GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIANS RECOMMENDING MOBILE HEALTH APPLICATIONS TO PATIENTS
This document is designed to provide basic information for physicians about how to assess a mobile health application for recommendation to a patient in the management of that patient's health, health care, and health care information.
These guiding principles build on the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients.1
* Mobile health applications, distinct from regulated medical devices, may be defined as an application on a mobile device that is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The functions of these applications may include:
o The ability to store and track information about an individual or group's health or the social determinants thereof;
o Periodic educational information, reminders, or motivational guidance;
o GPS location information to direct or alert patients;
o Standardized checklists or questionnaires.2
* Mobile health applications can enhance health outcomes while mitigating health care costs because of their potential to improve a patient's access to information and care providers.3
* Mobile health applications are most commonly used on a smart phone and/or tablet. Some may also interface with medical devices.
* The use of mobile health applications reflects an emerging trend towards personalized medicine and patient involvement in the management of their health information. By 2016, 142 million health apps will have been downloaded.4 According to some industry estimates, by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded at least one mobile health application.5
* While mobile health application downloads are increasing, there is little information about usage and adherence by patients. It is believed that many patients cease to use a mobile health application soon after downloading it.
* Distributers of mobile health applications do not currently assess content provided by mobile health applications for accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, timeliness, or conformity to clinical practice guidelines.6 However, mobile applications may be subjected to certain standards to ensure critical technical requirements such as accessibility, reachability, adaptability, operational reliability, and universality.
* Increasingly there are independent websites providing reviews of medical apps and checklists for health care professionals. However, the quality criteria used by these sites, potential conflicts of interest, and the scope and number of mobile apps assessed are not always declared by these groups.
To date, randomized controlled trials are not usually employed to assess the effectiveness of mobile health applications. Some believe that the rigorousness of this type of assessment may impede the timeliness of a mobile health application's availability.7
* Some examples of the uses of mobile health applications include tracking fitness activities to supplement a healthy lifestyle; supported self-management of health and health information; post-procedure follow up; viewing of test results; and the virtualization of interaction between patients and providers, such as remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. Some mobile health applications may be linked to a patient profile or patient portal associated with a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization.
* Some mobile health applications may be an extension of an electronic medical records (EMR) platform.
* The objective of recommending a mobile health application to a patient must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or otherwise for the purpose of health promotion.
* A mobile health application is one approach in health service delivery. Mobile health applications should complement, rather than replace, the relationship between a physician and patient.
* No one mobile health application is appropriate for every patient. Physicians may wish to understand a patient's abilities, comfort level, access to technology, and the context of the application of care before recommending a mobile health application.
* Should a physician recommend a mobile health application to a patient, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to legislation and regulation (if existing) and/or professional obligations.
* If the mobile health application will be used to monitor the patient's condition in an ongoing manner, the physician may wish to discuss with the patient what they should watch for and the steps they should take in response to information provided.
* Physicians are encouraged to share information about applications they have found effective with colleagues.
* Physicians who require additional information about the competencies associated with eHealth and the use of health information technologies may wish to consult The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's (RCPSC) framework of medical competencies, CanMEDS.8
* Physicians may wish to enter into and document a consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information or information printed out from electronic management platforms like mobile health applications. This agreement may include a one-time conveyance of information and recommendations to cover the elements common to many mobile health applications, such as the general risk to privacy associated with storing health information on a mobile device.
Characteristics of a safe and effective mobile health application
A mobile health application does not need to have all of the following characteristics to be safe and effective. However, the more of the following characteristics a mobile health application has, the likelier it will be appropriate for recommendation to a patient:
1. Endorsement by a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization
As recommended by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), it is best to select mobile health applications that have been created or endorsed by a professional or recognized association or medical society.9 Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse applications for use in their clinical environments. There may also be mobile health applications associated with an EMR platform used by an organization or practice. Finally, some mobile health applications may have been subject to a peer review process distinct from endorsement by an association or organization.
There are a number of usability factors than can complicate the use of mobile applications, including interface and design deficiencies, technological restrictions, and device and infrastructure malfunction.
Many developers will release periodic updates and software patches to enhance the stability and usability of their applications. Therefore, it would be prudent for the physician recommending the mobile health application to also recommend to the patient that they determine if the application has been updated within the last year.
