Credentialing files are confidential, Michigan appeals court rules

The judges said releasing physician logs, even after deleting the names of patients, would violate the doctor-patient privilege.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted Jan. 25, 2011

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Credentialing files maintained by hospitals should be protected against disclosure even if subpoenaed, according to a recent ruling by the state of Michigan Court of Appeals.

The decision stems from a medical liability claim filed by Yolanda Johnson against Detroit Medical Center, alleging that Andre R. Nunn, MD, failed to properly perform surgery on Johnson's mother, Vera Jackson. The lawsuit claimed that the lack of care resulted in Jackson's death. Dr. Nunn, a general surgeon, admitted no wrongdoing.

Dr. Nunn's credentialing file was sought by the plaintiff during discovery, as were logs showing the dates of procedures performed. A trial court allowed both requests, but the higher court overturned the decisions. The appeals court said releasing the logs, even after deleting patient names, would violate the doctor-patient privilege.

"The doctor-patient privilege protects the identity of nonparty patients regardless of need," the court said. "The privilege prohibits the disclosure of 'any information acquired under the requisite circumstances,' even if the patient's identity is redacted."

Attorney Michael Callahan, a partner at Chicago-based Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, said the decision was consistent with prior disclosure rulings by courts but broached "newer ground" by excluding the operating logs.

"Where it would have some significance is in the scope of the protection," he said.

Common debate in disclosure cases historically has been whether removing patient names or other identifying information from files defeats the physician-patient privilege.

Dan Schulte, legal counsel for the Michigan State Medical Society, said the ruling provides important clarification in the matter.

"I think this is a favorable result for Michigan physicians. This is the way most lawyers already believed the system worked," he said.

An attorney for Jackson's estate, Michael Gagleard, declined to comment for this article. He has filed an application with the Michigan Supreme Court, requesting a review of the appeals court ruling.

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