Florida's hospitals must comply with a month-old state constitutional amendment that gives patients broad access to hospital and physician records on harmful medical mistakes, a judge ruled last week.
Second Judicial Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom dismissed a Florida Hospital Association lawsuit to temporarily block the law, which the trade group argues is too vague to be followed without clarification from the state Legislature.
The Orlando-based association filed an appeal a day after the Dec. 7 decision and may ask the court to consider the case on an expedited schedule, said Jerome Hoffman, an attorney representing the trade group.
The amendment lets patients see records upon request but could violate Florida and federal privacy rules, Hoffman said. That's not all. Doctors and hospital officials candidly-but confidentially-review medical mistakes to improve safety, he said. Public disclosure may discourage doctors from the practice, despite laws mandating quality improvement and peer review, he said. Hospitals may face fines or jeopardize their licenses as a result.
Hoffman said the hospital association's lawsuit sought to suspend the law until the Legislature could clarify how to navigate the conflicting laws. Sjostrom's ruling left hospitals without any answers, Hoffman said.
Florida Medical Association spokeswoman Lisette Mariner said the law's ambiguity will "cause chaos" as doctors and hospitals respond to requests without any guidance. "There are so many questions, no one will be willing to participate in the peer-review process, not knowing what the implications are," she said.
"It's pretty clear that the Legislature is going to have to be involved to articulate some of the fine points on the enforcement" of the medical record-disclosure amendment, said Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
But the voters' desire for more medical information is unambiguous, Burns said. The ballot initiative for the amendment passed with 81% of the vote. Also certain is the agency's commitment to enforcing peer-review laws, he said.
The hospital association fared better in its efforts to halt an amendment that prohibits Florida from allowing doctors with three or more malpractice judgments to practice in the state. The association persuaded a judge to suspend the lawsuit through the end of Florida's upcoming legislative session.