I mentioned in my last column that the Ontario government has amended legislation to require health-care institutions – including regulators – to provide more information to the public about medical outcomes.
Although the changes affect only the health-care sector, they send powerful messages to the rest of the province's self-regulatory bodies.
The Health System Improvements Act requires all Ontario health colleges – there are more than 20 – to set up web sites for public information.
Each college is required to post its public register, which normally lists members, their professional qualifications and their status with their college, plus any information about the result of disciplinary proceedings.
Many regulatory bodies already have their public registers online. At the College of Teachers, for example, our public register has been available online since 2000, including information about terms, conditions or limitations on members' licences and the outcome of any disciplinary proceedings against them.
But the government's recent legislative amendments go further in ensuring transparency for the public. For example, if a complaint against a health-care professional has been referred to a hearing but not yet resolved, that information must appear on the member's record on the public register.
This is a significant change from what most colleges – including ours – currently do.
The College of Teachers currently declines to comment to the media or the public on whether or not a complaint has been received against a member.
If a complaint is subsequently dismissed, the member, the complainant and the employer are informed of the decision not to proceed, but other than that the College maintains confidentiality.
If a complaint is referred to a disciplinary hearing, the College will post the date of the hearing and the charges against the member two weeks in advance. We don't make any other information available until the hearing, which is open to the public, gets under way.
The College established these procedures in the belief that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. We considered all factors and established procedures we thought were in the public interest while also being fair to our accused members.
But court rulings, government requirements and public expectations have changed significantly, even in the decade of our existence.
The health-care system is not alone in coming under increasing public and political scrutiny. The media over the past year has highlighted scores of complaints and charges of secrecy against school boards and trustees, police, children's aid societies, daycare agencies, lawyers and the government itself for not providing members of the public with the information they need to feel safe in their dealings with professionals and key institutions.
I believe that the new requirements placed on health-professions regulators in the Health System Improvements Act demonstrate that our College's procedures have struck an appropriate balance that respects the public's right to know and encourages public trust in the teaching profession.
It also seems clear, however, that legislative amendments are setting the bar even higher, and that we and other regulatory bodies will be expected to follow.
I think it is important for members of the College to understand that we operate under powers delegated to us in law by the Ontario legislature. We do have some discretionary powers, but we must exercise those powers in a way that respects society's expectations.
The new rules for the health-care colleges are evidence that if there is a discrepancy between what the public needs to know and what self-regulatory bodies are willing to disclose, the government is prepared to step in on the side of the public and transparency. ps