The NJ Supreme Court handed down a ruling that protects the confidentiality of a hospital’s post-incident internal review. As a result, patients who sue a hospital for medical malpractice are not entitled to records documenting the hospital’s internal examination into what went wrong. The Court upheld a review procedure under The Patient Safety Act, a 2004 law regarding the discoverability of post-incident review documents, which was designed to encourage medical professionals to analyze previous mistakes in order to prevent future ones.
What the legislature made clear was its intent to allow health professionals to speak freely and “assess adverse events in a confidential setting, in which an employee need not fear recrimination for disclosing his or her own medical error or that of a colleague,” Justice Anne Patterson wrote. “The Legislature thus recognized the pivotal role of confidentiality in promoting open and effective evaluation and reporting.”
Sen. Joseph Vitale, (D-Middlesex), one of the prime sponsors of the Patient Protection Act, said the court got it right. “When I wrote the act, I wanted to create a mechanism where hospital patient safety committees could freely discuss medical errors and address possible solutions and improvements,” Vitale said. “Attorneys representing patients continue to have access to medical and procedural information and those who provided treatment. This is a necessary balance for both patients and providers.”
The act was never intended to shield doctors or hospitals from liability. Plaintiffs may still, of course, file a medical malpractice suit, subpoena documents, and compel testimony from medical professionals involved in treatment.
Read more at NJ.com.