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The case of Dr. Gabrielle Horne reveals problems in our health system

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I first wrote about the case of Dr. Gabrielle Horne in May 2006. By that time, the incident that initially sparked my interest was already four years old.

Who would have guessed then it still wouldn't finally be resolved 10 years later?

In mid-October 2002, the head of the QEII's department of medicine rescinded Horne's hospital privileges, effectively ending her world-class, world-changing medical research program.

At the time, Horne, Dalhousie University's first female MD/PhD in adult cardiology, was an assistant professor of cardiology and director of the QEII Health Sciences Centre's Cardiac Imaging Lab, a "global pioneer in a new area of heart failure research" that generated millions in research dollars.

The official rationale for torpedoing Horne's career was "concern for patient safety." But it was difficult to believe then, or now -- after 14 years of hospital review committees, mediations, deals that came together and fell apart, an exhaustive independent inquiry and lawsuits only now coming to trial -- the real problem wasn't simple professional jealousy.

"The best they have to justify what amounts to a case of professional homicide is that Doctor A can't get along with Doctor B," explained a senior physician who headed up one of those reviews. "There was one guy [Horne] didn't get along with, and she refused to allow him to bully her… That's all."

So now Gaby Horne is suing the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the department of medicine, and two individuals. Her case will be heard over the next month.

It would be comforting to believe Horne's tragic, frustrating case is simply the result of a one-off personality conflict.

But it isn't. There's a recent damning report into three separate cases of doctors "practicing in unrelated specialties and holding joint appointments" at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. It concluded that, while the cases may have begun as personal disagreements, the result has been "a collective and systemic failure of policy, process and academic administrative culture."

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, it is past time authorities at Dal and CDHA do some serious soul-searching to figure out new, better ways to handle disputes -- for the sake of the doctors involved, and for the health of us all.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: paige_eliz/flickr

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