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application to a patient may wish to ask about the patient's level of comfort with mobile health technologies, their degree of computer literacy, whether or not the patient owns a mobile device capable of running the application, and whether or not the patient is able to bear potential one-time or ongoing costs associated with use of the application.
Physicians may consider testing the application themselves beforehand to understand whether its functionality and interface make it easy to use.
3. Reliability of information
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application may wish to understand how the patient intends to use the information, and/or review the information with the patient to understand whether it is current and appropriate.
Information presented by the mobile health application should be appropriately referenced and time-stamped with the last update by the application developer.
4. Privacy and security
In 2014, the Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta assessed approximately 1200 mobile applications and found nearly one-third of them required access to personal information beyond what should be required relative to their functionality and purpose, and that basic privacy information was not always made available.10
Physicians entering into and documenting a consent discussion with their patients may wish to include the electronic management of health information in the scope of these discussions, and make a notation of the discussion in the patient's health record.
Some mobile health applications may feature additional levels of authentication for use, such as an additional password or encryption protocols. If all other factors between applications are equal, physicians may wish to recommend that patients use mobile health applications adhering to this higher standard of security.
5. Avoids conflict-of-interest
Physicians may wish to recommend that patients learn more about the company or organization responsible for the development of the application and their mandate. There is a risk of secondary gains by mobile health application developers and providers where information about patients and/or usage is gathered and sold to third parties.
A standardized conflict of interest statement may be made available through the mobile health application or on the developer's website. If so, physicians may wish to refer the patient to this resource.
Physicians who develop mobile applications for commercial gain or have a stake in those who develop applications for commercial gain may risk a complaint being made to the College on the basis that the physician engaged in unprofessional conduct if they recommend mobile health applications to their patients in the course of patient care.
6. Does not contribute to fragmentation of health information
Some mobile health applications may link directly to an EMR, patient portal, or government data repository. These data resources may be standardized, linked, and cross-referenced.
However, health information entered into an application may also be stored on a mobile device and/or the patient's home computer, or developers of mobile health applications may store information collected by their application separately. While there may be short-term benefits to using a particular mobile health application, the range of applications and developers may contribute to the overall fragmentation of health information.
If all other factors between applications are considered equal, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications which contribute to robust existing data repositories, especially an existing EMR.
7. Demonstrates its impact on patient health outcomes
While not all mobile health applications will have an appropriate scale of use and not all developers will have the capacity to collect and analyze data, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications that have undergone validation testing to demonstrate impact of use on patient health outcomes. If mobile health applications are claiming a direct therapeutic impact on patient populations, physicians may wish to recommend that their patients seek out or request resources to validate this claim.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Physician guidelines for online communication with patients. Ottawa: The Association; 2005. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.pdf?_ga=1.32127742.1313872127.1393248073
2 US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and Food and Drug Administration staff. Rockville (MD): The Administration; 2015. Available:
3 Canada Health Infoway. Mobile health computing between clinicians and patients. White paper. Toronto: The Infoway; 2014 Apr. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/video-gallery/doc_download/2081-mobile-health-computing-between-clinicians-and-patients-white-paper-full-report
4 iHealthBeat. 44M mobile health apps will be downloaded in 2012, report predicts. Available: www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/12/1/44m-mobile-health-apps-will-be-downloaded-in-2012-report-predicts
5 Jahns R-G. 500m people will be using healthcare mobile applications in 2015. Research2guidance. Available: www.research2guidance.com/500m-people-will -be-using-healthcare-mobile-applications-in-2015/
6 Lyver, M. Standards: a call to action. Future Practice. 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
7 Rich P. Medical apps: current status. Future Practice 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The CanMEDS 2015 eHealth Expert Working Group report. Ottawa: The College; 2014. Available: www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/common/documents/canmeds/framework/ehealth_ewg_report_e.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Managing information to delivery safer care. Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/managing-information-to-deliver-safer-care
10 Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. Global privacy sweep rasies concerns about mobile apps [news release]. Available: www.oipc.ab.ca/downloads/documentloader.ashx?id=3482
COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
This statement discusses the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) position on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM, widely used in Canada, is increasingly being subject to regulation. The CMA's position is based on the fundamental premise that decisions about health care interventions used in Canada should be based on sound scientific evidence as to their safety, efficacy and effectiveness - the same standard by which physicians and all other elements of the health care system should be assessed. Patients deserve the highest standard of treatment available, and physicians, other health practitioners, manufacturers, regulators and researchers should all work toward this end. All elements of the health care system should "consider first the well-being of the patient."1 The ethical principle of non-maleficence obliges physicians to reduce their patient's risks of harm. Physicians must constantly strive to balance the potential benefits of an intervention against its potential side effects, harms or burdens. To help physicians meet this obligation, patients should inform their physician if the patient uses CAM.
