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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7 Jeffs, L., Law, M., Baker, G., & Norton, P. (2005). Patient Safety Research in Australia, United Kingdom, United States and Canada: A Summary of Research Priority Areas, Agenda-Setting Processes And Directions for Future Research in the Context of their Patient Safety Initiatives. Retrieved from http://www.patientsafetyinstitute.ca/English/news/eventProceedings/Documents/2005%20Research%20Retreat%20-%20Patient%20Safety%20Research%20Backgrounder%20Paper.pdf
8 Leape, L., Brennan, T., Laaird, N., Lawthers, A., Logalio, A., Barnes, B. et al. (1991). The nature of adverse events in hospitalized patients. New England Journal of Medicine 324 (6): 377-384.
9 Moonesinghe, S., Lowery, J., Shahi, N., Millen, A., & Beard, L. (2011). Impact of reduction in working hours for doctors in training on postgraduate medical education and patients' outcomes: systematic review. BMJ 342:d1580.
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11 Krueger, K. & Halperin, E. (2010). Perspective: Paying Physicians to Be On Call: A Challenge for Academic Medicine. Academic Medicine 85 (12); 1840-1844.
12 Williamson, A. & Feyer, A. (2000). Moderate Sleep Deprivation Produces Impairments in Cognitive and Motor Performance Equivalent to Legally Prescribed Levels of Alcohol Intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 57: 649-655.
13 Dawson, D. & Reid, K. (1997). Fatigue, Alcohol and Performance Impairment. Nature 388: 235.
14 Arnedt, J., Owens, J., Crouch, M., et al. (2005). Neurobehavioral Performance of Residents After Heavy Night Call vs After Alcohol Ingestion. Journal of American Medical Association 294(9): 1025-33.
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18 Eastridge, B., Hamilton, E., O'Keefe, G., Rege, R., Valentine, R. et al. (2003). Effect of sleep deprivation on the performance of simulated laproscopic surgical skill. The American Journal of Surgery 186: 169-174
19 Taffinder, N., McManus, I., Hul, Y., Russell, R., & Darzi, A. (1998). Effect of Sleep Deprivation on Surgeon's Dexterity on Laparsoscopy Simulator. The Lancet 352: 1191.
20 Rothschild, J., Keohane, C., Rogers, S., et al. (2009). Risks of Complications by Attending Physicians After Performing Nighttime Procedures. JAMA 302:1565-72.
21 Lockley, S., Cronin, J., Evans, E., Cade, B., Lee, C., et al. (2004). Effect of Reducing Interns' Weekly Work Hours on Sleep and Attentional Failures. N Engl J Med 351: 1829-1837.
22 Landrigan, C., Rothschild, J., Cronin, J., Kaushal, R., Burdick, E., et al. (2004). Effect of Rreducing Interns' Work Hours on Serious Medical Errors in Intensive-care Units. N Engl J Med 351: 1838-1848.
23 Barger, L., Ayas, N., Cade, B., Cronin, J., Rosner, B., et al. (2006). Impact of Extended-Duration Shifts on Medical Errors, Adverse Events, and Attentional Failures. PLoS Med 3(12): 2440-2448.
24 Landrigan, C., Rothschild, J., Cronin, J., et al. (2004). Effect of Reducing Interns' Work Hours on Serious Medical Errors in Intensive Care Units. New England Journal of Medicine 351:1838-48.
25 Van Dongen, H., Baynard, M., Maislin, G., et al. (2004). Systematic interindividual differences in neurobehavioral impairment from sleep loss: evidence of a trait-like differential vulnerability. Sleep 27: 423-433.
26 Philibert,I., Nasca, T., Brigham, T., & Shapiro, J. (2013). Duty-Hour Limits and Patient
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27 Volpp, K., Rosen, A., Rosenbaum, PR., et al. (2007). Mortality Among Hospitalized Medicare Beneficiaries in the First 2 Years Following the ACGME Resident Duty Hour Reform. JAMA 298: 975-983.
