More than 600 Canadian doctors were disciplined by provincial medical authorities over a nine-year period for sexual misconduct, problems with care and a host of other infractions, according to a new research.
The number of doctors who faced disciplinary action represents less than one per cent of the total physicians practicing in Canada, says the study, published Tuesday in the journal Open Medicine.
The majority of the 606 doctors disciplined from 2000 to 2009 were men, had been practicing for an average of nearly 29 years and operated an independent practice, the study found. More than 60 per cent of those disciplined were family doctors, 14 per cent psychiatrists and nine per cent surgeons.
The most common violation related to sexual misconduct, making up 20 per cent of cases of disciplinary action against doctors, while standard of care issues accounted for 19 per cent and unprofessional conduct accounted for 16 per cent.
But the study also exposes how little standardization there is in Canada when it comes to publicly reporting disciplinary action against doctors, and how much remains unknown about the true scope of complaints against physicians.
For instance, some information about disciplinary action against doctors was incomplete on various provincial websites and no information was publicly available from the territories.
Chaim Bell, lead author of the study, physician at St. Michael's Hospital and associate professor in medicine and health policy, management and evaluation at the University of Toronto, said the findings indicate the need for a national system that can allow improved public access to information about disciplinary action against doctors.
The study was conducted by gathering publicly-available data from various Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons across Canada, which are medical licensing authorities and conduct disciplinary hearings when there are complaints against doctors.
The problem is that complaints against doctors remain confidential unless it leads to a formal disciplinary hearing.
While the study notes that cases of negligence, sexual abuse or concerns over professionalism are serious and usually lead to disciplinary action, there are questions about complaints against doctors that may never be released publicly. For that reason, it's also unclear what the exact number of complaints against doctors is in Canada.
It's also difficult to get information from certain years from various provincial medical bodies, Dr. Bell said.
It's a problem that highlights the need for improved transparency as it relates to complaints against doctors, he said.