CAM in Canada
CAM has been defined as "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine."i This definition comprises a great many different, otherwise unrelated products, therapies and devices, with varying origins and levels of supporting scientific evidence. For the purpose of this analysis, the CMA divides CAM into four general categories:
* Diagnostic Tests: Provided by CAM practitioners. Unknown are the toxicity levels or the source of test material, e.g., purity. Clinical sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value should be evidence-based.
* Products: Herbal and other remedies are widely available over-the-counter at pharmacies and health food stores. In Canada these are regulated at the federal level under the term Natural Health Products.
* Interventions: Treatments such as spinal manipulation and electromagnetic field therapy may be offered by a variety of providers, regulated or otherwise.
* Practitioners: There are a large variety of practitioners whose fields include chiropractic, naturopathy, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and many others. Many are unregulated or regulated only in some provinces/territories of Canada.
Many Canadians have used, or are currently using, at least one CAM modality. A variety of reasons has been cited for CAM use, including: tradition; curiosity; distrust of mainstream medicine; and belief in the "holistic" concept of health which CAM practitioners and users believe they provide. For most Canadians the use is complementary (in addition to conventional medicine) rather than alternative (as a replacement). Many patients do not tell their physicians that they are using CAM.
Toward Evidence-Informed Health Care
Use of CAM carries risks, of which its users may be unaware. Indiscriminate use and undiscriminating acceptance of CAM could lead to misinformation, false expectations, and diversion from more appropriate care, as well as adverse health effects, some of them serious.
The CMA recommends that federal, provincial and territorial governments respond to the health care needs of Canadians by ensuring the provision of clinical care that continually incorporates evidence-informed technological advances in information, prevention, and diagnostic and therapeutic services.2 Physicians take seriously their duty to advocate for quality health care and help their patients choose the most beneficial interventions. Physicians strongly support the right of patients to make informed decisions about their medical care. However, the CMA's Code of Ethics requires physicians to recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that they consider to be beneficial to the patient or to others.3 Until CAM interventions are supported by scientifically-valid evidence, physicians should not recommend them. Unless proven beneficial, CAM services should not be publicly funded. To help ensure that Canadians receive the highest-quality health care, the CMA recommends that CAM be subject to rigorous research on its effects, that it be strictly regulated, and that health professionals and the public have access to reliable, accurate, evidence-informed information on CAM products and therapies. Specific recommendations are provided below:
a) Research: Building an Evidence Base
To date, much of the public's information on CAM has been anecdotal, or founded on exaggerated claims of benefit based on few or low-quality studies. The CMA is committed to the principle that, before any new treatment is adopted and applied by the medical profession, it must first be rigorously tested and recognized as evidence-informed.4 Increasingly, good-quality, well-controlled studies are being conducted on CAM products and therapies. The CMA supports this development. Research into promising therapies is always welcome and should be encouraged, provided that it is subject to the same standards for proof and efficacy as those for conventional medical and pharmaceutical treatments. The knowledge thus obtained should be widely disseminated to health professionals and the public.
b) An Appropriate Regulatory Framework
Regulatory frameworks governing CAM, like those governing any health intervention, should enshrine the concept that therapies should have a proven benefit before being represented to Canadians as effective health treatments.
i) Natural Health Products. Natural health products are regulated at the federal level through the Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada.
