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Learning of hospital incidents not easy

Voters said hospitals must release records of medical mishaps. But only to their patients, legislators decide.

Associated Press
Published April 23, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Florida lawmakers have passed legislation limiting the scope of a constitutional amendment voters passed requiring the release of documents about adverse medical incidents.

The bill (SB 938) says a hospital must release records about such incidents - but only to patients of the hospital and only records related to the patients' own condition or diagnosis.

That interprets the amendment too narrowly, said Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach, in House debate Friday. "That was not what was marketed; that was not what the voters believed." But the measure passed easily, 110-3.

The bill was one of two the House passed that are intended to clarify changes to the Constitution regarding medical malpractice.

The other bill (SB 940), which passed unanimously with no debate, sets out how doctors must lose their license after making three mistakes amounting to malpractice. The new requirement applies only to incidents after Nov. 2, when voters put the measure in the Constitution.

It says the third medical malpractice judgment against a doctor will automatically result in license forfeiture unless the finding was based on less than "clear and convincing evidence." In that case, the Board of Medicine decides whether to yank the license.

Both bills were passed by the Senate earlier.

Amendment 7, requiring disclosure of adverse incidents in hospitals, already has sparked a dispute in Pasco County.

In December, the St. Petersburg Times requested past disciplinary records of nine physicians at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point under Amendment 7, which was approved by 81 percent of Florida voters.

The hospital said revealing the adverse incidents would violate other state and federal regulations protecting the privacy of patients and the confidentiality of hospital peer review proceedings.

The ballot language for the amendment stated: "Current Florida law restricts information available to patients related to investigations of adverse medical incidents, such as medical malpractice. This amendment would give patients the right to review, upon request, records of health care facilities' or providers' adverse medical incidents, including those which could cause injury or death. Provides that patients' identities should not be disclosed."

The amendment was sponsored by trial lawyers in an ongoing political battle with doctors over medical malpractice.

[Last modified April 23, 2005, 00:54:19]

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