Tag Archives: clinical privileges

Peer Review and “Disruptive Physician” Cases Physicians Should Know

Although Meyers v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.is one of the major cases concerning  termination of clinical privileges and peer review hearings, there have been other recent clinical privileges cases that are important for physicians to know when confronted with a peer review action. This is especially true if the physician is being accused of disruptive behavior.

One such case is Isaiah v. WHMS Braddock Hospital Corp., decided in 2008. In this case, Dr. Isaiah’s medical staff privileges were revoked after hospital staff members reportedly expressed concerns about the surgeon’s surgical skills and allegedly compulsive behavior. Dr. Isaiah argued that his behavior did not impact his skills. The court concluded that the hospital’s revocation of Dr. Isaiah’s medical staff privileges was immune from liability under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) because the hospital acted in an attempt to protect quality health care, which relates not only to a physician’s abilities, but also to the doctor’s behavior.

In 2009, Abu-Hatab v. Blount Memorial Hospital was decided, again in favor of the hospital. In this case, Dr. Abu-Hatab sued Blount Memorial Hospital after his medical staff membership and clinical privileges had been terminated due to his allegedly disruptive behavior. Dr. Abu-Hatab argued that allegations of his poor conduct were not true. However, the court decided that it didn’t matter whether the complaints were undisputedly true. Under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, as long as a hospital and its medical staff act “reasonably” in considering complaints, the professional review actions are protected. According to the court, the hospital’s many meetings concerning Dr. Abu-Hatab’s behavior were enough to show that it acted reasonably.

Another case reported originally in 2009, Leal v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, involved a urologist, Dr. Leal, who held clinical privileges at Cape Canaveral Hospital in Florida. According to the reported court decison, after being told he would have to wait to use an operating room, Dr. Leal exhibited behavior that led the hospital to suspend his clinical privileges for sixty (60) days. The reported decisions state that Dr. Leal broke a telephone receiver and copy machine, threw jellybeans into a trash can in a medical suite, shoved a metal cart and spoke sternly to a nurse. The hospital filed a report of its action taken against Dr. Leal with the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which was established under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) to collect information on the professional conduct and competence of health care practitioners. Dr. Leal felt that he should not have been reported to the NPDB and challenged the action. However, the trial court found that the decision to report Dr. Leal to the NPDB was supported by the HCQIA, which requires a report to the NPDB for a professional review action that adversely affects the clinical privileges of a physician for a period longer than thirty (30) days. This decision was also upheld by the appellate court (the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals) in 2010.

One of the more recent clinical privileges cases is Badri v. Huron Hospital, decided in 2010. According to case reports, in this case Dr. Badri was involved in a car accident. Allegedly, the other driver involved choked Dr. Badri. Dr. Badri then began experiencing neck pain for which he self-medicated with steroids. He was then accused of disruptive behavior after several alleged incidents of poor conduct towards hospital employees and patients. When deciding Dr. Badri’s case, the court relied on Meyers, which provides authority for immunity for hospitals and medical staffs in professional review actions that cite a physician’s disruptive behavior as undermining quality health care.

These are just a few of many cases concerning clinical privileges and peer review actions where the hospital involved is found to be acting in accordance with the Health Care Quality Improvement Act and therefore not liable.

If you are a physician or any hospital staff member accused of disruptive behavior, misconduct, “rudeness,” disrespectful conduct or language, abusive acts, anger, hostility, profanity or other similar acts. beware. This is a serious matter. It could result in adverse peer review action that could be career-ending.

If you are concerned that your medical staff privileges may be suspended or revoked, or if you are currently facing a peer review action, make sure you consult an experienced health care attorney who is familiar with matters regarding clinical privileges.

For more information about clinical privileges, peer review, or fair hearings, please visit our website at wwww.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Physicians Need to Know About Clinical Privileges and Peer Review Actions From the Meyers Case

If you are a physician with hospital privileges or have ever been called a “disruptive physician” make sure you are familiar with  Meyers v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which was finally decided in 2003. In ruling on disruptive physician cases, courts almost always rely on Meyers, and it has been cited repeatedly in other disruptive physician cases to justify a hospital or medical staff’s peer review actions disciplining the physician.

