Legal and regulatory proceedings
Transparency of physician information: What members need to know
Originally published June 2016
The Medical Post’s 2015 Canadian Physician Trends Survey found 69% of doctors believe their provincial medical regulatory authority (College) will become more involved in their practices over the next five years. The survey also revealed physicians are almost evenly divided as to whether or not they believe their provincial College is supportive of the medical profession.1
These findings are not surprising. In the last few years, medical regulatory authorities have taken some well-publicized steps to ensure public safety and enhance their own public accountability. These steps have included increasing the amount of information about doctors that they make available to the public in registries, including those posted online. While each College maintains a public register that includes specific information about each doctor practising in their jurisdiction, the information being made available by Colleges varies. The CMPA’s focus is to ensure the information publicly available is necessary to fulfill the College’s statutory mandate to protect the public.
All Colleges are feeling the pressure of public accountability and are taking a variety of steps to address this. For example, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) was among the first to use a multi-phase approach. The CPSO approved new bylaws in 2015 to post a range of additional information on its public register.2 The information includes criminal charges, cautions in-person, specified continuing education or remediation program (SCERP) orders, discipline findings, and licences in other jurisdictions. The CPSO makes public any undertakings against a physician, as these are generally seen to be tied to issues that are either moderate or high risk to the public. Most recently, the College implemented a policy whereby disciplinary decisions involving criminal activities will be forwarded to the police.3
In September 2015, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that it will make more information about physicians available on its website including licence or practice restrictions.4 The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan allows the public to access a variety of information about physicians in that province, including medical education, qualifications, licence history, and discipline history.5
What it means for physicians
The CMPA estimates more than 75% of the complaints made to the Colleges about doctors are dismissed outright or dismissed with some concern,6 yet doctors experience stress and anxiety when dealing with a College complaint or proceeding. This anxiety may have negative effects on a physician’s personal life or medical practice, and some physicians even consider leaving medicine or changing the scope of their practice to minimize the risk of future complaints. With Colleges making more physician information available to the public, the CMPA believes a balanced approach must be struck that includes reasonable precautions to protect public safety and respect for the privacy rights of individual physicians.
When information about a physician is placed in a College registry, particularly online, doctors’ anxieties normally revolve around how much will be made public, especially frivolous or unproven allegations. Physicians are also concerned about what information they must disclose to their hospital or regional health authority, as many of these organizations are requiring physicians to disclose information about a variety of topics. Additionally, in considering whether to accept disposition of a College complaint, many physicians worry about the outcome being made public.
CMPA advocacy efforts
The Association regularly communicates with medical regulatory authorities about protecting physician information. The CMPA generally encourages the Colleges to consider whether the information is necessary to protect the public and to balance this against the physician’s right to privacy. In specific cases, the CMPA may ask the College not to publicly distribute information about a physician on the basis that it is not relevant to the protection of the public. In other cases, the Association might suggest the College provide written notification to the affected physician in advance of publicly posting the information.
CMPA members requiring support when their personal information is available to the public are encouraged to contact the Association. A physician advisor can offer confidential support, assistance, and advice on Colleges’ processes.
Physicians are reminded to remain professional and objective when their personal information is placed on the public register. Focusing on appropriate continued medical practice, knowledge, and clinical skills is recommended. It is also important to remember that most patients will continue to seek care from the physician they know and trust, even when an online registry lists an adverse ruling. Physicians should seek personal support or professional help if a College-related matter results in excessive anxiety or distress.
- Godkin D. Poll: 69% of doctors say Colleges are getting more intrusive. CandianHealthcareNetwork.ca. [Internet]. 2015 Sept 29 [cited 2015 Nov 23]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: http://www.canadianhealthcarenetwork.ca/physicians/news/professional/poll-69-of-doctors-say-colleges-are-getting-more-intrusive-41351
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. More information to be posted on the public register. Dialogue 2015, Issue 2:27-9.
- Butler D. College of physicians and surgeons shares information with police about MDs’ alleged criminal acts. Ottawa Citizen [Internet]. 2015 October 5 (updated October 6) [cited 2015 Nov 23]; Local [about 3 screens]. Available from: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/college-of-physicians-and-surgeons-forwarding-discipline-decisions-to-police
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador, Notice to College Members. [Internet]. 2015 Sept 30 [cited 2015 Nov 23]. Available from: https://www.cpsnl.ca/default.asp?com=News&m=326&y=2015&id=209
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan [Internet]. Public website homepage. [cited 2015 Dec 9]. Available from: https://www.cps.sk.ca/
- Canadian Medical Protective Association. Coping with a College complaint: Suggestions for reducing anxiety [Internet]. April 2013. Available from: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/legal-and-regulatory-proceedings/-/asset_publisher/a9unChEc2NP9/content/coping-with-a-college-complaint