So What Is a Sham Peer Review?

Roland Chalifoux, Jr, DO

In This Article


One of the first notable sham peer reviews took place in Oregon in the early 1980s. The physician who took it up with the courts was Dr. Patrick, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. As a result of the publicity surrounding this case, the Healthcare Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA) was enacted in 1986. One of the concerns that arose from the Patrick case was a fear that no physician would want to participate in peer review if he or she could be potentially liable for a bad report. The HCQIA gave immunity to hospitals and reviewers participating in peer review.

This immunity has been abused by hospitals and physicians to harm "disruptive" physicians (ie, whistleblowers) or financial competitors. All one must say is: "Dr. Joe Blow is a bad doctor, which is my professional opinion in this peer review, and this hospital should get rid of him." And poof! Dr. Joe Blow, patient advocate, financial competitor, is gone! And the accusing physician is immune!

A wonderful series has recently been written by Steve Twedt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the "Cost of Courage," detailing a number of physicians who have suffered from sham peer review and the consequences they have had to pay (


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