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I-Team: Ignoring Patients' Right To Know

MIAMI (CBS4) -- Whenever you go to the hospital or doctor, whether by ambulance or for a routine check-up, if you're like most people you want to make intelligent decisions about your health care.  You might even want a routine check up on the hospitals and doctors who are checking up on you.  However, nearly eight years after voters demanded change in the way bad things are tracked and reported at hospitals throughout Florida, the CBS4 I-Team has discovered that little has changed and that hurts your ability to make choices when it comes to health care.

In 2004, more than 80-percent of Florida voters passed Amendment 7, technically Article 10 Section 25 of Florida's Constitution, commonly known as the "Patients' Right to Know" act.

Click here to read that part of the Florida Constition

"The intent of the law was to give people access to their own health care records so that they could take action to protect their interests in the future," said Dr. Jay Wolfson, a medical ethicist and professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "The (Florida) Supreme Court, in its wisdom said, the people of Florida have spoken and said we want this open and transparent."

Open and transparent records, so that you, the customer know about adverse medical incidents at hospitals anywhere in the state.

"I'd like to know how many bad or good experiences that hospital are involved in," said Dr. Wolfson, who is also an attorney as well as one of the nation's leading researchers on medical mistakes. "I don't need to have the personal identifying information. I need to have general product performance information like consumer reports."

"And that's not available right now?" asked the I-Team.

"No it's not," said Dr. Wolfson. "Hospitals are unwilling to part with it (that adverse incident information) for the most part."

Seven years after the Florida Constitutional Amendment passed, the CBS4 I-Team has learned most hospitals won't give up that information.

This, even after the Florida Supreme Court, in 2008, ruled that the new constitutional amendment required it.

"They (hospitals) won't give that (information) to you. They won't give it up even though the law says they have to," said Dr. Wolfson. "And they will say it's privileged information. They essentially are ignoring the (Florida) Supreme Court."

"People want to (have control) and they're entitled to have control over their own health care decision-making," said Sean Domnick, a Palm Beach County attorney, who argued that groundbreaking case before the Supreme Court. "But you can't make a decision (about health care) if you don't have the information."

Domnick won that argument before Florida's Supreme Court three years ago but he says that even today hospitals consistently still thwart the patient's right to know throughout Florida.

"We're still fighting the same battles. And that is that the hospitals don't want to give up this information that they're required to give up," said Domnick.

Seventeen year-old Lacey Sullivan and her family found out firsthand about this issue when they tried to find out what exactly happened, what adverse medical incident occurred, when her 44 year-old mother suddenly died at a west Florida hospital.

"I would like to know why my mom just died out of nowhere," said Sullivan. "It's been six years and still nothing about how it happened and why it happened."

If you need more evidence that hospitals are not complying with Florida's Constitution look no further than the court deposition of the risk manager at Northside Hospital in St Petersburg during a medical malpractice lawsuit.

"What if anything has Northside Hospital  done to make these documents easily accessible since Article 10 Section 25 of Florida's Constitution was passed in 2004?" asked a plaintiff's attorney in the videotaped legal deposition obtained by the CBS4 I-Team.

"We've done nothing," replied the hospital's risk manager.

I-Team investigators Stephen Stock asked attorney Sean Domnick about that issue, "They're not keeping track of adverse incidents?"

"No. They're not," said Domnick.

And that, experts say, is even more troubling because it means that critical data tracking mistakes or bad outcomes at hospitals are missing at many hospitals making it difficult to objectively measure quality control at those hospitals.

Experts and lawyers alike say that means that though consumers clearly want hospitals to track adverse events, when bad things happen, much of the evidence discovered in courts around the state show hospitals simply aren't doing that.

"What that is telling us is that there is a great risk when bad medicine is happening in these hospitals that it's not being investigated, it's not being corrected and people who are being repeatedly negligent are allowed to continue to provide substandard medical care," said Sean Domnick.

The CBS4 I-Team asked for adverse incidents at more than a half-dozen hospitals throughout South Florida.

But not one hospital would give the I-Team that information.

Several hospitals' public relations staff stated that the I-Team reporters weren't "patients" although since we live here we could be.

Other hospitals told us their attorneys interpret Amendment 7 to mean that the hospital doesn't have to give out a list of incidents just information about a single adverse incident to the patient involved in that incident.

Click here to read Florida Supreme Court decision

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