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Patient sues after learning UCH records search could top $1 million

TAMPA — A man attempting to learn whether his surgeon made mistakes at University Community Hospital found that access comes at a high price.

To search through years of records for adverse incident reports on his surgeon, William D. Raulerson would have to pay UCH more than a million dollars, he discovered.

The hospital would need to conduct manual record searches and then redact some information to protect patient privacy, hospital spokesman Will Darnall said in a statement released to the Times.

On Dec. 14, Raulerson sued UCH in an attempt to lower the records cost and determine the hospital's actual cost to produce the documents, according to the lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

The hospital told Raulerson that the documents requested would cost almost $75,000 per year searched before 2008 and $68,000 per year after 2008, the lawsuit said.

It's unclear how far back the search would go, but the surgeon has been operating on spines since 1981, according to an online biography.

Raulerson's lawyer, Mike Trentalange, said the estimated cost is unconscionable.

"We're not asking them to do anything they haven't already done," he said. "They know how many incidents every doctor has, because every time there is an incident they have a report and they have to track them."

Spokesman Darnall said UCH "takes this matter very seriously." The hospital is allowed to charge for "searching, reviewing and redacting records" and is allowed to seek payment in advance, he said.

Trentalange said the high cost is an attempt by UCH to prevent patients from obtaining important information on their doctors.

Raulerson, a former patient of surgeon Antonio Castellvi, filed a claim against Castellvi for complications suffered during a back surgery, Trentalange said. The records would be used in the case, he said.

According to Florida law, patients have a right to access adverse incident reports of doctors and hospitals, including medical malpractice and other acts that may have caused injury or death, but the amount charged to a patient for access depends on actual cost.

Hospitals are required to keep records for only years, so going into the past may mean manually digging through old paper files, which would increase the amount of time and labor needed for the task, according to Shelisha Durden, a spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Trentalange said if UCH's high estimated cost is correct, then the state of its medical records could be putting the public at danger.

"It means they don't know about adverse incident reports that they themselves created about a doctor," he said, "which means they might have dangerous doctors on their staff."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

Patient sues after learning UCH records search could top $1 million 01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 11:25pm]

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