Is there a duty for a hospital to answer a credentialing inquiry from another institution? A hospital’s refusal to answer an inquiry presumably has the same impact as an employer’s refusal to answer a request for references: when the inquiring party receives no response, they presume, and usually rightly so, that the party to whom the question was directed is following their mother’s advice, i.e. if you don’t have anything good to say about somebody, don’t say anything at all. That usually results in the person seeking credentials being rejected.

Under these circumstances, is there a duty for a hospital to respond to these requests? The hospital certainly expects that institutions to which they submit questions will answer those requests. There is a duty to submit a report to the National Practitioners Data Bank (NPDB). Presumably, if the hospital has submitted such a report, it has satisfied whatever ethical or moral obligation it has to respond because that response is a public record which the querying hospital can obtain.

However, the Data Bank report is often just the trigger, precipitating a request for further information. The responding hospital presumably has adequate immunity.  HCQIA provides immunity for peer review actions. Must state laws provide immunity for responding truthfully, or at least not maliciously, to peer review inquiries. Most hospitals have an application process by which the applicant releases and immunizes those facilities to which their questions will be submitted.

I posted this question in a recent AHLA List Serve. Most responses indicated that nobody was aware of any Joint Commission or state statute imposing such a duty, although there may be some state licensing requirements that do impose that duty.

Kristen Miles, as assistant AG, in the University of Washington Division, did cite a recent case, Liu v. Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, which holds: “Nothing in the HCQIA mandates that healthcare entities provide peer review information to credentialing authorities in other states in excess of the information required to be reported to the NPDB.”