Stick to the facts in peer review disclosures

Sharing peer review information between healthcare organizations is essential to help medical staffs determine practitioners' competence and make informed privilege-granting decisions. However, medical staffs can find themselves facing legal challenges if the disclosure process is done inappropriately.

Whether a medical staff adopts a policy or handles queries on an ad hoc basis, disclosures should be accurate, truthful, and factual, says Joanne Hopkins, Esq., an attorney at law based in Austin, Texas.

"I try to encourage my clients to stay away from opinions because factual, truthful disclosures are rarely going to have any liability associated with them, such as defamation, libel, or slander. When you get into opinions, those may be harder to defend," she adds.

Factual and truthful statements can be vouched for via peer review files and will have more protection in the event of an assertion of liability, Hopkins says. For example, "Dr. Smith was terminated because he performed unnecessary surgery" is an opinion, whereas "Dr. Smith was terminated because he failed to document the clinical indications for surgery" is a factual statement.

"Always stick to your facts. Keep your disclosures factual and look at what you're being asked," Hopkins says.

When it comes to disclosing information, a medical staff can take one of two approaches, she says. It can establish ahead of time which information it will disclose (e.g., the staff will disclose items A, B, C, and D in response to any query), or it can answer only the questions it's asked, subject to some caveats.

"I tend to prefer answering the questions we're asked. That way, we're not volunteering any information. If another hospital doesn't ask if any disciplinary actions were taken against a physician, I don't like having a form response that tells what disciplinary actions were taken. But this approach is a little more time-intensive because each question requires attention," Hopkins says.