A hospital peer review has the potential to seriously disrupt a physician’s medical practice, often bringing with it a cascade of legal consequences that can devastate a health professional’s practice and reputation. If you are a physician facing the prospect of a peer review due to allegations of unprofessional behavior or a standard of care complaint, the earlier you seek help from an experienced healthcare law attorney familiar with the peer review process, the better positioned you will be to protect yourself against these consequences.

An understanding of the process and its possible sequela is important for any physician faced with the prospect of a peer review. There is much more at stake for the physician than whether he or she will retain their ability to work at a particular hospital and many pitfalls which can catch the doctor unawares.

For example, if a physician resigns his privileges during the course of a hospital investigation, the resignation will likely result in a report to the National Practitioner Databank ("Databank" or "NPDB") , a national clearinghouse of information regarding physician misconduct. A report will also be forwarded to the Texas Medical Board which will then open an investigation leading to potential disciplinary action. The NPDB report, and possible Board order, will be visible to other hospitals where the physician holds privileges, and may result in yet further investigations. Any attempt to move on and gain new privileges will require an explanation of the report. Finally, the NPDB report will raise questions with insurance carriers, whom may attempt to remove the physician from their provider network.

The Investigation Stage:

Broadly speaking, the peer review process takes place in two stages: an investigation followed by a fair hearing.  The specifics of this process will be governed by the hospital’s medical staff bylaws which outline any right of the physician to participate in the investigation and the procedural details of the subsequent fair hearing.

Investigations are typically initiated by the hospital’s Medical Executive Committee ("MEC") following a poor patient outcome or complaints about a physician’s behavior or professional conduct. In some instances the hospital administration will also have the authority to open an investigation which will then be passed on to the MEC.

In cases where there is a perceived threat the physician’s continued practice would pose an imminent threat to the hospital’s patients or staff, the MEC may decide to immediately suspend the physician’s privileges pending further investigation. In addition to the severe damage such a temporary suspension inflicts on a physician’s practice and reputation, should such a suspension continue for more than thirty days, the hospital is required to file a report with the NPDB and Medical Board.   

If the MEC proceeds without temporarily suspending the physician’s privileges, the formal investigation process will begin and the physician will receive official written notice of the allegations. If the investigation is related to medical care, the MEC will likely send the relevant medical records out for external peer review by medical professionals in the same field as the physician. After these reviews are complete, the MEC or an investigative panel, made up of other physicians, will then interview the physician.

During the hospital’s investigation, the physician’s ability to actively defend against the allegations is usually limited. For example, the physician may be given little to no access to the relevant medical records. Likewise, the physician may not be allowed to speak with staff members who are potential witnesses to the issue under review. Additionally, the hospital will often restrict the participation of the physician’s lawyer during the MEC’s investigative meeting(s) even though the physician is typically asked to attend and answer questions.

When the investigation is concluded, the MEC will consider the evidence and make a recommendation. If the recommendation is to drop the allegations, the peer review ends. If, however, the MEC decides to modify, suspend, or revoke a physician’s privileges, the physician must be timely notified in writing of the proposed action, the reasons for this recommendation, and informed their right to a fair hearing. In Texas, physicians also have the right to attempt to mediate the dispute with the MEC and hospital.

The Fair Hearing Stage:

If the physician does not agree to the MEC’s recommendation, they may request a fair hearing. A fair hearing is usually conducted at the hospital before a panel of physicians who are also on the medical staff. Ideally, the panel should include one or more physicians in the same specialty. The panel should not include any doctor in direct economic competition with the physician being peer reviewed.  

A hearing officer, normally a lawyer, will be appointed to oversee the hearing. The hearing officer’s role is to resolve disputes between the physician and the hospital regarding the admissibility of evidence and hearing procedure and advise the hearing panel on other legal issues.  A hearing officer should also ensure that the hearing is conducted in compliance with provisions of the Federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act ("HCQIA"). The HCQIA requires the hospital to provide a physician certain due process rights, and a failure on the hospital’s part to provide these rights could result in the hospital and MEC losing its statutorily granted immunity from certain types of lawsuits.


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For the past several years the Texas Department of Insurance-Division of Worker’s Compensation (TDI-DWC) has steadily increased the number of enforcement actions initiated against Designated Doctors serving the Texas worker’s compensation system. The results of such enforcement actions can range widely— from a requirement that the Designated Doctor (DD) complete additional training, the payment

Texas pharmacists should take note of a new Rule recently adopted by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy which places increased responsibility on the licensee to ensure that dispensed medications were prescribed for a valid medical purpose and pursuant to a proper patient-physician relationship. The Rule, which can be found at §291.29 in Title

The resignation last week of Keith Miller, MD, a 2003 Perry appointee to the Texas Medical Board, has sparked an outpouring of relief and further recriminations from the beleaguered doctor’s many critics.[i]  A longtime member of the TMB’s disciplinary committee, Dr. Miller claims his resignation is due to the enactment of a rule law barring Board members from serving as expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases. Dr. Miller, who has a long history of serving as a plaintiff’s expert in such cases, believes his resignation was necessary to prevent any appearance of a conflict of interest.[ii]

Opponents of Dr. Miller have alleged that he has exploited his position on the Enforcement Committee, which has the power to revoke and restrict a physician’s state medical license, in his role as an expert witness.[iii]  They claim his involvement in disciplining doctor’s who have violated the Medical Practice Act, including standard of care allegations, at the same time that he has maintained close connections with the plaintiff’s bar and served as an expert, has placed a cloud of impropriety on the Board. In fact opponents could point to his resignation in response to a new Board Rule addressed to precisely this issue as vindication of this claim. 

However, critics of Dr. Miller’s tenure have further accused him of improperly using his position on the TMB to transform the Enforcement Committee into a virtual arm of the insurance industry.[iv]   Board Rules allow anonymous complaints to be made to the TMB which can then serve as the basis of a disciplinary action. Aggrieved physicians have alleged that insurance providers who are dissatisfied with the level of care provided to a covered patient have used such anonymous complaints as a way to punish doctors and maintain low cost levels. Such physicians point out that it is not actually the standard of care which motivates these anonymous complaints but rather a doctor’s decision to supply care whose cost exceeds insurance company guidelines and therefore hurt profits. These maligned anonymous complaints originate from the insurance providers and not the actual patients. In fact the patients whose care is supposedly at issue are frequently surprised when notified of the pending disciplinary action and often testify in favor of their doctor.


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Many doctors consider the possibility of a disciplinary action based on inadequate or improperly kept medical records to be remote. Yet, the Texas Medical Board will oftentimes use a complaint based on other grounds, such as an alleged standard / quality of care violation, as an opportunity to thoroughly investigate a licensee’s compliance with Board Rules concerning the maintenance of medical records. Even if the original complaint is found baseless, the TMB has the right to pursue disciplinary sanctions for any other violations found during their investigation, and in a quality of care case this investigation will certainly include a thorough review of medical records.

Under the Texas Administrative Code, the Texas Medical Board has adopted official agency rules regarding the proper maintenance of medical records. For example, § 165.1 contains numerous mandatory guidelines concerning the maintenance of “adequate medical records.” Title 22 Texas Administrative Code § 165.1. Moreover, pursuant to the Medical Practice Act, the TMB has the same authority to pursue the full range of disciplinary sanctions for non-compliance with this provision as it does for any other Rule. Texas Occupations Code § 164.051(a)(3).


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