Palliative care is an approach that aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life of those facing life-limiting acute or chronic conditions by means of early identification, assessment, treatment of pain and other symptoms and support of all physical, emotional and spiritual needs. It may coexist with other goals of care, such as prevention, treatment and management of chronic conditions, or it may be the sole focus of care.
1. All Canadian residents should have access to comprehensive, quality palliative care services regardless of age, care setting, diagnosis, ethnicity, language and financial status.1
2. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) declares that its members should adhere to the principles of palliative care whereby relief of suffering and quality of living are valued equally to other goals of medicine.
3. The CMA believes that all health care professionals should have access to referral for palliative care services and expertise.2
4. The CMA supports the integration of the palliative care approach into the management of life-limiting acute and chronic disease.3
5. The CMA advocates for the integration of accessible, quality palliative care services into acute, community and chronic care service delivery models4 that align with patient and family needs.
6. The CMA supports the implementation of a shared care model, emphasizing collaboration and open communication among physicians and other health care professionals.5
7. The CMA recognizes that the practice of assisted dying as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada is distinct from the practice of palliative care.
Access to palliative care services
8. The CMA believes that every person nearing the end of life who wishes to receive palliative care services at home should have access to them.
9. Comprehensive, quality palliative care services must be made available to all Canadians and efforts to broaden the availability of palliative care in Canada should be intensified.6
10. The CMA calls upon the federal government, in cooperation with provincial and territorial governments, to improve access to pediatric palliative care through enhanced funding, training and awareness campaigns.7
11. The CMA will engage in physician human resource planning to develop an appropriate strategy to ensure the delivery of quality palliative care throughout Canada.8
12. All physicians require basic competencies in palliative care and may require enhanced skills appropriate to their practice.
13. The CMA requests that all Canadian faculties of medicine create a training curriculum in palliative care suitable for physicians at all stages of their medical education and relevant to the settings in which they practise.9
Role of governments
14. The CMA calls on governments to work toward a common strategy for palliative care to ensure equitable access to and adequate standards for quality palliative care.10
15. The CMA recommends that all relevant legislation be amended to recognize that any person whose medical condition warrants it is entitled to receive palliative care.11
16. The CMA supports emergency funding for end-of-life care for uninsured people residing in Canada.12
In Canada, the impact of end-of-life care on both individuals and the health care system is "staggering," and the demand for this care will continue to grow as the population ages.13 It is estimated that the number of Canadians dying each year will increase by 40% to 330,000 by 2026. The well-being of an average of five others will be affected by each of those deaths, or more than 1.6 million people.14 Against this backdrop, the availability of and access to palliative care is an urgent policy and practice imperative.
There has been mounting support for, and mounting criticism of the lack of, a national strategy for palliative care.15 The delivery of palliative care varies greatly across Canada due to differences in regional demographics, societal needs, government involvement and funding structures. Similarly, funding and legislation supporting access to palliative care services vary significantly between jurisdictions.
A recent survey of Canadian physicians who provide palliative medicine found that: (1) Canada needs an adequate palliative medicine workforce; (2) primary care providers need more support for palliative care education and training; (3) palliative medicine as a distinct discipline must be further developed to better meet the complex needs of patients; and (4) Canada must ensure minimum palliative medicine standards are met.16
In an effort to address the current challenges in palliative care and improve both the quality of care and access to care, the CMA developed recommendations for a national call to action:
1. All patients should have a primary care provider that can support them with their palliative care needs or else refer these patients earlier to a palliative care team to establish goals of care.
2. Physicians should provide leadership at local, regional, provincial/territorial and federal levels to promote the establishment of integrated models of palliative care.
3. All physicians should obtain essential palliative care skills and knowledge to provide basic palliative care services to their patients.
4. Physicians should advocate for adequate and appropriate home palliative care resources so their patients can stay in their homes as long as possible.
5. Physicians should advocate for an adequate number of palliative and/or hospice care beds to meet their communities' needs.
6. Continuing care facilities and long-term care homes should have in-house palliative care physician support on their palliative care teams.
