Florida Patients’ Right-To-Know Amendment: Are we there yet?

Florida Patients’ Right-To-Know Amendment: Are we there yet?


Florida’s Patients’ Right-to-Know Amendment has been jammed in the courts since it was passed in November 2004. West Palm Beach, Florida (JusticeNewsFlash.com) — In November 2004, Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment titled “Patients’ Right to Know About Adverse Medical Incidents.”

The amendment allowed patients to obtain “any records made or received in the course of business by a health care facility or provider relating to any adverse medical incident”–as long as the identity of the patients involved in the incidents wasn’t revealed and other privacy restrictions were adhered to. This included incidents that had to be reported to a government agency, or those that were reported to health care facility review committees. The amendment was to become effective immediately.

In June 2005, the Florida legislature modified the amendment, stating that existing restrictions on use of records in court cases stay in place and that “discovering such documents does not mean that any of them can be introduced into evidence in a lawsuit, … and [they] may not be used for any purpose, including impeachment, in any civil or administrative action against a health care facility or health care provider.”

As the public attempted to obtain information, two courts in Florida were asked to decide whether the amendment approved by the voters was retroactive–that is, did it apply to records that existed before the amendment was passed? One court held the amendment was retroactive; the other did not. The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision decided the amendment was indeed retroactive.
In February a Florida Supreme Court ruling, at least temporarily, have followed the public’s desire to know about adverse medical incidents at their local hospitals or with their area physicians.
The law allows patients to see hospital or doctor records that were previously “confidential” of any “adverse” medical incident at a facility. “Adverse” medical incidents are described as events that range from mistakes that cause no injuries to serious injuries and death caused by medical or nursing errors.

While the Supreme Court upheld the amendment, the medical profession and hospital associations will more than likely challenge this amendment further.

Medical malpractice attorneys say patients have a right to know what went wrong with their procedure, as well as to check out their doctor’s track record with other patients.
While we all agree that Hospitals first priority should be taking care of the public, if they have taken all the necessary safeguards and monitor the staff and physicians at their facility they should welcome a closer examination but the population they serve.

Hospitals have long time argued that this law will force Doctors and other healthcare providers to not investigate adverse incidents for fear that their investigations be subject to the legal process. Typically, this is done through a confidential process called “peer review,” in which doctors, nurses and other staff members are asked to talk to a panel of the hospital’s doctors about what might have been done wrong in a particular incident, with possible sanctions resulting.

That’s because doctors fear they’ll end up being forced to testify in court at somebody’s malpractice case. Doctors giving their opinions also fear they’ll be sued by a fellow doctor with whom they found fault.

Contributor: Susan B. Ramsey: is an attorney in the law firm of Gary Roberts & Associates, P.A., in West Palm Beach, where she practices in medical malpractice, nursing home resident’s rights, and personal injury.

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