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Wisconsin Adds Extra Protection to Hospital Trauma Care Service Data

April 28, 2006

On April 10, 2006, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted 2005 Act 315, which makes immune from legal discovery performance improvement information about trauma patient care collected by state agencies. Under Wis. Stat. § 146.56, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) must develop and implement a statewide trauma care system, which includes classifying all hospitals as to their emergency care capabilities. Every three years, a hospital must certify to DHFS the classification level of its trauma care services. As part of the certification process, DHFS collects confidential injury data to conduct performance improvement reviews.

Changes to Existing Law
Current law does not define "performance improvement" and merely states that the injury information that DHFS collects must remain "confidential." Wis. Act 315 adds a definition of "performance improvement" to § 146.56 and specifies that performance improvement information is "immune from discovery under ch. 804, confidential and privileged and may not be used or admitted into evidence in a civil action." The Act defines "performance improvement" as "a method of evaluating and improving processes of trauma patient care that emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving."

Added Protection for Quality Initiatives
This legislation is surfacing at a time when health care quality initiatives at the state and national level are underway. Although health care providers recognize the value in sharing patient data to improve quality and reduce costs, many fear that release of health information will bring medical malpractice, privacy and fraud claims against them. Wis. Act 315 attempts to curb those fears by providing immunity from discovery at least that information related to trauma patient care improvement.

Recommendation
To reflect the changes in Wis. Stat. § 146.56, health care providers may need to update their policies and procedures related to disclosing trauma patient care information. Moreover, with this added protection, providers may wish to explore health care quality initiatives with other providers that focus on trauma patient care improvement. To ensure successful collaboration, it is important that providers be aware of potential antitrust, fraud and abuse traps. A dedicated health lawyer can help health care providers make the most of Wis. Act 315.

If you would like further information about Wis. Act 315 or assistance with any health law matters, please contact Barbara Zabawa at bzabawa@gklaw.com or any other member of the Godfrey & Kahn Health Care Practice Group.

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