Surgeon's libel claim poses threat to public welfare, Iowa hospital says

The Iowa Supreme Court is slated to decide whether hospitals can be sued for libel after reporting suspected physician misconduct to state licensing boards, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch

Mark Andrew, MD, sued Van Diest Medical Center in Webster City, Iowa, for breach of contract, defamation and libel after he was fired, and a district court ruled in late 2019 that he could have his lawsuit heard by a jury. The hospital appealed to the state supreme court, arguing physicians, hospitals and others are immune from lawsuits that arise from confidential complaints to the Iowa Board of Medicine, according to the report. 

If the Iowa Supreme Court allows Dr. Andrew's case to be heard by a jury, it will have a "chilling effect" on the complaint process and public welfare will be put at risk, the hospital argues, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch

The dispute between Dr. Andrew and Van Diest Medical Center dates back to 2016, when the hospital investigated the physician's prescribing practices after a pharmacist expressed concerns about the amount of hydrocodone Dr. Andrew was prescribing. The hospital's then-administrator fired Dr. Andrew within a week of completing the investigation.

Dr. Andrew was informed in writing that he was being fired "due to significant concerns about prescribing practices and patient care issues," according to the report. 

In his lawsuit, Dr. Andrew alleges that the hospital made false and malicious claims about him in a complaint filed with state licensing officials. The state high court is being asked to decide whether the hospital is immune from lawsuit. 

Under Iowa law, a person isn't civilly liable as a result of filing a complaint with a licensing board. However, the immunity doesn't apply if the complaint is made with malice, according to the report. 

The Iowa Board of Medicine closed Dr. Andrew's file in April 2018 after concluding the hospital's complaint didn't warrant disciplinary action. 

The Iowa Supreme Court hasn't scheduled oral arguments in the case. 

Read more here

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