The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario routinely notifies medical regulatory bodies worldwide when a physician is accused of professional misconduct, the Star has learned, while often leaving local authorities in the dark even if it’s possible a crime was committed.
College spokesperson Kathryn Clarke said the CPSO emails a jurisdictional notice to all medical regulatory bodies in Canada and the United States, as well as some international regulators, if it suspends, revokes or imposes restrictions on a physician’s licence while awaiting a disciplinary hearing.
The decades-old legislation that governs the college, the Regulated Health Professions Act, gives it the discretion to notify other medical regulatory bodies about its members’ actions. The same law allows the college to decide whether or not to contact police about a doctor who’s been disciplined for sexual abuse or any other potential crime.
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A Star investigation last fall found the College only approaches police with such information in “appropriate circumstances,” raising questions about whom the regulatory body is trying to protect — physicians or patients. In October, Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins ordered a review of the legislation, after critics called for mandatory reporting to authorities.
Regulatory bodies have a reputation for going easy on their own members, while the police are an objective third party, said Lorian Hardcastle, a scholar and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in health law.
“One advantage (to mandatory reporting) may be greater public trust, which is essential to self-regulatory regimes, in the police. In addition, while another regulatory body might merely rely on the findings of the first, the police could conduct their own investigation of the matter, which may reveal different findings,” she said.
In a rare move at a college hearing last week, a disciplinary committee dismissed allegations of professional misconduct against Dr. Claudio Soares, a Hamilton psychiatrist who was alleged to have sexually abused a female patient, after the complainant failed to appear or provide any evidence.
The decision put to an end a three-year ordeal for Soares which began July 11, 2012, when the college issued a hearing notice on its website containing allegations he had engaged in a sexual relationship with the patient from November 2007 to May 2009. The notice barred Soares from treating female patients without a female chaperone.
At the time, Soares was a professor at McMaster University as well as director of the Women’s Health Concerns Clinic, which is affiliated with the university. He was poised to chair the University of Alberta’s psychiatry department as of Sept. 1, 2012.
Amid the allegations, however, he was placed on leave by the University of Alberta before starting his new job. He resigned from the position three weeks later.
The phrasing in the Regulated Health Professions Act encourages the College to notify other medical regulatory bodies, but not the police, said College spokesperson Clarke.
“The practice of notifying jurisdictions is not mandated by law but it is specifically permitted by the Regulated Health Professions Act. Our authority to provide information to other medical regulatory bodies is broadly worded in the legislation, unlike our limited authority to provide information to the police,” she wrote in an email to the Star last week.
The information, she said, is shared with other regulators in case the doctor is also licensed in that jurisdiction. The college receives similar information in return. Physicians are also required to report to the College when another regulatory body is taking disciplinary action, or if they have in the past.
If the College knows a doctor is the subject of a police investigation or convicted of a crime, it will “monitor the proceeding and take further action as required,” Clarke said.
Health law expert Trudo Lemmens said it’s reasonable for regulatory bodies to keep each other informed of disciplinary issues, even if allegations against a physician aren’t yet proven.
“I don’t think an immediate and automatic reporting is warranted as soon as a complaint is filed, but reporting after an initial screening would seem appropriate for certain allegations,” he said.
Hardcastle said the practice of regulatory bodies keeping each other informed is integral to their mandate of protecting the public, as is informing the authorities.
“The sanctions available to the police are obviously very different than the sanctions available to the colleges. So yes, for these differences I absolutely think that the colleges should be informing the police as well as other regulatory bodies.”