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    Bill would help doctors report their errors

    But the reports from physicians' offices would be confidential and could not be subpoenaed in a lawsuit.

    By ALISA ULFERTS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Doctors who accidentally harm patients in their offices could report their errors to the state without fear of public scrutiny, under a bill approved Wednesday by a Senate committee.

    Currently, incidents at doctors' offices that result in death, brain or spinal damage, wrong-site surgery, and other mishaps must be reported to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. Those reports are public.

    But under the bill approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care, those reports would be confidential unless the state decided there was sufficient cause to discipline the physician, according to the office of Sen. Charlie Clary, bill sponsor.

    And the reports could not be subpoenaed in a lawsuit.

    "I think this will actually lead to more self-reporting of more incidents so we can improve our care," said Clary, R-Destin.

    The Florida Medical Association, which has made the measure one of its top priorities, agrees. It calls the bill a consumer protection measure in that doctors would be more likely to report mistakes if there were less threat of public scrutiny.

    Hospitals have had to file such adverse reports for years, but they remain private. The FMA says doctors should enjoy the same protection.

    Francesca Plendle, the FMA's director of governmental affairs, said keeping the reports out of the public eye will encourage doctors to file them and, the FMA hopes, will assist the state in identifying procedures that may need reviewing.

    "If we don't get the reports in, there's no way to correct the problem," Plendle said.

    Just because a patient had a negative reaction doesn't mean the doctor did anything wrong, but tracking those incidents could help the state develop better ways to anticipate medical complications, she said.

    Proponents of open government say neither exemption serves patients, who they say deserve access to their doctors' records.

    "You can't base a bad bill on a bad law" said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.

    The bill's House companion also is winding its way through committees.

    The measure came up last year but failed to pass before the end of session.

    The bill comes as Florida doctors are facing more scrutiny than ever before, thanks to recent laws that have made Florida among the most open on physician records. For example, the state Department of Health is required to post doctor profiles -- including their professional, educational, disciplinary and criminal histories -- on its Internet site at www.doh.state.fl.us.

    The public may search the profiles by name, although the site is still being assembled and all doctors aren't on it yet.

    * * *

    Florida Legislature Session 2001

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