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Can a doctor sue a hospital for libel after medical board report?

New York state law requires health facilities to report disciplinary action taken against medical professionals to New York State Health Department’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) and the state Board for Professional Medical Conduct (board). However, the law states that these facilities may report suspected issue with alcohol, drugs, or mental health. But when is a report more than a professional obligation — when does a complaint step over the line and constitute libel? A recent case is delving into this question.

It is important to note that this case is out of Iowa and is unlikely to directly impact cases in New York. However, it raises an interesting question: can a hospital be held liable for tarnishing a physician’s name with a report to the board? So far, the answer is yes. A lower court has held that the case can move forward, and the hospital has appealed this decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

On the one side, the hospital argues that is immune from lawsuits that arise from confidential complaints to the state medical board. On the other, a physician’s ability to continue in the profession they likely trained and studied decades to achieve. In this specific case, the question involves the physician’s prescribing practices and whether or not he was properly prescribing hydrocodone. The physician states the hospital made “false and malicious claims” the board and also argues that the hospital failed to complete the proper peer-review process prior to terminating his position. As a result, in addition to libel he also filed a claim for breach of contract.

How does this impact doctors in New York?

It helps guide these same questions and serves as a reminder that physicians who find themselves questioning a termination or report to the board have options.