The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) appears optimistic a new medical act for the province will benefit physicians and their patients.
The NLMA board of directors met recently with Dr. Robert Young, registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador, to discuss the new legislation, announced by the college and the province last week, as well as the possible ramifications for doctors.
“I think we’re quite happy generally,” said NLMA president Dr. Patrick O’Shea. “The board is supportive of the direction of the new legislation.”
At this stage, he said, it’s still a skeleton or framework on which to build new regulations and bylaws, but the act will keep self-regulation of the profession in the hands of the college, while strengthening continuing education requirements and quality assurance.
O’Shea said the college has assured the regulations and bylaws will be formulated in consultation with the NLMA to make sure “they protect the rights of the physicians as well as do the things they have to do to support the public.”
He said the NLMA recognizes the need for accountability, transparency and protection of the public. At the same time, O’Shea said, some of the changes brought about by this act will also help the profession provide good quality care, mainly through a new quality assurance committee. That committee will be able to assess competency to practise, scope of practice and a need for continuing medical education.
“The fact that they’re going to put in mandatory medical education or continuing education is a good thing as most doctors already do that, but it sort of again shows that we need to be responsive, we need to be up to date, we need to continue our education throughout our practices,” O’Shea said.
Things change so quickly, he said, that doctors can be out of date very quickly if they keep doing things the same way they did things when they graduated from medical school.
The new legislation will also allow physicians to seek help for personal problems without having to face a disciplinary process in cases where patients haven’t been harmed.
The need for an internal, confidential process was stressed recently by a lawyer, representing a family physician at a public disciplinary hearing. The disciplinary process was triggered when the physician sought help and admitted to having alcohol and prescription drug addictions.
The physician voluntarily withdrew his medical licence while participating in a rehabilitation program. The tribunal agreed to reinstate his licence with several conditions attached, including stipulations that he not consume alcohol or narcotics and is not authorized to prescribe narcotics to any of his patients.
O’Shea said the NLMA supports legislative changes so that a physician needing help for personal issues won’t have to face punitive consequences in a public forum.
The new legislation will also give the college the authority to suspend a doctor suspected of malpractice, rather than having to go through a complaints process and disciplinary hearing decision before ordering a suspension.
O’Shea said Young addressed concerns raised about this at the board meeting by assuring the directors that a doctor would only be suspended for something “quite extraordinary” and there would be some investigation first.
“You couldn’t just call up the registrar and register a complaint or concern and have that physician suspended immediately. There would have to be some type of investigation and that physician would have all the rights to explain that,” O’Shea said. “It’s just that they can do the suspension a bit faster than they used to where they would have to investigate the complaint, have a complaints committee meeting, all that stuff. The registrar has a little more power to be able to do it.”
He said the NLMA also plans to arrange another meeting with the college and the Canadian Malpractice Protective Association, the insurance group of which all physicians are members, to make sure the rights of physicians are protected as well as the rights of the public.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” O’Shea said. “The devil’s in the details and we’ll have to see what happens when the bylaws and regulations are worded and framed out, but again we intend to be part of that process.”
As he sees it, there are two main aspects to the new legislation: the physicians’ rights and responsibilities and the need to be transparent and accountable to the public.
The college expects the new regulations to be proclaimed by the end of this year.