28 Volpp, K., Rosen, A., Rosenbaum, P., et al. (2007). Mortality Among Patients in VA Hospitals in the First 2 Years Following ACGME Resident Duty Hour Reform. JAMA 298(9): 984-992.
29 Antiel, R., Reed, D., Van Arendonk, K., Wightman, S., Hall, D., Porterfield, J., et al. (2013). Effects of Duty Hour Restrictions on Core Competencies, Education, Quality of Life, and Burnout Among General Surgery Interns. JAMA Surg 148(5):448-455.
30 Drolet, B., Sangisetty, S., Tracy, T., & Cioffi, W. (2013). Surgical Residents' Perceptions of 2011 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Duty Hour Regulations. JAMA Surg 148(5): 427-433.
31 Chang, L., Mahoney, J., Raty, S., Ortiz, J., Apodaca, S., & De La Garza II, R. (2013). Neurocognitive effects following an overnight call shift on faculty anesthesiologists. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand 57: 1051-1057.
32 Sharpe, J., Weinberg, J., Magnotti, L., Nouer, S., Yoo, W., Zarzaur, B. et al. (2013). Outcomes of Operations Performed by Attending Surgeons after Overnight Trauma Shifts. J Am Coll Surg 216:791- 799.
33 Olsen, E., Drage, L., Auger, R. (2009). Sleep Deprivation, Physician Performance, and Patient Safety. Chest 136: 1389-1396.
34 Choma, N., Vasilevskis, E., Sponsler, K., Hathaway, J., & Kripalani, S. Effect of the ACGME 16-Hour Rule on Efficiency and Quality of Care: Duty Hours 2.0. JAMA INTERN MED 173 (9): 819-821.
35 Canadian Medical Protective Association. (2013). CMPA Risk Fact Sheet: Patient Handover. Retrieved January 13, 2014 from https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/documents/10179/300031190/patient_handovers-e.pdf
36 Nicol, A., Botterill, J., (2004). On-call Work and Health: A Review. Environmental Health 3: 1-11.
37 Knutsson, A. & Boggild, H. (2010). Gastrointestinal disorders among shift workers. Scand J Work Environ Health 36(2): 85-95.
38 Vyas, M., Garg, A., Iansavichus, A., Costella, J., Donner, A., Laugsand, L., et al. (2012). Shift work and vascular events: systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal 345: e4800 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4800
39 Shields, M. (2002). Shift work and health. Health Reports 13(4):11-33.
40 Fritschi, L., Glass, D., Heyworth, J., Aronson, K., Girschik, J., Boyle, T., et al. (2011). Hypotheses for mechanisms linking shiftwork and cancer. Medical Hypotheses 77:430-436.
41 Kubo, T., Ozasa, K., Mikami, K., Wakai, K., Fujino, Y., Watanabe, Y., et al. (2006). Prospective cohort study of the risk of prostate cancer among rotating-shift workers: findings from the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology 164(6): 549-555.
42 Schernhammer, E., Laden, F., Speizer, F., Willett, W., Hunter, D., Kawachi, I., et al. (2003). Night-shift work and risk of colorectal cancer in the Nurses' Health Study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 95(11):825-828.
43 Shields, M. (2002). Shift work and health. Health Reports 13(4):11-33.
46 Occupational Cancer Research Centre and the Institute for Work & Health. Can the health effects of shift work be mitigated? A summary of select interventions. Retrieved March 10, 2013 from http://www.occupationalcancer.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Summary_intervention-research_FINAL.pdf
47 Eastridge, B., Hamilton, E., O'Keefe, G., Rege, R., Valentine, R. et al. (2003). Effect of Sleep Deprivation on the Performance of Simulated Laproscopic Surgical Skill. The American Journal of Surgery 186: 169-174.