The CMA believes that the principle of fairness must be applied to the regulatory process so that natural health products are treated fairly in comparison with other health products.5 The same regulatory standards should apply to both natural health products and pharmaceutical health products. These standards should be applied to natural health products regardless of whether a health claim is made for the product. This framework must facilitate the entry of products onto the market that are known to be safe and effective, and impede the entry of products that are not known to be safe and effective until they are better understood. It should also ensure high manufacturing standards to assure consumers of the products' safety, quality and purity. The CMA also recommends that a series of standards be developed for each natural health product. These standards should include:
* manufacturing processes that ensure the purity, safety and quality of the product;
* labelling standards that include standards for consumer advice, cautions and claims, and explanations for the safe use of the product to the consumer.6
The CMA recommends that safety and efficacy claims for natural health products be evaluated by an arm's length scientific panel, and claims for the therapeutic value of natural health products should be prohibited when the supportive evidence does not meet the evidentiary standard required of medications regulated by Health Canada.7 Claims of medical benefit should only be permitted when compelling scientific evidence of their safety and efficacy exists.8
The Canadian Medical Association advocates that foods fortified with "natural health" ingredients should be regulated as food products and not as natural health products
The CMA recommends that the regulatory system for natural health products be applied to post-marketing surveillance as well as pre-marketing regulatory review. Health Canada's MedEffect adverse reaction reporting system now collects safety reports on Natural Health Products. Consumers, health professionals and manufacturers are encouraged to report adverse reactions to Health Canada.
ii) CAM Practitioners. Regulation of CAM practitioners is at different stages. The CMA believes that this regulation should: ensure that the services CAM practitioners offer are truly efficacious; establish quality control mechanisms and appropriate standards of practice; and work to develop an evidence-informed body of competence that develops with evolving knowledge.
Just as the CMA believes that natural health products should be treated fairly in comparison with other health products, it recommends that CAM practitioners be held to the same standards as other health professionals. All CAM practitioners should develop Codes of Ethics that insure practitioners consider first the best interests of their patients.
Among other things, associations representing CAM practitioners should develop and adhere to conflict of interest guidelines that require their members to:
* Resist any influence or interference that could undermine their professional integrity;9
* Recognize and disclose conflicts of interest that arise in the course of their professional duties and activities, and resolve them in the best interests of patients;10
* Refrain, for the most part, from dispensing the products they prescribe. Engaging in both prescribing and dispensing , whether for financial benefit or not, constitutes a conflict of interest where the provider's own interests conflict with their duty to act in the best interests of the patient.
c) Information and Promotion
Canadians have the right to reliable, accurate information on CAM products and therapies to help ensure that the treatment choices they make are informed. The CMA recommends that governments, manufacturers, health care providers and other stakeholders work together to ensure that Canadians have access to this information. The CMA believes that all natural health products should be labeled so as to include a qualitative list of all ingredients. 11 Information on CAM should be user-friendly and easy to access, and should include:
* Instructions for use;
* Indications that the product or therapy has been convincingly proven to treat;
* Contraindications, side effects and interactions with other medications;
* Should advise the consumer to inform their health care provider during any encounter that they are using this product.12
This information should be provided in such a way as to minimize the impact of vested commercial interests on its content.
In general, brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing information about any health product or therapy. In view of our limited knowledge of their effectiveness and the risks they may contain risks, the advertising of health claims for natural health products should be severely restricted. The CMA recommends that health claims be promoted only if they have been established with sound scientific evidence. This restriction should apply not only to advertising, but also to all statements made in product or company Web sites and communications to distributors and the public. Advertisements should be pre-cleared to ensure that they contain no deceptive messages. Sanctions against deceptive advertising must be rigidly enforced, with Health Canada devoting adequate resources to monitor and correct misleading claims.
The CMA recommends that product labels include approved health claims, cautions and contraindications, instructions for the safe use of the product, and a recommendation that patients tell physicians that they are using the products. If no health claims are approved for a particular natural health product, the label should include a prominent notice that there is no evidence the product contributes to health or alleviates disease.
The Role of Health Professionals
Whether or not physicians and other health professionals support the use of CAM, it is important that they have access to reliable information on CAM products and therapies, so that they can discuss them with their patients.
Patients should be encouraged to report use of all health products, including natural health products, to health care providers during consultations. The CMA encourages Canadians to become educated about their own health and health care, and to appraise all health information critically.
The CMA will continue to advocate for evidence-informed assessment of all methods of health care in Canada, and for the provision of accurate, timely and reliable health information to Canadian health care providers and patients.
i Working definition used by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC00-196 - Clinical care to incorporate evidence-based technological advances. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2000. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
3 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
4 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
5 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
6 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 1998.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC08-86 - Natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2008.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC10-100 - Foods fortified with "natural health" ingredients. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available:
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 7. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
10 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 11. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
11 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
12 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this brief in response to Health Canada's consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) "regarding any challenges, gaps or suggested improvements."
