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Legislature 2004

House votes to hide malpractice

Secret records mean corrected procedures and fewer malpractice suits, the bill's supporters say.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 29, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - The House voted Wednesday to keep records of medical errors public, then reversed itself an hour later and voted to keep the information secret.

The second vote was 80-38, giving the House the exact minimum required to enact a new public records exemption.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jeb Bush. It's unclear whether he will sign it.

The measure means the public cannot get the name of any doctor, nurse or other health care worker mentioned in an incident report. Existing law already keeps a patient's name secret.

On the first vote, 72 House members voted for it with 43 opposed, including five Republicans. On the second vote, House leaders rounded up eight more Republicans who either missed the first vote or voted no the first time.

Under the state Constitution, a new public records exemption needs a two-thirds vote of both houses, or 80 votes in the House.

Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, said the exemption is a "critically important component" of efforts to reduce malpractice lawsuits in Florida.

"This is to encourage people in the medical profession to clean up the practice, to report near-misses and to ensure there is greater patient safety," Goodlette said.

Opponents said the exemption bars the public from knowing about incompetence in the operating room.

"Why would you want to protect someone who has harmed another?" said Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine. "If you want to keep these bad actors under the cloak of darkness, then you'll vote for this bill."

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, which monitors open government laws, called the House vote "disgusting." The original bill exempted the person or entity reporting the incident, but the Senate broadened the bill Saturday to exempt all health care practitioners or entities named in reports of near misses.

The Legislature defines a near miss as "a potentially harmful event that could have had an adverse result but through chance or intervention in which harm was prevented."

"We could have a doctor with 17 near-misses, and we won't have any opportunity to get access to that information," Petersen said.

Rep. Ed Homan, R-Tampa, an orthopedic surgeon who said he was "speaking as a physician," said no doctor would report near misses "when those records are open and available for lawsuits."

Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, urged support of the bill. "If you're in favor of preventing more malpractice suits, more bad procedures, you'll vote for this," Farkas told the House. "Right now, people are afraid to come forward."

[Last modified April 29, 2004, 01:35:43]


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