Blog | Monday, March 16, 2015

Expediting the physician credentialing process

It's 2015 and there are many areas of health care that seem to lag way behind the rest of the world. One such area is in the realm of physician credentialing, which can take several months or longer in most hospitals (the ones I've worked in have all averaged 3 to 4 months at the minimum, and that's been in 3 different states).

For anybody reading this who is not aware of what this process is all about, in a nutshell it goes something like this: A physician applies for a position, is interviewed, agrees on a contract, and then needs to complete a mountain of paperwork in order to get “hospital privileges” before working. This last part of getting privileges to work in any particular hospital is what is known by physicians as getting credentialed. It is rightly a very robust “checklist” that needs to be completed to verify the physician's qualifications, perform a thorough background check, and check personal references. The completed application is then brought before the hospital “credentialing committee” for approval. Only when this is done can the physician start working in the hospital.

It's reassuring for the world of health care and also the general public that physicians are vetted to this degree. Nothing less than a thorough process would be acceptable. Nevertheless, in this day and age the whole process is much longer than it should be and at a time when doctors (and for that matter nurses) are desperately needed in so many hospitals. It represents an often unnecessary delay for physicians to start their work. Even when all of the paperwork has been gathered and completed by the physician and sent to the hospital credentialing department, we are still looking typically at a couple of months before their hospital privileges are approved. The delay has become so much part of the norm that physicians now know that they have to apply months in advance for any job to take this into account!

Of course, every hospital and health care facility is different and has its own rules and regulations. The individual bottlenecks are unique for each facility. Some may take a long time to perform background checks via third party companies, and others may need more administrative staffing power to review the paper applications (note: they are still paper in most places). It would be in the broader interests of not only hospitals, but health care in general, to make it a priority to address these bottlenecks and make it quicker for much-needed physicians to join their staff. Being thorough doesn't need to take several months in 2015!

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care. This post originally appeared at his blog.