7. Physicians should support the valuable work of hospice volunteers.
8. Medical students are encouraged to look at palliative care as a rewarding career.
9. Practising palliative care physicians are encouraged, if needed, to obtain additional certified training in palliative care from either the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
10. Physicians acknowledge the value of and support the participation of family and friends in caring for their loved ones at the end of life.
Integrated palliative approach to care
There are four main models of palliative care delivery in Canada: integrated palliative care programs, continuing care and long-term care facilities, residential hospices, and home-based palliative care.
Palliative care was originally developed in cancer care to provide patients dying of cancer with care at the very end of life by a specialized palliative care team.17 This model has evolved significantly in response to the increasing occurrence of, and burden posed by, complex chronic disease18. Palliative care is now also provided to patients with multiple co-occurring morbidities who require multiple interventions. It is now recognized to benefit all those living with life-limiting acute or chronic conditions, including, or perhaps especially, when it is initiated earlier in the disease trajectory.
Evidence shows that integrated and early provision of palliative care leads to: (1) better outcomes than those obtained with treatment alone (e.g., improvements in symptoms, quality of life and patient satisfaction; positive effects on emotional wellness; decreased suffering; and at times increased longevity) and (2) better use of resources (e.g., less burden on caregivers, more appropriate referrals to hospice palliative care, more effective use of palliative care experts, less use of emergency and intensive interventions and decreased cost of care).19-20-21-22 Taken together, these studies validate the benefits of integrating palliative care services with standard treatment and involving palliative care providers early, a collaborative approach that transcends the conventional view that palliative care is care delivered at the very end of life.
At present, there is strong support for the development and implementation of an integrated palliative approach to care. Integration effectively occurs:
* throughout the disease trajectory;
* across care settings (primary care, acute care, long-term and complex continuing care, residential hospices, shelters, home);
* across professions/disciplines and specialties;
* between the health care system and communities; and
* with changing needs from primary palliative care through to specialist palliative care teams.
The integrated palliative approach to care focuses on meeting a person's and family's full range of physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs at all stages of frailty or chronic illness, not just at the end of life.23 It is provided in all health care settings. The palliative approach to care is not delayed until the end stages of an illness but is applied earlier to provide active comfort-focused care and a positive approach to reducing suffering. It also promotes understanding of loss and bereavement (Fig. 1).
Specialized palliative units and hospices are essential for end-of-life care for some individuals but are not appropriate for all persons facing life-limiting chronic conditions. When a palliative approach is offered in multiple settings, people and their families can receive better care through the many transitions of chronic conditions like dementia, lung, kidney and heart diseases, and cancer. This requires that all physicians be competent in initiating a primary palliative approach: they must be able to engage in advance care planning discussions, ask about physical and emotional symptoms and make appropriate, timely referrals to other providers and resources. Primary care physicians may need to develop more expertise in palliative care. A cadre of expert palliative care physicians will be required to provide care in complex cases, engage in education and research, and provide support for health professional colleagues providing palliative care in multiple settings. All health professionals must be able to practise competently in an integrated palliative approach to care.
At the heart of an integrated palliative approach to care are a patient and family surrounded by a team of multidisciplinary professionals and community providers (Fig. 2). While team members vary depending on the needs of the patients and families, the principles of whole-person care and family care do not change. This allows patients and families to have their symptoms managed, receive care in the setting of their choice, engage in ongoing discussions about their preferences for care and experience a sense of autonomy in living their lives well.
A report on The Way Forward, a project of the Quality End-of-Life Coalition of Canada and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, summarizes the situation as follows: "Only a small proportion of Canadians will need the kind of complex, intensive or tertiary hospice palliative care provided by expert palliative care teams in institutional settings, such as residential hospices and acute care hospitals. However, everyone who is becoming frail or is faced with a chronic illness could benefit from certain key palliative care services. As our population ages, we must ensure that all Canadians have access to palliative services integrated with their other care that will help them manage symptoms, enhance their lives, give them a greater sense of control, and enable them to make informed decisions about the care they want. More equitable access to palliative care integrated with their other care will enable more Canadians to live well with their illness up to the end of life. It will also enable more people to receive care in the setting of their choice and reduce the demand on acute care resources." 24
Access to palliative care services
There are currently no reliable data on the number of specialized or semi-specialized palliative care physicians in Canada. It is difficult to count these physicians because palliative care has not historically existed as a specialty. Physicians practising palliative care have a wide variety of backgrounds and training, and many provide palliative care on a part-time basis. The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians is currently working with partner organizations including the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to better define the different types of palliative care physicians to conduct a meaningful count.
