Texas Narrowly Interprets Exception to Medical Peer Review Privilege
On May 27, the Texas Supreme Court found a trial court judge abused its discretion in ordering the disclosure of peer review files to a physician in a medical malpractice case, stating the trial court failed to conduct a sufficient review of the documents before ordering the hospital to disclose the file. Because a proper review was critical to evaluating the peer review privilege claim, the high court directed the lower court to determine whether the hospital’s peer review committee took some disciplinary action against the physician so as to entitle the physician to the files under Texas law.
At issue in the case, In re Christus Santa Rosa Health System, 2016 BL 169383, Tex. No. 14-1077, was the application and scope of an exception to Texas’s peer review privilege allowing for disclosure of peer review material to a physician when “a medical peer review committee takes action that could result in [a form of discipline against the physician].” See Tex. Occ. Code § 160.007(d). Following a failed thyroid tissue removal surgery by one of its medical staff physicians, Dr. Franklin, Christus Santa Rosa Health System (Christus) convened a medical peer review committee to discuss Dr. Franklin’s performance in the surgery. In a subsequent malpractice suit brought by the patient, Dr. Franklin designated Christus as a responsible third party and sought written discovery, including production of Christus’ medical peer review file. Christus withheld the file asserting its protection under Texas’s peer review privilege; but upon Dr. Franklin’s motion to compel and an opportunity for in camera inspection, the trial court ordered Christus to produce the file. Christus’s motion for reconsideration was denied as was its petition for writ of mandamus in the court of appeals.
Before the Texas Supreme Court, Dr. Franklin argued that § 160.007(d)’s exception should apply because the Christus committee had the opportunity to recommend discipline. The court rejected such a broad interpretation, finding that allowing an exception every time a medical peer review committee evaluated a physician’s actions, regardless of whether any further action was taken, would render the exception meaningless. Instead, the exception was meant to apply only when “some consequence—the disciplinary measures listed in the statute—[would] be possible from the medical peer review committee’s voluntary act of will.” Merely convening a meeting to discuss a physician’s actions is insufficient. Because the record before the court did not permit it to determine whether the medical peer review committee took any action that could have resulted in discipline, the court directed the trial judge to review the merits of the peer review file and determine whether section 160.007(d)’s exception would apply.
A copy of the opinion can be found here.