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Professional Conduct Process

The mandate of the College of Physiotherapists of Alberta is to ensure the public receives safe and effective care from competent and ethical physiotherapists. We protect the public by investigating potential breaches to our Standards of Practice and Code of Ethical Conduct.

If you have a concern about a physiotherapist’s professional conduct or services received from a physiotherapist, you are encouraged to speak to our Conduct Coordinator at 780.702.5357.

The Conduct Coordinator will let you know if the College has the authority to look into the matter, whether the conduct process is the appropriate regulatory option, or if the matter is best dealt with another way.

Awareness: The College relies on individuals to make us aware when things aren’t right.

Public protection: By reporting an incident, only then can the College decide if corrective action is necessary to prevent what happened to you from happening to someone else.

The College operates under the rules established in the Alberta Health Professions Act. The objective of the Health Professions Act professional conduct process is to determine what if any, corrective action or restrictions must be put in place to ensure it is safe for the physiotherapist to continue working. This is different than a customer service complaint process where an individual may be unhappy with their care or service, and are seeking resolution or compensation.

If you had a sexually inappropriate encounter with a physiotherapist, please also refer to the following sections on the College’s website:

What We Investigate

We first determine if the incident reported is something the College can deal with through the conduct process and warrants an investigation. If this is not a matter the College can investigate, we will let you know, explain why, and if possible, direct you to another organization or resource that might be able to help you.

We can only investigate a physiotherapist’s conduct. The physiotherapist may be a current or former regulated member. If a former member, the College can only investigate the incident if less than two years have passed since they became a former member AND the incident occurred while the individual was a former member.

We consider every reported incident individually.

  • The physiotherapist caused the patient harm or put them at risk of harm
  • The physiotherapist’s behaviour towards a patient was of a sexual nature or inappropriate
  • The physiotherapist failed to provide adequate care
  • The physiotherapist did not maintain professional boundaries
  • The physiotherapist’s employment was terminated, suspended, or they resigned for reasons of unprofessional conduct, incapacity, or incompetence
  • The physiotherapist is engaged in dishonest or fraudulent activities
  • The physiotherapist breached a patient’s confidentiality
  • The physiotherapist failed to maintain adequate record(s)
  • The physiotherapist failed to provide care in a safe environment
  • Get involved in directing a patient’s clinical care plan
  • Get involved with employer-employee disputes
  • Deal with complaints about the level of service provided by an organization as a whole
  • Make a physiotherapist change the content of a report
  • Get involved in matters which should be decided by a court or another administrative body, e.g., employee disputes, financial compensation
  • Arrange for refunds or compensation, or get involved in the fees charged for private treatment or products
  • Make a physiotherapist apologize

Before reporting an incident, you may wish to speak to our Conduct Coordinator at 780.702.5357. The Conduct Coordinator will let you know if the College has the authority to look into the matter, whether the conduct process is the appropriate regulatory option, or if the matter is best dealt with another way. Incidents investigated will be processed as a complaint in accordance with the Professional Conduct section of the Health Professions Act.

Sometimes a person has a concern that is not appropriate for the conduct process but is still a matter for the College to act on. Examples include:

If any of the above apply, contact the College’s Registrar at [email protected].

Information to Include in Your Report

When you report an incident, you must provide the following information on the reporting form.

We will need your name, phone number, and a mailing or email address.

If the reported incident is about a patient's involvement, and you are not the patient, you must provide the patient’s name and one way for the College to contact the patient e.g, mailing address, telephone number, or email address. The College will need to contact the patient to gather evidence as part of its investigation.

You must include the physiotherapist’s first and last name, name of facility where the incident took place, as well as the facility address. This information can be obtained from the physiotherapist, their employer, the patient record, or you can use the College’s online public register.

If you are not sure if the individual is a physiotherapist, use the College’s online public register to verify that the individual is a current or former regulated physiotherapist.

Only one physiotherapist may be named in the reporting form. If the incident involves another physiotherapist, you must submit a second reporting form.

You must provide a clear description of the incident you are reporting. You need to provide enough information for the College to understand what caused you to report this incident.

