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Doctor Lodges Rights Complaint


By Kate Hammer

November 22, 2008    The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s methadone program is discriminatory and violates patient privacy laws, a leading health expert says.

Philip Berger, chief of the department of family and community medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, has lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Dr. Berger argues that the college’s Methadone Maintenance Guidelines – which require that any patient being prescribed methadone for he treatment of addiction submit their name, date of birth, OHIP number and city of residence – reach outside the regulatory body’s jurisdiction.

The college is charged with overseeing physicians in Ontario; it is not considered a health information custodian under the Personal Health Information Protection Act. Patients receiving methadone for addiction treatment, Dr. Berger said, are the only group catalogued in this way by the CPSO, which has in turn shared their information for the purposes of scientific studies.

“The major issue is it violates almost every privacy issue in the book,” he said. “The college is operating way outside it’s zone; it’s not in the business of regulating patients.”

A spokesperson for the CPSO said patient information is often collected as part of an investigation of a physician, and the college has rigorous guidelines for handling sensitive personal information.

The CPSO began administrating the methadone program on behalf of the Health Ministry in 1996. It began collecting detailed patient information in order to moniter care and prevent patients from so-called double-doctoring; going to two doctors to get prescriptions for the same medication.

But because methadone can be prescribed for ailments other than addiction, the college’s system does not prevent double-doctoring, Dr. Berger said. He encouraged Ontario to look at other systems such as British Columbia’s triplicate prescription program for better protections against double-doctoring that encompass other narcotics, such as Percocet, which have greater potential for abuse.

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