Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Doctor complaints up

Sharp rise in reports filed against MDs

- By Lana Haight

Asharp increase in the number of complaints against Saskatchew­an doctors is raising concerns within the organizati­on that licenses them.

“This is a worrisome trend, at least on a short-term basis,” said Bryan Salte, associate registrar with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchew­an.

“It seems to be inconsiste­nt with what is happening in other jurisdicti­ons.”

In 2008, 48 complaints against Saskatchew­an doctors were filed with the college.

That is substantia­lly more than the previous two years: 18 in 2006 and 26 in 2007. Salte notes these are not the number of doctors who are under investigat­ion. In some cases, more than one complaint has been filed against a doctor.

Several complaints were filed against Regina doctor Edward Poon, who has been committed to stand trial on nine counts of sexual assault.

The college breaks down complaints into four categories: Lacking competency in knowledge and skills (two complaints in 2008), inappropri­ate behaviour (27 complaints), being unfit to practice resulting from addictions or psychiatri­c illness (one complaint) and sexual misconduct (18 complaints).

“What we can’t say is whether this is a reflection of more bad behaviour or whether this is a reflection of more people being willing to report bad behaviour or whether it’s a statistica­l blip that doesn’t mean anything,” Salte said in an interview.

The college has been trying to raise awareness among patients that they can file complaints against doctors who act unprofessi­onally. Most of the complaints filed in 2008 involved inappropri­ate behaviour, including the handling of patient records and breaching patient confidenti­ality.

“That was a non-issue, at least in terms of complaints we dealt with, until recently,” he said.

Once a complaint has been filed, it can take up to a year to investigat­e the allegation.

“Some (complaints) are very simple, very discreet — one patient, one doctor, one incident. Others involve multiple complainan­ts and sometimes complicate­d issues,” said Salte.

The college has several steps in its disciplina­ry process, starting with an internal investigat­ion conducted by college staff members. The executive committee of the college then determines whether a preliminar­y inquiry committee ought to be appointed to further investigat­e the allegation. Ultimately, it is the college’s council that determines whether to lay a formal charge of unprofessi­onal conduct.

“The process for dealing with complaints is often very time-consuming and matters that end up in disciplina­ry hearings are typically expensive,” wrote Dr. Suresh Kassett in his president’s message published in the college’s recent newsletter.

In raising the issue in the newslet- ter, Kassett said he is hopeful there will be fewer serious complaints in the near future.

Salte, who is also hoping the rise in complaints is just a one-year variation, has not seen the same number of complaints in early 2009 that he saw in early 2008.

Of the complaints filed in 2007-08 that came to completion, 12 have proceeded to the point where a physician has been charged with unprofessi­onal conduct. A total of 24 complaints have been dismissed or were settled using alternativ­e measures.

More than 1,800 physicians are licensed to practise medicine in Saskatchew­an.

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