Advice for Patients
The College's work with physicians is focused on patient safety. Information provided below is to help patients be partners in their own safe care. If your question isn't answered here, call us at 1-800-561-3899.
Boundaries in the Doctor-Patient Relationship
At its May 2018 meeting, the Council of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) adopted a “Statement of Principles on Sexual Misconduct by Physicians,” and endorsed a recommendation from management to improve transparency in disclosure of discipline and related information.
The Statement of Principles is as follows:
The CPSA has no tolerance for sexual abuse of patients. Society and our profession have evolved over time to more clearly understand the devastating impact on patients of sexual abuse by health care professionals. As a result, the sanctions imposed in some previous cases may no longer reflect the values of contemporary Canadian society. Each case needs to be considered on its own facts, taking into account all relevant mitigating and aggravating factors, and the hearing tribunal (or Council on appeal) retains full discretion to impose sanctions it consider appropriate, taking into account all of the relevant facts. However, where a physician is found to have engaged in unprofessional conduct due to sexual abuse of a patient, the physician should understand that the Complaints Director is likely to seek an order requesting that the hearing tribunal cancel the regulated member’s registration and practice permit.
The Statement will be put into practice through the following direction to management endorsed by Council: “From this point forward, in all cases related to sexual abuse or sexual misconduct the CPSA will look for stricter sanctions, up to and including revocation of the practice permit for convictions of sexual assault.”
Council also endorsed a proposal to improve transparency. Starting as soon as possible (within the next few weeks), public notices of upcoming discipline hearings will include specific charges, as opposed to the current generic charge of “unprofessional conduct;” the CPSA website will be adjusted to make discipline information on individual members more visible; and the discipline history shown on member profiles will be increased from the current five years to 10 years. The College will also work with Alberta Health to make legislative changes to allow CPSA and all other health profession regulators to disclose more information, including criminal convictions and discipline imposed on Alberta physicians in other jurisdictions.
“The public’s expectations are changing and we’re changing with them,” says Council President Kate Wood, a Calgary-based lawyer and one of four public members of Council. “The Minister of Health supports both these directions so we’re looking forward to working with her and Alberta Health to move forward, including changing legislation as needed. We share the same goal: to make sure every patient feels safe seeing a doctor, and to maintain the confidence of all Albertans in the medical profession.”
The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta is the professional regulator for more than 10,000 Alberta physicians. Under the Alberta Health Professions Act we issue practice permits to those who meet our education and training criteria, ensure physicians uphold ethical and practice standards, and investigate and resolve physician-related complaints. We also accredit various medical facilities and provide input on policy to help ensure responsible healthcare delivery.
You may be asked to disrobe for some examinations, but the reason should be explained to you and you should be given the chance to ask questions. Your doctor should provide adequate, clean draping to cover yourself until the exam is over, and you should not be asked to expose body parts unrelated to your concern.
Yes, you can bring someone with you to your appointment such as your spouse or a friend, or you can ask for a chaperone to be present. A chaperone is typically a staff member who works in the office or clinic, and often has had training to help patients feel comfortable. If you are unsure about any part of your visit or have concerns, ask for more information: it is your right to ask questions and be informed.
Your doctor may ask you personal questions - including questions about your job, support system, activities, lifestyle and sexual activity - to better understand your life and health in order to provide you with the best care possible. If you are unsure why you’re being asked these questions, ask your doctor for clarification.
Your doctor cannot accept romantic advances from you. If you ask your doctor on a date, make sexual comments toward your doctor, or touch your doctor inappropriately, do not be offended when your doctor declines these actions. You also shouldn’t look for private, personal information about your doctor: respect your doctor’s privacy as you expect your doctor to respect yours.
It's essential to keep your relationship with your doctor professional to maintain the trust necessary for good patient care. If you continue to feel a strong personal attraction to your doctor, you might want to consider transferring to another physician.
The trust you share with your doctor is essential to your care: your doctor needs you to be open and honest about your health concerns, and you need to know your doctor is doing everything possible to look after your medical needs. The best way to keep this bond of trust is to keep your doctor as your doctor: developing a more personal relationship outside the office can change your expectations of each other, and that’s not good for your care.
That doesn't mean your doctor can't be part of your community. Doctors and patients often cross paths outside the office in social settings or through business-related activities. There is nothing wrong with friendly interactions, but outside relationships should never influence how you feel about your doctor providing care.
If you have any concerns about your doctor's behaviour, please call 1-800-561-3899 to contact a CPSA Patient Advocate for advice.
Telemedicine FAQs for Patients
No, your doctor is required to protect your health information under Alberta’s Health Information Act.
Web-based doctor services can be a convenient and easy way to access medical advice, but it’s important to know where the doctor is licensed and whether they have the right training and experience to provide safe, effective care. Be aware that other countries might not have the same clinical standards or privacy requirements as Canada.
All doctors who participate in the online service should be listed on the website, along with information about their experience and training. It’s also a good idea to check the website of the medical regulator in their home jurisdiction for details about the doctors’ credentials and discipline history. You can usually find out where the service is located by looking at the contact information on the website.
To look up Canadian doctors, go to the appropriate provincial or territorial medical regulator listed here.
There is no cost to Alberta patients for any services provided through publically-funded healthcare programs, whether delivered by telemedicine or in person. However, physicians may charge a fee for uninsured services. Under our Charging for Uninsured Professional Services standard of practice, physicians must inform their patients about any fees before providing the service.
Private online doctor services and apps often do charge patients directly, either on a pay-per-visit basis or through a monthly fee. Pricing information should be posted on the website or app. Private health insurance may help pay these costs for patients with coverage.
If you’re unclear about fees or insurance coverage, ask for more information before providing your payment information or using the service.
Your doctor should also tell you if your information will be shared with any other healthcare professionals or used for any purposes other than your care.
Patients have the best outcomes when their care is coordinated, so it’s a good idea to tell your local doctor if you’re receiving care or advice from any other doctor, regardless of format or location. It’s likely the doctor providing telemedicine will ask you the name of your local doctor to keep them informed about your care. You can also ask for a summary of your care and provide it to your local doctor yourself. That way, your doctors will better understand your medical needs and coordinate their care for you.
Contact the CPSA at 1-800-561-3899 and ask to speak with a Patient Advocate. If the care was provided by a doctor who is not licensed in Alberta, we can help direct you to the appropriate regulatory body.
- If you are taking a prescribed opioid, check out these safety fact sheets: Opioid Safety for Patients with Acute Pain and Opioid Safety for Patients with Chronic Pain
- Read our Message to Albertans Living With Chronic Pain
- If you are already taking a prescription opioid for chronic pain, you may wish to discuss your treatment with your doctor to make sure your medication and dose are still appropriate. Safely reducing opioid use requires a plan and medical expertise, and should never be done quickly or without a doctor’s help.
- There is some public concern that physicians are abruptly cutting people off their medication. The College has been very clear physicians should not abruptly stop prescribing opioids and must not abandon their patients currently receiving opioids. If this situation applies to you, first speak with your physician. If this does not resolve the situation, you may wish to file a complaint with the College.