48 Krueger, K. & Halperin, E. (2010). Perspective: Paying Physicians to Be On Call: A Challenge for Academic Medicine. Academic Medicine 85(12); 1840-1844.
49 Haines, V., Marchand, A., Rousseau, V., & Demers, A. (2008).The mediating role of work-to-family conflict in the relationship between shiftwork and depression. Work & Stress 22(4):341-356.
50 Jamal, M. (2004). Burnout, stress and health of employees on non-standard work schedules: a study of Canadian workers. Stress and Health 20:113-119.
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52 Baldwin, D., Daugherty, S., Tsai, R., et al. (2003). A National Survey of Residents' Self-reported Work Hours: Thinking Beyond Specialty. Academic Medicine 78:1154-1163.
53 Hamadani, F., Deckelbaum, D., Sauve, D., Khwaja, K., Razek, T., & Fata, P. (2013). Abolishment of24-HourContinuousMedical Call Duty in Quebec: A Quality of Life Survey of General Surgical Residents Following Implementation of the New Work-Hour Restrictions. J Surg 70: 296-303.
54 Folkard, S. & Tucker, P. (2003). Shift work, safety and productivity. Occupational Medicine 53: 95-101.
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58 Smith-Coggins, R., Howard, S., Mac D., Wang, C., Kwan, S., Rosekind, M., Sowb, Y., Balise, R., Levis, J., Gaba, D. (2006). Improving alertness and performance in emergency department physicians and nurses: the use of planned naps. Ann Emerg Med, 48(5): 596-604.
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61 Canadian Medical Protective Association. The new realities of medical care. Originally published September 2012. Retrieved January 12, 2014 from https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/the-new-realities-of-medical-care
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CMA CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM
A compassionate physician recognizes suffering and vulnerability, seeks to understand the unique circumstances
of each patient and to alleviate the patient’s suffering, and accompanies the suffering and vulnerable patient.
An honest physician is forthright, respects the truth, and does their best to seek, preserve, and communicate
that truth sensitively and respectfully.
A humble physician acknowledges and is cautious not to overstep the limits of their knowledge and skills or the
limits of medicine, seeks advice and support from colleagues in challenging circumstances, and recognizes the
patient’s knowledge of their own circumstances.
A physician who acts with integrity demonstrates consistency in their intentions and actions and acts in a
truthful manner in accordance with professional expectations, even in the face of adversity.
A prudent physician uses clinical and moral reasoning and judgement, considers all relevant knowledge
and circumstances, and makes decisions carefully, in good conscience, and with due regard for principles of
exemplary medical care.
The CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism articulates the ethical and professional commitments and responsibilities of the
medical profession. The Code provides standards of ethical practice to guide physicians in fulfilling their obligation to provide
the highest standard of care and to foster patient and public trust in physicians and the profession. The Code is founded on
and affirms the core values and commitments of the profession and outlines responsibilities related to contemporary medical
In this Code, ethical practice is understood as a process of active inquiry, reflection, and decision-making concerning what
a physician’s actions should be and the reasons for these actions. The Code informs ethical decision-making, especially in
situations where existing guidelines are insufficient or where values and principles are in tension. The Code is not exhaustive;
it is intended to provide standards of ethical practice that can be interpreted and applied in particular situations. The Code and
other CMA policies constitute guidelines that provide a common ethical framework for physicians in Canada.
In this Code, medical ethics concerns the virtues, values, and principles that should guide the medical profession, while
professionalism is the embodiment or enactment of responsibilities arising from those norms through standards,
competencies, and behaviours. Together, the virtues and commitments outlined in the Code are fundamental to the ethical
practice of medicine.
Physicians should aspire to uphold the virtues and commitments in the Code, and they are expected to enact the professional
responsibilities outlined in it.
Physicians should be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that govern medical practice in their jurisdictions.