In this case, Dr. Meyers, an orthopedic surgeon, received provisional medical staff privileges at a hospital. A year later, the credentials committee at his hospital, comprised of three board members, re-evaluated Dr. Meyers for advancement to active staff privileges. He was denied active staff privileges by the committee for reasons that included his alleged temper tantrums, condescending remarks towards women, refusal to speak to a member of his surgical team during surgical procedures, and several instances of throwing a scalpel during surgical procedures.

Dr. Meyers was granted a hearing by the hospital. The hospital’s bylaws provided for a fair hearing committee comprised of three members of the medical staff, who would have been Dr. Meyers’ peers. However, the fair hearing committee in Dr. Meyers’ case was different. It was comprised of a retired judge, an attorney, a bank president, an industrialist and a dentist. The fair hearing committee met eleven times and 35 witnesses testified during the course of the hearing. After the hearing, the fair hearing committee recommended not appointing Dr. Meyers. It cited his failure to meet the hospital’s ethical standards, as well as his inability to work cooperatively with others. This recommendation was adopted by the hospital’s governing board.

Dr. Meyers sued the hospital and the fair hearing participants. His claims included breach of contract, antitrust, violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), tortious interference, and defamation.

The hospital moved for a summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986 (HCQIA), which provides immunity if a professional review action is taken under a combination of four circumstances: (1) in the reasonable belief that the action would further quality healthcare; (2) after a reasonable investigation; (3) with adequate notice and hearing procedures; and (4) the reasonable belief that the action was warranted by the facts and the process.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital and the hearing panel’s members. The court’s analysis of the summary judgment standard in the Meyers case for HCQIA has been relied upon regularly since this. Meyers indicated that the professional review actions that were followed satisfied the HCQIA’s immunity requirements. The district court’s action was later affirmed on appeal by the Sixth Circuit.

Because of Meyers, physicians have a much higher standard to overcome, in order to get a similar case before a jury. The physician must demonstrate 1) that a genuine issue of fact exists and 2) that a reasonable jury, viewing the facts in the best light for the plaintiff, might conclude that he has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the actions of the hospital and committee are outside the scope of HCQIA.

In both Meyers and in subsequent cases, physicians have attempted to challenge this summary judgment standard by various legal arguments. One used is that the action taken against the physician was not “fair” because the hearing committee did not include a physician of the same specialty. Another is that the hearing panel did not include a physician, a “peer.” Therefore, how could it truly be “peer review.”

In Meyers, both the Sixth Circuit and the district court looked to the hospital’s medical staff bylaws which stated that medical staff members (other physicians) would be appointed to the fair hearing committee only “when feasible.” The hospital presented evidence that no medical staff member could serve on the committee at the time when the hearing was scheduled in Dr. Meyers’ case. Furthermore, the district court stated that the bylaws of a hospital concerning peer review actions are inconsequential, as long as the HCQIA’s fair hearing requirements are met. In the HCQIA, there is no requirement that a physician must serve on a fair hearing committee.

Meyers also provided grounds for justifying professional review actions based a physician’s “general behavior and ethical conduct.” Disruptive behavior is also enough to justify suspension or termination of privileges, because, according to the district court, “Quality patient care demands that doctors possess at least a reasonable ability to work with others.”

Although the Meyers case has been the precedent for disruptive physician cases since 2003, physicians must also be aware of The Joint Commission’s standard on disruptive behavior, issued in 2008. This standard affirms that disruptive behavior is enough to justify a hospital’s action against a physician, including termination. Physicians can now expect to see even more actions initiated by hospitals and their staffs against any physician deemed uncooperative or disruptive. You can read The Joint Commission’s sentinel alert on disruptive behavior here.

If you find yourself at the center of a peer review hearing due to reasons of disruptive behavior, make sure that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney to help you navigate the peer review process. See this article on clinical privileges and peer review hearings for more information or visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Under Review: What You Need to Know About Clinical Privileges Hearings

The term “fair hearing” is used by different individuals and different organizations to refer to an administrative hearing or a private hearing in a hospital or professional association. There are a number of different types of proceedings that are often referred to as “fair hearings,” including clinical privileges (or peer review) hearings, which allow a physician who has had his or her clinical privileges revoked to be reviewed.

