What Physicians Need to Know About Clinical Privileges and Peer Review Actions From the Meyers Case

If you are a physician with hospital privileges or have ever been called a “disruptive physician” make sure you are familiar with  Meyers v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., which was finally decided in 2003. In ruling on disruptive physician cases, courts almost always rely on Meyers, and it has been cited repeatedly in other disruptive physician cases to justify a hospital or medical staff’s peer review actions disciplining the physician.

In this case, Dr. Meyers, an orthopedic surgeon, received provisional medical staff privileges at a hospital. A year later, the credentials committee at his hospital, comprised of three board members, re-evaluated Dr. Meyers for advancement to active staff privileges. He was denied active staff privileges by the committee for reasons that included his alleged temper tantrums, condescending remarks towards women, refusal to speak to a member of his surgical team during surgical procedures, and several instances of throwing a scalpel during surgical procedures.

Dr. Meyers was granted a hearing by the hospital. The hospital’s bylaws provided for a fair hearing committee comprised of three members of the medical staff, who would have been Dr. Meyers’ peers. However, the fair hearing committee in Dr. Meyers’ case was different. It was comprised of a retired judge, an attorney, a bank president, an industrialist and a dentist. The fair hearing committee met eleven times and 35 witnesses testified during the course of the hearing. After the hearing, the fair hearing committee recommended not appointing Dr. Meyers. It cited his failure to meet the hospital’s ethical standards, as well as his inability to work cooperatively with others. This recommendation was adopted by the hospital’s governing board.

Dr. Meyers sued the hospital and the fair hearing participants. His claims included breach of contract, antitrust, violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), tortious interference, and defamation.

The hospital moved for a summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986 (HCQIA), which provides immunity if a professional review action is taken under a combination of four circumstances: (1) in the reasonable belief that the action would further quality healthcare; (2) after a reasonable investigation; (3) with adequate notice and hearing procedures; and (4) the reasonable belief that the action was warranted by the facts and the process.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospital and the hearing panel’s members. The court’s analysis of the summary judgment standard in the Meyers case for HCQIA has been relied upon regularly since this. Meyers indicated that the professional review actions that were followed satisfied the HCQIA’s immunity requirements. The district court’s action was later affirmed on appeal by the Sixth Circuit.

Because of Meyers, physicians have a much higher standard to overcome, in order to get a similar case before a jury. The physician must demonstrate 1) that a genuine issue of fact exists and 2) that a reasonable jury, viewing the facts in the best light for the plaintiff, might conclude that he has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the actions of the hospital and committee are outside the scope of HCQIA.

In both Meyers and in subsequent cases, physicians have attempted to challenge this summary judgment standard by various legal arguments. One used is that the action taken against the physician was not “fair” because the hearing committee did not include a physician of the same specialty. Another is that the hearing panel did not include a physician, a “peer.” Therefore, how could it truly be “peer review.”

In Meyers, both the Sixth Circuit and the district court looked to the hospital’s medical staff bylaws which stated that medical staff members (other physicians) would be appointed to the fair hearing committee only “when feasible.” The hospital presented evidence that no medical staff member could serve on the committee at the time when the hearing was scheduled in Dr. Meyers’ case. Furthermore, the district court stated that the bylaws of a hospital concerning peer review actions are inconsequential, as long as the HCQIA’s fair hearing requirements are met. In the HCQIA, there is no requirement that a physician must serve on a fair hearing committee.

Meyers also provided grounds for justifying professional review actions based a physician’s “general behavior and ethical conduct.” Disruptive behavior is also enough to justify suspension or termination of privileges, because, according to the district court, “Quality patient care demands that doctors possess at least a reasonable ability to work with others.”

Although the Meyers case has been the precedent for disruptive physician cases since 2003, physicians must also be aware of The Joint Commission’s standard on disruptive behavior, issued in 2008. This standard affirms that disruptive behavior is enough to justify a hospital’s action against a physician, including termination. Physicians can now expect to see even more actions initiated by hospitals and their staffs against any physician deemed uncooperative or disruptive. You can read The Joint Commission’s sentinel alert on disruptive behavior here.

If you find yourself at the center of a peer review hearing due to reasons of disruptive behavior, make sure that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney to help you navigate the peer review process. See this article on clinical privileges and peer review hearings for more information or visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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Peer Review and “Disruptive Physician” Cases Physicians Should Know

Although Meyers v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.is one of the major cases concerning  termination of clinical privileges and peer review hearings, there have been other recent clinical privileges cases that are important for physicians to know when confronted with a peer review action. This is especially true if the physician is being accused of disruptive behavior.

