Medical Malpractice Record Cost Should Be Reasonable

A former patient at University Community Hospital (UCH) in Tampa underwent back surgery but instead of relief he suffered complications.

The patient, male, filed a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit against his surgeon. In order to proceed, records would be needed from the hospital. Florida law gives patients a right to access any adverse incident records of doctors and hospitals. The person requesting the records is supposed to pay a reasonable cost for their retrieval.

The Million Dollar Search
However, the hospital says it will cost the defendant $1 million to retrieve the records. Hospital officials say that searching through years of records for adverse incidents related to the accused surgeon would require manual record searches and names will have to be redacted to protect privacy.

So the patient has sued UCH in an attempt to have the records costs lowered and to determine the actual cost to produce the documents.

His lawyer says the cost is unconscionable and designed to stall and prevent patients from obtaining information on their doctors.

Patients Have Rights to Medical Records
The Agency for Health Care Administration says each hospital is supposed to keep track of how many incidents every doctor has because reporting is mandatory. The health care provider owns a patient’s medical record, but the patient has a right to see it and get a copy.

Hospitals are required to keep the records for at least seven years after the patient has been discharged, and doctors in Florida must keep medical records for at least five years after their last contact with the patient.

What are they allowed to charge? Part of the problem is how far back the search would have to go. The UCH surgeon has been operating on spines for more than 20 years. The hospital says the documents requested would cost almost $75,000 per year for every year searched before 2008 and $68,000 per year after 2008, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

Under HIPAA rules, a hospital is supposed to provide documents within 90 days after receiving a request, and the maximum copying fee for doctors and chiropractors is no more than $1 per page for copying the first 25 pages and 25-cents per page for additional pages, according to a summary on patient rights done by Georgetown University. Under HIPAA Privacy rules you are not supposed to be charged for retrieving or handling fees.

The public is put in danger if this cost estimate is accurate. It shows the hospital has no idea about the adverse incident reports and there could be a bad doctor on staff that they themselves may not know about. What kind of message does that send to the patient about care and safety?

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