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.