McGee v. Bruce Hosp. System

Citation312 S.C. 58,439 S.E.2d 257
Decision Date21 September 1993
Docket NumberNo. 23968,23968
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Parties, 62 USLW 2451 Ralph M. "Mike" McGEE, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Donna L. McGee, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. BRUCE HOSPITAL SYSTEM, Palmer Kirkpatrick, Jr., M.D., Alan Blaker, M.D., Reginald S. Bolick, M.D., and Joseph M. Pearson, M.D., both individually and Pee Dee Surgical Group, P.A., and Margaret E. Lee, M.D., individually and d/b/a Pee Dee Radiology Group, Defendants, of whom Palmer M. Kirkpatrick, Jr., M.D., Alan Blaker, M.D., Reginald S. Bolick, M.D., and Joseph M. Pearson, M.D., both individually and Pee Dee Surgical Group, P.A., are Petitioners. . Heard

Ernest J. Nauful, Jr. and Andrew F. Lindemann, Columbia, for petitioner Palmer M. Kirkpatrick, M.D.

David A. Brown and James E. Parham, Jr., Aiken, for petitioner Alan Blaker, M.D.

Edwin P. Martin, of Turner, Padget, Graham & Laney, Columbia, for petitioners Reginald S. Bolick, M.D., Joseph M. Pearson, M.D., and Pee Dee Surgical Group, P.A.

David W. Goldman, Diane M. Rodriquez and Terrell T. Horne, of Bryan, Bahnmuller, King, Goldman, and McElveen, Sumter, for respondent.

John B. McCutcheon, Jr. and M. Robin Morris, both of McCutcheon, McCutcheon & Baxter, Conway, for defendant Bruce Hosp. System.

William W. Doar, Jr., of McNair & Sanford, P.A., Georgetown, for defendant Margaret E. Lee, M.D., individually and d/b/a Pee Dee Radiology Group.

FINNEY, Justice:

This Court granted a writ of certiorari to consider the following question:

Are credentialing files, clinical privileges, and the policies and procedures involved in the evaluation of medical staff immune from discovery under the terms of S.C.Code Ann. §§ 40-71-10 and -20 (Supp.1992)?

The underlying action involves a medical malpractice wrongful death claim. This matter is before the Court pursuant to the circuit court order granting the plaintiff's motion to compel and instructing the defendant Bruce Hospital System (Bruce Hospital) to produce the credentialing files and clinical privileges for each of the defendant physicians.

The plaintiff requested from Bruce Hospital 1) documentation delineating staff privileges, including but not limited to, applications for staff privileges and any proof of training or experience submitted in relation to an application for staff privileges; and 2) any and all medical staff monitoring and evaluation policies and procedures.

The defendant physicians contend that such documentation is protected by the confidentiality statute which provides immunity for:

an appointed member of a committee of a medical staff or a licensed hospital, provided the medical staff operates pursuant to written bylaws that have been approved by the governing board of the hospital ... for any act or proceeding undertaken or performed within the scope of the functions of the committee.

S.C.Code Ann. § 40-71-10(B) (Supp.1992). Further, section 40-71-20 provides that:

all proceedings of and all data and information acquired by the committee referred to in § 40-71-10 in the exercise of its duties are confidential.... These proceedings and documents are not subject to discovery, subpoena, or introduction into evidence in any civil action except upon appeal from the committee action.

Information, documents, or records which are otherwise available from original sources are not immune from discovery or use in a civil action merely because they were presented during the committee proceedings nor shall any complainant or witness before the committee be prevented from testifying in a civil action as to matters of which he has knowledge apart from the committee proceedings or revealing such matters to third persons.

(Emphasis added.)

The trial judge found that the materials sought were discoverable and did not fall within the ambit of sections 40-71-10 and -20. The trial judge ruled that the applications for staff privileges and supporting documents of appropriate training were not protected since the statute does not protect information that is available from original sources. Further, the trial judge found that section 40-71-20 does not preclude the discovery of the policies and procedures for staff monitoring. The statute was interpreted by the trial judge as only protecting information generated or created by the committee.

We first conclude that the Executive Committee of the medical staff of Bruce Hospital constitutes a "committee of a medical staff of a licensed hospital" within the purview of section 40-71-10(B) to the extent the committee operates pursuant to the written bylaws approved by the hospital.

The overriding public policy of the confidentiality statute is to encourage health care professionals to monitor the competency and professional conduct of their peers to safeguard and improve the quality of patient care. See State ex rel Shroades v. Henry, 187 W.Va. 723, 421 S.E.2d 264 (1992). The underlying purpose behind the confidentiality statute is not to facilitate the prosecution of civil actions, but to promote complete candor and open discussion among participants in the peer review process. Cruger v. Love, 599 So.2d 111 (Fla.1992). We adopt the Florida Supreme Court's reasoning in Cruger that:

[t]he policy of encouraging full candor in peer review proceedings is advanced only if all documents considered by the committee ... during the peer review or credentialing process are protected. Committee members and those providing information to the committee must be able to operate without fear of reprisal. Similarly, it is essential that doctors seeking hospital privileges disclose all pertinent information to the committee. Physicians who fear that information provided in an application might someday be used against them by a third party will be reluctant to fully detail matters that the committee should consider.


We find that the public interest in candid professional peer review proceedings should prevail over the litigant's need for information from the most convenient source. See Humana Hospital Desert Valley v. Superior Court, 154 Ariz. 396, 742 P.2d 1382 (Ct.App.1987); Holly v. Auld, 450 So.2d 217 (Fla.1984); Hollowell v. Jove, 247 Ga. 678, 279 S.E.2d 430 (1981).

We interpret the legislative intent to protect not only documents...

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