One such case is Isaiah v. WHMS Braddock Hospital Corp., decided in 2008. In this case, Dr. Isaiah’s medical staff privileges were revoked after hospital staff members reportedly expressed concerns about the surgeon’s surgical skills and allegedly compulsive behavior. Dr. Isaiah argued that his behavior did not impact his skills. The court concluded that the hospital’s revocation of Dr. Isaiah’s medical staff privileges was immune from liability under the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) because the hospital acted in an attempt to protect quality health care, which relates not only to a physician’s abilities, but also to the doctor’s behavior.

In 2009, Abu-Hatab v. Blount Memorial Hospital was decided, again in favor of the hospital. In this case, Dr. Abu-Hatab sued Blount Memorial Hospital after his medical staff membership and clinical privileges had been terminated due to his allegedly disruptive behavior. Dr. Abu-Hatab argued that allegations of his poor conduct were not true. However, the court decided that it didn’t matter whether the complaints were undisputedly true. Under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, as long as a hospital and its medical staff act “reasonably” in considering complaints, the professional review actions are protected. According to the court, the hospital’s many meetings concerning Dr. Abu-Hatab’s behavior were enough to show that it acted reasonably.

Another case reported originally in 2009, Leal v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, involved a urologist, Dr. Leal, who held clinical privileges at Cape Canaveral Hospital in Florida. According to the reported court decison, after being told he would have to wait to use an operating room, Dr. Leal exhibited behavior that led the hospital to suspend his clinical privileges for sixty (60) days. The reported decisions state that Dr. Leal broke a telephone receiver and copy machine, threw jellybeans into a trash can in a medical suite, shoved a metal cart and spoke sternly to a nurse. The hospital filed a report of its action taken against Dr. Leal with the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which was established under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) to collect information on the professional conduct and competence of health care practitioners. Dr. Leal felt that he should not have been reported to the NPDB and challenged the action. However, the trial court found that the decision to report Dr. Leal to the NPDB was supported by the HCQIA, which requires a report to the NPDB for a professional review action that adversely affects the clinical privileges of a physician for a period longer than thirty (30) days. This decision was also upheld by the appellate court (the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals) in 2010.

One of the more recent clinical privileges cases is Badri v. Huron Hospital, decided in 2010. According to case reports, in this case Dr. Badri was involved in a car accident. Allegedly, the other driver involved choked Dr. Badri. Dr. Badri then began experiencing neck pain for which he self-medicated with steroids. He was then accused of disruptive behavior after several alleged incidents of poor conduct towards hospital employees and patients. When deciding Dr. Badri’s case, the court relied on Meyers, which provides authority for immunity for hospitals and medical staffs in professional review actions that cite a physician’s disruptive behavior as undermining quality health care.

These are just a few of many cases concerning clinical privileges and peer review actions where the hospital involved is found to be acting in accordance with the Health Care Quality Improvement Act and therefore not liable.

If you are a physician or any hospital staff member accused of disruptive behavior, misconduct, “rudeness,” disrespectful conduct or language, abusive acts, anger, hostility, profanity or other similar acts. beware. This is a serious matter. It could result in adverse peer review action that could be career-ending.

If you are concerned that your medical staff privileges may be suspended or revoked, or if you are currently facing a peer review action, make sure you consult an experienced health care attorney who is familiar with matters regarding clinical privileges.

For more information about clinical privileges, peer review, or fair hearings, please visit our website at wwww.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Disruptive Physicians: Nobody Likes a Nuisance

IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm

Identifying and eliminating disruptive physicians has become a paramount concern of many hospitals and healthcare systems. Disruptive physicians hinder the safe and orderly operation of a healthcare facility and are considered a threat to the safety of patients. Disruptive behavior can impact staff morale and can increase the risk of liability to all employers.

A recent New York case demonstrates this. According to a journal for surgeons, a New York doctor is being held responsible for an ongoing worker’s compensation bill as the result of a violent outburst he directed toward a physician assistant (PA). The physician allegedly lost his temper during an open-heart surgery when the physician assistant accidentally suctioned some heart tissue. The physician allegedly threatened that he would “throw the physician assistant through the wall” if it happened again.

