Medical malpractice suits account for almost 20,000 cases each year, with a total price tag that reaches into the billions. Many instances of malpractice can be traced to a single event or a single bad decision by an otherwise good doctor. Other cases are the result of a history of poor choices or negligence by a physician, or a physician who lacked proper training.
In January 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court acted to protect the people of the state from malpractice caused by doctors without the proper credentials by expanding access to documents in cases of “negligent credentialing”. As a result, a Chicago personal injury law firm can hold hospitals liable for bad hiring decisions, and reduce the risk of patient exposure to under qualified physicians.
What Is “Negligent Credentialing”?
Simply put, “negligent credentialing” means the hospital allowed a physician treatment privileges at the facility, even though there were questions about the doctor’s abilities. A Chicago personal injury law firm can raise questions about the hospital’s credentialing process in a number of ways including, but not limited to:
- The number of malpractice claims against the doctor
- Lack of specialist certification
- Expired licenses or training
- Physical limitations, such as declining eyesight
A hospital is guilty of negligent credentialing if they did not take the time to vet the candidate, to make certain there were no black marks on the doctor’s record, or if they knew about the doctor’s problems and made the hire anyway.
In a civil action, the court can decide that a hospital is not liable for negligent credentialing, if there is no proven negligence on the part of the physician. Often a Chicago personal injury law firm will wait to pursue a negligent credentialing lawsuit until after the medical malpractice case against the doctor is complete.
Which Doctors Must Be Credentialed?
Very few doctors work directly for a hospital today; the majority are considered independent contractors who use the hospital as their base of operations. For years, hospitals claimed protection from lawsuits because the doctors were not employees, therefore, the hospital had no direct liability.
Negligent credentialing made hospitals liable once more by requiring doctors who seek any privileges, from admitting to surgical, to apply to and be screened by the hospital. The hospital’s credentialing committee accepts responsibility for many of the doctor’s actions when the committee grants privileges to the doctor.
What Are The New Changes?
In the past, hospitals could deny access to important documents about negligent doctors by claiming doctor-patient confidentiality, or by saying the information was privileged communication between the doctor and the hospital.
New changes eliminate privilege for most documents related to credentialing. Hospitals may be required to turn over records of the credentialing interview, provide staff members for depositions, and present internal documents on hospital hiring practices.
How Do The Changes Help Patients?
Access to documents fundamentally changes the attack a plaintiff can mount against the hospital. Rather than making a circumstantial case about what the hospital did or did not know during the credentialing procedure, a Chicago personal injury law firm is able to demonstrate specific incidences of violations, and back the accusations with tangible evidence.
Victims and the families of victims now have an additional tool to go after the responsible party in a medical malpractice suit. In the past, compensation could be limited to the doctor’s level of malpractice insurance, a number often far below adequate compensation. Victims were left without an avenue to win the award they deserved, because the hospital hid behind an invulnerable shield.
Newly expanded guidelines give a Chicago personal injury law firm the opportunity to go beyond the doctor to seek compensation. Hospitals will now be held liable for their hiring decisions and their failure to complete an adequate vetting process. Hospitals that allow under qualified doctors or physicians with a history of preventable mistakes to remain on the staff will be both legally and financially responsible for their actions. Though negligent credentialing laws have been on the books for some time, winning an award under the statute was exceptionally difficult, because attorneys lacked adequate documentation.
Proving a lack of knowledge on the part of the hospital is still a legal challenge any Chicago personal injury law firm will have to tackle on its way to winning potential compensation, but access to paperwork makes the job much easier.
Hospitals have a duty to their patients and their communities to provide a safe and healthy place to seek treatment for illness and injury. When the hospital takes shortcuts to cut hiring costs or to fill a position that has been vacant for too long, they put the public at risk, and must be held accountable. The latest decision by the Illinois Supreme Court does just that.