Assigning the health and well-being of patients to another person is no quick grab of trust. On behalf of medical institutions, hiring professionals do their research of prospective candidates, conduct interviews, and ask around professional networks until the most reputable and highly accredited doctor is found for the job. However, what if the physician that you have entrusted your patients to is not as qualified as you had thought? Unfortunately, sometimes hospitals fall short in their responsibility to properly verify the credentials of the doctors they have on staff. This process is known as credentialing, and when hospitals are negligent in this area, the results can be devastating.
Substandard credentialing can lead to financial losses, damage to the hospital's reputation, loss of patients, and in some instances, as was the case with the Schellings (as described below), permanent disability or even death of a patient.
The Case of Loretta and Brent Schelling
In a case released a couple of years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court was confronted with the issue of whether a plaintiff could proceed with a negligent-credentialing claim against a hospital. The plaintiffs, Loretta and Brent Schelling, sued Dr. Stephen Humphrey for medical malpractice arising out of two surgeries he performed on Loretta's feet.
As a result of the surgeries conducted by Dr. Humphrey, Loretta alleged that she had experienced a permanent and partially disabling condition. The Schellings were allowed to proceed with their negligent-credentialing claim against the hospital itself.
What is Medical Credentialing?
Medical credentialing a doctor may include a search of the practitioner's residency and fellowship training, a thorough background check on the health care professional (which may include contacting references), and a medical license lookup to verify medical credentials.
Examining a prospective doctor's credentials is a critical step in the hiring process. As the Schelling case demonstrated, if it can be established that a hospital was negligent in its credentialing process and thus hired or retained a doctor with deficient credentials, the hospital may also be held liable.
Though this finding arose out of the context of litigation between a patient and a doctor, it would not be surprising to see such a standard applied in other contexts as well. Hospitals may not be the only type of employer on the hook for negative credentialing claims.
Duty of the Hospital
In the course of its decision, the Ohio Supreme Court reaffirmed long-standing state precedent, providing that a hospital does not need to constantly second-guess the activities of its physicians. However, the court also acknowledged another precedent in which it was found that a hospital has a "direct duty to grant and continue staff privileges only to competent doctors." In this case, the court held that a hospital "must use reasonable care in determining whether an applicant is qualified and in formulating and applying reasonable standards for granting, denying, or terminating staff privileges."
The court went on to state that a "hospital's negligent credentialing of a doctor can give rise to liability on the basis of negligent hiring." The case is thus a warning to employers, especially hospitals, who hire or retain employees with a deficient credentialing process in place.
In order for the Schellings to have succeeded in their claim against the hospital, they would need to prove that the hospital was negligent in its credentialing of Dr. Humphrey. In other words, they would need to show that the hospital knew or should have known that Dr. Humphrey was not qualified to perform the surgeries he performed on Loretta Schelling, and that as a result of the hospital's negligence, she was injured.
The case thus sets out one standard or baseline for employers to observe and consider when seeking to guard against claims of negligent credentialing. A component of the test provided in the Schelling case is whether there was a “lack of care” in the “selection or retention of the doctor.”
Careful review of an organization’s hiring or retention practices should be undertaken to consider whether it may be exposed to risk claims of negative credentialing.
A Warning for Others
This case of Schelling v. Humphrey serves as a valuable lesson in the importance of a robust and continuously-operating risk mitigation system that ensures those professionals working for an employer are fully credentialed and in good standing with their profession.
It became a hard-grounded reality check that organizations, like hospitals and other healthcare facilities, are not exempt from being sued in connection with the negligence of their employees, notably if there has been a failure to properly verify medical credentials of their staff.
Consequently, the negligent credentialing of a doctor can give rise to liability on the basis of negligent hiring by the hospital. The Schelling case is a warning for all employers that they must use reasonable care in determining whether an applicant is qualified in performing appropriate medical procedures further highlighting the importance of medical credentialing: medical license lookup, a complete doctor background check, and primary source verification of medical credentials.
Automatically Verify Medical Credentials in Just a Few Clicks
In order to prevent the case of Loretta and Brent Schelling from happening again, it is critical to always verify the licenses of professionals in regulated industries (including physicians) and to safeguard healthcare institutions against the risks associated with working with suspended or disbarred physicians.
This is where Credential Sentry comes in. Credential Sentry is an online platform that automatically verifies contractors' and employees' licensing status in regulated industries, such as healthcare and other medical-related industries. Credential Sentry streamlines the licensing verification process by conducting the check on the client's behalf. The straightforward and user-friendly online tool checks on a regular basis to see if a licensed expert has been suspended or disbarred, significantly saving time and effort compared to manual checks.
With the assistance of Credential Sentry, you can avoid the costly mistake of hiring a doctor who has been suspended or disbarred and always be protected against negligent credentialing claims.