Confidentiality challenges threaten physician peer review

Recent court cases that ruled peer review files aren't confidential could deter physicians from participating in peer review committees and therefore hurt quality improvement efforts, American Medical News reported.

For instance, a Maine judge last month ordered a hospital to reveal certain peer review documents because keeping a patient's treatment evaluation protected violated the defendant's constitutional right to defend himself in a criminal trial, the article noted. Similarly, in April, the New York Supreme Court determined that particular discussions made during a peer review hearing were discoverable.

Those legal challenges against confidentiality protections reflect a change in how courts are evaluating peer review cases. "The courts are taking a much closer look at individual documents," Michael Moroney, a New Jersey health law attorney who represents physicians in state and federal cases, told amednews. "It doesn't mean all documents will be discoverable, but the climate is such that courts are at least entertaining it," he said.

Some hospital administrators and physicians are battling the discoverability of peer review data, trying to keep the internal documents out of the courts. Providers in South Carolina, for example, are supporting a Senate bill that would allow nonphysicians to work on peer review committees and thus protect what they have to say in the peer review process from becoming public.

However, some industry experts claim that shift toward closely scrutinizing peer review confidentiality could push hospitals and doctors to improve their peer review policies, according to amednews.

To learn more:
- read the amednews article