Florida Supreme Court Upholds Amendment 7, Right of Patients to Documents on Adverse Events

George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Florida Supreme Court in Charles v. Southern Baptist Hospital, on January 31, 2017, issued a decision dealing with the relationship of Florida’s Constitution Amendment 7, allowing patient access to documents on adverse medical incidents, and the Federal Patient Safety Quality Improvement Act (PSQIA). The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court’s interpretation of the PSQIA and that the PSQIA preempted Amendment 7. It ruled that PSQIA was never intended as a shield against the production of documents and that Amendment 7 and other provisions of Florida law are not preempted by PSQIA (which it stated only set up a voluntary system for hospitals to improve patient safety).

The Florida Supreme Court stated that records do not become patient safety work product simply because they are placed in a patient safety evaluation system or submitted to a patient safety organization (PSO), because health care providers have an independent obligation to maintain them and allow patients to access them. A health care provider cannot classify them as confidential and privileged patient safety work product under PSQIA, if they are required to maintain them by separate laws.

Concerning preemption, the Florida Supreme Court indicated that Congress did not intend to preempt state laws or constitutional amendments through the passage of PSQIA, which created a voluntary reporting system. The PSQIA is supposed to operate within existing state reporting and discovery laws. The federal act was intended by Congress to improve the overall healthcare in the system, not to act as a shield to providers, thereby eliminating important right afforded to Florida citizens under Amendment 7. The Supreme Court stated “healthcare providers should not be able to unilaterally decide which documents will be discoverable and which will not in medical malpractice cases.”

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About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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