Dr. Brett Belchetz has seen many victims of car accidents, including many drivers he suspected as being drunk during his 10 year career as an emergency room physician.
More often than not the police arrive at the hospital and catch the offenders but not always.
He recently treated a woman who had rear-ended another vehicle and suffered minor injuries. Two people in the other car were more seriously hurt.
Belchetz said she showed clear signs of impairment but after treating her he asked her if he could do a blood test. She refused then left immediately, before police arrived, giving the doctor a knowing glance on the way out.
“It was like ‘I got away with it and you know I got away with it’ and it made me feel almost as if I was an accomplice to a crime,” he said in an interview with Global News.
He felt that he was unable to report her due to the constraints of doctor-patient confidentiality. Doctors routinely advise authorities when they see someone who has suffered an epileptic seizure (which results in an automatic license suspension), or if a patient expresses a wish to hurt themselves or others. A new law also requires that they report gunshot wounds to the police.
Belchetz believes it should be the same with suspected drunk drivers.
“When I’m required to report epilepsy, which is a legitimate medical illness and those peoples’ confidentiality is being waived so easily, why are we treating drunk drivers better than we’re treating epileptics?” he said.
Legal analyst Lorne Honickman believes the doctor’s idea opens a legal can of worms. He points out that police are always called to the scene of serious accidents. While the injured must always be taken to hospital first for treatment, investigators routinely follow up and question them.
Honickman believes this should all be left in the hands of police.
“My problem with this is that it’s a very complicated legal regime as it is,” he said.
“Do we want to put doctors in a position of having to make decisions on whether that person is impaired; could they be drinking or not drinking? This is something police can do.”
Global News contacted the Ministry of Health for an opinion on Belchetz’s idea.
A spokesperson for Minister Eric Hoskins responded by citing the policies of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, which regulates the medical profession in the province.
The Highway Traffic Act requires that physicians report every individual 16 years of age or over attending upon the physician for medical services, who, in the opinion of the physician is suffering from a condition that may make it dangerous to operate a motor vehicle
The ministry spokesperson pointed out that doctors are permitted to waive confidentiality any time they feel a patient’s condition poses a risk to himself or others.