For decades, Marilou McPhedran worked to strengthen patient-protection laws in Ontario. The human rights lawyer chaired three task forces to combat sexual abuse of patients by doctors, producing hundreds of pages of reports for government with bold recommendations.
But all McPhedran sees is unfinished business.
She’s now seizing her position as independent senator to make one more aggressive bid to spark a federal review of the issues and solutions that she says medical regulators and health ministries across the country have ignored at the public’s peril.
“There can be, there should be, there needs to be a national database,” she said, that identifies physicians found guilty of serious misconduct, starting with those who sexually exploit and abuse their patients.
McPhedran lauded the Toronto Star’s ongoing “Medical Disorder” investigation as an impetus for her new campaign. The Star tracked more than 150 doctors who have held medical licences on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border and faced regulatory discipline for misconduct or incompetence. The data showed that in 90 per cent of cases, Canada’s medical watchdogs failed to share these doctors’ disciplinary histories with the public, even when they involved charges of rape, murder and child pornography.
Creating a “permanent record” that captures sexual offenders across the country is just a start, McPhedran said. In light of the Star investigation, McPhedran said she’s reviewing the evidence to support broadening the database initiative to include doctors who are disciplined for all forms of misconduct and incompetence.
The federal health minister’s office confirmed Ginette Petitpas Taylor has met on several occasions with McPhedran to discuss this issue, most recently in December 2018. McPhedran is submitting a report to Taylor that explains why a national registry is critical to public safety in the hope the proposal will be added to the agenda of a forthcoming federal-provincial health ministers meeting.
“Canadians put their trust in their health professionals and we need to do everything we can to prevent misconduct and abuse,” Minister Petitpas Taylor said in a statement to the Star. “I have raised this matter with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and will never hesitate to raise it with my counterparts in Provinces and Territories.”
A Canadian study published in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety a month after the Star investigation found that one in eight physicians disciplined by regulators across the country went on to re-offend. These 101 repeat offenders each had up to six disciplinary events between 2000 and 2015. Four of these doctors faced discipline in more than one jurisdiction. The majority were men. The proportion of obstetrician-gynecologists was higher among repeat offenders compared to physicians disciplined only once.
The physician researchers concluded the “distribution of transgression argues for a national disciplinary database which could improve communication between jurisdictional medical boards.”
Many of Canada’s medical regulators have told the Star that what information they share with the public about physician discipline is less important than the fact that they are sharing these details with each other.
“That is a disturbingly self-interested definition of serving the public,” McPhedran said. “All I can deduce from that practice is that they are serving the privilege of their organization. Regulators can’t serve the public interest and demonstrate that they’re keeping the promise that these organizations have made under the law across this country if they are not accountable and transparent. It doesn’t add up.”
Diana Zlomislic is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dzlo