Yukon among least-transparent for doctors' disciplinary histories

The Yukon is one of the least-transparent jurisdictions in Canada when it comes to information about practicing physicians, a CBC News investigation has found. Unlike provinces, the Yukon does not disclose information about complaints and disciplinary action against doctors.

'Our policy is not to disclose,' says Yukon Medical Council chair

Whitehorse General Hospital. (Cory Correia/CBC)

The Yukon is among Canada's least-transparent jurisdictions when it comes to complaints and disciplinary action against doctors, a CBC investigation has found. 

The Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC) agreed to survey its members on transparency and physician information, and provided the results to CBC. It declined CBC's requests for an interview.

The survey results show that practices vary widely when it comes to reporting and transparency of physician information.

The Yukon Medical Council (YMC) — the governing body for the territory's doctors — reveals few details to the public concerning doctors registered in the territory. Currently, the only physician information available on the YMC's website is a list of 81 doctors and where they work.

In contrast, every provincial college of physicians and surgeons in Canada provides an online searchable medical directory, often including information on doctors' qualifications, education, languages spoken, specialties, registration information.

One of the more notable discrepancies between the Yukon and most of Canada is Yukon's practice of not disclosing  disciplinary information, including notices of disciplinary hearings, reinstatement decisions or cautions. Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia all include information on disciplinary proceedings as part of their physician registers.

Robert Zimmerman, chair of the Yukon Medical Council, said no complaints about Yukon doctors have resulted in disciplinary action in the last 25 years. (CBC)

"Our policy is not to disclose," said Robert Zimmerman, chair of the YMC. "It's a confidential process, so an investigation is not published in any way.

"The doctor is aware of course, the complainant is aware, participants in the investigation are aware, but apart from that there's no publication." 

No serious issues in decades: YMC chair

According to the YMC, there are an average of eight complaints per year directed at Yukon physicians, most of them relatively minor — "problems in record keeping, or errors in communication where maybe a patient hasn't been dealt with in a proper, respectful way [that's] up to standard," Zimmerman said.

He said no complaints have resulted in disciplinary action in the Yukon in the last 25 years.

"We have not had any proven cases of serious fault in medical profession, ethics, or standard of care that would require licensure suspension or restriction," he said.

"If that were to occur, there's no question that would be made public." 

Zimmerman said that even with minor or unsubstantiated complaints, the council is limited in what information it can make public, under the Medical Professions Act. The Yukon's practice would only change if and when the legislation changes.

"We certainly don't want to be an outlier of a trend across the country to move in that direction," he said.

More transparency needed, says Yukon NDP

Yukon's Medical Profession Act has been amended as recently as 2012, but the section governing the public register has not been updated since 2002.  Unlike other parts of the country, the Yukon is not making public information on physician warnings, penalties, remediation, notice or status of discipline hearings and proceedings, registration history to check for past suspensions, criminal convictions, or disciplinary action from other colleges.

Jan Stick, the Yukon NDP's health and social services critic, said taxpayers are responsible for physicians' salaries,so all disciplinary information on doctors should be open to the public.

'People should have access to information about their physicians. We have a pretty intimate relationship with them,' said Yukon NDP health critic Jan Stick. (CBC)

"People should have access to information about their physicians. We have a pretty intimate relationship with them, and I'd like to know that the doctor I'm going to is upfront, and a good doctor," Stick said.

"I think it would be interesting to look at other jurisdictions, what's available and how they are able to achieve that. If it's through legislation that might be something we have to change here." 

CBC made several requests for an interview with Community Services Minister Currie Dixon, whose department is responsible for the laws governing the YMC, but Dixon declined.

The department did, however, provide a statement saying that "unless the Yukon Medical Council decides otherwise, all hearings or inquiries or deliberation of disciplinary action are not public."