Trust is the cornerstone of the patient–physician relationship and of medical professionalism. Trust is therefore
central to providing the highest standard of care and to the ethical practice of medicine. Physicians enhance
trustworthiness in the profession by striving to uphold the following interdependent virtues:
A. VIRTUES EXEMPLIFIED BY THE ETHICAL PHYSICIAN
B. FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENTS OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Consider first the well-being of the patient; always act to benefit the patient and promote the good of the patient.
Provide appropriate care and management across the care continuum.
Take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize harm to the patient; disclose to the patient if there is a
risk of harm or if harm has occurred.
Recognize the balance of potential benefits and harms associated with any medical act; act to bring about
a positive balance of benefits over harms.
Commitment to the well-being of the patient
Promote the well-being of communities and populations by striving to improve health outcomes and
access to care, reduce health inequities and disparities in care, and promote social accountability.
Commitment to justice
Practise medicine competently, safely, and with integrity; avoid any influence that could undermine
your professional integrity.
Develop and advance your professional knowledge, skills, and competencies through lifelong learning.
Commitment to professional integrity and competence
Always treat the patient with dignity and respect the equal and intrinsic worth of all persons.
Always respect the autonomy of the patient.
Never exploit the patient for personal advantage.
Never participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.
Commitment to respect for persons
Contribute to the development and innovation in medicine through clinical practice, research, teaching,
mentorship, leadership, quality improvement, administration, or advocacy on behalf of the profession or
Participate in establishing and maintaining professional standards and engage in processes that support
the institutions involved in the regulation of the profession.
Cultivate collaborative and respectful relationships with physicians and learners in all areas of medicine
and with other colleagues and partners in health care.
Commitment to professional excellence
Value personal health and wellness and strive to model self-care; take steps to optimize meaningful
co-existence of professional and personal life.
Value and promote a training and practice culture that supports and responds effectively to colleagues in
need and empowers them to seek help to improve their physical, mental, and social well-being.
Recognize and act on the understanding that physician health and wellness needs to be addressed at
individual and systemic levels, in a model of shared responsibility.
Commitment to self-care and peer support
Value and foster individual and collective inquiry and reflection to further medical science and to
facilitate ethical decision-making.
Foster curiosity and exploration to further your personal and professional development and insight; be
open to new knowledge, technologies, ways of practising, and learning from others.
Commitment to inquiry and reflection
C. PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
The patient–physician relationship is at the heart of the practice of medicine. It is a relationship of trust that recognizes the
inherent vulnerability of the patient even as the patient is an active participant in their own care. The physician owes a duty of
loyalty to protect and further the patient’s best interests and goals of care by using the physician’s expertise, knowledge, and
prudent clinical judgment.
In the context of the patient–physician relationship:
1. Accept the patient without discrimination (such as on the basis of age, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic
characteristics, language, marital and family status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status). This does not abrogate the right of the physician to refuse to
accept a patient for legitimate reasons.
2. Having accepted professional responsibility for the patient, continue to provide services until these services are no longer
required or wanted, or until another suitable physician has assumed responsibility for the patient, or until after the
patient has been given reasonable notice that you intend to terminate the relationship.
3. Act according to your conscience and respect differences of conscience among your colleagues; however, meet your
duty of non-abandonment to the patient by always acknowledging and responding to the patient’s medical concerns and
requests whatever your moral commitments may be.
4. Inform the patient when your moral commitments may influence your recommendation concerning provision of, or
practice of any medical procedure or intervention as it pertains to the patient’s needs or requests.
5. Communicate information accurately and honestly with the patient in a manner that the patient understands and can
apply, and confirm the patient’s understanding.
6. Recommend evidence-informed treatment options; recognize that inappropriate use or overuse of treatments or
resources can lead to ineffective, and at times harmful, patient care and seek to avoid or mitigate this.
7. Limit treatment of yourself, your immediate family, or anyone with whom you have a similarly close relationship to
minor or emergency interventions and only when another physician is not readily available; there should be no fee for
8. Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person who needs emergency medical care.
