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).