May 28, 2020

QUESTION:        We have a physician who is up for reappointment and when we started to pull the credentialing, peer review, and quality information together we realized there were very serious concerns that might warrant an adverse recommendation.  We were wondering, do we have to start a formal investigation or, if warranted, can we just make an adverse recommendation at reappointment?  Are there any steps we should follow to make sure we are being fair to the physician and protecting ourselves at the same time?

 

ANSWER:           Reappointment should be an opportunity to make an evidence-based decision that reflects data that has been gathered during the most recent appointment period.  (You can certainly look back further if you need to gain perspective or discern if there are patterns of care or conduct that have been developing.)  Ideally, you will address issues as they come up through the peer review process.  But sometimes, even with a robust peer review process, you don’t see the whole picture until reappointment.

Certainly, if, in looking at relevant information at reappointment, you are concerned enough to consider an adverse recommendation because a lesser action will not be sufficient to protect patients, you have the authority to make that recommendation.  To answer your specific question, there is generally no reason why you would have to commence a formal investigation, separate and apart from the reappointment process.  While many bylaws require that the Medical Executive Committee commence an investigation before making an adverse recommendation, that step would not be required if you are already in the midst of the reappointment evaluation.

In most organizations, the Credentials Committee would do the heavy lifting at reappointment.  That means the Credentials Committee would evaluate the information including documents from the peer review process, incident reports, letters, minutes, and reports.  The Credentials Committee can also rely on the clinical expertise of the department chairperson at reappointment.

As a matter of fairness and good practice, even if your bylaws (or credentials policy) don’t require it, we strongly recommend that the Credentials Committee meet with the physician before it makes an adverse recommendation.  The physician should be given advance notice of the concerns and at the meeting (or in advance of it) the physician should have an opportunity to respond to the concerns.  It will be very helpful to keep a detailed summary of this meeting, including the physician’s response.  The minutes should also reflect, in some detail, the reasons for the adverse recommendation – you’ll need that when you get to the hearing.

One issue that sometimes comes up in difficult reappointment matters is timing.  If the physician’s current appointment is set to expire, you may need to grant a short-term conditional reappointment to give you time to conduct the evaluation and assessment, meet with the physician, and prepare a report of concerns to support an adverse recommendation.  The report and recommendation of the Credentials Committee will need to be forwarded to, and acted on, by the Medical Executive Committee.  If the Medical Executive Committee upholds the adverse recommendation that will trigger the physician’s right to a hearing.

Remember, the hearing and appeal processes are going to take months to complete.  The Credentials Committee and Medical Executive Committee should consider whether there are any conditions that need to be put in place while the processes are being carried out to keep patients safe in the interim.

June 28, 2018

QUESTION:        What happens if a member of our Medical Executive Committee is unable to attend a meeting?  Should we require that member to designate a substitute and, if so, should the process for choosing a substitute be written into our medical staff bylaws?

ANSWER:            Generally speaking, it is usually unnecessary to require members to send a substitute to cover their absence from a Medical Executive Committee meeting.  While you certainly want people to attend and be engaged at meetings, an occasional absence is unlikely to affect matters substantially.

There are also certain drawbacks that come with designating substitutes to attend as alternates in case of an absence.  For example, the substitute must be educated on all of the confidentiality requirements that attach to membership on an important committee.  In addition, the substitute may lack the necessary background and training to understand the full significance of a particular decision (since he or she will only attend the meetings sporadically).  This can potentially lessen the effectiveness of the committee.

If it is especially important for a particular set of views to be represented, you can always invite that person to present his or her perspective to the committee.  To allow for this, we often add language in Medical Staff Bylaws that states:  “Other individuals may be invited to Medical Executive Committee meetings as guests, without vote.”  This gives you the option to bring in others as necessary, but does not mandate that a substitute cover every absence.

 

May 25, 2017

QUESTION:        The Medical Executive Committee disagrees with the way the Credentials Committee is managing a particular issue that has come before the Credentials Committee for consideration.  Since the MEC has higher authority in the medical staff leadership structure, can it direct the Credentials Committee on how to manage the issue?  Or is the Credentials Committee free to proceed as it sees fit?

ANSWER:            While it is true that the Medical Executive Committee is the “supreme” authority in terms of the medical staff leadership, most medical staffs are structured with built-in checks and balances and roles and responsibilities that are assigned to specified individuals or committees.  While the Medical Executive Committee may exercise oversight over all medical staff activities, that does not mean it can intervene any time that it disagrees with the way that something is being done.  So, if the Credentials Committee is performing assigned functions, it has some discretion to determine how to perform those functions – provided that it abides by the Medical Staff Bylaws and other relevant policies.

