All complaints against doctors should be made public after they have been dealt with by the province’s medical watchdog, according to the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.
“Patients should have as much information as possible about who they want to go to for their health care. The problem with the current system is that the patient isn’t being given the information to make her own choice,” said Steve Rastin, president of the association, members of which include lawyers representing patients in medical negligence cases.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario makes public on its online register only complaints that end up being referred to the regulatory body’s discipline committee.
These are the most egregious complaints, dealing, for example, with allegations of serious medical error or abuse. They can lead to findings of misconduct or incompetence and in some cases doctors can lose their licenses.
But last year, they represented only 2 per cent of the 2,294 complaints investigated by the college.
Medical malpractice lawyer Paul Harte said information about the remaining complaints should be made public as well, once the CPSO has decided what action to take on them.
Other actions the college can take include “cautioning” doctors, ordering them to take continuing education and entering into agreements that would see, for example, doctors restrict or cease practising.
Hospitals aren’t even automatically informed of complaints made to regulatory colleges about health professionals and the Ontario Hospital Association wants that changed. Currently, it’s up to health professionals to annually self disclose to hospitals where they work if they have run into trouble.
Dr. Ved Tandan, president of the Ontario Medical Association, which represents the province’s 25,000 doctors, said the OMA is participating in an ongoing “transparency project” with the CPSO on how much information should be made available to the public and hospitals.
“There is always room to re-evaluate the level of transparency and we are happy to have those conversations,” Tandan said.
But he said that complaints found to have no merit by the CPSO should not be passed along to hospitals: “There are many complaints that don’t move forward that have no bearing on patient care, on quality or on safety and we are not clear on how that information is going to help hospitals provide safer high-quality care for their patients.”
Harte, on the other hand, said the public should also be made aware of those complaints that the CPSO decides to take no action on because it deems doctors’ conduct or care to be appropriate. These category of complaints amounted to 59 per cent of all those investigated last year.
“If there is a doctor who has got 50 complaints and all of them resolved without any kind of negative disposition, it is still useful information to the public. Here is somebody who evidently has problems dealing with patients,” Harte charged.
But Harte agreed that those complaints that the CPSO doesn’t even investigate because it finds them frivolous or vexatious should not have to be made public.
CPSO registrar Dr. Rocco Gerace said legislation introduced last week by the province, the Safeguarding Health Care Integrity Act, would go part way to making it easier for the college and hospitals to share information about doctors, but he said it does not go far enough and he would like to see amendments made.
On Sunday, the Toronto Star reported that the CPSO has ordered the former chief of Humber River Hospital Dr. Jack Barkin to be orally cautioned “to avoid future difficulties” in caring for patients like an elderly man who died after being under his care last year.
Hospital officials said Barkin was forthcoming about the caution, but did not answer repeated questions about whether he had told them about a history of complaints that saw the college previously take action against him.