This type of hearing can also be referred to as:
• Privileges Hearing
• Fair Hearing
• Medical Review Hearing
• Credentials Hearing
• Medical Staff Hearing
• Disciplinary Hearing
• Credentials Committee Hearing or
• Ad Hoc Committee Hearing.

The physician that is subject to these hearings is not a Hospital employee, does not have a direct contract with the Hospital, is not a member of a group with an exclusive contract, but does have clinical privileges at the Hospital (based on proven clinical skills and competence to perform certain defined procedures in a hospital). When a hospital finds that a physician with clinical privileges is no longer competent (in the eyes of the hospital), a hearing will be conducted aimed at stripping the physician of his or her clinical privileges. This process (especially the litigation involved) can get ugly, and it is important for the physician in question to obtain the counsel of a health attorney who has experience in dealing with clinical privileges hearings.

Here is attorney George Indest’s basic rundown of clinical privileges hearings:

Indest’s Maxims for Hospital Peer Review Hearings

  1. The peer review process is different in every hospital.
     a. Medical staff bylaws are different.
     b. Hearings are different (attorneys may not even be able to participate).
     c. The burden of proof may be placed on the physician.
     d. Investigation and appeals process may be different.
  2. The hospital’s resources are virtually unlimited.
     a. Hospitals may use certain experienced companies as part of the process that have a tendency to favor the hospital.
     b. The hospital’s personnel and attorneys will do all of the work and provide all of the support for the medical staff and peer review committee.
     c. The hospital and medical staff will have unlimited access to hospital employees and documents.
  3. You need legal representation from the time of the first rumor you hear that a complaint has been filed or a matter is being investigated.
     a. DO NOT “wait and see what happens.”
     b. DO NOT think that you will be an exception.
  4. You must be represented by an experienced, knowledgeable health care attorney during the peer review process. The hospital will be.
  5. The “nonconformist” or “trouble maker” will be forced into a hearing situation. The guy everyone likes won’t be.
  6. If hospital administration (including nursing staff) is out to get you, you will be gotten.
     a. If the hospital administration identifies you as a “bad physician,” “troublemaker,” or “disruptive physician” you are in serious, serious trouble.
     b. Your prior cases may be reviewed and scrutinized retrospectively for problems that were “overlooked.”
     c. Every poor result or outcome will be analyzed.
     d. You will be written up for everything that happens, even for things for which others would not be written up. Incidents where you were just “joking around” will be written up as sexual harassment.
     e. Any patient complaints over insignificant matters that would have previously been handled in a routine way, will now be handled as significant events.
  7. You will probably be offered an opportunity to resign prior to the commencement of the investigation . . .
  8.  But you will foolishly turn down the opportunity to resign.
  9. There are many options and alternatives available early in the process, but only an experienced health care attorney will know them. Options may include:
     a. Agreement not to admit, treat or perform certain procedures;
     b. Taking a leave of absence;
     c. Assessment by an independent organization (P.A.C.E., C.C.A.T.);
     d. Agreement to undertake additional training; or
     e. Resignation (prior to any proceedings being commenced).
  10. A “fair hearing” is not fair.
     a. The resources are stacked in favor of the hospital and administration.
     b. Peer review proceedings are very expensive (for all parties).
     c. The burden may be and can be placed on you to prove you are currently clinically skilled and competent.
     d. There may be external motivations, other than quality (especially in cases of tenured professors, senior physicians and minorities). Certain motivations are economical in nature and can be identified by:
      i. Proceedings initiated by your competitors;
      ii. Complaints made by your competitors;
      iii. You allegedly bringing in too many cases (monopolizing the procedure rooms or operating rooms);
      iv. You bringing in the wrong cases (too many Medicare, etc.);
      v. One medical group controlling the whole department (in absence of an exclusive contract);
      vi. You being accused as an “overutilizer” (you use too many hospital resources);
      vii. You being accused as”cherry picking” the best cases (all non-indigent or non-Medicaid cases); or
      viii. You refusing to participate in managed care plans.
     e. If suspended pending investigation/hearing and the suspension goes over 30 days, then a report to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is required (which means there will be a report to your state medical board or licensing authority).
     f. You may find the same individuals on:
      i. The Investigation Committee
      ii. The Peer Review/Hearing Committee
      iii. The Appeals Committee
      iv. The Board of Directors/Trustees (responsible for final recommendations)
     g. You may have a gag order and not be allowed to talk to witnesses or potential witnesses to help you prepare for your case.
  11. It may not matter what the peer review or fair hearing committee recommends.
     a. The Board of Directors/Trustees can and will overrule the conclusions and recommendations of any peer review hearing (with the input of hospital administration and hospital attorneys).
     b. The peer review committee must make solid, unequivocal findings supported by evidence, as well as, strong, precise well-reasoned conclusions and recommendations. Make sure that you ask them to do this and that you (or your attorney) present to them a proposed recommendation or report.
  12. Those who judge you are not your peers.
     a. They may be from all different specialities and some may not even by surgeons. (Try to have the hearing committee be appointed by your medical speciality association.)
  13. The only rights you have are those in your medical staff bylaws (unless you are at a “public hospital” or in California)
  14. The consequences to you of an adverse outcome will be lifelong and career-altering. Consequences include:
     a. National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) Reports, which are national, on file for 50 years, very difficult to get corrected or voided and also reported to your state medical board;
     b. State licensure action (in every state in which you have a license);
     c. Medical specialty associations will commence proceedings if they hear of an adverse outcome;
     d. You will unlikely ever get clinical privileges at another hospital;
     e. You may lose medical malpractice insurance coverage;
     f. You may be dropped from the panels of many HMOs, managed care plans and insurers;
     g. Contracts with employers and insurers may require you to report this (so that you can be terminated).
  15. Once a peer review proceeding is commenced, it’s not just going to go away, and none of your friends on the Executive Committee or Board of Trustees is going to make it go away.
  16. Once a peer review proceeding is commenced against you, you will be in the most important fight of your career and possibly your life.
  17. You have no power, no control and no leverage. Get some:
     a. Assemble an experienced legal team;
     b. Begin preparing early and seriously;
     c. Get established, credible experts;
     d. Sue the hospital and certain individuals involved, if circumstances permit;
     e. Consider “political” or “public relations” avenues like letters to other physicians or patients, full page newspaper ads, getting your state or county medical society involved, or having a state legislator introduce a bill to require due process in all hospital adverse actions.
  18. You are going to have to spend lots of money to properly defend yourself and you will not get it back if you win.
  19. If you think you will be successful in suing in court to have an incorrect result overturned, you are probably wrong.
  20. Court litigation can give you the leverage you need to obtain a favorable outcome on the peer review proceeding.

