CMA Policy : Rural and Remote Practice Issues
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that all Canadians should have reasonable access to uniform, high quality medical care. The CMA is concerned, however, that the health care infrastructure and level of professional support in rural and remote areas are insufficient to provide quality care and retain and recruit physicians relative to community needs. The CMA has developed this policy to outline specific issues and recommendations that may help retain and recruit physicians to rural and remote areas of Canada and thereby improve the health status of rural and remote populations. The following 3 key issue areas are addressed in this policy: training, compensation and work/lifestyle support. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, professional associations and others, are urgently required.
Canadian physicians and other health care professionals are greatly frustrated by the impact that health care budget cuts and reorganization have had, and continue to have, on the timely provision of quality care to patients and general working conditions. For many physicians who practise in rural and remote communities, the impact is exacerbated by the breadth of their practice, as well as long working hours, geographic isolation, and lack of professional backup and access to specialist services.
This policy has been prepared to help governments, policy-makers, communities and others involved in the retention and recruitment of physicians understand the various professional and personal factors that must be addressed to retain and recruit physicians to rural and remote areas of Canada. This policy applies to both general practitioners/family physicians as well as specialists. The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to Physician Health and Wellbeing, Physician Compensation, Physician Resource Planning, Principles for a Re-entry System in Canadian Postgraduate Medical Education and Charter for Physicians. In addition, any strategies that are developed should not be coercive and must include community and physician input; they must also be comprehensive, flexible and varied to meet and respond to local needs and interests.
Rural and remote
There are no standard, broadly accepted terms or definitions for "rural" and "remote" since they cannot be sufficiently defined to reflect the unique and dynamic nature of the various regions and communities that could presumably be labelled as such.
The terms "rural" or "remote" medicine may be applied to many things: the physicians themselves, the population they serve, the geography of the community or access to medical services. For each of these factors, there are a number of ways to define and measure rurality. For example, a 1999 CMA survey of rural physicians showed that the most frequently mentioned characteristics of a rural community were (1) high level of on-call responsibilities, (2) long distance to a secondary referral centre, (3) lack of specialist services and (4) insufficient family physicians. As another example, Statistics Canada defines rural and small town residents for some analyses as those living in communities outside Census Metropolitan Areas (population of at least 100 000) or Census Agglomerations (population between 10 000 and 99 999), and where less than 50% of the workforce commute to a larger urban centre.
For the purposes of this policy, a medical school is understood to encompass the entire continuum of
medical education, i.e., undergraduate, postgraduate, continuing medical education and maintenance of
Some Canadian studies have shown that medical trainees who were raised in rural communities have a greater tendency to return to these or similar communities to practise medicine. Some studies also show that individuals who do clerkships in rural or remote communities, or have some exposure to the rural practice environment during residency training, have a greater tendency to consider practising in rural or remote communities upon graduation. The CMA applauds those medical schools that promote careers in medicine to individuals from rural and remote areas and provide medical students and residents with exposure to rural practice during their training. Regular collaboration and communication among training directors for rural and remote programs, as well as rural medical educators and leaders from other health disciplines, are strongly encouraged so that rural training issues and possible linkages may be discussed. The benefits of rural training extend not only to those physicians who ultimately end up in rural practice; those who remain in urban areas also benefit by having an enhanced understanding of the challenges of rural and remote practice.
As outlined in the CMA’s 1992 Report of the Advisory Panel on the Provision of Medical Services in Underserviced Regions, the CMA believes that partnerships among medical schools, the practising profession and communities need to be formalized, particularly since medical schools have a crucial role in helping to recruit and retain physicians for rural and remote communities. The medical school’s role in such a partnership takes the form of a social contract. This contract begins with the admission of students who demonstrate a prior interest in working in rural or remote communities and may come from these communities. It also includes the exposure of students to rural practice during their undergraduate and postgraduate training. It is followed by the provision of specialized training for the conditions in which they will work and ongoing educational support during their rural and remote practice. For these reasons, the CMA strongly encourages academic health science centres (AHSCs), provincial governments, professional associations and rural communities to work together to formally define the geographic regions for which each AHSC is responsible. The AHSCs are also encouraged to include within their mission a social contract to contribute to meeting the health needs of their rural or remote populations.
Practising physicians are committed to lifelong learning. In order to preserve a high standard of quality care to their patients, they must be knowledgeable about new clinical and technological advances in medicine; they must also continually develop advanced or additional clinical skills in, for example, obstetrics, general surgery and anaesthesia, to better serve the patients in their communities, especially when specialist services are not readily available. There are many practical and financial barriers that physicians in rural and remote communities face in obtaining and maintaining additional skills training, including housing, practice and other costs (e.g., locum tenens replacement expenses) while they are away from work. The CMA strongly encourages governments to develop and maintain mechanisms, such as compensation or additional tax relief, to reduce the barriers associated with obtaining advanced or additional skills training.
In light of these issues, the CMA recommends that
1. Universities, governments and others encourage and fund research into criteria that predispose students to select and succeed in rural practice.
2. All medical students, as early as possible at the undergraduate level, be exposed to appropriately funded and accredited rural practice environments.
