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Florida's Hospitals Have a Secret

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After suing careless hospitals and negligent doctors in Florida for over twenty years on behalf of injured patients and their surviving families, I feel uniquely qualified to suggest what the primary reason for medical malpractice in Florida is... Secrecy. Hospitals are permitted by law to practice under a veil of secrecy that no public corporation or government division enjoys -- and by this I mean the methods by which hospitals extend and maintain credentialing privileges of physicians.

Florida's medical secrecy laws are buried deep into Florida's statutes and are supported in part by federal laws. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) imposed new rules just in time for the 2012 elections, restricting how the public can access information on its database regarding doctors who have committed malpractice or who have disciplinary issues. Before this new law anybody could go to the HHS website and identify a particular physician. Not any more. Florida is not much easier. You have to access the Florida Department of Health's Website's to verify if a particular doctor is licensed. From that point, there are links to the "License/Activity" status. It will indicate if there are current obligations pending against the doctor's license, but will not detail what the obligations are, how long they have been imposed and whether or not they are the kind that can interfere with your care. There are also links to public complaints, if any. If there has been a complaint against a provider, rather than downloading a PDF, you are required you then to write to the Division of Medical Quality Assurance in Tallahassee to obtain a copy of the complaint or final order. Likewise, there is a link to disciplinary actions, if any, information as to whether obligations have been imposed. That also requires a visit to another site sponsored by the Florida Department of Health where you have to fill out a bunch of forms and pay per page and pay $25.00 to receive a certified copy -- hardly what I would call patient-friendly. Best of luck navigating any of this if you are not computer savvy or do not read and write English. That would probably eliminate more than ninety percent of the injured patients I currently represent.

Finding out information about hospitals is virtually impossible. The HHS hospital profile site is supposed to compare hospitals on a state and national level on key indicators like Process of Care Measures, Outcome of Care Measures, Use of Medical Imaging, Survey of Patient Hospital Experiences and Patient Safety Measures. However, a quick look at Baptist Hospitals of Miami's profile reveals that most of the important data has not been provided by the hospital such as the frequency of bedsores, broken hips or bloodstream infections after surgery.

The judicial branch is not much more helpful to protect injured patients. Consider that Florida Supreme Court just heard a seven-year legal battle in West Florida Regional Medical Center v. Linda See, when it ruled that information obtainable pursuant to Florida's Constitutional Amendment 7 is not protected from discovery.

In 2003, Lynda See complained of abdominal pain to her doctor. An ultrasound showed a small amount of "sludge" in her gallbladder. A surgeon then performed a botched laparoscopic cholecystosomy or removal of her gallbladder. In the procedure the surgeon nicked the common bile duct forcing Ms. See to undergo further surgery by other doctors in 2005 which was also messed up, leading her to have a liver transplant. She ended up suing the doctors and hospital, West Florida Regional Medical Center for both vicarious liability of the surgeons and direct negligence for granting medical staff privileges to those doctors.

In the law suit, her lawyers requested that West Florida Hospital produce all documents and regulations and rules regarding the surgical credentialing for performing gall bladder surgeries and reports of bile duct injuries. They also requested all documents related to the hospital's training and credentialing of her doctors.

The hospital was so afraid of releasing its top-secret training and credentialing information to this seriously injured patient that they took the matter to the Florida Supreme Court. It took nearly seven years for the court to reach an opinion as to what she was and was not entitled to receive.

In the end, in an opinion released just recently, the Supreme Court said her lawyers could have a copy of a blank application for privileges and any "adverse incidents" but refused to allow her or her lawyers to access the credentialing and privileging data.

Until such time as patients have access to the most vital information regarding who is providing them healthcare and until hospitals can no longer hide behind antiquated shrouds of secrecy, Florida's patients will continue to be victims of the medical negligence performed by Florida's doctors and hospitals.