If you are about to sign up with a physician who is going to know all your secrets, don’t you at least owe it to yourself to do a background check? Far too often in an overburdened public health system, patients may be simply glad to have any doctor.
The first place to turn for information is the body that licenses and regulates the medical profession within your province. Typically, that is done by the college of physicians and surgeons, which handles complaints from the public and, if need be, will hold a disciplinary hearing. They keep records of their discipline findings, which are often publicly available by calling the college or through its online database.
For example, a doctor found guilty by a regulator of sexual impropriety or sexual abuse should give any patient pause. That’s especially true if that physician is a gynecologist, a family doctor doing physical exams or a psychiatrist, who will know secrets even a spouse may never hear.
“If a doctor, eight years ago, was found having been guilty of sexual abuse with a patient, you know, maybe if you’re a woman you wouldn’t want to go to him,” said Rocco Gerace, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. “It helps you make an informed decision.”
There are other red flags as well, such as a doctor who is not allowed to prescribe narcotics or one who can only practise under supervision. Those types of restrictions are noted as part of the college record.
“If a doctor has had some issues in their interaction with female patients,” said Dr. Gerace, “they may not be allowed to see female patients.”
Here’s how to get started: Locate the web site or telephone number of the provincial college of physicians and surgeons body. Some colleges will list physician information online, searchable by last name. But others don’t make it so easy. Patients in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, for example, have to wade through disciplinary decisions of all doctors that are posted online because the information is not searchable by name. However, these bodies can often provide doctor-specific information if you call them.
And then there’s Alberta. It provides disciplinary information in an online doctor database but removes it after five years.
British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario provide the most information – disciplinary findings and restrictions – in their online databases; Ontario even publishes court findings of professional negligence or malpractice.
To make it easier for patients, the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada hopes to set up a national database, said Fleur-Ange Lefebvre, its executive director and chief executive officer.
Here’s the bottom line: If your doctor has been disciplined by a regulator or has restrictions on his or her licence, this is information you want to know. If you can’t find it online through the college of physicians and surgeons in a particular province, contact the regulatory body to see what is publicly available. Your doctor will be none the wiser that you made the call – but you will be.