Medical Records Issues Draw House Debate

Article excerpt

It was trial lawyers vs. doctors in the state House Tuesday as representatives haggled over access to patients' medical records in malpractice cases, and whether to reduce the maximum contingency fees attorneys may charge (they did).

Rep. Charles Gray, D-Oklahoma City, amended Senate Bill 751, without debate, to limit contingency fees to no more than 25 percent on pre-trial settlements, and 33 1/3 percent on cases that go to trial and result in a judgment.

Authored by Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, and Rep. Opio Toure, D- Oklahoma City, the measure makes several changes in the civil procedure statutes, but it was language relating to discovery of medical records that drew most of the debate. The section in question deleted current law under which a patient who files a malpractice claim against a doctor waives the physician- patient privilege. It would have qualified the privilege by allowing the physician's attorney to obtain only information relevant to the patient's condition. However, it would have required a subpoena pursuant to the rules of discovery in civil actions. Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond, asked to remove this language, revising an amendment offered by Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, which would have deleted more of the section, language that covered fees for copying medical records, including X-rays. Rep. Bill Settle, D-Muskogee, debated against Vaughn's motion. "This would give defense attorneys and doctors an advantage over the plaintiff," he said. "It also invades the privacy of the patient. It allows the defense attorney to get access to all medical records, everything the patient has said to the doctor over the years." In some situations, such as the taking of depositions, Settle said, this information could be used to embarrass the patient or to apply pressure to drop a case. He said Toure's language "puts everybody on the same level playing field." Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, said the Vaughn amendment would merely give defendant physicians the same access to medical records as is now accorded to patients who sue doctors for malpractice. Without it, he said, doctors will have to go through the unnecessary time and expense of seeking a subpoena, going to court to obtain the records they need to defend themselves. …