should be recused from the process (but he can submit proposed criteria).  It is best if recusal is discussed with the affected member in advance of the meeting. The minutes should reflect that he left the room before final deliberation and vote on the criteria. A conflict of interest should not be viewed as a judgment on the individual’s character but, rather, as a step to protect the integrity of the process.  And, departments should not vote on criteria or specific requests; that is too easily challenged as a conspiracy in restraint of trade. The applicant’s request should not be processed until either new eligibility criteria are adopted by the Credentials Committee, MEC (and Board), or the current criteria are confirmed. A determination of ineligibility is not a “denial.”  (If the Credentials Committee and MEC recommend, and the Board determines to adopt, eligibility criteria with an alternate pathway that would enable this request to be processed, the interested committee member should also recuse himself from the consideration of the application.)

For more information, be sure to join Ian Donaldson and Barbara Blackmond for The Complete Course for Medical Staff Leaders!  You may want to send the new Credentials Committee member to the Complete Course if he has little leadership experience or to our Credentialing for Excellence program if he is otherwise experienced but lacking depth in credentialing!

October 18, 2018

QUESTION:        Our hospital has adopted a mandatory flu vaccine policy for all employees and our MEC thinks it makes sense to also require vaccines for all private practice providers who are credentialed at the hospital.  What is the best way to do this?

ANSWER:            This question seems to be coming up often — another sad reminder that the summer season has transitioned to the flu season!  Many medical staff leaders see the value in addressing this issue consistently across all providers, regardless of whether they are employed or not.

The simplest solution would be to modify your eligibility criteria in your Medical Staff Bylaws or Credentials Policy so that every applicant and medical staff member would be required to provide evidence of an annual influenza vaccination.  Of course, any exemptions in your hospital’s policy for employees could also be recognized (i.e., allowing providers to wear a mask whenever they are in the hospital if, for example, a medical condition would prohibit them from obtaining a vaccination).

Have other medical staff questions?  Then join Barbara Blackmond and Ian Donaldson for The Complete Course for Medical Staff Leaders, where we will cover practical, real-world approaches to managing all types of Medical Staff leadership dilemmas, including how to modernize the eligibility criteria in your Medical Staff Bylaws.

April 5, 2018

QUESTION:        In regard to leaves of absence, our Medical Staff Credentials Policy says that practitioners’ clinical privileges will expire at the end of their natural term.  Is that right?  Can’t a practitioner be reappointed during the LOA?  I couldn’t find anything specifically addressing that anywhere, but we have a loyal and long-standing member of the Medical Staff who is out on leave and who is up for reappointment.  Are we supposed to kick him off of the staff and make him apply as an initial applicant after his medical leave is resolved?

 

ANSWER:            It is our advice that hospitals not reappoint members of the Medical Staff, or renew clinical privileges for a practitioner, while they are out on leave.  The reason is that when they are on leave, there is something about their situation that prevents them from practicing or fulfilling the duties of Medical Staff appointment and, in turn, hospital and Medical Staff leaders would need to learn about that situation and resolve any concerns (for example, the health status of the individual) prior to making any decision about their appointment and privileges.  For this reason, it makes sense not to process any reappointments while the individual is away.

We recommend that your Bylaws or Credentials Policy language regarding leaves of absence state that if membership or privileges expire while an individual is on leave, the individual may later submit an application for “renewal,” rather than being required to apply as an initial applicant at the time of reinstatement:

If a practitioner’s current membership and/or clinical privileges are due to expire during the leave, they will expire at the end of their natural term.  The practitioner will be required to submit an application for reappointment and/or renewal of clinical privileges as part of the reinstatement process.

Note that individuals whose membership and/or privileges expire while on leave are uniquely able to apply for renewal, rather than apply as initial applicants, despite having a lapse in appointment/privileges.  The distinction can, in some situations, be important (for example, for practitioners who have been grandfathered from meeting current board certification requirements, instead having to satisfy only those requirements in place at the time of their initial appointment).

