Written by M. Daria Niewenhous
A recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision recognizes a claim against a hospital for “negligent credentialing.” The court in Rabelo v. Nasif, et al found that, through the credentialing process, a hospital must "exercise reasonable care to protect its patients from incompetent or careless surgeons, ...” In its opinion, the court compared a negligent credentialing claim to a negligent hiring or retention claim, because the “special relationship” between a hospital and its patients is analogous to the special relationship between an employer to its customers or clients that gives rise to the duty of an employer to safeguard patrons from incompetent or dangerous employees. The court noted that it would be reasonable for any hospital patient to expect that the physician treating him or her at the hospital was “competent and would comply with all requisite standards of care.” The court stated that “[a] hospital does have a duty to exercise reasonable care in granting privileges to physicians who practice medicine at the hospital, and that its failure to do so will result in harm to its patients."
Massachusetts hospitals and other health care facilities that credential physicians and other providers now have the potential for additional liability apart from any malpractice claim that a plaintiff patient may bring following care that is alleged to be outside the standards of care. This case underscores the importance of the credentialing process and the reputational and financial risks associated with failure to appropriately credential providers. Hospital governing boards, who bear the ultimate responsibility for medical staff credentialing, may wish to re-examine initial and ongoing credentialing processes to assure that the process is robust and followed, and that the board is fully-informed regarding any credentialing concerns.