Indest’s Recommendations for the Subject of a Hospital Peer Review Hearing

  1. You must ensure that your medical staff bylaws contain true “due process” rights for accused physicians.
  2. You should attempt to have state legislation passed that requires all hospitals to afford physicians certain due process rights in peer review proceeding similar to what California has done.
  3. The Medical Staff should never allow hospital administration (or the hospital parent corporation) to force them to adopt medical staff bylaws changes which eliminate or limit the hearing rights or due process rights of a physician who may be the subject of an adverse decision.
  4. The peer review committee (fair hearing committee) should have its own independent legal advisor in all hearings. This must be someone other than from the law firm which represents the hospital.
  5. You must treat the peer review process like you would a civil trial against you for medical malpractice.
  6. If you are the subject of a peer review proceeding, immediately retain experienced, knowledgeable health care counsel to represent you.
  7. Also, immediately retain a litigation attorney who has experience in this type of civil litigation. File suit immediately if the matter is not proceeding fairly and in accordance with medical staff bylaws and state laws.
  8. If your hearing procedures/peer review procedures are not in your medical staff bylaws, make sure that both the medical staff bylaws and the hearing procedures state that the hearing procedures have the same force and effect as the medical staff bylaws.

If you are currently the subject of a peer review or clinical privileges hearing, call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 to speak with one of our health law attorneys. You can also visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.