Accessing Medical Records In Medical Malpractice Cases
Patient injury, following medical treatment, can create an opportunity for the victim to receive reimbursement for the costs associated with his/her injuries. This is typically accomplished through filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Engaging the services of an experienced medical malpractice attorney is essential for having a viable chance at succeeding in a medical malpractice matter. One requirement of a medical malpractice lawsuit, and any lawsuit really, is being able to prove the error on the part of the medical professional. As part of this proof, an attorney often needs to access the records of the medical facility or medical professional showing similar adverse medical events. Historically, medical professionals were reluctant to give this information up so easily, and were able to cite privacy laws – of the other patients – as prohibiting them from disclosing such information. However, Florida voters changed the State Constitution, nearly two decades ago, to permit access to the records of a medical facility or medical professional concerning adverse medical incidents, provided the privacy of the other patients is maintained. Shands Jacksonville Medical Center has recently instituted legal action to have this law invalidated in light of a federal law which limits the disclosure of such records to safety organizations, in an effort to determine ways in which medical entities can alleviate future errors, and not to patients.
Florida’s Medical Record Access Law
Pursuant to Florida law, Floridian patients have a legal right to access to any records made or received in the course of business by a medical facility or medical professional relating to any adverse medical incident. In doing so, the law holds that the identity of any patients involved in the incidents are not to be disclosed, and any privacy restrictions imposed by federal law must be maintained. In passing this law, the Florida Legislature seemed to specifically intend to allow evidence of previous errors be passed to the current injured individual, assuming the identity of the patients involved in the previous errors can be kept private.
Shands is asserting protection under a federal law known as the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act. This Act permits hospitals to voluntarily submit information about medical errors to patient safety organizations, to encourage health providers to submit information that could be analyzed and used to prevent future medical errors. By disclosing this information to the patient, Shands asserts, it would be violative of the federal law, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would then be permitted to impose fines against Shands for violating the Act’s nondisclosure requirements.
While it is impossible to accurately predict how the Shands case may end, it is important to realize that only the U.S. or Florida Supreme Courts can invalidate a Florida law. As this lawsuit is in its initial stages, it is even more difficult to predict the resolution. However, in a similar case in front of the Florida Supreme Court (an opinion which was never issued, as the parties settled their differences outside of court prior to a ruling), the Court seemed very concerned that a medical malpractice plaintiff may be barred from accessing such medical records, in direct conflict of the will of Florida voters, and severely restricting the ability of an injured medical malpractice victim from having all the tools necessary to prove his/her claim.
Seek Legal Advice
If you suffered an injury due to an interaction with a medical professional, and you are curious about your options, contact the experienced Miami medical malpractice attorneys at Pita Weber & Del Prado as soon as possible. We have years of experience in such matters, including preparing as ironclad a case as possible. Contact our office today for an initial consultation.