In Hospital Authority of Valdosta and Lowndes County v. Meeks, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that information contained in a physician’s peer review file was not necessarily protected by the Georgia Peer Review Confidentiality Statute.
Although the holding is enticing from the physician perspective, the limitations contained in the opinion render the precedent potentially meaningless.
The case arose as a negligent credentialing action, with the Plaintiff seeking peer review documents claimed by the hospital to be absolutely privileged under the applicable Georgia Peer Review Confidentiality Statute, which is cited in the opinion. In the lower appellate court, the court held that, although the statutes protected all proceedings and information of a review organization, the statute did not necessarily protect information which, although contained in the peer review records, did not involve a peer review committee’s evaluation of the subject physician’s performance.
This ruling was affirmed on appeal by the Georgia Supreme Court. From the viewpoint of precedent regarding discovery of confidential information, the opinion does stand for the preposition that material in the peer review file can be accessed by third parties, and presumably by the subject physicians themselves, so long as the information does not involve the evaluation of actual medical services provided by the subject physician. However, from a practical perspective, it is hard to imagine that any meaningful information would not fall within this protected category.