3. Medical schools develop training programs that encourage and promote the selection of rural practice as a career.
4. Universities work with professional associations, governments and rural communities to determine the barriers that prevent rural students from entering the profession, and take appropriate action to eliminate or reduce these barriers.
5. A Web site based compendium of rural experiences and electives for medical students be developed, maintained and adequately funded.
6. Advanced skills acquisition and maintenance opportunities be provided to physicians practising in or going to rural and remote areas.
7. CMA divisions and provincial/territorial governments ensure that physicians who work in rural and remote areas receive full remuneration while obtaining advanced skills, including support for the locum tenens who will replace them.
8. Any individual formally enrolled in a Royal College of Physicians of Surgeons of Canada or College of Family Physicians of Canada program be covered by the collective agreement of their housestaff organization.
9. Providers, funders and accreditors of continuing medical education for rural physicians ensure that the continuing medical education is developed in close collaboration with rural physicians and is accessible, needs-based and reflective of rural physicians’ scope of practice.
10. Physicians who practise in rural or remote areas be given reasonable opportunities to
re-enter training in a postgraduate program without any return-in-service obligations.
11. In order to promote mutual understanding, universities encourage teaching faculty to work in rural practices and that rural physicians be invited to teach in academic health science centres.
12. Medical schools develop training programs for both students and residents that encourage and promote the provision of skills appropriate to rural practice needs.
13. Medical schools support rural faculty development and provide full faculty status to these
The CMA believes that compensation for physicians who practise in rural and remote areas must be flexible and reflect the full spectrum of professional and personal factors that are often inherent to practising and living in such a setting. These professional factors may include long working hours and the need for additional competencies to meet community needs, such as advanced obstetrics, anaesthesia and general surgery, as well as psychotherapy and chemotherapy. They may also include a high level of on-call responsibilities as well as a lack or total absence of backup from specialists, nurses and other complementary services that are usually available in an urban environment. Other challenges are professional isolation, limited opportunities for education or training, and high practice start-up costs. Also, if for a number of reasons a physician wishes to relocate to an urban setting, he or she may face billing restrictions as well as challenges in finding a replacement physician. Compensation for these factors is necessary to help retain physicians and recruit new ones. In addition, compensation should guarantee protected time off, paid continuing medical education or additional skills training, and locum tenens coverage. Any pool of locum tenens for rural and remote practice should be adequately funded and cross-jurisdictional licensure issues should be minimized.
Living in a rural or remote community can be very satisfying for many physicians and their families; however, they must usually forgo — often for an extended period of time— a number of urban advantages and amenities. These include educational, cultural, recreational and social opportunities for their spouse or partner, their children and themselves. They may also face altered family dynamics due to a decrease or significant loss of family income if there are limited or no suitable employment opportunities for their spouse or partner.
The CMA believes that all physicians should have a choice of payment options and service delivery models to reflect their needs as well as those of their patients. Physicians must receive fair and equitable remuneration and have a practice environment that allows for a reasonable quality of life. Although the CMA does not advocate one payment system for urban physicians and another for rural physicians, it believes that enhanced total compensation should be provided to physicians who work and live in rural and remote communities.
In recognition of these issues, the CMA recommends that
14. Additional compensation to physicians working in rural and remote areas reflect the following areas: degree of isolation, level of responsibility, frequency of on-call, breadth of practice and additional skills.
15. In recognition of the differences among communities, payment modalities retain flexibility and reflect community needs and physician choice.
16. Financial incentives focus on retaining physicians currently practising in rural or remote areas and include a retention bonus based on duration of service.
17. Factors affecting the social and professional isolation of physicians and their families be considered in the development of compensation packages and working conditions.
18. Eligibility criteria for including physicians in a pool of locum tenens for rural or remote practice be developed in consultation with rural physicians.
19. Provincial/territorial licensing bodies establish portability of licensure for locum tenens and ensure that any fees or processes associated with licensure do not serve as barriers to interprovincial mobility.
20. Rural locum tenens programs be funded by provincial/territorial governments and include adequate compensation for accommodation, transportation and remuneration.
As previously noted, some studies show that exposure to rural and remote areas during training influences students’ decision to practise in those communities upon graduation. The CMA is concerned, however, that travel and accommodation costs relating to these experiences place an undue financial burden on students. In addition, most physicians in rural and remote areas are already burdened with significant patient loads and find that they have limited time and resources to act as preceptors. The CMA believes that, to ensure the ongoing viability of student rural experiences, physician preceptors should be compensated for their participation and should not incur any additional expenses, such as student or resident accommodation costs.
The CMA recommends that
21. Costs for accommodation and travel for student and resident rural training experiences in Canada not be borne by the trainees or the preceptors.
22. Training programs assume responsibility for adequately remunerating preceptors in rural or remote areas.
Work and lifestyle support issues
To retain and recruit physicians in rural and remote communities, there are issues beyond fair and adequate compensation that must be considered. It is crucial that the aforementioned working conditions, professional issues and array of personal and family-related issues be addressed. The ultimate goal should be to promote physician retention and implement measures that reduce the possibility of physician burnout.
