Manitoba MDs warned about limiting patient complaints

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says it's concerned a growing number of doctors are asking patients to book separate appointments for each medical complaint.
Doctors who limit the number of medical complaints a patient wants to report may end up missing important information, says the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba. (CBC)

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba says it's concerned that a growing number of doctors are asking patients to book separate appointments for each medical complaint they have.

The college, which governs medical practices in the province, is worried that doctors who limit a patient's complaints during a visit may end up missing important information.

"We don't dictate exactly how a doctor must operate an office, obviously, because they are actually independent practitioners when it comes to business," Dr. Bill Pope, the college's registrar, told CBC News on Thursday.

"But we also tell them that you have to be extremely careful that something that a patient has to tell you doesn't fall between the cracks because you're restricting yourself only to an individual item," he added.

"So we do warn them that they may end up in some difficulties by doing this."

Pope would not comment on a recent complaint that a Selkirk, Man., physician refused to discuss a woman's heart problems unless she booked another appointment.

'One appointment, one problem'

The woman's husband, Bruce Angus, told CBC News earlier this week that his wife, Samantha, had originally gone to the doctor to discuss her back pain.

Bruce Angus looks at photographs of his wife Samantha, 60, who died last week of a heart attack. (CBC)

But when Samantha tried to mention that she was also having chest pains, the doctor allegedly said, "One appointment, one problem" and walked out of the office, according to Angus.

Samantha Angus, 60, died of a heart attack last week, about two weeks after that medical appointment took place.

Bruce Angus plans to file complaints about the doctor's conduct with the Manitoba government and with the college.

Pope said the college could issue a formal policy about what should happen during a visit to the doctor.

"If there are more of these complaints that do come forward, then the council may look at trying to give some more specific direction to these sorts of situations," he said.

"It's something I hope our council would seriously consider."

Financial incentive

Pope said the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) publishes a handbook that advises independent doctors on how to run their practices.

"You should consider how to educate your patients that the time you can offer for a 'regular' office appointment may limit the number of medical issues that can be addressed during a single visit," the CMA's guidelines for private practice states.

Pope admitted that doctors do have an incentive to limit the amount of time spent with each patient. Doctors are compensated by the province based on each visit.

"I think it would be foolish not to admit that there is a significant financial issue here," he said.

However, Pope added that the college wants to ensure that they don't miss serious, or potentially fatal symptoms.

Pope advises patients who have multiple symptoms to write them down in advance, which would allow their doctors to better manage their consultation times.