My last MedLaw Blog post described four rules for making the peer review process fair. Here are four rules physicians should follow to protect themselves regardless of the peer review process.

1.         Recognize peer review when it is happening to you. There is no doubt that peer review is occurring when you get a letter proposing adverse peer review actions. The more problematic cases are the peer review processes that begin with collegial counseling or intervention.

There are two types of collegial intervention, but both can be traps. The first is the meaning discussion with a well-meaning colleague who serves on the relevant peer review committee. Since most colleagues desire to avoid conflict among themselves, it is sometimes difficult to identify these conversations as actual peer review. However, these conversations can show up later as recorded attempts to correct perceived misconduct.

The second and more obvious collegial intervention is an actual meeting with somebody that is less of a colleague and more of a peer review officer. Even though these interventions are clearly peer review, physicians often perceive these somewhat informed meetings as officious intrusions and either disregard the meetings or respond inappropriately.

It is important to recognize that both of these interventions can have future consequences if they are not recognized as harbingers of precursors to potential peer review problems.

2.         Request access to peer review records. Whenever physicians are advised that someone perceives a problem with their performance or their conduct, that physician should request a copy of the complaint or record precipitating the peer review contact, even if the hospital insists upon maintaining anonymity at that point. It is important to know how many complaints there may have been and what those complaints say. It is also important that physicians create a record of this process, preferably a record that includes at least neutral and perhaps partial witnesses. Third-party witnesses are important to prevent later distortions of the facts.

3.         Resist the urge to counterattack. Most accomplished individuals, and doctors include themselves in this category, resent disparaging comments about their conduct or competence. Resist the urge to be overly defensive. Threatening whistleblower disclosures and accusing the other physicians involved in the peer review process of competitive conspiracies and jealousies polarizes the peer review process. The other physicians resent the attacks just as much the target physician resents the intrusion. The precipitous counter attack rarely reads the mutually acceptable results.

4.         Retain experienced counsel. It is amazing that physicians who seek a medical consult at the first sign of a medical problem outside the scope of their particular sub-specialty nevertheless believe they can represent themselves in the peer review process or of that counsel is not necessary until the end of the process, when the physician as legal-patient now requires emergency surgery. Seeking experienced counsel is not an indication of lack intelligence; the issue is not intelligence, but training, experience and detached analysis.