Published: August 19, 2015
By Mary Holloway Richard

Q: Is Google becoming a provider of health services?

A: One new Google product, “Helpouts,” allows consumers to search for clinical experts and then to video chat with those doctors. This project is in its final stages, and Google is working with some existing medical groups who are verifying the credentials of the doctors who are participating in the trial. The trial is limited to symptoms related to common conditions or diagnoses and a wide range of pediatric concerns. One pediatrician, for example, is available for free consultations with the goal of eliminating gaps created by isolated visits in favor of applied multidisciplinary expertise. Not all of the offerings are related to health care and not all of them are free.

Q: What’s the impetus for this expansion by Google and presumably other technology companies?

A: A consulting company, PWC, has referred to this trend as a move toward “… building a new health economy centered around the consumer.” Stated another way, there are patient needs to be met and patient populations to be built by providers. This is likely to bring new players into local, state and regional health care communities who may position themselves to receive revenue from shrinking health care dollars. For example, Walmart is experimenting with health conglomerate Kaiser Permanente to access physicians via Skype in two of its California locations. Providers who’ve petitioned the Department of Health and Human Services to allow Affordable Care Organizations to be reimbursed for “connect care” argue that it will improve quality and reduce costs. Providers participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program can’t currently bill for services provided using advanced technology.

Mary Holloway Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

Published: August 11, 2015
By Mary Holloway Richard

Q: The Physicians Payments Sunshine Act (“Sunshine Act”) was passed with the intent of limiting the affect of prescribing and treatment practices by payments to providers by manufacturers or groups involved with product selection known as group purchaser organizations. Does this mean that payments to physicians are actually listed on this website?

A: Yes, but the law doesn’t just apply to physicians. It also applies to dentists, podiatrists, optometrists and chiropractors. It doesn’t apply to medical or osteopathic residents, physician assistant or nurse practitioners. This information is reported annually by manufacturers and purchasing groups and is available to anyone on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) website The database is part of the Open Payments program created as a result of the Sunshine Act.

Q: What options does a provider have if he or she believes that information about a reported payment is inaccurate or misleading to the public?

A: There is a process by which physicians and other providers can seek to correct information they believe to be false. A dispute resolution process begins with a 45-day period during which a provider reviews and works with manufacturers or purchasing organizations to correct the information. During the following fifteen days, the reporting entity (manufacturer or group purchasing organization) can submit corrections to the Open Payments database. This combined 60-day period is the only time that corrections can be submitted by manufacturers and purchasing organizations. CMS will not mediate such disputes but encourages the parties to work together to resolve their dispute. You can see from this description that it is the physician’s or other provider’s responsibility to monitor this information on the website.  Providers can locate relevant data by their names.

Q: What kinds of payments are included in the CMS Open Payments database?

A: First, it applies to payments by manufacturers. That means manufacturers of prescription drugs, biologic agents and medical devices and supplies. Second, it also applies, as I have mentioned, to groups formed to help providers such as hospitals, home health agencies and nursing homes save money and time by purchasing in volume and obtaining manufacturers’ discounts. These are the group purchasing organizations. Third, it applies to payments such as consulting fees, honoraria, food, travel, entertainment, education, research support, charitable contributions, investment interests, grant, and any direct compensation. That’s not even a complete list.

Q: What is the impact of this database?

A: Many physicians, dentists, podiatrist, optometrists and chiropractors regularly disclose to their patients their participation as lecturers, researchers and consultants to such manufacturers and purchasing organizations. Where that is the case, there is likely to be minimal impact from such information appearing on the CMS website. There a great deal of criticism of the Open Payments program, however. For example, a listing of a specific payment or group of payments may be taken out of context and appear unexplained and create in inaccurate impression and a negative response that is not merited. It seems clear that there will be continued refinement of both the regulations and the manner in which the data is presented to the public in the future.

Mary Holloway Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.

Attorney Mary Holloway Richard was featured as a source in a Journal Record article by Sarah Terry-Cobo.

The article, titled “Complex prognosis: Hospital group, AARP disagree on CARE Act,” focuses on the 2014 Oklahoma Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable Act and the protections it adds.

From the article:

Mary Holloway Richard, a health care attorney at Phillips Murrah, said the CARE Act doesn’t provide anything fundamentally different for elderly patients than laws in place before it was passed. Though the caregiver designation is different than a legal power of attorney, the patient still must sign a written release before the hospital can give out information to another person, she said.

“You could achieve the same thing if you got a release-from-patient for my best friend or my cousin, and in the discharge note you explain the care plan, and the patient gives you the release,” Richard said.

Read the rest of the Journal Record article here.


Published: July 24, 2015

By Mary Holloway Richard

Q: Sunday is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What animals are currently considered to be service animals?

A: The definition of “service animal” comes from the ADA and includes animals individually trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. As of 2011, Titles II (state and local government services) and III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) of the ADA recognize only dogs as service animals, although there’s a separate provision about mini-horses. In addition to service dogs, there are sensory or social signal dogs, psychiatric service dogs and seizure response dogs.

Q: Is there a difference between a “service animal” and a “therapy animal?” 

A: Service dogs are trained to perform tasks or to do work for people with disabilities such as guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, reminding a person with a mental health diagnosis to take medications, or protecting a person who is having a seizure. The work must be directly related to the person’s disability. Therapy animals provide supports and comfort to people in many different types of situations.  There seems to be an impression among some members of the public that the service designation includes untrained animals providing comfort to owners of varying degrees of independence. It is generally true that a mental health provider may provide a letter indicating that a “regular” pet provides emotional support as needed by the owner who has a mental health condition or disability, and special training is not required. An  important distinction is that these are working animals and not pets. In my representation of hospitals over the years, I’ve been asked to advise concerning requests for visitation by a broad array of animals including burros, boutique cattle, and cats to serve specifically as therapy or emotional support animals. Some of the relevant case law from other jurisdictions involves monkeys and one involves a sugar glider, an Australian
opossum-like creature.

