On January 31, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the "Patient Safety Work Product" privilege cannot shield Florida health care providers from Amendment 7 requests. The court's decision in Charles v. Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida provides a clear answer to the long-awaited question of whether the sweeping right of access afforded by Amendment 7 may be preempted by the federal Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act (the "Federal Act").
The case involved a dispute between Southern Baptist and Jean Charles, Jr., the plaintiff in a medical malpractice action against the hospital. Charles filed requests for documents relating to adverse medical events in the hospital's history pursuant to Amendment 7. The hospital produced certain documents in response, including Code 15 Reports, but claimed that certain other documents (primarily occurrence reports) were not subject to production because they were privileged and confidential under the Federal Act as patient safety work product.
Although the First District Court of Appeal sided with the hospital, the Florida Supreme Court decided in favor of disclosure under Amendment 7. Specifically, the court applied the Federal Act's rules of construction to conclude that the statute "expressly preserves and incorporates, rather than preempts, a provider's reporting and recordkeeping obligations under state law." In other words, Amendment 7 "provides individuals the right to access any records made or received in the course of business by a health care facility or provider relating to any adverse medical incident," and the Federal Act does not abridge that access. As a matter of policy, the court reasoned that "health care providers should not be able to unilaterally decide which documents will be discoverable and which will not in medical malpractice cases."
Notably, The Joint Commission and the American Medical Association, among others, filed amicus briefs in support of Southern Baptist Hospital. Their briefs urged the court to consider that safety information provided under the Federal Act is critical to promoting quality patient care, and that favoring Amendment 7 over the Federal Act would drastically limit provider participation in patient safety organizations.
This outcome impacts risk management decisions for health care providers across Florida. If you have questions about the implications of this Florida Supreme Court ruling, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our health care team.
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