Due to the highly specialized nature of the healthcare profession, peer review is one of the best vehicles to examine whether or not a physician has met accepted standards of care.
In Pennsylvania, as well as other states, the peer review process for doctors and other medical professionals is confidential and given protection under the law.
In Pennsylvania, the Peer Review Protection Act provides that “proceedings and records of the review committee shall be held in confidence and shall not be subject to discovery or introduction into evidence.”
Since the law was passed, attorneys have argued over specifically which communication vehicles are shielded from discovery because they have been included in the peer review process. These include emails, conversations, personal notes, and various types of reports, files and more. Typically, the decision comes down to whether or not the communication fits within the definitions outlined within the Peer Review Protection Act.
In some instances, medical malpractice attorneys have been frustrated by the Protection Act and have argued that it has prevented discovery of evidence critical to proving malpractice.
Recently an important decision was handed down by the courts in regard to the protections offered by the peer review process. A Lackawanna County judge, the honorable Terrence R. Nealon, ruled that records detailing a physician’s malpractice history would not be protected simply because they were placed in the physician’s peer review file.
The case involved a couple whose unborn child suffered the effects of severe hypoxic brain injury due to delayed action by the attending obstetrician.
The hospital withheld from discovery a number of requested documents, which included malpractice claims information and documents, and evaluation reports and letters from other doctors warning the obstetrician to remedy his delinquent medical records. The hospital claimed that the documents were part of the physician’s credentials file, and therefore shielded under the Peer Review Protection Act, and cited several Superior Court rulings in which similar files were found to qualify for protection.
However, the judge ruled that simply because a document has been submitted to a peer review committee is not reason enough to guarantee protection. In his ruling, Judge Nealon considered the reason why the document was initially developed to be an important factor in deciding whether or not it qualified for protection under the PRPA. The judge stated that records which are maintained by hospitals in the ordinary course of their business, including incident reports and adverse medical events, are not shielded just because they are shared with a peer review committee. The judge also noted that the record did not show the documents in question had actually been presented to a peer review committee.
For medical malpractice attorneys, this recent ruling is an exciting one, promising to provide important evidence that will be used to win cases and deliver justice for their clients, the victims of medical malpractice. To read more about the types of medical malpractice cases Eisenberg Rothweiler Eisenberg Winkler & Jeck have handled in Pennsylvania, click here.