When 81-year-old comedienne Joan Rivers died due to complications from a routine endoscopy procedure, it brought to light the importance of medical staff credentialing and privileging.
Ms. Rivers went to New York’s Yorkville Endoscopy clinic to receive an endoscopy to determine why she had a hoarse voice and sore throat. However, what should have been a simple procedure had a tragic ending. Why? Because a physician who was not privileged at the clinic performed an unauthorized biopsy on Rivers’ vocal cords.
Shockingly, this same physician also took a selfie with Ms. Rivers while she was anesthetized, which is a major HIPPA violation.Why has this incident struck a chord with the media? Not only does it involve one of the most famous comediennes of our time, but it is part of our worst nightmare. Going under general anesthesia for a surgical procedure is scary enough without the thought of having unauthorized procedures being performed or photographs being taken when you’re at your most vulnerable.
The real issue in this case is that even though Ms. Rivers’ personal physician had a medical license, the physician was not certified to perform surgical procedures at the clinic, as required by New York law. And more importantly, Ms. Rivers never authorized a biopsy, which ultimately was the cause of her death.
According to the New York Daily News, medical experts say that biopsies like the one done on Ms. Rivers should only be performed at hospitals. This way, medical staff have the right tools on hand to address medical complications, if they arise.
Medical staff privileging is important because it ensures clinicians are not only properly credentialed but are also competent to practice a specific procedure. Each provider should be reviewed on a regular basis and be issued specific privileges in writing.
So what can healthcare providers do to ensure that something like this never happens again? The most important thing is to check the credentials of everyone in the procedure room and determine what their role should be, prior to any procedure. If a consulting physician is in the room to observe, there is no way they should be practicing.
By the same token, healthcare providers should talk to patients before a procedure and explain how the credentialing and privileging process is done. Patients have the right to know that their procedures are being performed by qualified practitioners. Further, they should understand that the nurses, anesthesiologists, and every other person in the OR are competent to perform their specific roles.
By relying on a credentialing and privileging service, such as the new IntelliCentrics SEC³URE™, both facility administrators and patients can rest easy knowing that the practitioners are fully qualified and have been approved to provide care at the facility. Third-party credentialing can take the stress out of knowing who is in the operating room.
As Mike Sheehan, CEO of IntelliCentrics, explains, “Without a doubt, in order to deliver quality patient care, healthcare organizations require a safe and secure environment. Using SEC³URE, healthcare organizations are now able to engage with every single person entering their facility so that the organization’s policies and practices can be applied consistently and universally.”
Perhaps NBC News’ chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman said it best when she said, “Make sure your doctor has admitting privileges to the local hospital, because in this case it may well have saved Joan Rivers’ life.”

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