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Case highlights legalities surrounding medical peer review privilege, physician credentialing

A legal battle out in South Dakota highlights some of the issues we've recently discussed on this blog, particularly the connection between medical negligence and hospital negligence. As we've noted previously, hospitals which allow physicians to continue in their practice despite misconduct and negligence can be held liable for their own negligence.

The case, which may soon be up on appeal before the Supreme Court, involves a South Dakota surgeon who specialized in complex spinal surgeries but who lost privileges at two hospitals after dozens of patients accused him of undertaking unnecessary surgeries to generate income. He was also accused of negligence in the actual performance of the surgeries. The patients are also suing the hospitals that allowed the surgeon to practice on the grounds that the hospitals overlooked the problem out of a desire for the revenue the surgeries would bring. 

At issue in the case is whether the state's medical peer review privilege allows the hospitals and peer review committees who dealt with the surgeons case to withhold records from the litigation. Medical peer review privilege is intended to allow peer review groups to be forthcoming in their discussions without worrying about the records being used against them in court, and thus lead to improvement in patient care.

Groups like Public Citizen and AARP are arguing, though, that medical peer review privilege should not apply where the evidence shows health care providers and hospitals engaged in fraud or other criminal activity. They argue that adding such an exception would not endanger the peer review process and would help protect patients.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at this case, as well as Ohio law concerning medical peer review privilege and negligent credentialing. 

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