You have the option to include a photograph or document you feel is relevant to the reported incident. You do not need to provide all documents with the initial reporting form. If this matter is investigated, you will have the opportunity during the investigation phase to advise the investigator if you have other relevant information to provide.

Reporting Form

Before reporting an incident, you are encouraged to speak to our Conduct Coordinator at 780.702.5357. The Conduct Coordinator will let you know if the College has the authority to look into the matter, whether the conduct process is the appropriate regulatory option, or if the matter is best dealt with another way.

Contact the Conduct Coordinator if you need help to fill in the reporting form or need us to make an adjustment because of disability.

Select a reporting form from the options below:

The College establishes the allegations it will investigate based on the incident reported. The allegations will only deal with aspects of the physiotherapist’s conduct that could amount to unprofessional conduct if substantiated.

The allegations are reviewed on the level of risk to public safety. Reported incidents where the allegations are of high risk to public safety are given priority.

The purpose of the investigation is to gather the facts. The College’s Complaints Director uses the facts to make an informed decision as to whether the physiotherapist breached a standard of practice or code of ethical conduct and, if they did, to what extent.

The investigator is responsible for gathering information from any source they determine may have relevant information to substantiate or refute the allegations.

We investigate all incidents independently and objectively and do not take the side of either the physiotherapist or the person who reported the incident. We recognize that individuals involved in the matter may have differing views about what did or did not happen. We are mindful of balancing the full range of views when investigating an incident.

The investigation may take several months to complete. The time to complete an investigation depends on the complexity of the matter being investigated, the availability of individuals identified as being a source of information, and time for requested documents to be provided. The College will provide an update every 60 days to both the individual who reported the incident and the physiotherapist, so they are aware of the investigation status.

The physiotherapist has the right to know the specific details of the allegation(s) being investigated by the College. A copy of the reporting form will be provided to the physiotherapist. It is the physiotherapist’s professional responsibility to cooperate with the investigator and participate fully in the process.

The physiotherapist has the right to retain a lawyer to represent them and if they do, the College will deal directly with their legal counsel.

The physiotherapist may continue to practice while the matter is being investigated unless an interim order is imposed. The purpose of an interim order is to protect the public by temporarily restricting or suspending a physiotherapist from practicing while the reported incident is being investigated and until the matter is resolved. An interim order is only required in cases where concerns about a physiotherapist’s practice or conduct are so serious that public safety is at risk if the physiotherapist is allowed to continue to practice without restrictions.

The College’s Complaints Director will assess the allegation(s) and the information obtained during the investigation against the College’s Standards of Practice and Code of Ethical Conduct.

The Health Professions Act provides the Complaints Director with three options:

Refer the matter for a hearing

Matters are typically referred for a hearing when these two criteria exist:

  • The Complaints Director has significant concerns about the physiotherapist’s competence or conduct, or there is a significant risk to public protection if they continue the alleged practice.
  • Sufficient evidence exists to support the allegations and there is a reasonable prospect of establishing the facts necessary to prove the allegations before a Hearing Tribunal.
Not refer the matter for a hearing

Matters are not referred for a hearing when there is not enough evidence to support the allegations, or if the breach of the Standard of Practice or Code of Ethical Conduct does not rise to the level of unprofessional conduct1.

When the Complaints Director determines that a referral for a hearing is not appropriate, they must dismiss the complaint (“dismiss” is the language used in the Health Professions Act). However, based on the evidence collected the Complaints Director may issue a caution or recommendation to the physiotherapist for improved practice.

Facilitated resolution

In some cases, the Complaints Director may wish to proceed with facilitated resolution as an alternative to referring a matter for a hearing. Facilitated resolution results in a formal and binding agreement between the physiotherapist and the College. The terms of the agreement are typically similar to orders the College would seek if the matter was referred for a hearing and the physiotherapist was found guilty of unprofessional conduct. Facilitated resolution is only an option if deemed appropriate by the Complaints Director and agreed to by both the individual reporting the incident and the physiotherapist.

