Plaintiffs in a medical malpractice case against a Missouri medical facility prevailed in one legal battle recently — the release of patient outcome data that the facility was fighting to keep from being released. The case involves the Mizzou BioJoint Center at the University of Missouri (MU).
Attorneys for the defendants, which include the director of the facility, a surgeon and the university, argued that the data was protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). However, the judge determined that the data requested didn’t violate the federal privacy law because patients’ names were redacted. The procedure at the center of the case involves an alternative to knee replacement surgery to treat osteoarthritis. In the Mizzou BioJoint procedure, bone cartilage and tissue from deceased donors are used instead of metal and plastic implants.
The plaintiffs claim that the procedure did nothing to relieve their symptoms. Some ended up having traditional knee replacement surgery. Others say they’re still suffering disabling pain.
Attorneys for one of the plaintiffs argued that although the university provided some of the data on the procedures after an earlier ruling by the judge to do so, it wasn’t sufficient. He said the center’s director “unilaterally redacted several of the critical data points, [which] rendered the spreadsheet essentially useless.”
Attorneys for the defendants had argued that the patient data the plaintiffs wanted “created a legitimate concern that Mizzou BioJoint patients could be individually identified without their consent.”
The university also filed a motion seeking to be removed from the suit because it has sovereign immunity as a public corporation. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have countered that MU waived its right to such immunity when it marketed the procedure to the public and bought insurance to cover malpractice claims. MU is being accused of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. The judge has yet to decide that matter.
Medical malpractice cases often rely on information pertaining to patients other than the plaintiffs. When that’s the case, plaintiffs and their attorneys can run up against claims by defendants that releasing such information would constitute a HIPAA violation. Experienced malpractice attorneys can work toward a resolution that will produce the necessary data without violating other patients’ privacy rights.