On the question of access, studies have found that palliative care services are not aligned with patient preferences. For example, while 70% of hospitalized elderly patients reported wanting comfort measures rather than life-prolonging treatment, more than two-thirds were admitted to intensive care units.25 Most patients and caregivers report wanting to die at home26 and in-home palliative team care is a cost-effective intervention,27 but the value of this form of care is not reflected in many provincial policies. Instead, Canadian families frequently shoulder 25% of the total cost of palliative care because they must pay for home-based services,28 such as nursing and personal care services, that are not provided by governments.
With the goal of improving the congruence between patient treatment preferences for end-of-life care and the services provided, Health Quality Ontario developed an evidentiary platform to inform public policy on strategies to optimize quality end-of-life care in in-patient and outpatient (community) settings. It identified four domains in which access to end-of-life care should be optimized to align with patient preferences: (1) location (determinants of place of death); (2) communication (patient care planning discussions and end-of-life educational interventions); (3) team-based models of care; and (4) services (cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR] and supportive interventions for informal caregivers).29
It is well recognized that education in palliative care is lacking in medical school and residency training. In response, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, conducted the Educating Future Physicians in Palliative and End-of-Life Care Project30 to develop consensus-based competencies for undergraduate medical trainees and a core curriculum that was implemented in all 17 Canadian medical schools. Despite these efforts, a survey conducted by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians found that the competencies are not being consistently taught in medical schools, as evidenced by the fact that 10 medical schools offered less than 10 hours of teaching on palliative care and two offered none.31
Moreover, evidence suggests that Canadian physicians are not consistently or adequately trained in palliative care. There is a general lack of providers trained in palliative care for service provision, teaching, consultative support to other physicians and research. To fill the observed gap in education, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada is developing Palliative Medicine as a subspecialty, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada is developing a Certificate of Added Competence in Palliative Care.
What is more, different levels of palliative care competencies are required for different physicians:
* All physicians require basic skills in palliative care.
* Palliative consultants and physicians who frequently care for patients with chronic illnesses and/or frail seniors require enhanced skills.
* Palliative medicine specialists and palliative medicine educators require expert skills.
More broadly, the undergraduate curricula of all health care disciplines should include instruction in the principles and practices of palliative care, including how to access specialized palliative care consultation and services.
Role of governments
Access to palliative care must be treated with the same consideration as access to all other medical care. Provincial/territorial and federal legislation, however, is vague in this regard and does not recognize access to palliative care as an entitlement. Government funding of community-based hospice palliative care has not increased proportionately to the number of institutionally based palliative care beds that have been cut, leaving a significant gap in the health care system.32 To address this issue, efforts to broaden the availability of and access to palliative care in Canada need to be intensified. It is imperative that governments develop a common palliative care strategy to ensure equitable access to and adequate standards for quality palliative care, including emergency funding for those who are uninsured.
Integrated palliative approach to care: An approach that focuses on quality of life and reduction of suffering as a goal of care. This approach may coexist with other goals of care - prevention, cure, management of chronic illness - or be the sole focus of care. The palliative approach integrates palliative care services throughout the treatment of a person with serious life-limiting illness, not just at the very end of life.
Palliative care services: Generally consists of palliative care provided by a multidisciplinary team. The team may include a primary care physician, a palliative care physician, nurses, allied health professionals (as needed), social workers, providers of pastoral care and counselling, bereavement specialists and volunteers. The team members work together in a shared care model.
