The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to a review a case that hospitals hoped would clarify whether federal courts must defer to state laws protecting the confidentiality of peer review.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that peer-review records should be fair game for a urologist attempting to prove he was the target of racial discrimination at 186-bed Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins, Ga. Houston appealed to the Supreme Court.
No federal law provides a privilege for hospital peer-review, but all states have laws that protect the confidentiality hospitals say they need in order to foster the participation and candor crucial to identifying and addressing mistakes.
Persuading the high court to weigh in was a long shot because the justices take so few cases, said Kevin Grady, a partner at Alston & Bird in Atlanta who drafted a friend-of-the-court brief for the American Hospital Association and the state hospital associations in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. The court missed an opportunity to clarify the law and bring the federal courts in line with strong state policies in maintaining a peer-review privilege and confidentiality, Grady said. The Joint Commission also submitted a brief supporting Houstons argument.
The case, brought by urologist Russell Adkins, now goes back to the U.S. District Court in Macon, Ga., where a judge tossed the suit after limiting the scope of records he required Houston to produce.
We will do everything we can to preserve the integrity of the (peer review) process and the confidentiality of the information being sought, said Houstons lawyer, Rush Smith, a partner in Atlanta-based Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover. We are confident that once all of the files have been examined and evaluated, we will re-file our motion for summary judgment and have the case dismissed again. -- by Gregg Blesch
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