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Picture this…you have a mole on your chest -- a really big one. It bleeds. It’s irregular in shape. And it doesn’t look like your other moles. Boy, did it grow fast. Your family doctor tells you she’s sending you to a specialist to check it out. It’s likely nothing to worry about but the specialist will check to make sure.

Aha! Here’s where the questions begin. Who is this specialist? What kind of a specialist is he /she? If it were me, I’d assume I’m being sent to a skin doctor … a dermatologist. Wouldn’t that be the assumption made by most people?

Well, don’t assume anything. Your ‘specialist’ may not be a ‘specialist’ at all.

I have seen far too many cases where doctors hold themselves out to be specialists when, in fact, they are not -- at least not in the eyes of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Specialists in Ontario are expected to have the education, training, and experience considered appropriate and safe by the medical licensing body in Ontario (or any jurisdiction for that matter).

Call me picky but if I had a suspicious mole I’d want a certified and licensed dermatologist to examine, diagnose and treat it. I wouldn’t want a family doctor with an “interest” in dermatology to examine, diagnose and treat it. Skin cancer is a nasty deadly disease. When skin cancer fails to be properly diagnosed, the consequences can be disastrous. Dermatologists are considered by the College of Physicians and Surgeons to have the specialized training, education, and experience to appropriately diagnose such conditions. However, no one really knows if the doctor with a mere ‘interest’ in dermatology has the knowledge to make the right diagnosis.

There are reasons that the College of Physicians and Surgeons have found it necessary to regulate specialties. And, I trust the College’s well considered qualification requirements.

Some physicians have a lot of experience with certain conditions normally treated by a specialist. And, in some circumstances I’m fine with being diagnosed and treated by the non-specialist …if – and here’s the kicker – if he tells me he’s not a qualified specialist. There’s something scary about a doctor without a specialty who, for some reason, wants to make you believe he has that specialty. Why lie? What’s being covered up? And sometimes the even bigger question is ‘why would your family doctor refer you to that doctor if he’s not a specialist.

So, how do you know if your ‘specialist’ is qualified? As it turns out, you can go to the website for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (and any other jurisdiction). In Ontario, the website is www.cpso.on.ca. Go to the section called Doctor Search and fill in the doctor’s name and location of practice. The results will show you what specialties and qualifications the doctor has. It will also tell you if the doctor is or has been disciplined for any infractions of medical practice.

However, you should know that this website does not tell you if a doctor has been sued. That is not information that the CPSO typically concerns themselves with.

You may fall into the trap of believing that your community’s hospital or referring doctors wouldn’t put you in the position of being treated by a non-specialist. However, don’t trust that other people are watching out for your best interest. I am aware of hospitals that permit non-specialist physicians to have privileges to perform specialist procedures in their facility. I’m not sure how it happens, but it does. And, as I mentioned earlier, your family physician may not know better and end up referring you to the non-specialist.

Don’t get me wrong. Many of the doctors who simply focus on an area of practice without a certified specialty are well informed ‘good’ doctors who really like what they do. But I’ve found that the ‘good’ doctors normally don’t misrepresent their background.

To take this a step further, from a legal perspective, I believe that a doctor who holds himself out to be a specialist may be guilty of assault should he misrepresent that he’s a specialist when he’s not. Misrepresentation can come in many forms including advertising, letterhead, medical practice name, and even placing his name on lists of specialists for community family doctor referral.

The point is that you have the right to know who is treating you. The College of Physicians and Surgeons makes that possible by having a website that is simple to use and informative. Be informed.

Are You a Victim of Misrepresentation?

If you believe that you have been negligently treated by a physician who has misrepresented his or her qualifications, Murray Ralston can help.

*** The information above is not intended to be legal advice. Each situation is different and the information provided above may not provide you with all law applicable to your facts. To ensure you are properly protected under the law applicable to your facts, please contact Murray Ralston Law for a free consultation.