Sunday’s edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contained a piece about the suicide of a 27 year-old man who had been admitted to a Georgia psychiatric hospital. The article’s author used that tragic event to illustrate how Georgia’s peer review statute will virtually prevent any public investigation into the man’s death, and how the statute negatively affects that state’s entire medical system.
In most states, laws provide confidentiality and legal immunity to those who participate in medical peer review. Peer reviews typically occur after there has been an adverse event or patient care error, or when a medical professional raises concerns about a colleague’s ability to safely and competently practice medicine. However, Georgia’s peer review law is so restrictive that it prevents the public from learning all but the most vague investigation results. For example, in Georgia, public citizens cannot review investigative reports into surgical errors, patient suicides, and other preventable medical mistakes. Moreover, even if Georgia state investigators determine that a hospital or other healthcare provider violated a particular regulation, what little information available to the public is extremely vague. Additionally, at no time can the public learn the specific details of a particular peer review investigation, even though the Georgia Department of Community Health has an online database of hospital inspections, and hospitals are legally required to report adverse events.
According to the law’s proponents, keeping the results of peer review investigation secret “promotes ‘candor’ among medical professional that helps . . . correct mistakes.” Not surprisingly, many physicians and other healthcare providers also support Georgia’s ironclad peer review law, because it shields them from being held accountable for committing mistakes. For example, the article quoted Temple Sellers, the Georgia Hospital Association’s general counsel, as saying, “People are reluctant to speak out if they are going to be blamed.” In a recent statement, the Georgia Department of Community Health reiterated that view, and actually posited that being tightlipped about investigations into poor patient care, as well as limiting negligent providers’ liability, will “result in overall higher patient care.”
The article’s author rightly concluded that Georgia’s peer review statute, and the resulting lack of publicly available information, “leaves medical consumers with no systematic way of learning whether a particular hospital has a history of complaints that might signal a pattern of inadequate care.” The secrecy surrounding peer review investigations in Georgia “also prevents taxpayers from assessing the quality of state investigations into medical errors.”
Thankfully, courts have repeatedly held that KRS, 311.377, Kentucky’s peer review statute, does not prevent medical malpractice victims from learning the results of peer review investigations. See, e.g., Appalachian Reg. Health Care, Inc. v. Johnson, 862 S.W.2d 868 (Ky. 1993), Sisters of Charity Health Sys. v. Raikes, 984 S.W.2d 464 (Ky. 1998), and Saleba v. Schrand, 300 S.W.3d 177 (Ky. 2009). Rather, its now well-established that the applicable Kentucky statute’s purpose is to protect “licensed health organizations from being sued for good faith actions made in the performance of a peer review function.” Sisters of Charity, supra, 984 S.W. 2d at 469. One can only hope that state legislators in Georgia re-think their position, and finally allow the public to access information to which it is rightfully entitled. Peer review should not be a type of tort reform, and needlessly shield physicians and hospitals from liability for committing preventable mistakes.
Read the entire Atlanta Journal-Constitution article here: http://www.ajc.com/news/hospital-mistakes-kept-secret-1233859.html