(CN) – In a case of first impression, the 1st Circuit ruled that a Maine hospital correctly reported a doctor to a national data bank as “under investigation,” despite the doctor’s contention that the investigation had ended.
The Boston-based court was the first federal appeals court to tackle the issue of when a doctor is under investigation according to the Health Care Quality Improvement Act.
Dr. John Doe (a pseudonym) was accused of threatening a nurse. The hospital’s investigation led to the offer of a modified contract, requiring regular proctoring and psychological evaluations. Doe resigned instead of signing the new contract.
Doe sought administrative review of the hospital’s decision to report him to the data bank. He argues that since the hospital had offered him the contract, he was no longer the subject of an ongoing investigation.
Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, decided that the hospital made the correct call, since it had not taken a final disciplinary action at the time of Doe’s resignation. Doe appealed, but the 1st Circuit upheld the decision.
“The Secretary concluded that Congress did not intend to construct an easily accessible escape hatch that would permit beleaguered physicians to elude the reach of the (federal law’s) reporting requirement,” Judge Selya wrote.
Accepting Doe’s logic “would create a gap between the completion of fact-gathering and the taking of final disciplinary action,” Selya ruled. “During this gap period, a physician could resign with impunity.”