9. Ensure that any research to which you contribute is evaluated both scientifically and ethically and is approved by a
research ethics board that adheres to current standards of practice. When involved in research, obtain the informed
consent of the research participant and advise prospective participants that they have the right to decline to participate
or withdraw from the study at any time, without negatively affecting their ongoing care.
10. Never participate in or condone the practice of torture or any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedure.
Physicians and patients
11. Empower the patient to make informed decisions regarding their health by communicating with and helping the patient
(or, where appropriate, their substitute decision-maker) navigate reasonable therapeutic options to determine the best
course of action consistent with their goals of care; communicate with and help the patient assess material risks and
benefits before consenting to any treatment or intervention.
12. Respect the decisions of the competent patient to accept or reject any recommended assessment, treatment, or plan of
13. Recognize the need to balance the developing competency of minors and the role of families and caregivers in medical
decision-making for minors, while respecting a mature minor’s right to consent to treatment and manage their personal
14. Accommodate a patient with cognitive impairments to participate, as much as possible, in decisions that affect them;
in such cases, acknowledge and support the positive roles of families and caregivers in medical decision-making and
collaborate with them, where authorized by the patient’s substitute decision-maker, in discerning and making decisions
about the patient’s goals of care and best interests.
15. Respect the values and intentions of a patient deemed incompetent as they were expressed previously through advance
care planning discussions when competent, or via a substitute decision-maker.
16. When the specific intentions of an incompetent patient are unknown and in the absence of a formal mechanism for
making treatment decisions, act consistently with the patient’s discernable values and goals of care or, if these are
unknown, act in the patient’s best interests.
17. Respect the patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion from a recognized medical expert.
Physicians and the practice of medicine
Patient privacy and the duty of confidentiality
18. Fulfill your duty of confidentiality to the patient by keeping identifiable patient information confidential; collecting,
using, and disclosing only as much health information as necessary to benefit the patient; and sharing information only
to benefit the patient and within the patient’s circle of care. Exceptions include situations where the informed consent of
the patient has been obtained for disclosure or as provided for by law.
19. Provide the patient or a third party with a copy of their medical record upon the patient’s request, unless there is a
compelling reason to believe that information contained in the record will result in substantial harm to the patient or
20. Recognize and manage privacy requirements within training and practice environments and quality improvement
initiatives, in the context of secondary uses of data for health system management, and when using new technologies in
21. Avoid health care discussions, including in personal, public, or virtual conversations, that could reasonably be seen as
revealing confidential or identifying information or as being disrespectful to patients, their families, or caregivers.
Medical decision-making is ideally a deliberative process that engages the patient in shared decision-making and is informed
by the patient’s experience and values and the physician’s clinical judgment. This deliberation involves discussion with the
patient and, with consent, others central to the patient’s care (families, caregivers, other health professionals) to support
In the process of shared decision-making:
22. Recognize that conflicts of interest may arise as a result of competing roles (such as financial, clinical, research,
organizational, administrative, or leadership).
23. Enter into associations, contracts, and agreements that maintain your professional integrity, consistent with evidenceinformed
decision-making, and safeguard the interests of the patient or public.
24. Avoid, minimize, or manage and always disclose conflicts of interest that arise, or are perceived to arise, as a result of
any professional relationships or transactions in practice, education, and research; avoid using your role as a physician to
promote services (except your own) or products to the patient or public for commercial gain outside of your treatment role.
25. Take reasonable steps to ensure that the patient understands the nature and extent of your responsibility to a third party
when acting on behalf of a third party.
26. Discuss professional fees for non-insured services with the patient and consider their ability to pay in determining fees.
27. When conducting research, inform potential research participants about anything that may give rise to a conflict of
interest, especially the source of funding and any compensation or benefits.
28. Be aware of and promote health and wellness services, and other resources, available to you and colleagues in need.
29. Seek help from colleagues and appropriate medical care from qualified professionals for personal and professional
problems that might adversely affect your health and your services to patients.
