Making Medical Errors Public

In 2004, citizens of Florida overwhelmingly passed a state constitutional amendment requiring hospitals and other health care providers to publicly disclose, upon request, information regarding medical errors. The amendment, entitled Patients’ Right to Know (and also informally known as Amendment 7), was designed to let patients make more informed health care choices by letting them obtain information about medical errors or medical negligence by doctors or hospitals they might seek treatment from. Armed with this information for example, a patient might elect not to use a surgeon for a particular procedure if the surgeon had committed numerous prior medical errors in performing that procedure.

Almost immediately after passage, lobbyists for insurance and health care groups were able to convince the state legislature to pass restrictive new laws which essentially gutted the amendment and made disclosure of the information even more restrictive than it had been before passage of the amendment. These laws have been challenged in court and have been held unconstitutional by lower courts. The Florida Supreme Court has very recently heard argument on these issues and is expected to announce its ruling in the next few months. A decision upholding the right of the legislature to pass laws restricting application of constitutional amendments would severely reduce the ability of Florida citizens to make changes in their state constitution.

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