The physician assistant has claimed that the threat deeply affected her ability to perform her job, as well as put the patient’s safety at risk. A psychologist diagnosed the PA with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by the incident. Unable to work because of the trauma allegedly caused by the disruptive physician, the PA now reportedly collects $2,415 a week in workers’ compensation.

To read the full article from Outpatient Surgery, click here.

Implications of Disruptive Behavior.

Disruptive behavior from a physician can lead to dire consequences for both the physician and his or her employer. Lawsuits and liabilities, such as those in the New York case discussed above, can detract from a safe, cooperative, and professional healthcare environment.

Disruptive behavior can negatively affect the quality of patient care. Hospitals claim that this happens because of conduct that:

–    Disrupts or impedes the operations of the hospital;

–    Adversely affects the ability of others on the healthcare team to do their jobs;

–    Creates an unprofessional or hostile work environment for hospital employees;

–    Interferes with coworkers’ ability to practice competently;

–    Prevents effective communications among healthcare providers and staff;

–    Disrupts the continuity of care a patient receives; and

–    Adversely affect the community’s confidence in the hospital’s ability to provide quality patient care.

Being accused of being a disruptive physician may lead to adverse action against clinical privileges, action to drop the physician from insurance panels, consequential action by the state medical board or licensing authority, loss of specialty certification, termination of employment contracts and other various consequences.

What Conduct May Cause One to be Labeled a Disruptive Physician?

A hospital’s creed, ethical statement, or code of conduct, as well as Joint Commission Standards, and medical staff bylaws can define what constitutes disruptive behavior. Case reports, hospital policies and actual cases in which we have defended physicians demonstrate the types of acts that can be used to label a person as “disruptive.” Disruptive behavior includes, but is not limited to:

–    Verbal attacks that are personal, irrelevant to hospital operations, or exceed the bounds of professional conduct;

–    Shouting, yelling, or the use of profanity;

–    Verbally demeaning, rude or insulting conduct, including exhibiting signs of disdain or disgust;

–    Inappropriate physical conduct, such as pushing, shoving, grabbing, hitting, making obscene gestures, or throwing objects;

–    Inappropriate comments or illustrations made in patient medical records or other official documents, impugning the quality of care in hospital facilities, or attacking particular medical staff members, personnel, or policies;

–    Belittling remarks about the patient care provided by the hospital or any healthcare provider in the presence or vicinity of patients or their families;

–    Non-constructive criticism that is addressed to the recipient in such a way as to intimidate, undermine confidence, belittle, or imply stupidity or incompetence;

–    Refusal to accept, or disparaging or disgruntled acceptance of, medical staff assignments;

–    Inappropriately noisy or loud behavior in patient areas;

–    Making sexual or racial jokes;

–    Physically touching another professional, nurse or staff member, especially those of the opposite sex;

–    Making sexually suggestive remarks;

–    Commenting on another person’s body parts;

–    Threatening violence to another;

–    Throwing surgical equipment, medical supplies, charts, or anything else at or around anyone else; or

–    Other disruptive, abusive, or unprofessional behavior.

I previously wrote a two-part blog series detailing the types of conduct considered disruptive, as well as the consequences associated with disruptive behavior and how you as a physician can avoid such pitfalls. To read part one of the blog series, click here. To read part two of the blog series, click here.

Physicians: Proactively Educate Yourself.

It’s wise to review your hospital’s or institution’s policies on disruptive behavior. Arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to avoid such accusations is imperative in protecting your reputation and career.

No one lives in a glass house, but pretend you do. Someone can always observe your actions in the office or hospital. Once you have been labeled a disruptive physician, others may be closely, at times, scrutinizing you for anything you may do wrong. You will make yourself a target for possible false allegations and accusations. The healthcare industry is a demanding and stressful field. It’s understandable that potential outbursts can occur; control yourself and don’t let them.


Have you ever been accused of being a disruptive physician? Have you ever been around one? What are some proactive tactics physicians can take to prevent any outbursts or behavioral conduct that would be deemed as disruptive? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in accusations of disruptive behavior, Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Burger, Jim. “Doc Threatens Physician’s Assistant During Open Heart Surgery: I’m Going to Put Your Through the Wall.” Outpatient Surgery. (July 14, 2014). From: http://www.outpatientsurgery.net/surgical-facility-administration/legal-and-regulatory/doc-threatens-physician-s-assistant-during-open-heart-surgery-i-m-going-to-put-you-through-the-wall–07-14-14

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

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