On May 1, the Toronto Star published the first in a series of articles addressing problematic disciplinary practices and transparency issues within the Canadian medical community. The investigation, titled Medical Disorder, focuses on physicians who were able to continue practicing after committing serious criminal, medical, and ethical violations in other jurisdictions. Naturally, the report has prompted strong responses from Ontario medical malpractice lawyers, victims’ advocates, and medical and government officials.
The violations listed in the report are varied and disturbing. They include behaviour that most Ontario medical malpractice lawyers are familiar with, including incompetence, improper prescribing, and sexual misconduct. Some patients suffered life-changing injuries, including quadriplegia.
Information about the actions and errors committed by the physicians named in the report is not readily available to the public. A culture of secrecy and self-protection prevails in Canadian medical circles, a consequence, The Star suggests, of the fact that doctors here oversee themselves.
“This secrecy is baked into the bylaws, policies and culture of Canadian medical colleges, depriving patients of information about doctors who have been sanctioned by regulators for a range of offences, including sexual misconduct, improper prescribing, negligence and fraud,” The Star reports.
Indeed, Dr. Marie Bismark of the University of Melbourne, a leader in the study of doctor discipline, told The Star that the doctors they had unmasked were “the tip of the iceberg.”
“For every problem doctor who has come to the attention of regulators, there are probably a dozen who are causing similar levels of harm to patients who have not,” she said.
Recent policy changes at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), the province’s medical watchdog, have allowed it to share some information on doctors’ disciplinary histories in other jurisdictions – but only for infractions occurring after September 1, 2015. In the wake of The Star’s report, that change appears insufficient to lawmakers at Queen’s Park.
“The health minister must demand the physicians’ college posts all disciplinary measures that have happened to any of their members, no matter what jurisdiction it’s from,” said NDP health critic France Gélinas, according to a separate Star article. “We know full well that physicians move. The CPSO is there to protect the public. People expect that. Let’s meet people’s expectations.”
In an interview with The Star, Health Minister Helena Jaczek seemed to agree.
“If a physician has committed an offence in another jurisdiction previously, say, in the U.S., I don’t know why we couldn’t add that,” she said. “Obviously, the longevity of a (physician’s career) could go back 40 years, so one would want as full a picture as you could get.”
While improved transparency won’t eliminate medical errors, it would help patients make informed decisions about the physicians they choose and avoid doctors with histories of malpractice.
If you or a member of your family have been injured as a result of sub-standard medical care, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers to arrange a free consultation with an experienced lawyer. Our team of Ontario medical malpractice lawyers can help you understand your legal options.
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