The CMA welcomes the consultation and review of the CDSA and its associated regulations. This is an important legislative framework with direct implications for public health, quality care and patient safety.
The CMA's recommendations outlined in this brief aim to establish new measures and mechanisms under the CDSA that would contribute to improved public health and patient safety. The CMA looks forward to the opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail with Health Canada as this consultation proceeds.
Part 1: Supporting a Regulatory Approach that Advances Public Health, Quality Care and Patient Safety
As an overarching principle, it is the CMA's position that the modernization of the CDSA legislative and regulatory framework should be guided first and foremost by the objective of improving public health, promoting quality care and enhancing patient safety.
In enacting the CDSA and promulgating its regulations, enforcement objectives have been emphasized, as demonstrated by the report on program spending in the National Anti-Drug Strategy Evaluation. The modernization of the CDSA legislative framework offers a significant opportunity to contribute to the greater advancement of public health and patient safety goals by establishing mechanisms that support prevention, treatment and harm reduction. This approach supports the Government of Canada's Throne Speech commitment to address prescription drug abuse as part of the National Anti-Drug Strategy.
In 2013, the CMA's General Council, often referred to the Parliament of Canadian Medicine, recommended "that there be an increased emphasis on public health-oriented approaches by regulatory authorities responsible for psychoactive substances." Substance abuse is a complex behaviour influenced by many factors, and a therefore a public health approach to addressing it should incorporate a comprehensive multi-factorial strategy.
A public health approach would place an increased focus on preventing drug abuse and misuse; on treatment of addiction and other consequences of misuse; on monitoring, surveillance and research; and on harm reduction. It would seek to ensure the harms associated with enforcement (e.g. crime, disease due to use of dirty needles) are not out of proportion to the direct harms caused by substance abuse. The CMA recommends that the modernization of the CDSA legislative framework focus on enabling and supporting such a public health approach.
It should be noted that the substances governed by the CDSA include medications used by patients and prescribed by health care professionals for legitimate therapeutic purposes. We note that the schedules attached to the CDSA do not make a distinction between illicit substances of abuse and prescription medication. For example, Schedule I includes both illicit substances such as heroin, and opioid prescription medicines like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The potential of a drug or medication to cause harm has little if anything to do with its legal status. Therefore, the CMA recommends that as part of the review of the CDSA and its regulations, Health Canada undertake a review of the schedules, including the organization of the schedules, and the listing of substances within each schedule. The purpose of this review is to ensure that: (1) the schedules are up-to-date; (2) the CDSA allows for the incorporation of new illicit substances and prescription medication on the basis of available evidence and in a timely manner; and, (3) the schedules are organized based on risk status, legal status or other consideration.
In the following sections, the CMA outlines recommendations that would facilitate the expansion of a public health approach.
A) Establish Mechanisms to Address Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse
The misuse and abuse of controlled psychoactive prescription medicines, notably opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone, is a significant public health and patient safety issue. Canada has the second highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world, after the United States.
The abuse and misuse of prescription opioids among vulnerable populations, remains a significant concern. For instance, in 2013 opioids were reported as the third most common drug (after alcohol and marijuana) used by students in Ontario. While accurate data on the prevalence of the misuse of prescription medication among seniors is lacking, the CMA is concerned that as Canada's population ages, an increasing number of seniors will need treatment for harms related to prescription medication use, such as drug interactions, falls due to drowsiness or lack of coordination.
Controlled prescription medications are legal products intended for legitimate therapeutic purposes, i.e. to control pain from cancer or terminal illness, or from chronic conditions such as nerve damage due to injury. However, they may also be misused or abused, and addiction may drive some users to illegal behaviour such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers.
Canada's physicians are deeply concerned about the misuse and abuse of prescription opioid medication for a number of reasons. First, physicians need to assess the condition of the patient who requests the medication, and consider whether its use is clinically indicated and if the benefits outweigh the risks. Secondly, they may need to prescribe treatment for patients who have become addicted to the medication. Finally, they are vulnerable to patients who forge the physician's signature or use other illegal means to obtain prescriptions, or who present with fraudulent symptoms, or plead or threaten when denied the drugs they have requested.
