Most health professionals in this province, doctors, nurses and dentists included, are self-regulated, governed by their respective colleges. For physicians and nurses, those colleges are the College of Physicians and Surgeons (“CPSO”) and the College of Nurses (“CNO”) respectively. As self-regulating professions, each must have a system for registering and dealing with complaints from the public about their members. While the College cannot offer compensation to complainants, they can issue cautions in person or in writing, force medical professionals to undertake educational programs or, in some cases, commence disciplinary proceedings.
Disciplinary proceedings are usually reserved for repeat offenders or those who engage in reprehensible conduct, such as sexual assault.
The lion’s share of complaints are dismissed with no action, or by issuing a caution in person or in writing. Cautions are meant to educate the practitioner on areas where their practice can improve. In person cautions are viewed as more serious than cautions in writing.
The benefit of starting a college complaint when there is suspected wrongdoing by a medical professional is that it allows the complainant to get a preliminary view from the profession as to how the conduct in question may be assessed. It also allows the complainant to get a glimpse of what the health professional may say in response to the allegations of misconduct. There are limits to what the College can consider in a complaint – they are not entitled to make findings of credibility, and so if there is a difference between what the complainant said happened, and what is contained in the medical record, the College will only assess the medical record.
Complaints are started by a member of the public submitting a complaint in writing to the appropriate college. When drafting your written complaint, it is best to keep it simple and stick to the facts. Particularize the areas of complaint in a short, easy to understand sentences. For example, a delayed diagnosis of cancer complaint may itemize the complaints as: (1) failing to follow up or order appropriate diagnostic tests; and (2) failing to inform about concerning test results. Then tell, in chronological order, what happened by sticking to the facts with little emotion inflected in your language.
After the complaint is submitted, you will be contacted by a college investigator to finalize the particular areas of complaint to which the doctor or nurse will respond. The response from the medical professional will be in writing, usually prepared with the assistance of counsel. You are then invited to comment on the response, before the entire package of material is sent to the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (“ICRC”).
A decision is rendered by the ICRC usually within six months. The decision may be appealed to the Health Professions and Review Board (“HPARB”), an administrative body I will overview in my next blog posting.
Pursuant to legislation, nothing from the College complaints process can be used during a civil proceeding. That said, having an independent review by the ICRC of the alleged misconduct, and seeing the proposed physician explanation, can be a valuable tool in your civil case.
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