Like most people, physicians want to balance their professional and personal responsibilities to allow for a reasonable quality of life. Physicians in rural and remote areas practise in high stress environments that can negatively affect their health and well-being; as a consequence, the standard of care to their patients can suffer. The stress is intensified by excessive work hours, limited professional backup or support (including locum tenens), limited access to specialists, inadequate diagnostic and treatment resources, and limited or no opportunity for vacation or personal leave. At particular risk for burnout is the physician who practises in isolation. For these reasons many physicians, when considering practice opportunities, tend to seek working conditions that will not generate an excessive toll on their non-working lives. This reinforces the need for rural and remote practice environments that facilitate a balance between physicians’ professional and personal lives.
In light of these issues, the CMA recommends that
23. Regardless of community size, there should always be at least 2 physicians available to serve the
needs of the community.
24. Ideally, the on-call requirement for weekends never exceed 1 in 5 in any Canadian practice.
(This is consistent with current CMA policy.)
25. Provincial/territorial governments have professional support and other mechanisms readily
available to physicians who practise in rural and remote areas, such as sabbaticals and locum
26. Governments recognize the service of rural and remote physicians by ensuring that
mechanisms exist to allow future access to practise in an urban area of their choice.
The CMA believes that rural and remote physician retention and recruitment initiatives must address matters relating to professional isolation as well as social isolation for physicians and their families. This sense of isolation can increase when there are cultural, religious or other differences. For unattached physicians, zero tolerance and unreasonable restrictions with regard to relationships with potential patients can be disincentives to practise in rural or remote communities. Although the CMA believes that such policies and restrictions should be reviewed, the CMA encourages physicians to refer to the CMA policy on The Patient-Physician Relationship and the Sexual Abuse of Patients and the Code of Ethics of the Canadian Medical Association. Also, the CMA recommends that physicians abide by any provincial/territorial policies or legislation that may currently be in place.
The medical services infrastructure in rural and remote areas is usually very different from that in urban settings. In addition to a lack of specialist services, physicians in these areas may often have to cope with a number of other factors such as limited or no appropriate diagnostic equipment or limited hospital beds. Physicians and their patients expect and deserve quality care. The diversity and needs of the populations, as well as the needs of the physicians who practise in rural and remote areas, must also be recognized and reflected in the infrastructure (e.g., demographic and geographical considerations).
The CMA recommends that
27. A basic medical services infrastructure for rural and remote areas be defined, such as hospital beds, paramedical staff, diagnostic equipment, transportation, ready access to secondary and tertiary services, as well as information technology tools and support.
28. Provincial/territorial governments recognize that physicians who work in rural and remote areas need an environment that appropriately supports them in providing service to the local population.
Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
Health systems around the world are struggling with how to best meet the health needs of their populations. Health leaders speak with urgency about the need to improve the individual experience of care, improve the health of populations, and maximize return on investments. Physicians concur - they are continually focused on providing better care to their patients.
Concurrently, concerns over patient safety have arisen over the last two decades, rooted in studies of adverse events. The incidence of adverse events (AEs) in acute care hospitals has been reported in the United States (US),1,2,3 Australia,4 United Kingdom,5 and Canada.6 Between 5% and 20% of patients admitted to hospital experience one or more AEs; between 36.9% - 51% of these AEs are preventable; and AEs contribute billions of dollars through additional hospital stays as well as other costs to the system, patients and the broader society.7 Leape et al. maintain that more than two-thirds of AEs are preventable.8 These outcomes have prompted decision makers, policy makers and healthcare providers to examine contributing factors, including the increasingly complex health system and its impact on the well-being of providers.
Patient safety and physician well-being are the key drivers leading to restrictions on resident and/or physician duty hours aimed at reducing their fatigue. The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) was first established in 1993 to place limits on all workers' hours throughout Europe under the umbrella of health and safety legislation. That directive included physicians but excluded doctors in training. In 2000, a new directive passed to include the "junior doctor" constituency accompanied by a requirement that by 2009 all health systems in the European Union limit resident work to a maximum of 48 hours averaged per week. The intention was to improve the working lives of doctors in training and to increase patient safety. A systematic review on the impact of the EWTD on postgraduate medical training, patient safety, or clinical outcomes found studies to be of poor quality with conflicting results.9
In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in the US adopted a set of duty hour regulations for physicians in training. The ACGME issued revised regulations that went into effect in July 2011, reflecting the recommendations of a 2008 Institute of Medicine report Resident Duty Hours: Enhancing Sleep, Supervision, and Safety, calling for elimination of extended duty shifts (more than 16 hours) for first year residents, increasing days off, improving sleep hygiene by reducing night duty and providing more scheduled sleep breaks, and increasing oversight by more senior physicians.10 The Institute of Medicine's report bases its recommendations on the growing body of research linking clinician fatigue and error.
In 2013, the National Steering Committee on Resident Duty Hours released Canada's first comprehensive, collaborative and evidence-based report on fatigue and duty hours for Canada's approximately 12,000 residents. The Committee stresses that a comprehensive approach is necessary in order to enhance safety and wellness outcomes. Fatigue risk management is a predominant theme in the recommendations.