Shared care model: An approach to care that uses the skills and knowledge of a range of health professionals who share joint responsibility for an individual's care. This model involves monitoring and exchanging patient data and sharing skills and knowledge among disciplines.33
1 Policy Resolution GC99-87 - Access to end-of-life and palliative care services. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 1999. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
2Policy Resolution GC14-20 - Palliative care services and expertise. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
3Policy Resolution GC13-67 - Palliative Care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
4Policy Resolution GC13-66 - Palliative Care Services. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
5 Policy Resolution GC13-80 - Collaborative palliative care model. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
6Policy Document PD15-02 - Euthanasia And Assisted Death (Update 2014). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assetslibrary/document/en/advocacy/EOL/CMA_Policy_Euthanasia_Assisted%20Death_PD15-02-e.pdf#search=Euthanasia%20and (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
7 Policy Resolution GC06-12 - Access to pediatric palliative care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2006. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
8Policy Resolution GC14-23 - Delivery of quality palliative end-of-life care throughout Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
9Policy Resolution GC13-71 - Training in palliative care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
10Policy Document PD10-02 - Funding the continuum of care.Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2010. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
11Policy Resolution GC13-70 - Palliative Care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
12Policy Resolution GC14-26 - Emergency funding for end-of-life care for uninsured people residing in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
13 OHTAC End-of-Life Collaborative. Health care for people approaching the end of life: an evidentiary framework. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario; 2014. Available: http://www.hqontario.ca/evidence/publications-and-ohtac-recommendations/ontario-health-technology-assessment-series/eol-evidentiary-framework.
14 Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2012. Ottawa: Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada; 2010. Available: http://www.qelccc.ca/media/3743/blueprint_for_action_2010_to_2020_april_2010.pdf.
15 Fowler R, Hammer M. End-of-life care in Canada. Clin Invest Med. 2013;36(3):E127-E32.
16 Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians. Highlights from the National Palliative Medicine Survey. Surrey (BC): Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, Human Resources Committee; May 2015.
17 Bacon J. The palliative approach: improving care for Canadians with life-limiting illnesses. Ottawa: Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association; 2012. Available: http://www.hpcintegration.ca/media/38753/TWF-palliative-approach-report-English-final2.pdf.
18 Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee OCDM Collaborative. Optimizing chronic disease management in the community (outpatient) setting (OCDM): an evidentiary framework. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario; 2013. Available: www.hqontario.ca/Portals/0/Documents/eds/ohtas/compendium-ocdm-130912-en.pdf.
19 Zimmermann C, Swami N, Krzyzanowska M, Hannon B, et al. Early palliative care for patients with advanced cancer: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2014;383(9930):1721-1730.
20 Klinger CA, Howell D, Marshall D, Zakus D, et al. Resource utilization and cost analyses of home-based palliative care service provision: the Niagara West end-of-life shared-care project. Palliat Med. 2013;27(2):115-122.
21 Temel JS, Greer JA, Muzikansky MA, Gallagher ER, et al. Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. NEJM. 2010;363:733-742.
22 Bakitas M, Lyons KD, Hegel MT, Balan S, et al. Effects of a palliative care intervention on clinical outcomes in patients with advanced cancer: the Project ENABLE II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2009;302:741-749.
23 Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. The Way Forward National Framework: a roadmap for an integrated palliative approach to care. Ottawa: Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada; 2014. Available: http://www.qelccc.ca/media/3743/blueprint_for_action_2010_to_2020_april_2010.pdf
24 Quality End-of-Life Coalition of Canada, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. The Way Forward National Framework: a roadmap for the integrated palliative approach to care. Quality End-of-Life Coaltion of Canada; 2014. Available: http://www.hpcintegration.ca/media/60044/TWF-framework-doc-Eng-2015-final-April1.pdf.
25 Cook D, Rocker G. End of life care in Canada: a report from the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Forum. Clin Invest Med. 2013;36(3):E112-E113.
26 Brazil, K, Howell D, Bedard M, Krueger P, et al. Preferences for place of care and place of death among informal caregivers of the terminally ill. Palliat Med. 2005;19(6):492-499.
27 Pham B, Krahn M. End-of-life care interventions: an economic analysis. Ontario Health Quality Technology Assessment Series. 2014;14(18):1-70. Available: http://www.qelccc.ca/media/3743/blueprint_for_action_2010_to_2020_april_2010.pdf.