The 2014 federal budget promises $44.9 million over 5 years to the National Anti-Drug Strategy to address prescription drug abuse, and CMA believes that this is a positive step. Health Canada, in its role as drug regulator, could use the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to help further this strategy in the following ways:
i) Improving the approval, labelling and safety monitoring of controlled substances
The CMA recommends that new sections be introduced to the CDSA to require higher levels of regulatory scrutiny for controlled prescription medication, during both the approval process and post-approval surveillance. Specifically, the CDSA should be amended to require:
* More stringent pre-approval requirements for controlled prescription medication. Because of their high level of risk, Health Canada could require that they be subject to higher levels of scrutiny than other medications during the review of pre-approval clinical trial results, special post-approval conditions(e.g. formal post-market studies);
* Stricter conditions on the marketing of controlled medication by the pharmaceutical industry to health professionals.
* Tamper-resistant formulations of prescription opioid medication. New opioid medication or potentially addictive formulations should be tamper-resistant to reduce the potential for misuse or abuse.
* Improved patient information and counseling to be offered to prescribers, dispensers, and patients receiving opioid prescriptions.
ii) Establishing consistent requirements for prescription monitoring
In our brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (see Appendix A), during its study on prescription drug abuse, the CMA encouraged all levels of government to work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring and surveillance. Indeed, all stakeholders who testified before the Committee recognized the importance of prescription monitoring programs in addressing prescription drug abuse.
While prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) exist in most provinces, they vary considerably in terms of quality, the nature of the information they require, whether health care practitioners have real-time access, and in the purpose for which the data is collected. Standardization of surveillance and monitoring systems can contribute to addressing the misuse and abuse of prescription medication by:
* Allowing health care practitioners to identify fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescription, such as an attempt to fill prescriptions from a number of different providers, at the time the prescription is requested or filled.
* Deter interprovincial or jurisdictional fraud, again, by allowing health care practitioners to identify fraudulent attempts at the time the prescription is requested or filled.
* Improve professional regulatory bodies' capacity for oversight and intervention, by establishing a mechanism for real-time monitoring.
* Finally, help Canada's researchers improve our knowledge of this serious public health concern, identify research priorities, and determine best practices to address crucial issues.
Such a system should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases such as that of British Columbia. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. Integration with electronic health records and the widespread use of electronic databases and transmission would go far to minimize the potential burden.
The CMA recommends that a new reporting regulation be promulgated under the CDSA that addresses reporting requirements and disclosure requirements of practitioners, manufacturers and other stakeholders, in order to establish consistent standards for prescription monitoring. This regulation should:
* Enable inter-jurisdictional accessibility and operability;
* Ensure that practitioners have real-time access to the monitoring system;
* Enable electronically-based prescription monitoring; and;
* Conform to privacy laws, protecting patient confidentiality while enabling the sharing of necessary information. (Privacy concerns are addressed in greater detail in Part 2).
B) Supporting harm reduction as a component of a drug strategy
The CMA fully endorses harm reduction strategies and tools, including supervised injection sites, and believes that the CDSA should support and enable them. It is the CMA's position that addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious medical condition.
Section 56 of the CDSA sets out conditions under which applicants may obtain exemptions from the provisions of the Act. Bill C-2, currently at Second Reading in the House of Commons, proposes new, far reaching, and stringent conditions that must be met by a proponent who is applying to establish a supervised injection site. The CMA maintains that safe injection sites are a legitimate form of treatment for the disease of addiction, that their benefit is supported by a body of research, and that the conditions proposed under Bill C-2 are overly restrictive.
In addition, to support harm reduction, the CMA encourages Health Canada to amend section 2 (2) (b) (ii) (B) of the CDSA that states a controlled substance includes "any thing that contains or has on it a controlled substance and that is used or intended or designed for use... in introducing the substance into a human body" in order to enable the important role of safe injection sites.
