Friday, April 25, 2008

South Carolina Court of Appeals reverses trial court order compelling disclosure of hospital peer review materials

In Wieters v. Bon-Secours, the State Court of Appeals considered an order compelling discovery in a defamation action. At base, a physician had his privileges suspended by the hospital, the hospital reported this action to the National Practitioner Databank, and the physician sued the hospital for defamation, alleging that the Databank report contained false information about him. In discovery, Wieters sought information about suspensions of other physicians. The trial court issued an order compelling answers in deposition to general questions regarding other summary suspensions at the hospital. The hospital appealed this order.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals realized that typically an interlocutory order is not immediately appealable. However, an exception to this rule is a discovery order compelling a hospital to produce credentialing files (McGee v. Bruce Hospital System). Because the trial court’s order also dealt with the discovery of peer review materials, the Court of Appeals found that it was immediately appealable.

Next, the Court of Appeals considered the discovery of peer review materials in this case. Again, the trial court had ordered two physicians to reveal knowledge that they learned in their service on peer review committees. The Court noted that under our peer review statutes, public policy favors the protection of peer review material. Without the promise of confidentiality, physicians would not fully and completely participate in the process. The lack of candor and openness would hinder the efforts of hospitals to monitor their own physicians.

The Court of Appeals ultimately reversed the trial court’s order compelling discovery. The Court held that committee actions are safe guarded and protected by the peer review statute. The physicians, therefore, could not be compelled to answer questions about what led to the suspension of other physicians at the hospitals.

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