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Clinicians must step up or risk being policed by someone else

By Staff

Clinicians should not be scared to opine on their peers’ work in medical malpractice cases, says Toronto orthopedic spine and trauma surgeon Dr. Michael Ford.

Ford is often called on by both plaintiffs and defendants to give his expert opinion in instances of alleged medical malpractice. At times it can place him in an uncomfortable position of commenting on the performance of friends, colleagues or acquaintances, especially in an area like spinal surgery, where only a small band of senior practitioners regularly carry out such procedures.

However, Ford tells the discomfort is worth it, and he encourages others to join him.

“It’s important that this work is done by experts who are intimately involved in carrying out these surgeries,” he says.

Ford says his experience as an expert presents an excellent learning opportunity because of the exposure it provides to situations where surgery has gone wrong.

“It’s certainly interesting and gives me plenty of material to pass on to my residents to allow them to stay out of trouble in future,” he says.

But that’s more of a bonus, considering the broader picture of what’s at stake, Ford adds.

I know many don’t want to, but it’s important for clinicians to get involved, or else we risk being policed by someone else,he says. “These are complicated medical issues that can’t be assessed by hired guns, but if you look at the U.S., you’ll see people commenting without the credentials, training or experience to qualify.”

By contrast, Ford says the integrity of Ontario’s justice system is protected by Form 53 — an obligation mandated in 2010 — which experts must sign before giving evidence, confirming their duty to the court above and beyond the party that retained them.

“It all comes down to objectivity and fairness,” he says. “Whenever I write a report, I imagine myself being questioned on the stand by both sides. I want it to be bulletproof so that it stands up to the evidence and what’s documented in the record.”

Regardless of who has retained him, Ford does not shy away from a frank assessment of the strength of a claim.

“I often receive cases for review from plaintiff’s counsel, and if I can see that the problem is complication based, as opposed to care below standard, I’ll tell them that. They can explain that to the client, and usually that is the end of it,” he says. “The same is true on the defence side. If I feel the care fell below standard, then the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) tends to go back and negotiate a settlement with plaintiff’s counsel.

That way, you can shorten the duration that patients have to wait for appropriate compensation, which is what we should be aiming for,” Ford adds.

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