The Florida First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision. The appellate court noted that the hospital’s uncontradicted affidavit provided that “the subject report was assembled for reporting to a patient safety organization under the act and the report was in fact submitted” pursuant to the reporting procedure under the PSQIA. Because of this, and because the report could result in improved patient safety, the court determined that it was privileged and confidential under the PSQIA. The court quashed the trial court’s order requiring disclosure of the report.
What Is Protected Under the Act?
The court’s decision derives from a clear reading of the PSQIA, and Section leaders believe the court got it right. “Because the hospital actually did submit the report to a safety organization, the report was protected, despite the plaintiff’s status,” states Valerie Fontenot, New Orleans, LA, cochair of the Section’s Health Law Litigation Committee. “The PSQIA is geared towards patient safety, and in this particular case, patient safety could have been impacted regardless of the plaintiff’s status as a visitor,” Fontenot points out.
“As a matter of policy, the court’s decision was not spot on,” suggests Joseph V. Schaeffer, Pittsburg, PA, cochair of the Section’s Pretrial Practice & Discovery Committee. “However, the court’s rationale aligns with what the statute provides,” Schaeffer says. “Interestingly, there is no definition of ‘patient’ in the PSQIA. Therefore, the application of the privilege does not have to be directly related to a patient at the hospital,” notes Shaeffer.
The Impact of the Court’s Decision
This decision should further the goal of honest reporting by health care facilities. “Providers are correcting issues that need addressing in order for their patients to be in the safest environment possible,” states Fontenot. “If the reports become public, people are probably not going to report as truthfully or report as often,” she predicts. “In fact, this ruling encourages providers to be more thorough while investigating incidents, since they would not have to produce the report to show what they did,” Fontenot concludes.
Other Section leaders note that the safety of hospital patients and visitors are connected. “This decision encourages a policy of self-reflection and allows for the hospital to take a look at the cause of the incident without fear that it might be used against them in litigation down the road,” explains Schaeffer. “This would lead to improved safety outcomes for everyone,” Schaeffer adds, “because an analysis of a visitor’s slip and fall could affect patient safety.”