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Health college not appropriate forum to resolve business dispute

Lonny Rosen
Elyse Sunshine

By Lonny Rosen and Elyse Sunshine 

In a recent case, the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (Committee) of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (the College) took no action following a complaint against four dentists regarding their advertising practices, finding that the issues raised were essentially a business dispute that had already been arbitrated. The Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (the Board) agreed.

The complaints

Six dentists had practiced together in a cost-sharing arrangement. The arrangement fell apart and following a lengthy arbitration, dissolution of the cost-sharing agreement was completed. Two of the dentists formed their own new dental practice and the other four formed a competing dental practice.

The two dentists made a complaint to the College, regarding what they claimed were advertising breaches made by their four former business associates. This included complaints that the competitors were using a “copycat” logo and contents, used a billboard which caused confusion in the marketplace (leading the public to believe that one dental practice was the same as the other), they used a very similar phone number, and had similar abbreviations for their practice.

In response, the four dentists noted that many of the issues raised by the two dentists had already been raised in the arbitration between the parties.

The Committee concluded that the information provided by the dentists did not support taking any regulatory action and it was satisfied that there was no risk to patient care or safety or the public interest. The issues complained of were most properly classified as business disputes. More appropriate forums existed for managing and resolving these disputes. Also, the Committee noted that these matters were litigated and disposed of in a more fitting venue: arbitration.

However, it did identify a few instances of advertising that may not have been done “in the best taste,” but commented that “the College is not the arbiter of good taste.” Further, the issues identified by the Committee did not rise to the level of a breach of standards or of creating public interest concerns.

The Board found the Committee’s conclusions and its decision to be reasonable. The Board noted that it understands the “friction and acrimony” that can result in matters like this. The Board commented that:

it is truly unfortunate that patients can be collaterally affected by it, but there is no indication that there was a clinical concern in this complaint or that patient safety, in terms of clinical care was truly put at risk in the business transition.

The Committee reminded all parties that in challenging situations, such as the dissolution of a practice, it is important to ensure that the focus remains on providing the best care possible to patients. Separating patient care from a business dispute is the most prudent approach to take.

Takeway

A professional regulatory health college is not the place to have a business dispute heard. These colleges have the objective to maintain standards of practice to assure the quality of the practice of the profession; maintain standards and promote continuing improvement among the members; and to serve and protect the public interest. Their mandate is not to resolve business disputes among professionals.

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