Military records that could show malpractice ordered released
OHIO–Computer databases documenting possible malpractice in the U.S. military’s health care system must be released, with individuals’ personal information redacted, a federal judge in Dayton ruled in a preliminary opinion issued in late March.
Judge Walter Herbert Rice ordered the databases of healthcare records and medical malpractice claim information disclosed to the Dayton Daily News, but gave the parties the opportunity to persuade the court to reconsider the decision.
The Daily News requested the databases for an October 1997 series, “Unnecessary Danger,” that examined unnecessary deaths and injuries due to medical malpractice in the military’s health care system. In mid-April, the series won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
After weighing the need for public disclosure against the privacy rights of the patients and other healthcare professionals involved, the court found that release of any names, social security numbers, home addresses, telephone numbers and places of employment that appear in the databases would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
The Air Force asserted that assembling one of the databases would take 51 hours. The court said that the work involved “is a small price to pay . . . for the possibility of discovering [government] medical malpractice information or putting rumors and innuendoes of same to rest.”
The court rejected the Air Force’s contention that the information requested is subject to blanket confidentiality for medical quality assurance records, noting that some the database records may not have been created in order to assess the quality of medical care. (Dayton Newspapers Inc. v. Department of the Air Force; Media Counsel: Robert Bartlett, Dayton)