C) Developing clinical knowledge base about the medical use of marijuana
The CMA has already made its position on the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations known to Health Canada (see Appendix B). Despite repeated revisions since they were first established in 2001, the regulations do not address CMA's primary concern; that physicians are made gatekeepers for a product whose medical benefits have not been sufficiently researched, and which has not undergone the clinical trial process required for therapeutic products under the Food and Drugs Act. The absence of clinical evidence means that physicians lack scientific information and guidance on the uses, benefits and risks of marijuana when used for medicinal purposes. To address these issues, the CMA recommends that Health Canada invest in scientific research on the medical uses of marijuana. This could include establishing market incentives for Licensed Producers to undertake research, or requiring them to contribute to a research fund administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In addition, the CMA encourages the development and dissemination of evidence-based clinical support tools for physicians.
Part 2: Ensuring protection of patient privacy
In any legislative framework pertaining to patient care, physicians consider protecting the privacy of patient information to be paramount; indeed, privacy, confidentiality and trust are cornerstones of the patient-physician relationship (see Appendix C). For these reasons, the CMA strongly recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the existing CDSA and its regulations as well as of future proposed amendments. The CMA encourages Health Canada to make this assessment available to stakeholders as part of its consultation process on this legislative framework.
As previously mentioned, the new regulation proposed under Part 1 (A) (ii) above must conform to privacy laws, and protect patient confidentiality while enabling the sharing of necessary information.
The CMA is deeply concerned with the search provision under s.31 of the CDSA in which an exception to this broad authority for patient records is mentioned in subsection (1) (c). The CMA is concerned that this exception may not be sufficient to meet the existing privacy laws governing patient information and records, both federally and provincially. As such, the CMA recommends that the CDSA be amended to ensure that patient information and records are exempt from search authorities, consistent with the most stringent privacy laws at the federal and provincial jurisdictions.
Part 3: Enabling e-prescribing
As part of the review of the CDSA and its associated regulations, Health Canada should assess how this legislative framework may be used to facilitate and support the advancement of e-health, specifically e-prescribing. Electronic health records can support individual physicians or pharmacists to quickly identify potential diversion and double-doctoring, at the point where a prescription is written or filled. The electronic health record also facilitates the sharing of information among health professionals, as well as programs that allow physicians to compare their prescribing practices to those of their peers.
For instance, sections of the Benzodiazepines and Other Targeted Substances Regulations, Narcotic Control Regulations, and Precursor Control Regulations, establish the conditions within which pharmacists may accept a prescription. The CMA recommends that these regulations be amended to specifically include electronic prescriptions in addition to verbal and written prescriptions among the forms that may be accepted by a pharmacist. This recommendation is consistent with the joint statement by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association on e-prescribing (see Appendix D).
Health Canada should also ensure that regulatory amendments facilitate prescription monitoring, as discussed in a previous section.
Part 4: Establishing a mechanism for changes to scope of practice
The New Classes of Prescribers Regulations, promulgated in 2012, grants nurse practitioners, midwives and podiatrists the authority to prescribe controlled substances if their provincial scope of practice laws permit. The CMA's 2012 submission in response to this regulatory change is attached to this brief for information (Appendix E.) In it, the CMA recommended that "A regulatory framework governing prescribing authority, or any other aspect of scope of practice, should always put patient safety first. The primary purpose of scope of practice determination is to meet the health care needs and serve the health interests of patients and the public safely, efficiently, and competently." One of our main concerns at the time was that the more practitioners who could prescribe controlled substances, the greater the potential for the illegal diversion of products to street dealers. This remains a concern for us.
Given the significance of scope-of-practice determinations to patient safety and patient care, the CMA strongly recommends that future changes to the scope of practice of a health care practitioner be undertaken only within a defined, transparent evaluation process based on clinical criteria and protection of patient safety.
To this end, the CMA strongly recommends the introduction of new clauses to the CDSA and its associated regulations to establish a mechanism that governs future changes to scope of practice. These clauses should require, prior to the implementation of any change:
* Demonstration that it will improve public health and patient safety;
* Meaningful consultation with professional organizations and regulatory authorities; and,
* Support of provincial and territorial ministers of health.
Further, the CMA recommends that such a new regulation governing possible future changes to scope of practice require:
* That new classes of prescribers have conflict of interest policies;
* That new classes of prescribers be incorporated under the prescription monitoring regulation recommended under Part 1 (A) (ii) above; and
* That a mandatory five-year review be established for new classes of prescribers.
