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Chalk one up for plaintiffs

In the tussle over hospital internal review documents, a Martinsville Circuit Court has come down on the side of a med-mal plaintiff.

Plaintiff Emma Lucille Gravely sued Dr. Richard S. Perren, an emergency medicine doctor, who allegedly discharged her with a diagnosis of “acute chronic low back pain” after she visited a hospital ER with complaints of chest pain, back pain, weakness and breathing difficulty. Gravely alleged she returned later the same day and saw a different doctor, who obtained a cardiac consult and determined Gravely had suffered a massive heart attack.

Gravely sought from Memorial Hospital of Martinsville, which had been sued but not served, its protocols, policies and procedures on the use of cardiac enzymes and management of patients who came to the ER with symptoms of chest pain and/or back pain radiating to the chest.

The hospital asserted the “quality assurance privilege” of Virginia Code § 8.01-581.17, which makes confidential documents used for peer review and internal quality assurance.

Martinsville Circuit Judge G. Carter Greer surveyed the case law in his opinion denying the hospital’s motion to quash. Greer cited a 2004 law review article that charted this discovery divide between courts that use a “narrow” interpretation of the statutory “quality assurance” privilege and require production of documents, and those favoring a “broad” interpretation that affords greater protection of the documents.

Greer said in his Jan. 28 opinion in Gravely v. Perren that if policies, protocols and procedures “see the light of day,” it is more likely that health care providers will try harder to follow them.

By Deborah Elkins

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