Fatigue management systems are in place in other sectors/industries that have a low threshold for adverse outcomes including aviation, transportation, and the Department of National Defence. In 2010, the Canadian Nurses Association released a position statement Taking Action on Nurse Fatigue that speaks to system, organizational and individual level responsibilities of registered nurses.
There are currently no specific policies in Canada for physicians in practice with respect to fatigue management. Given the heterogeneity of medical practice (i.e. various specialties) and of the practice settings (i.e. rural and remote versus urban, clinic versus hospital, etc.), the solutions emanating from a fatigue management policy may be different - one size will not fit all.
Impact of Physician Fatigue
Sleep deprivation is the condition of not having enough sleep and can be either chronic or acute. It impairs cognitive and behavioural performance. "Sleep is required for the consolidation of learning and for the optimal performance of cognitive tasks. Studies of sleep deprivation have shown that one night without sleep negatively affects the performance of specific higher cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex and can cause impairment in attention, memory, judgment, and problem solving."(p. 1841)11 A seminal study by Williamson and Feyer found that after 17-19 hours without sleep, performance on some cognitive and motor performance tests was equivalent or worse than that at a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%.12 Wakefulness for 24 hours is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.10%.13
A chronic sleep-restricted state can cause fatigue, which is a subjective feeling of tiredness, lack of energy and motivation. A large body of research exists linking sleep deprivation/fatigue, performance and adverse patient outcomes, particularly for medical residents. 14,15,16,17,18,19, 20, 21,22, 23,24 However, literature on the impact on performance varies based on a number of factors. There are significant inter-individual differences in the global response to sleep loss, as well as significant intra-individual variations in the degree to which different domains of neurobehavioral function (e.g., vigilance, subjective sleepiness, and cognitive performance) are affected. Inter-individual differences are not merely a consequence of variations in sleep history. Rather, they involve trait-like differential vulnerability to impairment from sleep loss. 25
Evidence suggests an inconclusive relationship between duty hour reductions (primarily those implemented in the US) and patient safety, suggesting that restrictions on consecutive duty hours have not had the anticipated impact on this crucial outcome as anticipated.26 Several large studies have revealed only neutral or slightly improved patient mortality and other clinical parameters since implementation of the ACGME work hour limits in the US.27,28, 29,30 In complex and ever changing health systems, it is difficult to isolate the impact of restricted duty hours alone.
Research on the effects of practicing physician sleep deprivation and extended work shifts on clinical outcomes is limited and inconclusive.31, 32
The issue of physician fatigue is complex, and is affected by much more than duty hours. Other contributing factors affect performance including work patterns, individual response to sleep loss, experience of the worker, the context of which sleep deprivation is necessary, hours of actual sleep, patient volume, patient turnover and patient acuity, environmental factors, personal stressors, workload, etc. Limiting work hours alone is not sufficient to address sleep deprivation among physicians. Reduced or disturbed periods of sleep, more consecutive days or nights of work, shift variability, and the volume of work all increase fatigue and thus can contribute to errors.
One of the biggest concerns with a fatigue management strategy is continuity of care, linked to the number of transfers of care (handover) among providers. Transfers of care inevitably increase in an environment of work hour limitations.33, 34 Handovers are considered critical moments in the continuity of patient care and have been identified as a significant source of hospital errors, often related to poor communication. There is a growing body of literature on how to do these well and how to teach this well. This is an important skill for physicians in the context of a fatigue management strategy: "Standardization of the handover process has been linked to a reduction in the number of errors related to information transfers. In addition, effective mechanisms for the transfer of information at transition points have been recognized as patient safety enablers."35
Provider well-being (physical, mental, occupational) is linked to system performance and patient outcomes. It is affected by fatigue and work patterns including night shift and extended hours. Comprehensive, systematic reviews of the health effects of on-call work in 2004 showed that nighttime work interrupted sleep patterns, aggravated underlying medical conditions, and increased the risk of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and reproductive dysfunction.36,37.38 Other research suggests an elevated risk of breast cancer,39,40 prostate cancer,41 colorectal cancer,42 asthma43, diabetes,44 and epilepsy45 for shift workers. Disruption of the body's circadian rhythms is thought to be one of the main pathways for adverse health effects from shift work, particularly for work schedules that involve night work.