28 Dumont S, Jacobs P, Fassbender K, Anderson D, et al. Costs associated with resource utilization during the palliative phase of care: a Canadian perspective. Palliat Med. 2009;23(8)708-717.
29 OHTAC End-of-Life Collaborative. Health care for people approaching the end of life: an evidentiary framework. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario; 2014. Available: www.hqontario.ca/evidence/publications-and-ohtac-recommendations/ontario-health-technology-assessment-series/eol-evidentiary-framework
30 Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada. Educating future physicians in palliative and end-of-life care. Ottawa: Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada; 2004. Available: http://22.214.171.124/social-educating-physicians-e.php.
31 Daneault S. Undergraduate training in palliative care in Canada in 2011. Montreal: Soins palliatifs, Hôpital Notre-Dame, Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal; 2012.
32 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Fact sheet 2012: hospice palliative care in Canada. Available: http://www.chpca.net/media/330558/Fact_Sheet_HPC_in_Canada%20Spring%202014%20Final.pdf.
33 Moorehead, R. Sharing care between allied health professional and general practitioners. Aust Fam Physician. 1995;24(11).
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
Clinical photography is a valuable tool for physicians. Smartphones, as well as other devices supporting network connectivity, offer a convenient, efficient method to take and share images. However, due to the private nature of the information contained in clinical photographs there are concerns as to the appropriate storage, dissemination, and documentation of clinical images. Confidentiality of image data must be considered and the dissemination of these images onto servers must respect the privacy and rights of the patient. Importantly, patient information should be considered as any information deriving from a patient, and the concepts outlined therefore apply to any media that can be collected on, or transmitted with, a smart-device.
Clinical photography can aid in documenting form and function, in tracking conditions and wound healing, in planning surgical operations, and in clinical decision-making. Additionally, clinical photographs can provide physicians with a valuable tool for patient communication and education. Due to the convenience of this type of technology it is not appropriate to expect physicians to forego their use in providing their patients with the best care available.
The technology and software required for secure transfer, communication, and storage of clinical media is presently available, but many devices have non-secure storage/dissemination options enabled and lack user-control for permanently deleting digital files. In addition, data uploaded onto server systems commonly cross legal jurisdictions. Many physicians are not comfortable with the practice, citing security, privacy, and confidentiality concerns as well as uncertainty in regards to regional regulations governing this practice.1 Due to concern for patient privacy and confidentiality it is therefore incredibly important to limit the unsecure or undocumented acquisition or dissemination of clinical photographs.
To assess the current state of this topic, Heyns et al. have reviewed the accessibility and completeness of provincial and territorial medical regulatory college guidelines.2 Categories identified as vital and explored in this review included: Consent; Storage; Retention; Audit; Transmission; and Breach. While each regulatory body has addressed limited aspects of the overall issue, the authors found a general lack of available information and call for a unified document outlining pertinent instructions for conducting clinical photography using a smartphone and the electronic transmission of patient information.2
The discussion of this topic will need to be ongoing and it is important that physicians are aware of applicable regulations, both at the federal and provincial levels, and how these regulations may impact the use of personal devices. The best practices supported here aim to provide physicians and healthcare providers with an understanding of the scope and gravity of the current environment, as well as the information needed to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality is assessed and protected while physicians utilize accessible clinical photography to advance patient care. Importantly, this document only focusses on medical use (clinical, academic, and educational) of clinical photography and, while discussing many core concepts of patient privacy and confidentiality of information, should not be perceived as a complete or binding framework. Additionally, it is recommended that physicians understand the core competencies of clinical photography, which are not described here.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests that the following recommendations be implemented, as thoroughly as possible, to best align with the CMA policy on the Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy (CMA Policy PD2018-02). These key recommendations represent a non-exhaustive set of best practices - physicians should seek additional information as needed to gain a thorough understanding and to stay current in this rapidly changing field.
* Informed consent must be obtained, preferably prior, to photography with a mobile device. This applies for each and any such encounter and the purpose made clear (i.e. clinical, research, education, publication, etc.). Patients should also be made aware that they may request a copy of a picture or for a picture to be deleted.
* A patient's consent to use electronic transmission does not relieve a physician of their duty to protect the confidentiality of patient information. Also, a patient's consent cannot override other jurisdictionally mandated security requirements.
