People in the Ottawa region started getting their letters yesterday. A private clinic in Ottawa has been shut down because they were improperly sterilizing their medical equipment between exams — exams including endoscopies and colonoscopies — leading to a miniscule yet present risk that patients could have contracted HIV or hepatitis from the equipment. Everyone who had had an endoscopy, colonoscopy or any other exam at this clinic over the last 10 years is receiving a warning in the mail about it.
In 2005, I was a patient at Dr Christiane Farazli’s clinic, checking in for a routine colonoscopy. (Which, by the way, you should be doing too. It’s not a fun exam, but I can guarantee you that bowel cancer is even LESS fun.) I will admit, I was surprised that this exam was being done in a private clinic: I figured this kind of equipment was only available in a hospital. As it turns out, hospital cutbacks in the 1990s led to the opening of hundreds of these clinics across Ontario.
The one thing that wasn’t happening at these clinics? Routine inspection of their facilities.
The risk is minimal, but it’s frightening. Nobody wants to hear they’ve been exposed to a life-threatening, life-altering disease, especially at a medical clinic. I am luckier than most: during the investigation of a separate medical issue years later, I was tested for HIV and hepatitis. My test results were all clear, and so when the news of this scare broke, I had no moment of worry, no twinge of fear that maybe I was the one in the million, the loser of the lottery. Even though the risks of exposure are minimal in this case — and I do believe they are minimal — still, knowing there was a risk at all would have unsettled me had I not already known I was in the clear.
When I first heard about the story of Dr Farazli’s clinic being shut down, I assumed it was a one-off; a rogue clinic that was cutting corners, discovered in the course of a regularly-held routine investigation. I was floored to hear that these clinics had NEVER been inspected prior to 2010 — indeed, since these clinics were opened, they had never been inspected unless a complaint had been lodged against them.
Let me repeat that: NEVER, unless someone actually complained.
This is why people who were patients of Dr Farazli’s over the span of the last ten years received letters warning them to go get tested. Because nobody knows how long they were improperly sterilizing equipment.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons had to *ask* for the ability to inspect these clinics. They had to fight to get access. And even now, they’re only mandated to inspect the clinics every five years — again, unless someone complains.
Is every 5 years enough? Or will the public health board in your city be sending you a letter sometime down the road?
Only time will tell.
Photo Credit: Andy G on Flickr