Given that 24-hour work is unavoidable in various industries, including healthcare, researchers have evaluated different shift schedules designed to reduce some of the negative health effects of working at night. Optimal shift schedules are aligned as much as possible with the circadian rhythm, promote adaptation of the circadian rhythm with shift work, reflect workers' needs and preferences, and meet organizational or productivity requirements. The following interventions appear to have the most beneficial effects on the health of shift workers:46
* Schedule changes including changing from backward (counterclockwise) to forward (clockwise) rotation, from eight hour to 12 hour shifts, and flexible working conditions, self-scheduling, and ergonomic shift scheduling principles
* Controlled exposure to light and day;
* Behavioural approaches such as physical activity, scheduled naps and education about sleep strategies; and
* Use of pharmacotherapy (i.e. caffeine and melatonin) to promote sleep, wakefulness, or adaptation
Sleep deprivation and on-call shifts consistently point to deterioration of mood resulting in depression, anger, anxiety, hostility, and decreased vigilance.47 ,48, 49 A Canadian study found that shift workers reported significantly higher burnout, emotional exhaustion, job stress and psychosomatic health problems (e.g. headaches, upset stomach, difficulty falling asleep) than workers on a regular day schedule.50 Prolonged duty hours by residents has been found to contribute to marital problems, pregnancy complications, depression, suicide and substance abuse,51 as well as serious conflicts with attending physicians, other residents, and nurses, in addition to increased alcohol use and instances of unethical behaviour.52 Surprisingly however, the abolishment of 24-hour continuous medical call duty for general surgery residents at one facility in Quebec was associated with self-reported poorer quality of life.53
In contrast to other recommendations on the health benefits of 8 hr shifts, the risk of a work safety incident increases markedly after more than eight hours on duty. The risk in the twelfth hour is almost double than in the eighth hour (and more than double the average risk over the first eight hours on duty).54 Extended work duration and nighttime work by interns is associated with an increased risk of reported percutaneous injuries (PIs).55 Fatigue was reported more often as a contributing factor for nighttime compared with daytime injuries. Fatigue was also more commonly reported as a contributing factor to PIs that occurred after extended work than those that occurred after non-extended work.56 Other research found that residents were most exposed to blood-borne pathogens through needle punctures or cuts during overnight duty periods.57
Health care facilities that have physicians working in them have a role in supporting and promoting provider well-being, including providing enablers of extending and continuing resiliency such as nutritious food, on call rooms, appropriate numbers of staff, locums, etc. They also have a role in working jointly and collaboratively with physicians to ensure that on-call schedules do not place work demands on individual physicians that prevent the physicians from providing safe patient care and service coverage. For example, research with emergency physicians suggests that a nap at 3 AM improves performance in physicians and nurses at 7:30 AM compared to a no-nap condition despite the fact that memory temporarily worsened immediately after the nap.58
Individual resilience, intergenerational differences, illness-related issues, as well as family commitments also need to be considered. Physicians should also be encouraged to take the necessary time to rest and recover on their time off. The obligation of physicians to provide after hour coverage and care is unavoidable and should be considered by an individual when they choose a career in medicine, and as a physician in managing their schedule/call.
A review of 100 studies from around the world indicates the culture of medicine contributes to doctors ignoring the warning signs of fatigue and stress and in many cases suffering from undiagnosed ailments such as stress and depression, or from burnout.59 The authors suggest the culture of medicine is such that doctors feel they don't need help; they put their patients first. Of the 18% of Canadian doctors who were identified as depressed, only a quarter of them considered getting help and only two per cent actually did. The report suggests that burnout from working long hours and sleep deprivation because of understaffing seems to be the biggest problem worldwide.60 The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) states that physicians should consider their level of fatigue and if they are clinically fit to provide treatment or care.61 Fatigue is not a sign of weakness. All members of the health care team should support their colleagues in recognizing and managing sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Physician fatigue has several ethical dimensions. The Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics states that physicians have an ethical responsibility to self-manage their fatigue and well-being. 62 However, physicians must be trained and competent to know their own limits and evaluate their own fatigue level and well-being. The system must then support physicians in this recognition. The doctrine of informed consent is another dimension of physician fatigue. If physician fatigue is an added risk for any aspect of patient care, whether it is surgical or medical, elective or emergent, then some have argued that the doctrine of informed consent suggests that physicians have an obligation to inform patients of that risk.63 ,64 "The medico-legal considerations for physicians centre on the ethical duty to act in the best interests of their patients. This may mean that if a physician feels that his or her on-call schedule endangers or negatively impacts patient care, reasonable steps are taken to ensure patients do not suffer as a result and that the physician is able to continue providing an adequate level of care for patients."65
Addressing physician fatigue may have workforce implications.
Physician workload is multifaceted comprised of clinical, research, education and administrative activities. If physician workload or duty hours are reduced, any one of these activities may be impacted.
It has been suggested that implementing fatigue management strategies such as a workload ceiling for physicians may result in a greater need for physicians and thus increase system costs. However, new models of team based care delivery that incorporate technology, reduce redundancy, utilize a team based approach, and optimize the role of physicians offer an opportunity to better manage physician fatigue without necessarily requiring more physicians. Other strategies also need to be explored to improve the on-the-ground efficiency of physicians.
Some of the strategies to address practicing physician sleep deprivation/fatigue such as scheduling changes and reduced workload may affect access to care, including wait times. Surgeons or others may have to cancel surgeries or other procedures because of fatigue and hours of work, forcing rescheduling of surgery/procedures and potentially increasing wait times. This is particularly relevant given Canada's large geography and varied distribution of physicians. Therefore, flexibility in strategies to address physician sleep deprivation/fatigue are needed to reflect the variety of practice types and settings in existence across the country, in particular solo practices; rural, remote and isolated sites; community locations; etc. The same holds true for smaller specialties, which has been the experience in the UK with the implementation of the EWTD.
Fatigue management is a competency that needs to be taught, modelled, mentored, and evaluated across the medical education continuum, from medical student to practicing physician.
