'Fractured' system makes tracking OB/GYN mistakes difficult: investigation
A "fractured" complaints system makes tracking and investigating OB/GYN mistakes difficult for patients, families and regulatory bodies, according to two journalists who led an in-depth investigation looking into the issue.
A joint investigation by the Toronto Star and Ryerson University found at least 40 obstetricians and gynecologists who are licensed to practice despite restrictions or disciplinary actions against them for issues ranging from alleged patient injuries to alleged patient sexual abuse.
Star reporter Robert Cribb said he was prompted to look into OB/GYN errors after noticing that whenever he spoke to medical malpractice lawyers, cases against doctors specializing in female reproductive health kept coming up.
The cases were unique in that many involved numerous complaints against a single physician, Cribb said.
So he and fellow journalists Theresa Boyle and Emma Jarratt spent two years digging into records, speaking to several affected families, and reaching out to obstetricians and gynecologists.
They found doctors who had numerous complaints, allegations and disciplinary actions on their record.
Several families profiled in the paper shared their stories, which not only involved a medical error, but often involved a years-long process to seek justice for the mistake, as well.
Laura McGregor's son, Matthew, was born in 1999 with quadriplegic cerebral palsy as a result of a forceps delivery. His parents spent the next 13 years fighting for compensation to pay for the round-the-clock care he will require for the rest of his life.
Laura McGregor told the Star that, while she can accept the fact that the doctor who delivered her son made an "egregious" mistake, she can't accept the system that made it "traumatic" for her family to seek compensation.
Cribb said the case highlights the long and difficult process families often have to endure when seeking justice for a medical error. "In many ways, it's a re-victimization of the victims," he told CTV's Canada AM.
Also complicating the matter, Jarratt added, is the system for filing and tracking complaints against doctors.
"The system is very fractured," she said. "In Canada, the public healthcare system is fantastic in many senses, but there are so many cooks in the kitchen – a different college in every province, all the hospitals have their own complaints system.
"It's a bit difficult, not only for patients to know where they go when they need help, but also for the complaints to be kept track of."
Jarratt said, as a result, it can take a long time before a "pattern of error" is recognized and investigated.
Affected patients also face a huge challenge in trying to obtain information about a doctor's record, because in many of the cases, the physician and patients settle complaints out of court, Cribb said.
"It erases from the public record anything that the patient can know," he said, noting that for the Star investigation, the reporters spent months obtaining court and public records.
"It would be virtually impossible for the average patient to do a thorough comprehensive backgrounding on their physician."
In response, The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario said in a statement to CTV News that it aims to intervene as quickly as possible when issues of physician conduct or competence are raised.
"We know of no investigative process where detailed information about the investigation is available to the public during the course of the investigation. We endeavour to intervene as quickly as possible when there are conduct or competence issues that need to be addressed. The College is a leader amongst medical regulators in providing physician-specific information to the public," the statement said.