Many physicians don’t challenge the exclusion
Quite often, excluded doctors decide not to challenge the decision. For example, Dr. Serota says groups of orthopedic surgeons and urologists have decided not to challenge similar decisions by SSM. “They wanted to move on,” he says.
Mr. Callahan says many excluded doctors also don’t even ask for a hearing. “They expect that the hospital’s decision will be upheld,” he says.
This was the case for Devendra K. Amin, MD, an independent cardiologist in Easton, Pa. Dr. Amin has not had any hospital privileges since July 2020. Even though he is board certified in interventional cardiology, which involves catheterization, Dr. Amin says he cannot perform these procedures because they can only be performed in a hospital in the area.
In the 1990s, Dr. Amin says, he had invasive cardiology privileges at five hospitals, but then those hospitals consolidated, and the remaining ones started constricting his privileges. First he could no longer work in the emergency department, then he could no longer read echocardiograms and interpret stress test results, because that work was assigned exclusively to employed doctors, he says.
Then the one remaining hospital announced that privileges would only be available to physicians by invitation, and he was not invited. Dr. Amin says he could have regained general cardiology privileges if he had accepted employment at the hospital, but he did not want to do this. A recruiter and the head of the cardiology section at the hospital even took him out to dinner 2 years ago to discuss employment, but there was a stipulation that the hospital would not agree to.
“I wanted to get back my interventional privileges back,” Dr. Amin says, “but they told me that would not be possible because they had an exclusive contract with a group.”
Dr. Amin says that now, he can only work as a general cardiologist with reduced volume. He says primary care physicians in the local hospital systems only refer to cardiologists within their systems. “When these patients do come to me, it is only because they specifically requested to see me,” Dr. Amin says.
He does not want to challenge the decisions regarding privileging. “Look, I am 68 years old,” Dr. Amin says. “I’m not retiring yet, but I don’t want to get into a battle with a hospital that has very deep pockets. I’m not a confrontational person to begin with, and I don’t want to spend the next 10 years of my life in litigation.”
The law on exclusive contracts does not provide easy answers for excluded doctors, and often it defies physicians’ conception of their own role in the hospital.
Many physicians expect the hospital to be a haven where they can do their work without being cut out by a competitor. This view is reinforced by organizations such as the American Medical Association.
The AMA Council on Medical Service states that privileges “can only be abridged upon recommendation of the medical staff and only for reason related to professional competence, adherence to standards of care, and other parameters agreed to by the medical staff.”
But the courts don’t tend to agree with that position. “Hospitals have a fiduciary duty to protect their own financial interests,” Mr. Callahan says. “This may involve anything that furthers the hospital’s mission to provide high-quality health care services to its patient community.”
At the same time, however, there are plenty of instances in which courts have ruled that exclusive contracts had gone too far. But usually it takes a lawyer experienced in these cases to know what those exceptions are.
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.