Massachusetts Medical Society: Testimony in Support of Act Relative to Hospital Medical Staffs

Testimony in Support of Act Relative to Hospital Medical Staffs

The Massachusetts Medical Society wishes to be recorded in support for H.1927

The MMS is a professional association of over 25,000 physicians, residents, and medical students across all clinical disciplines, organizations, and practice settings. The Medical Society is committed to advocating on behalf of patients for a better health care system, and on behalf of physicians, to help them to provide the best care possible. H.1927 will establish the right of hospital medical staffs to self-governance and will guarantee the confidentiality of information submitted to hospitals by physicians and health care professionals, ensuring explicit protection of such information from misuse or inappropriate dissemination by establishing a cause of action for damages and/or equitable relief.

The quality of the delivery of health care services in a hospital depends on many factors, including the competence and commitment of both the hospital staff and the hospital administration. In Massachusetts, a key factor in assuring quality has also been the existence of professional hospital medical staff organizations – organizations of physicians and other practitioners with privileges at a hospital who are governed by their own by-laws. The critical role of hospital medical staff is underscored by its reference in an array of statutes and regulations regarding such key areas as patient care assessment and professional peer review.

In most cases, hospital and their medical staffs are aligned, but there are times when there are conflicts. For hospital medical staffs to effectively perform their functions, they must be able to operate independent of the hospital administration. This allows medical staff the autonomy to make recommendations and act in ways that may be in the best interest of health care, but not necessarily always in accord with the position of the facility’s board of trustees. This independence has come increasingly under fire in recent years.

The intent of this legislation is not only to ensure medical staff autonomy, but also, and more importantly, to empower the medical staff in the delivery of quality patient care. This measure would clearly establish the independent status of the medical staff of a hospital by delineating the basic rights and responsibilities of the medical staff and clarify their relationship with the hospital administration. It would also specify that each hospital must have its own governing authority for interactions with the medical staff and that large systems may not govern multiple medical staffs with one governing board.

The bill, based on legislation recently enacted in California, describes the minimum set of self-governance attributes of a hospital medical staff, the essence of which will lead to both improved patient care and better relationships between hospitals and their physicians. It includes:

  • The initiation, development, adoption, and amendment of medical staff bylaws, rules, and regulations, subject to approval of the hospital governing body, from which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.
  • The selection and removal of medical staff officers.
  • The establishment and collection of medical staff dues and use of the dues fund consistent with the purposes of the medical staff.
  • The right of the medical staff to access and use independent legal counsel at the expense of the medical staff.
  • The right of the medical staff to seek judicial relief to protect its self-governance authority from undue interference by the hospital governing body or administration.

Passage of this legislation would allow physicians and health care professionals the independence and confidence they need to successfully fight for the highest standards of quality health care in our hospitals.

The MMS urges the Committee on Public Health to report H.1927 out of committee favorably.

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