Q: Do these rules apply just to hospitals or do they also apply to other types of facilities and providers of health services?

A: The guidelines for service animals also apply to surgery centers, dental clinics, assisted living and long-term care facilities, and urgent care and outpatient clinics. The federal requirement is to allow service animals to accompany persons with disabilities in all areas of a facility or office where the public is normally allowed to go. It’s my experience that hospitals are better prepared than these other sites listed and physician offices to respond to these requests. Hospitals generally have policies and procedures that mirror state and federal laws and industry best practices.

Q: Are there limits to these ADA requirements?

A: When service dogs raise valid concerns about patient safety and quality of care, all providers in their distinct care settings will find it necessary to balance patient, staff, employee and public safety interests. Common valid concerns for institutional and non-institutional providers include infection control, allergies, animal control, safety of others, disruption of care or ability to safely provide quality services. An example of such a concern is a situation where a service dog’s presence is desired in a health care setting but there’s no one to provide the necessary care for the service dog. I also have encountered service animals with open wounds or otherwise in need of veterinary care that posed risks to patient care and to personnel that had to be considered. Another issue that has arisen is a service dog trained to be protective in a manner that impedes care by staff, such as a dog trained to place itself between the patient and others.

By Mary Holloway Richard, JD, MPH

An Illinois appellate court recently upheld a trial court decision granting summary judgment in favor of a hospital in a case where the plaintiff sought to limit a hospital’s statutory peer review immunity.1 Upholding a stringent standard imposed by the trial court, the appeals court ruled that the Illinois peer review statute requires pleading and proof of actual or deliberate intent to harm, or clear indifference to or disregard for, the peer-reviewed physician, along with resulting physical harm to the physician, and that mere harm to reputation is not enough. In this case, OB/GYN Dr. Valfer alleged merely that Evanston Northwest Healthcare (ENH) had failed to follow the proper procedures in dealing with him and that this failure had caused him reputational harm. The appeals court held that this fell short of the showing required to overcome the state law peer review immunity.

Valfer’s medical staff privileges at ENH were renewed in November 2000 for one year and for an additional nine months in September 2001. He re-applied for privileges and was informed that issues had arisen requiring a review of his surgical procedures for the preceding 12 months. In June 2002, Valfer agreed to stop scheduling surgeries at ENH, and his operating privileges were suspended pending resolution of patient safety issues involving unnecessary procedures. Valfer was notified by the service chief that he would not recommend Valfer’s reappointment. In July 2002, the medical executive committee agreed with that recommendation and provided Valfer with written notice of its decision not to reappoint him and also notified him of his hearing rights.

In 2004, an ad hoc hearing was held in which the service chief and another competing physician testified against Valfer. The decision not to appoint was upheld. Valfer appealed the decision to the appellate review committees; the ad hoc committee’s decision was upheld and was affirmed by the Board. Valfer continued to admit patients until the decision not to reappoint became final in March 2005. During the three-year period from Valfer’s final application for reappointment to the effective date of non-reappointment, no changes were made in ENH credentialing software, and he continued to be listed in “good standing” and to admit patients.

In 2007, Valfer sued for civil damages resulting from ENH’s decision not to reappoint him. ENH filed a summary judgment motion seeking to dismiss the breach of contract claim. ENH argued there was no breach as ENH had followed relevant procedures and was immune under both the state statute2 and the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act (HCQIA).3 The summary judgment motion was granted.

On appeal, Valfer argued that there was, in effect, a reappointment by virtue of his continuing patient admissions and that this raised a question of fact as to ENH’s allegedly improper reliance on reappointment, rather than peer review, procedures. Valfer also characterized HCQIA immunity as limited to peer review and therefore not applicable because of ENH’s alleged reliance upon reappointment, rather than peer review, procedures. He argued that there was no peer immunity because of its willful or wanton denial of his privileges because of peer review by competitors. ENH responded in part that immunity under the Illinois peer review statute applied by virtue of the “willful or wanton” language and in the face of Valfer’s failure to allege physical harm to himself from the decision not to reappoint, and that the four statutory requirements for HCQIA immunity had been met.

In upholding the lower court’s decision the appellate court focused on legislative intent and the clear and unambiguous language of the statute. By giving effect to all statutory language, the court concluded that Illinois statutory immunity exists in the absence of willful or wanton misconduct. The plaintiff’s allegations of breach of contract by ENH for failure to follow the proper bylaws did not satisfy the statutory requirement of willful or wanton misconduct. The court cited precedent for overriding peer review immunity for civil damages where a defendant’s course of action demonstrates actual or deliberate intent to harm others or clear indifference to or disregard for a person and concluded that physical harm must necessarily be alleged and proved in order for a party to be civilly liable for peer review activities.4 According to the court, to require anything less, such as allowing damage to business or reputation to suffice, would make the peer review immunity meaningless and discourage such activities.

While parties often focus on HCQIA as the primary source of peer review immunity, this case illustrates that hospital counsel should not overlook the robust and vital protections that often co-exist under companion state law peer review privileges.

1 Valfer v. Evanston Northwest Healthcare, No. 1-14-2284, IL App (1st) 2015.
2 Ill. Hospital Licensing Act 210 ILCS 85/1 et seq (West 2012).
3 42 U.S.C. 11101 (2012).
4 Valfer at par. 29 citing Larsen v. Provena Hospitals, 2015, IL App (4th) 140255.