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Peer Review Jul 14, 2023

What is Peer Review: The Process

Uncover clinical peer review variability and its impact on patient safety. Improve risk assessment for better healthcare outcomes.

In healthcare organizations, the clinical peer review process can vary significantly, with only 62% of hospitals considering their process standardized. This article aims to shed light on the key elements of the peer review process and the challenges it poses in ensuring patient safety. By exploring the reporting of high-risk events, the selection of peer reviewers, and the turnaround time for reviews, we can identify areas for improvement and the need for more efficient and standardized peer review processes.


The Reporting of High-Risk Events

The peer review process typically begins when a high-risk event is reported to the healthcare risk team. These events, as defined by The Joint Commission, encompass incidents resulting in death, permanent harm, or severe temporary harm. These events raise concerns about the quality of care provided and are unrelated to a patient's medical history. However, the reporting of high-risk events can be influenced by the culture within a healthcare facility. Hospitals that adopt a punitive approach to their review structure may inadvertently discourage providers from coming forward with reports. On the other hand, research shows that higher reporting rates correlate with fewer litigation claims. To ensure patient safety, healthcare leaders must foster a culture of psychological safety that encourages providers to speak up about areas of improvement.

The Need for Peer Review

Once a high-risk event is reported, the hospital's risk management team assesses the need for peer review. In many hospitals, the decision for review is based on a chart review conducted by another clinician within the facility. However, an alarming number of hospitals (44%) submit fewer than 20% of cases for formal review, indicating a lack of oversight into potential harm events. This raises concerns about missed opportunities to identify systemic issues and prevent future patient safety incidents.

Selection of Peer Reviewers

The peer review committee plays a crucial role in the selection of reviewers. Unfortunately, the selection process often relies on factors such as seniority or the availability of committee members, which may not always consider the required expertise for an optimal review. This approach can result in suboptimal reviews and missed opportunities to gather valuable insights from specialized professionals.

Turnaround Time for Reviews

While 98% of hospitals conduct reviews in a committee setting, the average turnaround time for completing a review is reported to be over 60 days by 64% of respondents. This significant delay creates a gap between risk detection and implementing risk prevention strategies. Timely identification and resolution of potential issues are crucial for preventing harm to patients. Therefore, more efficient peer review processes are needed to bridge this gap and ensure timely risk assessment and the implementation of preventive measures.

We Need More Responsive Peer Review to Protect Patients

The clinical peer review process in healthcare organizations exhibits significant variability, with only a portion of hospitals considering their process standardized. The reporting of high-risk events can be influenced by the culture within a facility, and fostering a psychologically safe environment is essential to encourage providers to speak up about potential dangers. The selection of peer reviewers should prioritize relevant expertise, and the timely completion of reviews is crucial for effective risk assessment and prevention. It is evident that more efficient and standardized peer review processes are necessary to ensure patient safety and the continuous improvement of healthcare quality. By addressing these challenges, healthcare organizations can enhance their commitment to providing safe and effective care.


Interested in learning more about achieving unbiased peer review? Join our upcoming webinar and learn why top hospitals rely on Medplace for peer review.

Adrienne leads the Medplace clinical operations team and oversees the recruitment, onboarding, and training of the network. She holds over 30 years of experience in Medical ICU, Quality & Risk and Medical Malpractice Defense work.


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