30. Cultivate training and practice environments that provide physical and psychological safety and encourage help-seeking
31. Treat your colleagues with dignity and as persons worthy of respect. Colleagues include all learners, health care partners,
and members of the health care team.
32. Engage in respectful communications in all media.
33. Take responsibility for promoting civility, and confronting incivility, within and beyond the profession. Avoid impugning
the reputation of colleagues for personal motives; however, report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional
conduct by colleagues.
34. Assume responsibility for your personal actions and behaviours and espouse behaviours that contribute to a positive
training and practice culture.
35. Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship and leadership opportunities across all levels of training, practice,
and health system delivery.
36. Support interdisciplinary team-based practices; foster team collaboration and a shared accountability for patient care.
Physicians and self
Physicians and colleagues
Managing and minimizing conflicts of interest
38. Recognize that social determinants of health, the environment, and other fundamental considerations that extend
beyond medical practice and health systems are important factors that affect the health of the patient and of
39. Support the profession’s responsibility to act in matters relating to public and population health, health education,
environmental determinants of health, legislation affecting public and population health, and judicial testimony.
40. Support the profession’s responsibility to promote equitable access to health care resources and to promote resource
41. Provide opinions consistent with the current and widely accepted views of the profession when interpreting scientific
knowledge to the public; clearly indicate when you present an opinion that is contrary to the accepted views of the
42. Contribute, where appropriate, to the development of a more cohesive and integrated health system through interprofessional
collaboration and, when possible, collaborative models of care.
43. Commit to collaborative and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients and communities through efforts
to understand and implement the recommendations relevant to health care made in the report of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
44. Contribute, individually and in collaboration with others, to improving health care services and delivery to address
systemic issues that affect the health of the patient and of populations, with particular attention to disadvantaged,
vulnerable, or underserved communities.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
37. Commit to ensuring the quality of medical services offered to patients and society through the establishment and
maintenance of professional standards.
Physicians and society
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submits this brief to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs for consideration as part of its study on Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018.
The CMA unites physicians on national, pan-Canadian health and medical matters. As the national advocacy organization representing physicians and the medical profession, the CMA engages with provincial/territorial governments on pan-Canadian health and health care priorities.
As outlined in this submission, the CMA supports the position of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in recommending that Schedule 1 of Bill 47 be amended to strike down the proposed new Section 50(6) of the Employment Standards Act, 2000. This section proposes to reinstate an employer’s ability to require an employee to provide a sick note for short leaves of absence because of personal illness, injury or medical emergency.
Ontario is currently a national leader on sick notes
In 2018, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in Canada to withdraw the ability of employers to require employees to provide sick notes for short medical leaves because of illnesses such as a cold or flu. This legislative change aligned with the CMA’s policy position1 and was strongly supported by the medical and health policy community.
An emerging pan-Canadian concern about the use of sick notes
As health systems across Canada continue to grapple with the need to be more efficient, the use of sick notes for short leaves as a human resources tool to manage employee absenteeism has drawn increasing criticism in recent years. In addition to Ontario’s leadership, here are a few recent cases that demonstrate the emerging concern about the use of sick notes for short leaves:
In 2016, proposed legislation to end the practice was tabled in the Manitoba legislature.2
The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and Doctors Nova Scotia have been vocal opponents of sick notes for short leaves, characterizing them as a strain on the health care system.3,4
The University of Alberta and Queen’s University have both formally adopted “no sick note” policies for exams.5,6
The report of Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review summarized stakeholder comments about sick notes, describing them as “costly, very often result from a telephone consultation and repeat what the physician is told by the patient, and which are of very little value to the employer.”7
Ontario’s action in 2018 to remove the ability of employers to require sick notes, in response to the real challenges posed by this practice, was meaningful and demonstrated leadership in the national context.
