Formal cautions issued by the province’s medical watchdog should be made public, so that patients can make informed decisions when choosing their doctor, says Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark.
The opposition member tabled a private members’ bill at Queen’s Park on Monday that would require the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to post on its website the cautions, which are issued every year to doctors for inappropriate behaviour or treatment mistakes.
Currently, the college keeps the cautions secret and only posts information about the small proportion of complaints that are deemed serious enough to go to a disciplinary hearing, which can lead to findings of misconduct or incompetence. But the complaints themselves and cautions issued to doctors for less serious transgressions are kept secret.
“(The bill is) all about increasing transparency and accountability in our health care system and putting out there some ideas that I’ve heard from people across Ontario,” Clark said shortly after his bill received first reading in the legislature Monday afternoon. “You’d have a situation where it’s far more open and I think it really is what patients want.”
Clark’s bill would also require the college to post any complaints made against doctors, lawsuits brought against them, patient deaths and information about any time spent practicing medicine in another province or country.
This summer, the Toronto Star published details of a caution delivered to a top doctor at Humber River Hospital after the death of one of his patients. The reprimand only became public because the late patient’s family provided the Star with a copy of the college’s decision, marked “private and confidential.”
Last year, a Star investigation revealed that the province’s 21 health regulatory colleges issued 2,205 oral and written cautions to health-care workers between 2007 and 2011. These colleges oversee approximately 267,000 health-care professionals in Ontario, including psychologists, massage therapists, optometrists, midwives and physiotherapists.
“You have to strike the right balance between the (college’s) self-regulation, but also the rights of patients and families to have full disclosure about their doctor’s history,” Clark said. “More and more people feel that it should be the college’s responsibility to make sure that information about their member is made public . . . Many people in Ontario would be surprised that it isn’t done right now.”
Two years ago, the CPSO launched a transparency review and is already considering making cautions public. The college is currently asking for comment on several proposals, including posting whether doctors have criminal records or bail conditions that affect their practice.
Also on Monday, a group calling for more transparency held a protest outside the CPSO, saying that the institution has “shown itself ineffective in identifying and taking action against members.”
“The CPSO has evolved so that its focus has become more about protecting physicians than patients,” read a Facebook posting advertising the event.
After rallying outside the college, the protesters moved up to Queen’s Park, where they met with Clark to discuss the issue of doctor oversight.
“People have lost loved ones and they feel totally defeated by a lack of openness and transparency at the College,” Clark said.