TOP - 2019 Issue 2

28 / ONTARIO PHARMACIST / FALL 2019 W hen a formal com- plaint is made to the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) against one of its members, the pharmacist or pharmacy technician in question should respond. Dealing with allegations of improper practices or professional misconduct can be a highly stressful experience. Based on our experience representing pharmacists and pharmacy techni- cians, here is an introductory guide to responding to complaints at the OCP. From the pharmacist’s perspective, the complaint process begins once they receive the OCP’s letter enclosing the initial complaint. The letter includes some basic information on the process and notes that, upon the conclusion of the initial investigation, a panel of the OCP’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) will receive and review the complaint file. Com- prised of both pharmacists and public members, the ICRC is tasked with objectively deciding how to address the pharmacist’s conduct, which may include ordering further investigation. Once it determines that the investiga- tion has produced enough information to adequately inform a decision, the ICRC panel may do any of the follow- ing: take no further action; caution the pharmacist in person before the ICRC; inquire into the pharmacist’s profes- sional capacity; refer the matter to the Discipline Committee; or take any other appropriate action. The pharma- cist typically receives written reasons for any decision other than referral to discipline or to another panel of the ICRC for health inquiries. Responding to Complaints at the Ontario College of Pharmacists What Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians Need to Know BY JOSH KOZIEBROCKI Regulatory findings at the OCP are moving towards increased transpar- ency, and a complaint now has the potential to expose the pharmacist to both professional and public conse- quences. Details of the following ICRC dispositions are available on the phar- macist’s profile on the Public Register: Specified Continuing Education or Remediation Programs (SCERP); oral cautions; and referrals to discipline. Anyone who searches a pharmacist’s name online can view this information. Subject to very limited exceptions, section 25(1) of the Health Profes- sions Procedural Code orders the OCP to investigate and act on all complaints. Regardless of how the pharmacist feels about the complaint and its legitimacy, they should prepare a response. In some cases, the OCP will disclose confidential information to the pharmacist in order to facil- itate the drafting of a response. The pharmacist can only share this infor- mation with their lawyer, should they choose to retain one. The OCP notes that breaching confidentiality has the potential to result in a finding of guilt under the Personal Health Informa- tion Protection Act, which may carry a hefty fine. The pharmacist should craft a writ- ten response that addresses all of the complainant’s concerns, as there may not be an opportunity to provide additional commentary prior to the ICRC’s disposition. Because the ICRC operates the complaint process as a review of documents rather than as a hearing, the pharmacist typically cannot explain in person their deci- sion-making process or the care that they provided. The written response will likely be the pharmacist’s only chance to make submissions. Although developing an effective response letter takes time and effort, it is essential to a pharmacist’s defence. The OCP generally expects the phar- macist to deliver their response within 30 days of notification of the com- plaint. The allegations, the pressure to craft a comprehensive response, and the threat of professional con- sequences and public exposure can place a great strain on the pharma- cist. Through this potentially stressful experience, it is prudent to consider contacting legal counsel. Retaining a lawyer who practices in the area of professional regulation can assist the pharmacist with navigating the com- plaint process. The lawyer typically becomes the primary point of contact with the OCP, submitting the pharma- cist’s response and dealing with any subsequent issues. When writing the response, the phar- macist should consider any unique aspects of their case, including when the care was provided, the complexity of the care, and the possibility that a civil lawsuit may be initiated in relation to the care. In our experience, it is gen- erally helpful to organize the response as a clear and factual chronology of any events that are relevant to the allegations. There are instances in which a com- plaint may have some merit. In the right circumstances, it may be appro- priate and proactive to use the written response to acknowledge a poten- tial shortcoming and explain how