The requirement to obtain sick notes negatively affects patients and the public
By walking back this advancement, Ontario risks reintroducing a needless inefficiency and strain on the health system, health care providers, their patients and families. For patients, having to produce a sick note for an
employer following a short illness-related leave could represent an unfair economic impact. Individuals who do not receive paid sick days may face the added burden of covering the cost of obtaining a sick note as well as related transportation fees in addition to losing their daily wage. This scenario illustrates an unfair socioeconomic impact of the proposal to reinstate employers’ ability to require sick notes.
In representing the voice of Canada’s doctors, the CMA would be remiss not to mention the need for individuals who are ill to stay home, rest and recover. In addition to adding a physical strain on patients who are ill, the requirement for employees who are ill to get a sick note, may also contribute to the spread of viruses and infection. Allowing employers to require sick notes may also contribute to the spread of illness as employees may choose to forego the personal financial impact, and difficulty to secure an appointment, and simply go to work sick.
Reinstating sick notes contradicts the government’s commitment to end hallway medicine
It is important to consider these potential negative consequences in the context of the government’s commitment to “end hallway medicine.” If the proposal to reintroduce the ability of employers to require sick notes for short medical leaves is adopted, the government will be introducing an impediment to meeting its core health care commitment.
Reinstating sick notes would increase the administrative burden on physicians
Finally, as the national organization representing the medical profession in Canada, the CMA is concerned about how this proposal, if implemented, may negatively affect physician health and wellness. The CMA recently released a new baseline survey, CMA National Physician Health Survey: A National Snapshot, that reveals physician health is a growing concern.8 While the survey found that 82% of physicians and residents reported high resilience, a concerning one in four respondents reported experiencing high levels of burnout.
How are these findings relevant to the proposed new Section 50(6) of the Employment Standards Act, 2000? Paperwork and administrative burden are routinely found to rank as a key contributor to physician burnout.9 While a certain level of paperwork and administrative responsibility is to be expected, health system and policy decision-makers must avoid introducing an unnecessary burden in our health care system.
Conclusion: Remove Section 50(6) from Schedule 1 of Bill 47
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide this submission for consideration by the committee in its study of Bill 47. The committee has an important opportunity to respond to the real challenges associated with sick notes for short medical leaves by ensuring that Section 50(6) in Schedule 1 is not implemented as part of Bill 47.
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Third-Party Forms (Update 2017). Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD17-02.pdf (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
2 Bill 202. The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Sick Notes). Winnipeg: Queen’s Printer for the Province of Manitoba; 2016. Available: https://web2.gov.mb.ca/bills/40-5/pdf/b202.pdf (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
3 CBC News. Sick notes required by employers a strain on system, says NLMA. 2018 May 30. Available: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/employer-required-sick-notes-unnecessary-says-nlma-1.4682899
4 CBC News. No more sick notes from workers, pleads Doctors Nova Scotia. 2014 Jan 10. Available: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/no-more-sick-notes-from-workers-pleads-doctors-nova-scotia-1.2491526 (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
5 University of Alberta University Health Centre. Exam deferrals. Edmonton: University of Alberta; 2018. Available: www.ualberta.ca/services/health-centre/exam-deferrals (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
6 Queen’s University Student Wellness Services. Sick notes. Kingston: Queen’s University; 2018. Available: www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/health-services/services-offered/sick-notes (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
7 Ministry of Labour. The Changing Workplaces Review: An Agenda for Workplace Rights. Final Report. Toronto: Ministry of Labour; 2017 May. Available: https://files.ontario.ca/books/mol_changing_workplace_report_eng_2_0.pdf (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
8 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). One in four Canadian physicians report burnout [media release]. Ottawa: The Association; 2018 Oct 10. Available: www.cma.ca/En/Pages/One-in-four-Canadian-physicians-report-burnout-.aspx (accessed 2019 Nov 13).
9 Leslie C. The burden of paperwork. Med Post 2018 Apr.