Physician Staffing Issues and Employment-Related Lawsuits: A Litigation Epidemic in the Making?
There is no doubt that the direct employment of physicians by hospitals and healthcare institutions has increased at an astonishing rate over the past two years. Both the recessionary economy and declining reimbursements have prompted many physicians to seek closer relations with hospitals, and have motivated hospitals to search for ways to maximize their patient care options. However, like any new relationship, this one should not be entered into lightly, without a careful look at the ramifications of adding highly compensated individuals to a group entitled to the many rights and privileges allocated to “employees” under federal and state laws.
- In a race discrimination case ultimately decided in 2006, the Fourth Circuit resolved an earlier discovery dispute by ordering a hospital to provide “documents pertaining to competency reviews of [similarly situated doctors] from 1982 through 1997” in response to a broad request from the plaintiff-doctor for all peer review decisions made by the hospital over a 20 year period;[viii]
- One federal district court ordered production of e-mails and computerized memoranda created or maintained by the hospital and “relating to the plaintiff’s credentialing as a member of the medical staff,” while allowing the hospital to redact certain identifying information;[ix]
- A federal district court in Connecticut found that a composite document summarizing performance review outcomes over the relevant period was not an adequate substitute for the actual peer review material sought by a physician claiming race and nationality discrimination, and ordered production of all such documents, subject to a protective order.[x]