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Doctor risks licence to help his poorest patients

Dr. Roland Wong filled out forms that provided his needy patients with extra benefits and he now faces discipline that could include a suspension of his medical licence.
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Nevil Hunt, July 31, 2013 3:40:45 PM

A Toronto doctor has been found guilty and now faces a penalty that could prevent him from practising medicine for nine months

Asked if he had any regrets, Wong told a reporter, “Only that the government doesn’t help the poor.”

Between 2006 and 2009, Wong signed up patients for benefits they may not have been entitled to; money for special diets for people allergic to things like wheat, eggs, soy and milk. Each patient became eligible for up to $250 in extra monthly allowances.

The province not only paid out all that money, but Wong billed also the government-run healthcare system $1.8 million for filling out the forms over those four years.

Wong was tops among Ontario doctors filing food allergy paperwork, and submitted six times as many forms as the next physician on the list. And even after he was found out, he kept filling in forms to help needy patients get the money they needed.

Is he a crook or is he Robin Hood?

What remains to be determined is what happened to the money Wong received for filling out superfluous forms. If he donated that money to worthy causes, he’s the nicest doctor ever. If he pocketed the cash, his good deeds for the poor are seriously overshadowed by self-indulgence.

Wong obviously cares for his patients in ways that extend beyond any immediate health concerns they may have during an appointment. By exaggerating the condition of some of his patients, he has addressed the root cause of much of the illness or poor health they deal with. And who better to judge if someone is in need than their own family doctor?

Being broke is stressful. Being poor also means the food you eat is probably less nutritious than what you really need.

There is clearly a cycle of poor health and low income. Someone who is sickly will have a hard time finding a good job and keeping it.

Wong’s case is getting publicity, which can only help draw attention to the problem of poor people who need a little help to get by.

What we have is a doctor willing to risk his career for his patients’ health; health which is at risk because our society and our governments are not doing an adequate job. It’s bizarre that a single physician can see the problem but the healthcare system as a whole continues on as if nothing needs to change. The healthcare system may simply roll over Wong and bar him from helping patients, and then the system will just roll on unchanged.

Even the committee considering discipline for Wong allowed that the temptation to help a patient in need is “entirely understandable,” but added Wong’s professional integrity should have stopped him from completing so many forms. Instead of just dealing with Wong’s actions, the committee should be marching on government health offices demanding more assistance for people in need.

Wong has supporters. When he arrived for a hearing earlier this week, there was a crowd of well-wishers on hand. John Clarke of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty told a reporter that Wong deserves “a medal and the keys to the city” for helping his patients.

If Wong has a good explanation for all the billing he did for filling out forms, he deserves support from all of us.

Above: Dec. 8, 2009 – Dr. Roland Wong speaks openly with The Globe and Mail about his signing of forms for a dietary supplement for people on social assistance. He is very candid about his feelings that people on social assistance need more than the government provides, and these forms are one way he can help them. He says he has not broken rules, but perhaps has bent them.
Image credit: Peter Power / The Globe and Mail 

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