Patient Support & Advocacy

Court decides: Is patient safety information protected?

A Florida district court of appeal considered whether patient safety information is protected from disclosure under a federal act in a medical liability case against a hospital and its physicians.

What was at stake

In Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida, Inc. v. Charles, a trial court had ordered the hospital to produce medical documents that were being used for patient safety and quality improvement efforts.

The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 (PSQIA) offers physicians and hospitals a way to share medical information used for quality improvement through a patient safety organization (PSO). Under the PSQIA, the confidentiality of data within these systems is protected if that data is not requested by a state administrative agency.

Patient safety systems were created to allow hospitals and practices nationwide to share information about safety issues and incidents in order to improve quality and patient safety. Historically, physicians were hesitant to document such issues and incidents out of fear that this information could be used against them in a medical liability case.

As the Litigation Center of the AMA and State Medical Societies noted in an amicus brief filed in support of the hospital’s appeal of the trial court’s ruling, the purpose of the PSQIA and PSOs is to “improve patient care and reduce risk through collective action.”

“The trial court’s decision threaten[ed] to undo … progress and undermine the valuable work that has been done by PSOs,” the brief said. “Patients, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the PSQIA, will suffer.”

The outcome

A few weeks ago, a Florida district court of appeal overturned the trial court’s decision and upheld the protection of medical information being used for patient safety efforts. It held that the PSQIA preempted a provision in the Florida constitution, which might otherwise have require the recovery of the information.

As a result, hospitals and medical practices will be able to continue confidentially sharing patient safety information without fear of disclosure in medical liability litigation. This is a significant victory for quality improvement.

Knowledge must be shared, and physicians are using it to learn from the past to build a better—and safer—future. With protections on patient safety information upheld, the sharing can continue, and future incidents may be prevented.