A recent Illinois Supreme Court decision will have a significant impact on the success of negligent credentialing claims against hospitals. Prior to Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services, 2016 IL 118217, it was very difficult for plaintiffs to bring negligent credentialing claims against a hospital. In Frigo v. Silver Cross Hospital & Medical Center, 377 Ill. App. 3d 43 (2007), the court held that the Medical Studies Act prevented parties from using physicians’ applications as evidence because that information was privileged.
In Klaine, the plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice action against Frederick Dressen, D.O. and Southern Illinois Medical Services, d/b/a the Center for Medical Arts. In their amended complaint, the plaintiffs added a claim against Southern Illinois Hospital Services, d/b/a St. Joseph Memorial Hospital and Memorial Hospital of Carbondale (“SIHS”) for negligent credentialing of Dr. Dressen.
During discovery, SIHS refused to provide certain documents listed in its privilege log, and argued that these documents were privileged pursuant to the Medical Studies Act and the Health Care Professionals Credentials Data Act. On appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, SIHS maintained Dr. Dressen’s applications for staff privileges are nondiscoverable pursuant to section 15(h) of the Credentials Act which states “credentials data collected or obtained by the hospital shall be confidential.” 410 ILCS 517/15(h)(West 2012).
The court determined that a hospital can give a doctor privileges, but the Credentials Act won’t give the hospital one. Specifically, the court found that the Credentials Act’s use of the term “confidential” was not synonymous with the term “privileged” when referring to credentials data. As a result, confidential information is subject to discovery unless a statute’s plain language provides otherwise.
The court found that confidentiality statutes do not create impenetrable barriers to obtaining information during discovery. It reasoned that confidential information is privileged only if such privilege promotes an interest that outweighs the need for evidence in the truth-seeking process.
The court also rejected SIHS’s argument that reading the Credentials Act along with the Medical Studies Act would necessitate a different outcome. While the Medical Studies Act stipulates that information used for internal quality control is “privileged,” the court noted that case law had established this act was not intended to shield hospitals from liability. Furthermore, the court concluded that such an expansive reading of the Medical Studies Act would eliminate actions against hospitals for negligence.
This important decision does not negate the plaintiff’s initial burden to prove that a hospital failed to exercise reasonable care in granting a physician privileges, that the physician was negligent, and that the negligent grant of privileges proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries. However, this decision will likely cause courts to see an increase in negligent credentialing actions because plaintiffs can now obtain significant evidence in discovery that was previously unobtainable.
Doctors submitting credentialing applications should also be aware that this information is now discoverable. At Wentzel Law, we have extensive experience representing physicians in a wide range of matters including credentialing, license compliance, and litigation. If you are a physician looking for representation, give our office a call at (312) 697-0500 to schedule a consultation.