Background: The identification of health care professionals who are incompetent, impaired, uncaring or have criminal intent has received increasing attention in recent years. These individuals are often subject to disciplinary action by professional licensing authorities. To date, no national data exist for Canadian physicians disciplined for professional misconduct. We sought to describe the characteristics of physicians disciplined by Canadian professional licensing authorities.
Methods: We constructed a database of physicians disciplined by provincial licensing authorities during the years 2000 to 2009. Comparisons were made with the general population of physicians licensed in Canada. Data on demographic characteristics, type of misconduct and penalty imposed were collected for each disciplined physician.
Results: A total of 606 identifiable physicians were disciplined by their professional college during the years 2000 to 2009. The proportion of licensed physicians who were disciplined in a given year ranged from 0.06% to 0.11%. Fifty-one of the disciplined physicians committed 64 repeat offences, accounting for a total of 113 (19%) offences. Most of the disciplined physicians were independent practitioners (99%), male (92%) and trained in Canada (67%). The most common specialties of physicians subject to disciplinary action were family medicine (62%), psychiatry (14%) and surgery (9%). For disciplined physicians, the average number of years from medical school graduation to disciplinary action was 28.9 (standard deviation [SD] = 11.3). The 3 most frequent violations were sexual misconduct (20%), failure to meet a standard of care (19%) and unprofessional conduct (16%). The 3 most frequently imposed penalties were fines (27%), suspensions (19%) and formal reprimands (18%).
Interpretation: A small proportion of registered physicians in Canada were disciplined by their medical licensing authorities. Sexual misconduct was the most common disciplined offence. The standardization of provincial reporting along with the creation of a national database of physician offenders would facilitate more comparable public reporting as well as further research and educational initiatives.