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Parents should educate themselves on child's medical care

The situation involving a doctor in Nova Scotia who incorrectly administered hundreds of immunizations to children is a reminder that parents need to make sure they have basic knowledge of their child’s health care, and to ask questions if they don’t or if something seems out of the ordinary, says Toronto health lawyer Elyse Sunshine.

According to the Globe and Mail, a veteran Halifax pediatrician had his licence suspended for improper administration of vaccines to approximately 500 children. The doctor mixed vaccines for various childhood immunizations into a single syringe instead of giving the shots separately, rendering the vaccines ineffective.

Shocked that this went undetected by anyone until 2006, Sunshine says, “We really have to be active participants in our health care and be educated about basic standards.”

The expectations aren’t for the patient to be a doctor, “but people may wish to familiarize themselves with well-baby care and what immunizations are being recommended for and given to their children. Most material you get as a new parent discusses immunization,” says Sunshine, partner at Rosen Sunshine LLP.

Sunshine says the issue here isn’t with the regulator in the province – the Nova Scotia College of Physicians – or a revelation into a “systemic problem.”

“It’s a case of one very misguided individual who apparently wanted to save children from having numerous injections but made a very poor judgment call putting people at risk. Unfortunately this kind of thing can happen in every profession,” says Sunshine. “It is certainly not to excuse the doctor’s conduct, but we all need to take ownership of our own care. You can’t just sit back and not ask questions if something doesn’t feel right as a patient or a parent.

“I’m absolutely not blaming the parent but I am not sure blaming the regulator is the answer as is suggested in the article.  Bottom line is - If you’re not sure about what’s happening with your medical care, ask questions, seek a second opinion.”

Parents, and anyone receiving medical care, should try to be educated about the care they are getting from a medical professional – whether it be through asking questions, pamphlets provided by the health-care provider, or using reputable sources on the Internet.

“Dr. Google isn’t always your best source, but there are reputable sites out there to give you some guidance,” says Sunshine. “The Canadian Pediatrics Society’s Caring for Kids website is a great one and if you go to resources like that they’re a good starting point. If you look at those types of websites to get some information, it’s a good resource and it opens the door to dialogue with your health professional.

Sunshine says that this kind of case is an exception and not the norm and there are processes in place that regulators have to ensure ongoing competency within health care professions.

“In Ontario, there is mandatory continuing education for health professionals,” says Sunshine. “And physicians in particular log hundreds of hours every year to keep up to date. The regulatory colleges also have an obligation to have active quality assurance programs and are involved in audits such as mandatory random peer reviews.”

Each year, the college selects a group of physicians and conducts random reviews “that are intensive and in depth, however, they can’t possibly do every physician every year.”

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