Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Patients deserve warnings

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PATIENTS of a Winnipeg physician, convicted of a serious criminal offence in the United States and subsequently suspended from practice twice in this city, were never given basic information that their care may have been compromised. The College of Physicians and Surgeons has a legal duty to protect the public's interest, but its hard work to preserve Dr. George Korol's reputation has sacrificed his patients' fundamental right to be informed.

Dr. Korol came to Manitoba shortly after he was released from a California prison, having served at least two of five years for firebombing the house of his estranged wife's mother. The California medical board revoked his licence, finding him unfit for practice but the Manitoba college permitted him to set up family practice in Winnipeg, fully aware of Dr. Korol's criminal record. The college, refusing to get into details, said it can protect the public by limiting a doctor's scope of practice, or putting him under a colleague's supervision.

The legislature has recently recognized a patient's right to know of a doctor's criminal past. But the law requiring such reporting on the college's website was passed after Dr. Korol was licensed. The college noted the law was not retroactive.

Further, in the decade that has passed, Dr. Korol has been suspended from practice twice: In 2005, the same year court documents indicate he was admitted to Selkirk Mental Health Centre; and again last February. From June to August, he was in Headingley for assault and possessing a weapon contrary to a court order. The college posts interim suspensions on its website, but gives no clue as to what prompts them.

By law, the public must put its faith in the college to protect its interest when policing physicians. But this case shows that current practice robs patients of information they need to exercise a basic right to protect themselves -- as a minimum, the college ought to post whether an interim suspension involved potential concern for patient safety. Improper billing may not touch upon a physician's medical competence, but someone who repeatedly exhibits dangerous behaviour raises questions about psychological soundness.

Some people, had they known about Dr. Korol's run-ins with authorities, might have decided to find another physician. A patient managing a serious chronic disease may have sought a second opinion about the medical advice he was following.

The college says it directed Dr. Korol, while suspended, to keep tabs of tests he had ordered for patients, but that's of little solace now that patients know he was in jail three months in that period.

Dr. Korol's run as a physician in Manitoba -- and it is not over as he remains registered and can renew his licence, which lapsed in September, and seek to resolve the suspension -- shows the breadth of tolerance professional colleagues can extend to a member whose conduct is under review. The college must strike a balance when seeking to remediate or rehabilitate doctors, acting with due caution for the public. Their exercise of duty cannot entirely supplant a patient's right to protect their medical interests.

The Medical Act appears to have abundantly protected Dr. Korol's interests. It must be amended to force the college to give forthright public notice when a doctor has been disciplined because of concern that patient care may be compromised.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2009 A14

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