Doctors Have a Right to Remain Mum, Judge Says

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

October 22, 2019

A patient who became infected after an elective procedure at a Pennsylvania hospital has been denied access to information related to the facility's infection-prevention procedures, according to a September 27 report in Bloomberg Law.

The patient, Richard Rumsey, went to Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, a rural teaching facility in Sayre, Pennsylvania, which owns Guthrie Medical Group, a multispecialty practice comprising more than 300 doctors. Rumsey claimed in a subsequent suit against the hospital and medical group that, during his stay, doctors failed to test or treat him for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which, according to court documents, escalated following the procedure.

When Rumsey's legal team sought access to copies of the hospital's infection-prevention protocols, however, administrators balked. They claimed protection under the 2005 federal Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act (PSQIA).

Among other provisions, the PSQIA grants broad nondisclosure protections to patient safety "work product"—that is, good-faith reports from providers, among other sources—except in very limited and specific cases. These confidentiality protections are designed to encourage feedback to hospitals that might otherwise fear litigation if negative information about the integrity of their safety protocols was available to the public.

In his opinion denying Rumsey access to the hospital's patient-safety information, Judge Matthew W. Brann, of the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, echoed this rationale: The purpose of protecting such information is so that "medical professionals may provide the brutally honest feedback hospitals need to keep their patients safe without fear of its use in litigation."

Similar state-level protections are also authorized under Pennsylvania's Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act, passed in 2002.

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