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.

June 14, 2018

QUESTION:        We have an applicant for medical staff appointment who disclosed on her application that she was under probation for a time during her residency.  Despite our requests, she has refused to provide any additional information related to this matter.  She also has declined to authorize the site of her residency to release any information to us.

We have language in our bylaws 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 enforce this provision?

 

ANSWER:            Most definitely.  Holding an application as “incomplete” is one of the best tools you have as a credentialer.  And when it comes to enforcing such a provision, the case law is on your side.

Numerous courts have held that a hospital can refuse to process an application that is incomplete.  For example, in a case with facts very similar to the situation described above, an Illinois appeals court 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, in a case where a physician up for reappointment refused to release information on pending malpractice claims, an appeals court in Tennessee ruled in favor of the hospital, finding that that application for medical staff membership clearly required the physician to assist in providing the information necessary to determine his qualifications.

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.

May 4, 2017

QUESTION:        We have just received an application for Medical Staff appointment from a physician who has a history of alcohol abuse that caused him to lose his license.  While his license has been reinstated, how should we deal with the fact that at one point in time he lost his license?

ANSWER:            First check your Medical Staff Bylaws.  Many bylaws have threshold eligibility criteria that not only require that an applicant possess a current, unrestricted license, but also require that an applicant have never had his or her license to practice revoked or suspended by any state licensing agency.  Such an eligibility criterion would render this physician ineligible to apply for appointment.

However, that does not end the inquiry.  Most bylaws also have a process that may be followed to obtain a waiver of the threshold eligibility criteria.  If the physician wants to attempt to qualify for a waiver, he or she should be required to request a waiver in writing and provide the MEC with such information as the MEC may require to determine whether granting a waiver is in the best interest of the hospital and the community it serves.

The MEC should be reasonable and keep in mind that past alcohol or drug use is protected by the ADA.  However, that does not alter the fact that the burden remains on the applicant to satisfy the hospital’s eligibility criteria and, if requesting a waiver, to establish a reasonable basis for the requested waiver.  Whether a waiver is granted is discretionary, the burden remains on the applicant, and an application is incomplete and should not be processed unless the waiver has been granted.

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.

November 10, 2016

QUESTION:        During a recent on-site presentation, an attendee asked whether a hospital could impose requirements on physicians for medical staff appointment and clinical privileges that are more rigorous than the state requirements for licensing.

ANSWER:           The answer to this question is a resounding “yes.”  In fact, not only can a hospital do this, it most definitely should do this.  The requirements for licensing by a state board of medicine often establish a floor from which the hospital should begin in establishing its criteria for medical staff appointment and clinical privileges.  Medical staff policies should set the bar higher when it comes to threshold eligibility criteria so that you are only attracting, and granting medical staff membership to, highly qualified individuals.

For example, Florida law permits physicians who meet certain criteria to practice without medical malpractice coverage.  To be eligible for this exemption, some of the criteria a physician must meet include:

  • The physician has held an active license to practice in Florida or another state or some combination thereof for more than 15 years.
  • The physician maintains a part-time practice of no more than 1,000 patient contact hours per year.
  • The physician had no more than two claims for medical malpractice resulting in an indemnity exceeding $25,000 within the previous five-year period.

Under the Florida law, the physician must also post a sign in his or her office reception area which provides as follows:  “Under Florida law, physicians are generally required to carry medical malpractice insurance or otherwise demonstrate financial responsibility to cover potential claims for medical malpractice.  However, certain part-time physicians who meet state requirements are exempt from the financial responsibility law.  YOUR DOCTOR MEETS THESE REQUIREMENTS AND HAS DECIDED NOT TO CARRY MEDICAL MALPRACTICE INSURANCE.  This notice is provided pursuant to Florida law.”

Even though the law permits part-time physicians to practice without medical malpractice insurance if the criteria are met, nothing prohibits the hospital from requiring a certain level of malpractice insurance for any physician who is appointed to the medical staff and provides clinical care to patients in the hospital.  Indeed, it would be imprudent not to require such coverage because it would expose the hospital to more risk and could result in a patient injured by proven negligence to not be compensated for his or her injuries.