Hospital and Medical Staff Hearings: Being Prepared for Evaluation By A Jury of One’s (Fellow Medical Professional) Peers

Self-regulation by the medical profession is separate and distinct from the conventional rules exercised by the judicial system. Peer review and disciplinary matters are generally heard before the Medical Executive Committee (“MEC”) at Hospitals who serve as the judge and jury of the Hospital’s medical staff. Hospital-specific policies and bylaws enumerate the protocols, requirements and procedures pertaining to the adjudication of physician misconduct of all classifications which often do not afford the practitioner the full benefit of “discovery” (evidence) typically exchanged in connection with litigation.

The limits of “discovery” in connection with these MEC hearings was recently tested by a Florida surgeon. On June 2, 2021, a Florida Appeals Court overturned the lower Court’s decision that permitted David M. Feldman, M.D., a suspended surgeon at South Broward Hospital District, discovery of documents relating to his suspension. Dr. Feldman sued the Hospital alleging that his suspension stemmed from economic motivations rather than alleged actual patient care concerns. Initially, the Trial Court granted Dr. Feldman’s request for discovery of the MEC committee meeting minutes, correspondence between the committees, and communication with the company that held the fit-for-duty program – which Feldman was required to attend. In reversing the lower Court’s order, the Appeals Court refused to compel the Hospital to produce these documents, holding that the documents are subject to complete immunity pursuant to Florida Law. The Appeals court however, reversed the decision to permit discovery, as there was concern of “irreparable harm.” The issue of irreparable harm is not an issue of confidentiality, rather a mechanism to maintain and encourage the privilege and self-regulation by the medical profession through the peer review system. If the documentation were discoverable, the value of the peer review system could diminish exponentially.

Florida legislature implemented self-regulation in the medical field to ensure that confidentiality would be maintained, and peer review and evaluation would be effective. As a result, investigations, proceeding, recordings, and documentary evidence are generally not subject to discovery rules in internal hearings or in civil actions. Rather, the rules pertaining to adjudication of hospital matters is kept in-house and controlled by the bylaws and policies created by the respective Hospitals and Medical Staff.

Why is this relevant?

The unique and differing protocols regulating the medical profession have created a universe where the judge and jury are quite literally the jury of one’s fellow medical professional peers. The system for navigating this process and understanding the rights maintained by the individual appearing before the MEC and the MEC representatives, can be complex and requires support. Although counsel may not always be permitted to partake in various stages of the peer review and/or disciplinary hearings, it is still important to consult with counsel familiar with hospital and medical staff matters to make sure you are prepared for the process and the potential consequences of same.

How Frier Levitt Can Help

For the past 20 years Frier Levitt has established a comprehensive and effective set of tools and knowledge of MEC protocols and procedures. Our bilateral experience of working with MECs and individual physicians has equipped us with the ability to protect and ensure procedures are followed. Contact us today to learn more about how you can protect your rights as they pertain to medical staff and hospital matters.