Tung Sheng Wu, the man who ran a clandestine, unlicensed dental operation that health authorities say put 1,500 patients at risk, has raised concerns in the organizations that govern health professionals in British Columbia.
The registrars at several B.C. colleges say the Wu case is unprecedented in scope, but in its wake there is a heightened awareness about the problem of individuals posing as licensed health practitioners.
"I certainly don't think it's a widespread problem. We haven't come across anything [like it] in the dental hygiene world before, but our job obviously is public protection and we take that very seriously," said Jennifer Lawrence, Registrar and CEO of the College of Dental Hygienists of B.C.
"We're definitely keeping close tabs on it, that's for sure, and we hope that he is found. We also hope the courts and the law take this very seriously," she said of the case.
The College of Dental Surgeons last week issued a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Mr. Wu, also known as David Wu, who was being sought on a cross-Canada warrant.
Ms. Lawrence said there is no information suggesting Mr. Wu used an unlicensed dental hygienist to assist him, but her organization is alert to the possibility.
"Certainly if something like that came to light, we'd act swiftly … but at this stage it appears he was working kind of on his own," she said.
Ms. Lawrence said the college does get complaints about people working as unlicensed hygienists, but typically it is someone who has failed to renew their licence – not someone who has set up a large underground dental practice, as Mr. Wu allegedly did.
"Certainly we haven't seen [abuse] to this scale," she said.
Ms. Lawrence said if there is an upside to the Wu case, it's that it has made people more aware of the danger.
"Maybe the silver lining to this is that it helps educate the public and it helps educate the police and courts. This is a serious issue and if we don't take swift action against people who do this, and send a message that it's not okay, then that can put the public at risk," she said.
The Fraser Health Authority has said Mr. Wu not only did dental work without a licence, but that he also failed to follow infection-control procedures, possibly exposing his patients to blood-borne viruses.
Heidi Oetter, Registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. said her organization has never seen anything like the Wu case.
"We very infrequently get complaints about people providing some kind of [unlicensed] care," she said. "Often the kinds of things we get are people who are calling themselves natural medicine practitioners or they are doing some homeopathy or maybe they are doing laser hair removal or something like that. They are not holding themselves out to be physicians and the work they are doing isn't work that doctors do."
Dr. Oetter said about a year ago the registrars of all the health colleges in B.C. began discussing the small but serious problem of unlicensed operators and called for a public awareness campaign on the issue.
That campaign is expected to launch in September and will urge people to make sure they are seeing a regulated health-care professional and to check with a licensing body when in doubt.
She said the campaign will likely appear in several languages in order to reach immigrant communities. Mr. Wu dealt with the Chinese community in Coquitlam where he was known widely as a cheap dentist.
Dr. Oetter said the timing of the campaign is coincidental to the Wu case.
Natasha Dookie, Deputy Registrar of the College of Registered Nurses, said her organization only gets "occasional instances" where someone poses as a licensed nurse when they are not.
"It's something we are very vigilant about and we are very receptive to getting information from the public. We will take those concerns seriously and follow up on them," she said.