1. A breach of a Standard of Practice or Code of Ethical Conduct will not automatically constitute unprofessional conduct. Whether or not the conduct rises to the level of “unprofessional conduct” will depend on several factors. For example, a single failure to comply with a standard due to an error in judgment may not be sufficient to rise to the level of unprofessional conduct whereas a single failure due to recklessness may.

When a matter is referred for a hearing, it is an independent panel or tribunal that decides, based on the evidence presented, if the physiotherapist is guilty of unprofessional conduct on all or some of the allegations. The tribunal also determines what orders in section 82 of the Health Professions Act are to be imposed. Unless the actions of the physiotherapist are egregious (e.g., sexual abuse or sexual misconduct) the purpose of a penalty is not to punish the physiotherapist but rather to consider public protection and determine what remedial action is necessary, so it is safe for the physiotherapist to continue to do their job.

Hearings are formal quasi-legal proceedings and proceed similarly to a standard court proceeding. Under the Health Professions Act, a hearing is open to the public unless the Hearing Tribunal directs that all or a portion is closed.

Upcoming hearings are posted on the College’s website.

The person who reported the incident has no official role during a hearing. They may, however, be called as a witness by either the Complaints Director or physiotherapist to provide testimony at the hearing.

The physiotherapist must attend the hearing and may be compelled to testify. The physiotherapist has the right to retain a lawyer to represent them at the hearing. The physiotherapist may call any person, including the person who reported the incident or the patient, as a witness and compel any person to produce any document or evidence related to the subject matter of the hearing. The physiotherapist has the right to cross-examine any witness called by the Complaints Director and the right to present comprehensive arguments. In other words, they have the right to fully and adequately defend themselves.

During a hearing, the Complaints Director acts as the “prosecutorial arm” of the College. The Complaints Director will be represented by their legal counsel at the hearing. The role of the Complaints Director is not to secure a conviction against the physiotherapist but rather their role is to present relevant evidence, to make submissions regarding the issues that arise during the hearing, and to make submissions with respect to whether the allegations are proven, for consideration by the Hearing Tribunal. The Complaints Director has the onus of proving the allegations, on a balance of probabilities (it is more likely than not) that the physiotherapist committed an act of unprofessional conduct or is incompetent based on the evidence.

The Hearing Tribunal must issue its decision in writing. The decision describes each finding, the reasons for each finding, and any order(s) imposed if there are findings.

The College publishes decisions, including any orders made, by the Hearing Tribunal, Council, or the Alberta Court of Appeal on the College’s website in accordance with its Professional Conduct Publication Policy. Decisions are posted for 10 years unless there are findings of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct in which case the decision is published indefinitely as required by the Health Professions Act.

Decision not to refer for a hearing

The person who reported the incident does not have the right to “appeal” the Complaints Director’s decision not to refer the matter for a hearing. However, they may ask the College’s Complaint Review Committee to “review” the Complaints Director’s decision.

The Complaint Review Committee serves as a check and balance by providing oversight of how the Complaints Director exercised the discretionary authority granted to them in the Health Professions Act. For example, did the Complaints Director act fairly and reasonably and without bias, was the Complaints Director’s decision not to refer the matter for a hearing appropriate based on the investigation findings, or was the investigation adequate based on the seriousness of the allegation(s)?

A request for a review of the Complaints Director’s decision must be made in writing, clearly indicating the reason(s) for the review request and received by the College within 30 days of being given the decision. The fee for this review is $250. The fee is waived for individuals whose gross family income falls within these Income Thresholds.

Decision arising from a hearing

Either the physiotherapist or the Complaints Director, on behalf of the College, may appeal a decision of a Hearing Tribunal or a decision by a Council Appeal Panel. The Health Professions Act does not grant the person who reported the incident the right to appeal either of these decisions.

Decisions and actions taken by the College can be reviewed by the Alberta Ombudsman in accordance with the Ombudsman Act. The purpose of the Ombudsman’s review is to ensure the College decision-maker acted fairly and reasonably and within their legislative authority. The Ombudsman does not investigate complaints until all review or appeal rights granted under the Health Professions Act have been exercised.

Page updated: 15/07/2024