Threats to Freedom of Expression, Highlighted by Intimidation in Alberta’s Health System

Recent controversy surrounding allegations that Alberta physicians have been intimidated for speaking up about problems in Alberta’s health care system raise important questions about freedom of speech. In particular, how free should professionals such as doctors be to speak up on behalf of patients even if this involves being openly critical of their employer (Alberta Health Services)? How should professionals such as doctors resolve conflicts between their professional code of ethics and employment contracts that limit their ability to speak publicly?

The Alberta Medical Association has issued some recommendations for the review to be conducted by the Health Quality Council of Alberta “focused on the independence and insurance against retribution of anyone who appears before the review.” The four recommendations are:

(1) Physicians willing to participate must be supported, e.g., dealing with issues of non-disclosure agreements, or current Alberta Health Services (AHS) contracts which inhibit/prohibit a physician’s ability to speak publicly.
(2) Physicians considering whether or not to participate in the HQCA review should ascertain a priori what information will be treated as confidential and what could become part of the public record.
(3) The process must be transparent and absolutely clean of political influence, real or perceived; otherwise, all results will be seen to be tainted.
(4) … with the review the council should report directly to the Legislative Assembly: its quarterly updates and final report must be public documents, delivered independently of any political party, timetable or agenda.

Click here to read the AMA President’s Letter outlining these recommendations.

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