1. Educate physicians about the effects of sleep deprivation and fatigue on the practice of medicine and physician health, and how to recognize and manage their effects.
2. Create a national tool-box of self-awareness tools and fatigue management strategies and techniques.
3. Advocate for the integration of fatigue management into the continuum of medical education.
4. Advocate for the creation of system enablers with the flexibility to:
* Consider the full workload of physicians (clinical, teaching, administrative, research, etc.);
* Optimize scheduling to coordinate on call and other patient care following call; and
* Implement organizational/institutional level fatigue risk management plans.
5. Develop and advocate for implementation of standardized handover tools.
6. Enhance and reaffirm a culture within medicine that focuses on patient-centered care.
7. Reaffirm the culture shift within medicine that encompasses physician well-being.
8. Encourage physicians treating physicians to be aware of the aggravating effects of fatigue on their well-being and practice.
Physicians are interested in how to best meet the needs of the population, in continually improving the care provided to Canadians. To do so requires that they also care for themselves including managing the effects of sleep deprivation and fatigue. It is a complex issue that requires multifaceted solutions. Strategies must address physician fatigue at an individual, organizational/institutional and system level.
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The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) brief submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health makes 12 practical recommendations within the jurisdiction of the federal government for investing in the capacity needed to expand and retain our practising physician population. These recommendations are a clarion call for pan-Canadian planning and innovative thinking to meet an ever-increasing demand for physician services from the Canadian public. CMA's research on Health Care Transformation has shown that a commitment to ensuring an adequate supply of health human resources (HHR) is a common trait shared by high-performing European health systems. The last federal election campaign saw most political parties pledge to urgently address HHR shortages. Now is the time to keep those election commitments.
Cuts to medical school enrolment in the 1990s contributed to Canada's significant shortage of physicians. Growing demand for physician services, the aging of the physician population and changing practice styles among younger physicians are further compounding the problem. Seriously addressing HHR shortages is crucial to transforming Canada's health care system into one that is truly patient focused.
Canada should strive for self-sufficiency in physician supply and do more to repatriate Canadians studying and practising medicine abroad. The CMA supports bringing into practice qualified international medical graduates (IMGs) already in Canada. IMGs should be assessed according to the same evaluation standards as Canadian graduates and more should be done to reduce the backlog in assessing IMGs. With recent increases to medical school enrolment, more support must also be given for the capital infrastructure and faculty required to ensure the highest standard of medical education.
Competition for physicians is an issue with both international and inter-provincial/territorial facets. The revised Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) and bilateral agreements will ease the movement of health professionals across jurisdictions, but may exacerbate retention difficulties in underserviced areas. Canada should be active in retaining and repatriating our health care professionals, particularly since the predicted physician shortage in the United States may result in a return to the physician out-migration seen in the 1990s.
Canada must do more to encourage innovation within our health care system. Collaborative care - including care delivered with the assistance of Physician Assistants (PAs) - and advances in information technology hold the promise of helping create a more efficient health care system that provides higher quality care.
Canada has suffered from a significant physician shortage since the mid-1990s. Nationally, we rank 26th of 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries in physician-to-population ratio. We would need 20,000 new physicians just to meet the OECD average.
Figure 1: Physicians per 1000 population (including residents)
Source: OECD 2008 Health Data; CMA Physician Resources Evaluation Template
During the 2008 federal election campaign, four of the five parties represented in the House of Commons recognized the urgency of this situation and promised measures that would address HHR shortages. Following through on these promises is critical if we are to transform Canada's health care system into one that truly puts the needs of patients first. Research conducted for CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative demonstrates that European countries whose health care systems outperform our own all share a strong commitment to HHR, as demonstrated by their higher physician-to-population rankings.
First-year medical school enrolment was already in decline when health ministers imposed a further 10% cut resulting in a low of 1,577 places in 1997. While there have been substantial increases since then, it took a decade to rebound. In 2007, first-year enrolment stood at 2,569 - 63% higher than a decade earlier. If we had left our domestic production unchanged, we would have almost 1,300 more physicians than we have today.
Canada remains well behind other industrialized countries in the education and training of physicians. In 2005, Canada graduated 5.8 physicians per 100,000 population, 40% below the 9.6 average for the OECD.
Currently, between 4 and 5 million Canadians do not have a family physician. Over one-third of all Canadian physicians are over the age of 55. Many will either retire soon or reduce their practice workload. Most are not accepting new patients.
Ironically, advances in medicine and lifestyle that are helping Canadians live better and longer also mean increased demand for health care professionals. An aging population with high expectations of the health care system is increasing pressure on health care providers to ensure they maintain a high quality of life through their elder years. A growing culture of 'health consumerism,' facilitated by the Internet has resulted in a very knowledgeable patient population that expects top quality care delivered in a timely manner by the appropriate health professional.
Advances in medical diagnostics and technology, new and evolving diseases and increasingly complex protocols and guidelines for medical care all increase the demand for physician services. Declining mortality rates for patients with diseases such as cancer have increased treatment of what have become 'chronic' diseases. In a collaborative care setting, physicians often take responsibility for the most complex patients.