Part 5: Recognizing the authority of physician regulatory colleges
As previously mentioned, many controlled substances governed under the CDSA and its associated regulations are prescribed by physicians and other health professionals, for therapeutic purposes.
Medicine is a regulated profession, and the colleges of physicians have ultimate authority and responsibility for the oversight of physician practice, including monitoring prescribing activity, investigating practice and when required, taking disciplinary action.
In its present form, section 59 of the Narcotic Control Regulations includes a duplicative and redundant provision for oversight and disciplinary action. The CMA strongly recommends that this section be amended to recognize the established authority of physician regulatory colleges for the oversight of the medical profession.
The CMA welcomes the consultation and review of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its associated regulations. As mentioned before, this submission is not an exhaustive analysis of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act¸ but an initial summary of CMA's position on issues of particular concern to patient safety and public health. This brief outlines numerous opportunities within the CDSA and its associated regulations to establish new measures and mechanisms that would contribute to improved public health and patient safety.
In light of the breadth and importance of the issues raised in this review, CMA encourages further consultation and welcomes the opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail.
List of Appendices:
* Appendix A: CMA Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health - The Need for a National Strategy to Address Abuse and Misuse of Prescription Drugs in Canada
* Appendix B: CMA Policy Statement - Medical Marijuana
* Appendix C: CMA Policy Statement - Principles for the Protection of Patient's Personal Health Information
* Appendix D: CMA Policy Statement - Vision for e-Prescribing: a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association
* Appendix E: CMA submission - Response to the proposed New Classes of Practitioners regulations published in the Canada Gazette Part I (Vol. 146, No. 18 - May 5, 2012)
Overview of recommendations
The CMA recommends that the modernization of the CDSA legislative and regulatory framework should be guided first and foremost by the objective of improving public health, promoting quality care and enhancing patient safety.
The CMA recommends that as part of the review of the CDSA and its regulations, Health Canada undertake a review of the schedules, including the organization of the schedules, and the listing of substances within each schedule.
The CMA recommends that new sections be introduced to the CDSA to require higher levels of regulatory scrutiny as part of the approval and post-approval process for prescription opioid medication.
The CMA recommends that a new reporting regulation be promulgated under the CDSA that addresses reporting requirements and disclosure requirements of practitioners, manufacturers and other stakeholders in order to establish consistent standards for prescription monitoring.
To support harm reduction, the CMA recommends an amendment to section 2 (b) (ii) of the CDSA, which states a controlled substance includes "any thing that contains or has on it a controlled substance and that is used or intended or designed for use... in introducing the substance into a human body".
The CMA recommends that Health Canada invest in scientific research on the medical uses of marijuana. This could include establishing market incentives that require Licensed Producers to undertake research, or requiring them to contribute to a research fund administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In addition, the CMA encourages the development and dissemination of evidence-based clinical support tools for physicians.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the existing CDSA and its regulations as well as future proposed amendments, and provide this assessment to stakeholders as part of its consultation process on this legislative framework.
The CMA recommends that the CDSA, specifically s.31 (1) (c), be amended to ensure that patient information and records are exempt from search authorities, consistent with the most stringent privacy laws at the federal and provincial jurisdictions.
The CMA recommends that the CDSA and its regulations be amended to specifically include electronic prescriptions in addition to verbal and written prescriptions among the forms that may be accepted by a pharmacist, including sections within the Benzodiazepines and Other Targeted Substances Regulations, Narcotic Control Regulations, and Precursor Control Regulations.
The CMA recommends the introduction of new clauses to the CDSA and its associated regulations to establish a mechanism that governs future changes to scope of practice, based on the introduction of a new regulation governing changes to scope of practice that will require, prior to the implementation of any change:
* Demonstration of public health and patient safety improvement;
* Meaningful consultation with professional organizations and regulatory authorities; and,
* Support of provincial and territorial ministers of health.
The CMA recommends that the new mechanism of the CDSA legislative framework governing possible future changes to scope of practice require:
* That new classes of prescribers have conflict of interest policies;
* That new classes of prescribers be incorporated under the prescription monitoring regulation recommended under Part 1 (A) (ii) above; and
* That a mandatory five-year review be established for new classes of prescribers.
The CMA strongly recommends that s.59 of the Narcotic Control Regulations be amended to recognize the established authority of physician regulatory colleges for the oversight of the medical profession.