Hospitals now use contract language to suspend physicians’ hospital privileges. In a recent case, a hospital suspended a physician’s privileges for an alleged breach of drug documentation. Although the initial reason to suspend included abuse of drugs, that charge was dropped after an investigation by his partners revealed no abuse. Nevertheless, the hospital barred the physician from using the hospital or any of its allied facilities. He was placed in limbo, awaiting his group’s decision on whether to fire him. He was not advised–either by the hospital or his group– to protect his rights under the medical staff bylaws.

How can this happen? It happens because most physician or group contracts contain language allowing the hospital to unilaterally suspend a physician’s privileges based on some executive’s concept of quality. This unilateral termination of privileges by the CEO is called an “administrative suspension.” An administrative suspension is often preceded with veiled threats to partners that contracts will be affected or not renewed if the group fails to terminate the physician. The hospital attempts to use the group to help it bypass the medical staff due process protections.

Without due process, as provided in staff bylaws, the hospital can wrongfully ruin a physician’s career. The hospital will report a suspension or revocation of privileges to the National Practitioner Data Bank. Under the current climate, because of that report, a physician will probably never again be able to obtain hospital privileges. Therefore, a professional review of the facts and circumstances behind the allegations is essential.

A professional review is the heart and soul of due process. In fact, the Health Care Quality Improvement Act requires a professional review–before any suspension of privileges– unless a real danger to patients exists.

A hospital should give a physician notice of any allegations and a right to a hearing. Although most physicians are aware of their protected status, many do not insist on invoking these rights. They feel that the hospital will win in the long run and that they cannot afford the costs, emotional and financial, of taking on the institution. However, the bottom line is that without a professional review of the facts and circumstances of the allegations, a physician’s career may be ruined.

It is not impossible to succeed against false or immaterial allegations by the hospital’s executives. Many have succeeded and some have been awarded substantial damages by the courts. Success requires a decision to vindicate years of hard work and a determination to force the institution to respect the merits of a professional evaluation. Health Care Employment attorneys can and have devised the strategies that defend physicians from arbitrary and demeaning accusations by ambitious hospital executives lacking professional credentials.