There is evidence of a cultural change among physicians to place greater importance on their home life by working less. This trend may have a positive effect on the health of the profession but it means Canada will need more physicians to provide the same volume of services.
Greater coordination among jurisdictions is needed to facilitate HHR planning on a national scale. Canada's doctors and other health professions are ready to assist policy-makers in their planning and coordination to better meet the health care needs of Canadians.
During the 2008 federal election campaign, most political parties recognized the urgency of addressing HHR shortages. The Conservative Party, specifically, promised to fund 50 new residency positions to increase supply of physicians in areas of priority need.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its promise to fund 50 new residency positions at a cost of $10 million per year for four years.
Support for IMGs
The CMA fully supports bringing into practice qualified IMGs already in Canada. Canada has historically benefited from a steady flow of IMGs to our country. In fact, close to one quarter of all physicians in Canada and over 50% of doctors in Saskatchewan are IMGs. Many areas in Canada would have no physicians if not for the contribution of these practitioners.
While IMGs are a boon to Canada, actively recruiting from developing countries is not an acceptable solution to our physician shortage. Canada must strive for greater self-sufficiency in the education and training of physicians. In fact, self-sufficiency is a key principle of the government's Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources' Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning.
CMA supports online assessment tools and websites that provide information to foreign-trained physicians so they know what standards they must meet once they arrive in Canada. In 2006, over 1700 people used the online assessment tool established by the Medical Council of Canada (MCC). CMA also supports applying the same evaluation standards to international graduates as it does to graduates of Canadian medical schools.
Despite a four-fold increase in the number of IMGs in ministry-funded postgraduate training programs over the last decade, there is still a backlog of IMGs awaiting entry into these programs. About 1300 IMGs applied for a postgraduate training position last year but only 350 (27%) were successful. CMA recommends that funding be made available to provinces for use in mentoring IMGs towards licensure. This could lower costs for the IMGs, pay the community preceptors, cover operational costs and defray other expenses.
It is estimated that up to 1500 Canadians are studying medicine abroad. Two-thirds of these IMGs want to come home to complete their postgraduate training. Canada turns away four good applicants for every student accepted into medical school. Increased training opportunities for all groups of IMGs will ensure that Canada fully utilizes the skills and knowledge of its citizens who have studied medicine.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should make $5 million (over five years), available to provinces/territories to address the backlog of IMGs through community preceptorship programs that mentor and assess IMGs for integration into the physician community.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should take concrete steps to ensure Canada becomes self-sufficient when it comes to the supply of health care professionals.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should continue to fund information tools such as the IMG-Canada website to better inform offshore physicians.
Infrastructure and faculty
Canada's teaching centres have had to absorb increases in operational and infrastructure costs to accommodate increased enrolment. This includes instructors, space, overhead and supplies. While it appears that the number of faculty members has kept pace with the increased number of medical students, part-time faculty now make up a much larger proportion of the total than 10 years ago. i
In addition to the traditional academic centres, much of the training of doctors now occurs in a community environment. Mentoring is provided by physicians who may have less experience or resources than do those in the larger centres. Those who teach often experience lost productivity in their practice and receive little or no remuneration. This deficiency must be addressed to achieve a sustainable educational workforce.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should implement a Health Human Resources Infrastructure Fund in the amount of $1 billion over 5 years to expand health professional education and training capacity by providing funding to support the:
* Direct costs of training providers;
* Indirect or infrastructure costs associated with the educational enterprise; and
* Resources that improve Canada's data collection and management capacity in the area of health human resources.
B. Retention of Canadian Physicians
Competition for physicians is both an international and an inter-jurisdictional challenge. The new Agreement on Internal Trade within Canada and numerous bilateral agreements will no doubt ease the movement of health professionals. This may exacerbate the already difficult task of retaining physicians in underserviced areas. On the positive side, it is hoped this will facilitate the movement of physicians who provide short-term relief for physicians needing time off for continued professional development and vacation (i.e., locum tenens).
As the political situation and health care plans evolve south of our border, Canada should remain active in the quest to retain the health professionals we have educated and trained and make it easier for those who have emigrated to return to practice in Canada. The Conservative Party committed in the 2008 election campaign to create a repatriation fund for Canadian physicians practising abroad. The federal government should keep this important commitment.
Migration to the United States peaked in the late 1990s when Canada lost between 600 and 700 physicians per year. While some physicians returned to Canada each year, our net losses for this period were over 400 per year. Today we are enjoying small net gains each year but this may not last given the predicted shortages in the U.S. of between 80,000 and 100,000 physicians in the years ahead. We can expect U.S. recruiters to ramp up activities in Canada in the near future.
Recommendation 6: The federal government should fulfill its election promise to establish a fund of $5 million per year over four years to help Canadian physicians living abroad who wish to relocate to Canada. It is thought this initiative could bring back as many as 300 Canadian physicians over four years.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should establish a Health Professional Repatriation Program in the amount of $30 million over 3 years that would include the following:
* A secretariat within Health Canada that would include a clearinghouse function on issues associated with health care workers returning to practise in Canada.
* An ad campaign in the United States.