The Medical Executive Committee can offer suggestions, but has no authority to intervene with the exercise of the Credentials Committee’s discretion by telling it how to perform its duties (again, unless the Committee is violating the Bylaws or a policy or acting unlawfully).  This does not mean that the MEC is powerless, however.  Remember that the activities of all medical staff committees are subject to oversight of the MEC.  So, if the matter is one in which the Credentials Committee is making a recommendation to the MEC (such as a recommendation for a waiver of threshold criteria, of criteria for new clinical privileges, of criteria for clinical privileges that cross specialty lines, of appointment and privileges for an applicant, etc.), then the MEC can take the opportunity, during its review, to “correct” any mistakes it thinks the Credentials Committee may have made.  That could mean gathering more information, if the MEC feels the Credentials Committee did not do enough to scour an applicant’s background.  It could mean reviewing the matter anew, if it felt the Credentials Committee did not adequately address conflicts of interest during its review.  It could mean talking to an applicant, if it felt the Credentials Committee did not give the applicant ample opportunity to be heard.  The list goes on and on.  The point is, the MEC – as a subsequent level of review – has the opportunity to set right a multitude of perceived wrongs.

On a related matter, when medical staff leaders do not see eye-to-eye about how to manage day-to-day medical staff activities, that can indicate that it’s time for more education about the roles and responsibilities of hospital and medical staff leaders, as well as required credentialing and peer review functions (and the risks of not completing those functions well).  Leaders who are well-informed about the content of their Bylaws, the Credentials Policy, and related Medical Staff policies are likely to be more consistent in how they perform their leadership functions.  All medical staff leaders should also receive education about legal protections for leaders, the risks to legal protection (such as frolic and detour), and ways to maximize legal protections (e.g., through management of conflicts of interest, good documentation, reasonableness when dealing with other practitioners, and following a “patient safety first” rule of thumb).

March 9, 2017

QUESTION:        In our Medical Staff Professionalism Policy, should we have a different process for addressing reports of sexual harassment?


ANSWER:           
Since there are unique legal implications surrounding sexual harassment, we recommend that a policy addressing inappropriate conduct incorporate a modified process for review of reports involving sexual harassment.

We recommend that a single, confirmed incident of sexual harassment trigger a well-defined process that involves the medical staff and hospital taking immediate and appropriate action to address the conduct and to prevent it from reoccurring.  For example, a personal meeting should be held with at least two members of the professionalism committee (or similar committee) to discuss the incident.  If the physician acknowledges that the incident occurred and agrees not to repeat the conduct, the physician is sent a formal letter of admonition and warning that is placed in his or her file.  The letter should set forth any additional actions or conditions imposed on the physician’s continued practice at the hospital which result from the meeting.  If the physician refuses to acknowledge the confirmed incident of sexual harassment or there are confirmed reports of retaliation, the matter should be immediately referred to the Medical Executive Committee to conduct a review consistent with the credentials policy or bylaws.  A well-defined process which incorporates these details demonstrates the hospital’s efforts to address any incidents of sexual harassment and attempts to prevent them from occurring again, minimizing the risk of the hospital being held liable in court.

June 18, 2015

QUESTION:        I was recently appointed as chair of a medical staff committee and am very happy, but I just realized that instead of merely attending meetings, I’ll have to run them, so I’m also extremely nervous. Help!!!

ANSWER:          An efficient meeting is the key to making it an effective meeting, and running a meeting is hard work. Here are some tips:

Tip #1. Start on time. This is one of the most important tips. If a meeting isn’t started on time, chances are it won’t end on time, and that has consequences which we’ll discuss below. If a meeting always starts on time, the attendees will more than likely be there on time, since no one likes to walk into a meeting late, and being late disrupts the meeting.

Tip #2. Limit the conversation. What “limit the conversation” means is that if a couple of attendees in the room are making the same point, over and over again, that’s unproductive, so the chair should step in and say “Ok, any other points of view that we haven’t discussed yet?” Also, if a discussion “drifts,” the chair should step in and restate the purpose of the discussion. This can be hard to do, but it is a skill that needs to be developed. Otherwise, the participants start thinking the meeting is a waste of time, and the downward spiral begins.

Tip #3. Take an issue off-line. There are times when a meeting is getting bogged down because no one has the information needed to make a decision. For example, is the bylaws revision being discussed a Joint Commission Standard? A best practice? If no one knows for sure, further discussion will not help the committee make a decision, so that issue should be taken off the agenda until the next meeting, to research the issue.

Another reason to take an issue off the agenda is when there are so many conflicting points of view that the issue won’t be able to be resolved at the meeting. The chair knows that no matter how much more discussion there is, the issue won’t be resolved. So, the chair should stop the discussion, and maybe appoint a small group to investigate or research the issue, then bring the results back to the committee.

Tip #4. End on time. This is the most important tip. If a meeting is to end at 8:30 a.m., end the meeting. Although some attendees don’t mind going over, others will start thinking about work that needs to be done, or another meeting to go to, or an appointment to make – focus is lost. A meeting that runs on and on and on isn’t efficient and becomes much less effective as time goes on. Also, not ending on time affects meeting attendance. If an attendee knows that the meeting always goes over, he or she is less likely to attend the meeting.

Sometimes agendas are just too full, or there may have been too much discussion on one issue, etc. – that happens. But, instead of plowing on through with more and more disinterested attendees as each minute ticks by, just end the meeting, and hold those agenda items over for the next meeting. The exception is if the issue is of critical importance, but that will be few and far between.