In Yedidag v. Roswell Clinic Corp., a case of first impression with implications for hospital peer review in many other states, the New Mexico Supreme Court affirmed an appeals court ruling that a physician who spoke up against another physician at a peer review meeting could sue his hospital-employer for using confidential peer review information to justify his termination. The court affirmed the jury’s award of compensatory and punitive damages based on its conclusion that the hospital violated New Mexico’s peer review statute, N.M. Code §§ 41-9-1 through 41-9-7, and breached its employment contract with the physician by terminating him based on his conduct at a peer review meeting.
Dr. Yedidag, a physician employed by the hospital, participated in a peer review meeting concerning another physician’s treatment of a patient. A hospital administrator who was present at the meeting reported that Dr. Yedidag had “verbally attacked” the physician being reviewed. The hospital subsequently fired Dr. Yedidag for unprofessional conduct.
The court concluded that the New Mexico peer review statute, which contains a provision protecting the confidentiality of peer review records, creates an implied private cause of action. Because the acquisition and use of confidential peer review information for employee discipline is not a statutorily permissible use of peer review information and Dr. Yedidag’s confidentiality was violated, the court determined that Dr. Yedidag had an implied cause of action against the hospital.
Many states have peer review statutes that are similar to the New Mexico statute by providing for the confidentiality of peer review proceedings. Thus, in light of the Yedidag decision, hospitals should examine their policies and practices concerning physician discipline in order to maintain the confidentiality of peer review proceedings.