Trying to find out what Dr. Suresh Katakkar omitted from his charts is slowing down the investigation into the practices of the departed oncologist.
Katakkar, who had been the chief oncologist at the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North, left in June after the B.C. Cancer Agency launched an investigation into his treatment methods in late May.
The investigation has already reviewed 275 charts, but still has about 500 more to go.
"It's easy to find things in charts, it's very difficult not to find things," B.C. Cancer Agency president and CEO Dr. Max Coppes said. "Not finding things mean you have to go through the whole chart to determine that it's not there. Among the things that have been raised as a concern is that some things were not put in the chart."
Katakkar's departure stunned his patients and their families, who credited his sometime unconventional treatment with extending or saving their lives. However those treatment methods got him into trouble with the provincial agency because they violated prescribed protocols on how certain forms of the diseases should be treated.
Some of his former patients spoke to the Citizen in July, expressing outrage at how the cancer agency handled the situation and demanding his return.
Coppes, who just stepped into his new job earlier this month, said patient safety has always been one of his top priorities and he's interested in the outcome of the investigation and pledges to make information public once enough data has been collected.
He said the investigation needs to proceed quickly, but that it also must remain comprehensive.
In addition to the departure of Katakkar, the agency has another job vacancy, but Coppes is "fairly confident" the cancer agency will be able to fill the two positions soon. He said it's too early to put a timeline on when the new specialists might be in place.
"In general it's very difficult to get a medical oncologist -- you can't open a can and all of a sudden have one -- whether it's Vancouver or Victoria or here," Coppes said. "Here there's the challenge with lifestyle, do they want to live here or not?"
He said he's started to brainstorm ideas of what might make Prince George and the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North an attractive career destination.
"I have come up with some ideas that are creative and would entice people to come here," Coppes said, noting there are unique research opportunities available in this region and that technology allows physicians at remote facilities to take part in bigger projects.
Coppes added oncologists in Prince George will have more physical space to do their work compared to more cramped conditions in other parts of the province.
Although he just started a new gig himself, Coppes said Prince George would be a place he would consider working.
"I'm a pediatric oncologist, so I can't apply for this job," Coppes said. "But I can tell you from what I've seen, the facilities, the kind of thinking, the University of Northern B.C., I would be one of those people that would very much be interested in relocating here."