I am beginning to develop a nursing peer review process on my unit, but am concerned about the legal aspect. Are there are any laws to protect the information and my staff members?

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When contemplating establishing a peer review process, many facilities worry about the legal and confidential aspects. Is peer review protected? If nurse reviewers discuss a case, could they find themselves in court giving evidence if a plaintiff decides to sue? These are all valid concerns and must be addressed before the process is begun.

There are three types of peer review protection laws:

  • Those granting immunity from lawsuits to persons and institutions
  • Those declaring peer review work products to be privileged and inadmissible in court
  • Those allowing information related to peer review to remain confidential

These laws affect lawsuits brought by plaintiffs. As you know, most malpractice lawsuits are brought against the physician and the "deep-pocket"/hospital, naming all of those who had significant impact in the care of the patient and outcome. Lawsuits against nurses typically stem from the "deep-pocket" scenario naming anyone who provided significant care to the patient and often nurses are not even named in the lawsuit at all.

It is unusual for a nurse to be the only target of a medical malpractice lawsuit, because the plaintiff will want to target the physician who is responsible for the care and the hospital so that more damages can be filed, increasing the amount of the award.

Laura Cook Harrington, RN, MHA, CPHQ, CHCQM

(January 2010)