* A program of one-time relocation grants for returning health professionals.
Physician Health and Well Being
Ultimately, we hope that healthier physicians will create a more vibrant profession. Hopefully these healthier physicians will in turn create a more healthful professional environment that will support their ability to provide patient care of the highest quality.
Through programs and conferences, the CMA has contributed to growing efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding physician ill-health and to support a new, healthier culture for the profession. Given the myriad other issues that contribute to our doctor shortage, it is clear that Canada cannot afford to lose a single physician to ill health.
Our research shows that the most stressful aspect of the medical profession is being on call after hours. Physicians average 50 hours a week in the usual settings of office, hospital or clinic but then 70% are on call for another 30 hours per week. In small communities, physicians are often on call all the time. A quarter of all physicians face some form of mental health challenge that makes their work difficult. This is higher than the 1 in 5 Canadians that will face a mental illness over their lifetime.ii
The ongoing pressures experienced by overworked physicians can result in stress related disorders and burn-out and are frequently a precursor to more significant physical and mental health problems. If not addressed early, these conditions can lead to physicians taking prolonged periods of time off work, changing their practice patterns or leaving the practice of medicine altogether.
Prevention programs are the key to assisting physicians before they are at significant risk. The CMA visited such a program in Norway which has been shown to significantly reduce burn-out and reduce the subsequent time-off work related to stressiii. A program to enhance physician resiliency and prevent stress related disorders, based on the Norway model, could be expanded to include services for all health professionals. The potential impact would be improved provider health and morale, reduced sick days and fewer long-term leaves.
Recommendation 8: The federal government should invest in research directed at assessing the quality of work life among health workers through an interprofessional survey at a cost of $1.5 million.
Recommendation 9: The federal government should explore the feasibility of developing a 'made in Canada' Resiliency Program for Health Professionals that would include the development of a feasibility study, including a business case, and a pilot curriculum, at a cost of $500,000.
While Canada must do more to increase both our supply and retention of HHR, we must also encourage innovation within our health care system to make better use of our existing health resources. Collaborative models of interprofessional care and advances in information technology hold the promise of helping create a more efficient health care system that provides higher quality care.
Increasingly physicians are working in interprofessional teams that may include professions that are relatively new to Canada's health workforce such as physician assistants (PAs). The CMA accredits PA curricula and has held two conferences to promote the use of PAs in all levels of care.
Recommendation 10: The federal government should fund a study to evaluate the impact of physician assistants on access to health care and to determine their cost effectiveness relative to other providers at cost of $150,000.
Technology to Support Health Care Delivery
Information technology will continue to create a more efficient and effective health care system. It will lead to more patient safety, more Canadians finding a physician, better care, cost avoidance such as eliminating duplicate tests and the establishment of collaborative interprofessional health care teams.
Canada's adoption of electronic medical records lags behind other OECD countries. We only spend a third of the OECD average on information technology in our hospitals. The adoption of EMRs in community settings (primary care, home care and long-term care facilities) also trails most other countries (Figure 2iv). This is not due to any general resistance by providers, but rather a combination of: a lack of evidence on how best to use electronic records to improve care delivery; a need to improve the return on investment for physicians by providing value-added solutions such as greater connectivity to lab results, drug data and colleagues; the time it takes to implement a new electronic record capability and a lack of funds to acquire new technology.
Recent investments in Canada Health Infoway (CHI) will help address some of these issues but it is estimated that for Canada to have a fully automated health care delivery system we need to invest $ 10 to $12 billionv. An overall investment of $2 billion is required to fully IT enable the community-based health care delivery sector. While Budget 2009 provided $500 million to CHI for EMRs, more is still required.
Recommendation 11: The federal government should provide a further investment of $500 million for new technology to fully enable all points of care in the community settings and an enhanced change management program to speed up EMR adoption.
Recommendation 12: The federal government should create a $10-million fund to establish an applied research program for the next five years that will provide evidence on how best to integrate information technology into the health care delivery system.
Canada's doctors believe that we can build a health care system where all Canadians can get timely access to quality health care services regardless of their ability to pay. Developing a comprehensive HHR strategy that assures an adequate supply of all health care providers, including physicians, is a pillar of achieving timely access to high quality care. Building such a system requires that we shift our attitude and move to implement new strategies, new ideas and new thinking. That new thinking must begin with a commitment to act now to address Canada's physician shortage. A promise made must be a promise fulfilled.
i Canada's Health Care Providers 2007, Ottawa: CIHI, 2007
ii Frank E. Canadian physicians healthy - national survey finds. A report from the 2008 International Conference on Physician Health. London, UK Nov 2008.
iii Isaksson Ro, K et al. Counselling for burnout in Norwegian doctors : One year cohort study. BMJ. November 2008. Vol 337, 1146-9.
iv * Count of 14: EMR, EMR access other doctors, outside office, patient; routine use electronic ordering tests, prescriptions, access test results, access hospital records; computer for reminders, Rx alerts, prompt test results; easy to list diagnosis; medications, patients due for care.
v Vision 2015 - Advancing Canada's Next Generation of Healthcare, Canada Health Infoway, 2008