Responding to Complaints at the College of Naturopaths of Ontario: What Naturopaths Need to Know
Any naturopathic doctor may become the subject of a formal complaint at the College of Naturopaths of Ontario. This process may end with professional consequences, and has the potential to be stressful. We have prepared this basic guide for responding to complaints at the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Naturopathic doctors will receive notice from the College of Naturopaths of Ontario once the formal complaint process is initiated. They will also receive a copy of the complaint itself and their prior complaint history, if applicable. Following an investigation, a panel of the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (“ICRC”), comprised of both naturopaths and government appointed members of the public, will make a decision on the matter.
The College of Naturopaths of Ontario generally must address all formal complaints against naturopathic doctors. Naturopaths may be subject to discipline if they fail to cooperate with the complaint process, which may involve being interviewed. Whether or not a naturopath considers a complaint against them to be legitimate, they typically should prepare a response.
Formal complaints proceed by way of documentary review and exchange, meaning that naturopaths are generally required to respond in writing. Hearings will not be held and naturopaths cannot explain the care they provided in person. As a result, it is important to craft a comprehensive written response.
Naturopathic doctors will generally have 30 days to provide their response to the College of Naturopaths of Ontario. Preparing a response to allegations of professional misconduct may be time consuming, and has the potential to be challenging. Naturopaths may benefit from the assistance of a lawyer who is experienced with professional regulation. Once retained, legal counsel will typically become the main point of contact with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, submitting the response and dealing with any other issues.
Naturopaths drafting a response should consider any unique factors in their case, including when they provided care, the complexity of care, and the possibility of a civil lawsuit. In our experience, it is often helpful to provide a chronological account of the event in question.
The finalized response to the College of Naturopaths of Ontario should enclose any relevant patient records and materials. Naturopaths should always maintain their records in compliance with the Naturopathy Act, 1991 guidelines, as the ICRC may evaluate their records at any time. Inadequate recordkeeping is an independent act of professional misconduct, and does not have to be alleged in a specific complaint against a naturopath.
Once the investigator assigned to a naturopath’s case has determined that no further investigation is required, they will enclose their findings in a report to the ICRC. Upon receiving and reviewing a naturopath’s file, the ICRC may do any of the following:
- Take no further action;
- Caution a naturopath in person before the ICRC;
- Inquire into a naturopath’s professional capacity;
- Refer the matter to the Discipline Committee; or
- Make any other appropriate action, including ordering further investigation.
The ICRC will typically supply written reasons for its decisions, though this does not apply when naturopaths are referred to discipline or to another panel of the ICRC for incapacity proceedings.
As a result of initiatives to increase transparency at the College of Naturopaths of Ontario, details of the following ICRC dispositions will now be posted on the Public Register: Specified Continuing Education or Remediation Programs (“SCERP”); cautions; undertakings; and referrals to discipline. Members of the public will be able to find this information on a naturopath’s online profile.
In cases of a more serious nature, the ICRC may impose an interim order prior to making a more final decision. Interim orders impose terms, limitations, or conditions on a naturopath’s certificate of registration, and are often available where a naturopath’s alleged conduct exposes or is likely to expose patients to harm or injury. An interim order may even take the form of licence suspension, and can last for the entirety of an investigation. The Registrar may also appoint a special investigator to investigate serious complaints against naturopaths. Under section 75 of the Health Professions Procedural Code, this investigator has much broader powers than in the standard process.
Naturopaths and complainants are both able to request a review of the ICRC’s decision. Reviews take place before the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board (“HPARB”), which will consider whether the College of Naturopaths of Ontario’s investigation was adequate and whether the ICRC’s decision was reasonable. A review at HPARB is based on the documents and material that were available to the ICRC, which will also typically be provided to naturopaths and complainants.
Working through the complaint process at the College of Naturopaths of Ontario can be stressful. Legal counsel can assist naturopathic doctors through each step of this process. Complaints can result in professional consequences and public exposure, so naturopaths should take care when responding.