The Florida Senate Rules Committee recently approved Senate Bill 1792, a new medical malpractice bill that’s been gaining traction in the state. Both the House and Senate will consider the bill simultaneously.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) is endorsing the bill, as it contains three provisions the agency has considered top priority for years. The first limits who qualifies as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case. Currently, a physician who specializes in a similar specialty and who has treated the patient in the past would qualify as an expert witness in the case. The proposed change would allow only physicians practicing within the same specialty to act as experts.

The second provision — one that is hotly contested — would allow the defendant or the defendant’s attorney to interview physicians who are not part of the suit, but who have treated the plaintiff without notifying the plaintiff or having the plaintiff’s attorney present. These “ex parte,” or one-sided, communications are not typically how things are done in legal cases and bring up the bigger issue of patient privacy.

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Senator Joe Negron (R- Fla.) expressed his concern about the second provision, stating “there is a reason they shut the door when you go see the doctor, because those are private things.” Negron said he would work to have that provision removed. However the bill’s sponsor, Senator Tom Lee (R- Fla.)  said this provision is the “heart of the bill,” and noted it might not pass without it.

The third proposed provision involves laws regarding medical information. It specifies that if subpoenaed in a medical malpractice or administrative hearing, a doctor must provide a patient’s medical records to an attorney, as long as the patient has agreed in writing beforehand.

The proposed bill is now available for the House and Senate to consider.