A health law news service recently reported a United States District Court holding that a physician whose privileges were summarily suspended and ultimately terminated by a Pennsylvania hospital could not prevail on antitrust or breach of contract claims asserted against the hospital based upon the federal and state peer review immunity statutes. Although it is accurate to state that Bakare v. Pinnale Health Hospitals, Inc. dismissed the antitrust and breach of contract claims, the article overlooked what I believe to be the most significant aspect of the decision, which was that neither the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) nor the Pennsylvania Peer Review Protection Act immunized defamatory statements which, although made by physicians involved in the peer review process, were not made as part of the peer review process.
It is also important to realize that this decision was made based upon a motion for summary judgment. The Court did not conclude that defamatory statements had been made nor that the defendants were liable for the defamatory statements; the Court only dismissed the defendants’ motion for summary judgment of certain defamation claims. The impact of the dismissal is that the Court concluded there was sufficient evidence to allow the issues to be presented to a jury with respect to the defamation occurring outside the peer review process, stating as follows:
“Finally, claims relating to Dr. Moore’s statements in the operating room lounge and Dr. Bakare’s moonlighting contract does not arise out of the peer review process and, therefore, are not covered under HCQIA immunity.”