As part of the renewal application (which would be processed at the time the practitioner applies for reinstatement), the individual should be asked to explain any outstanding concerns that arose in conjunction with the leave (e.g., health status, lapse of currency).

March 15, 2018

QUESTION:        At one of our recent physician leadership courses, a registrant said that they were struggling with an applicant who refused to answer one of the questions on their application form, telling them that her lawyer told her it could violate a settlement agreement that she has with another hospital.  Their Medical Staff leaders think that information is relevant to her request for appointment and want to know if they can still ask for the information and hold the application incomplete?

ANSWER:            Yes!  Credentialers have a duty to review all of the relevant qualifications of each applicant for Medical Staff appointment and clinical privileges and cannot allow the legal interests of an applicant, in an unrelated matter, to interfere with that duty.  Accordingly, the Medical Staff Bylaws or Credentials Policy should state very clearly that every applicant bears the burden of submitting a complete application and of producing information deemed adequate by the hospital for a proper evaluation of current competence, character, ethics, and other qualifications and for resolving any doubts.

A similar issue arose in a 1997 case, Eyring v. East Tennessee Baptist Hospital, 950 S.W.2d 354 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997), in which a physician applicant refused to sign a release form authorizing a hospital where he had previously practiced to send information to another hospital where he had made an application. The physician argued that he received legal advice that signing the release could compromise his lawsuit against the hospital, which had revoked his privileges. The court held that because the physician had not provided the additional information that the hospital requested, regardless of the fact that a settlement agreement was in place, he had not submitted a complete application and, thus, under its Bylaws, the hospital was not required to process his application further.

January 11, 2018

QUESTION:        Our Medical Staff Services Department is reviewing an application for a physician who has been recruited by the Medical Center as an employee. The physician does not meet all of the eligibility criteria in the Medical Staff Credentials Policy, but we understand the contract has already been signed.  What should we do?

ANSWER:            Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common problem. “Credentialing 101” says that an application from a candidate who does not satisfy the Medical Staff’s threshold eligibility criteria should never be processed – even in an employment situation.  So, hopefully, the contract contains a provision that states the contract is conditional upon the physician being appointed to the Medical Staff and obtaining clinical privileges in the relevant specialty.

To avoid this situation in the future, organizations should strive for coordination between their Medical Staff Services Department and their recruiters.  This means educating recruiters about the minimum qualifications set forth in the Medical Staff Credentials Policy, as well as giving your recruiters a list of “red flags” that will slow an application up during the credentialing process (e.g., gaps in experience, negative references, etc.)

To make sure your Medical Staff leaders have the knowledge and tools that they need to manage difficult issues like this, please join Barbara Blackmond and Ian Donaldson at The Complete Course for Medical Staff Leaders.

August 10, 2017

QUESTION:        We have recently had two or three applicants who are returning to clinical practice after a gap of two to five years. What kind of policy or practices do you recommend for practitioners who are reentering practice after an extended time off?

ANSWER:            Practitioners may take an extended leave from practice for a variety of reasons, including family obligations, personal health, alternative careers, or retirement. Several resources for physicians returning to practice are available through the AMA and the Federation of State Medical Boards, among others.

From a Medical Staff perspective, one of the eligibility criteria we typically include in our Credentials Policy is that practitioners are not even eligible for privileges unless they can demonstrate clinical activity in their specialty in an acute care hospital setting in the past two years.  Any exception would be considered through the waiver process.

Another option is to adopt a Practitioner Re-Entry Policy that gives the Medical Staff leaders the authority to develop a Re-Entry Plan for any such applicant.  Depending on the circumstances surrounding the practitioner’s absence, such a Re-Entry Plan could include, among other things, a competency evaluation, a refresher course, and/or retraining in order to ensure that the individual’s general and specialty skills are up to date.

To make sure your Medical Staff leaders have the knowledge and tools that they need to manage difficult issues like practitioner re-entry, physician “burnout,” and other tough credentialing, peer review and policy issues, please join Barbara Blackmond and Ian Donaldson this November at The Complete Course for Medical Staff Leaders.