Floridas Legislature wrongly denied patients access to medical-error and incident records made available after voters amended the states constitution in 2004, the states Supreme Court ruled. Patients may access records created prior to Nov. 2, 2004, when the amendment became effective, the court said. Legislation enacted after the November 2004 vote limited patients access to incident reports, violating the constitutional amendment, which gives patients access to any records, including documents created for or by peer-review committees, according to the court.
In its 4-3 opinion, the Supreme Court cited a lower court judges conclusion that the constitutional amendment: heralds a change in the public policy of this state to lift the shroud of privilege and confidentiality in order to foster disclosure of information that will allow patients to better determine from whom they should seek healthcare, evaluate the quality and fitness of healthcare providers currently rendering service to them, and allow them access to information gathered through the self-policing process during the discovery period of litigation filed by injured patients or the estates of deceased patients against their healthcare providers.
Bill Bell, general counsel for the Florida Hospital Association, said the biggest disappointment was the courts decision to grant access to medical-error records created prior to the amendment. Providers expected confidentiality when creating documents prior to 2004 thanks to prior court decisions and state statutes which granted certain protection and privileges, he explained. The court chose to eliminate, after the fact, those protections, Bell said. -- by Melanie Evans
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