* All patient consents (including verbal) should be documented. The acquisition and recording of patient consent for medical photography/dissemination may be held to a high standard of accountability due to the patient privacy and confidentiality issues inherent in the use of this technology. Written and signed consent is encouraged.
* Consent should be considered as necessary for any and all photography involving a patient, whether or not that patient can be directly recognized, due to the possibility of linked information and the potential for breach of privacy. The definition of non-identifiable photos must be carefully considered. Current technologies such as face recognition and pattern matching (e.g. skin markers, physical structure, etc.), especially in combination with identifying information, have the potential to create a privacy breach.
* Unsecure text and email messaging requires explicit patient consent and should not be used unless the current gold standards of security are not accessible. For a patient-initiated unsecure transmission, consent should be clarified and not assumed.
* Transmission of photos and patient information should be encrypted as per current-day gold standards (presently, end-to-end encryption (E2EE)) and use only secure servers that are subject to Canadian laws. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns or standards for servers in other jurisdictions. Generally, free internet-based communication services and public internet access are unsecure technologies and often operate on servers outside of Canadian jurisdiction.
* Efforts should be made to use the most secure transmission method possible. For data security purposes, identifying information should never be included in the image, any frame of a video, the file name, or linked messages.
* The sender should always ensure that each recipient is intended and appropriate and, if possible, receipt of transmission should be confirmed by the recipient.
* Storing images and data on a smart-device should be limited as much as possible for data protection purposes.
* Clinical photos, as well as messages or other patient-related information, should be completely segregated from the device's personal storage. This can be accomplished by using an app that creates a secure, password-protected folder on the device.
* All information stored (on internal memory or cloud) must be strongly encrypted and password protected. The security measures must be more substantial than the general password unlock feature on mobile devices.
* Efforts should be made to dissociate identifying information from images when images are exported from a secure server. Media should not be uploaded to platforms without an option for securely deleting information without consent from the patient, and only if there are no better options. Automatic back-up of photos to unsecure cloud servers should be deactivated. Further, other back-up or syncing options that could lead to unsecure server involvement should be ascertained and the risks mitigated.
4. Cloud storage should be on a Canadian and SOCII certified server. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns for servers in other jurisdictions.
5. AUDIT & RETENTION
* It is important to create an audit trail for the purposes of transparency and medical best practice. Key information includes patient and health information, consent type and details, pertinent information regarding the photography (date, circumstance, photographer), and any other important facts such as access granted/deletion requests.
* Access to the stored information must be by the authorized physician or health care provider and for the intended purpose, as per the consent given. Records should be stored such that it is possible to print/transfer as necessary.
* Original photos should be retained and not overwritten.
* All photos and associated messages may be considered part of the patient's clinical records and should be maintained for at least 10 years or 10 years after the age of majority, whichever is longer. When possible, patient information (including photos and message histories between health professionals) should be retained and amalgamated with a patient's medical record. Provincial regulations regarding retention of clinical records may vary and other regulations may apply to other entities - e.g. 90 years from date of birth applies to records at the federal level.
* It may not be allowable to erase a picture if it is integral to a clinical decision or provincial, federal, or other applicable regulations require their retention.
* Any breach should be taken seriously and should be reviewed. All reasonable efforts must be made to prevent a breach before one occurs. A breach occurs when personal information, communication, or photos of patients are stolen, lost, or mistakenly disclosed. This includes loss or theft of one's mobile device, texting to the wrong number or emailing/messaging to the wrong person(s), or accidentally showing a clinical photo that exists in the phone's personal photo album.
* It should be noted that non-identifying information, when combined with other available information (e.g. a text message with identifiers or another image with identifiers), can lead to highly accurate re-identification.
* At present, apps downloaded to a smart-device for personal use may be capable of collecting and sharing information - the rapidly changing nature of this technology and the inherent privacy concerns requires regular attention. Use of specialized apps designed for health-information sharing that help safeguard patient information in this context is worth careful consideration.
* Having remote wipe (i.e. device reformatting) capabilities is an asset and can help contain a breach. However, inappropriate access may take place before reformatting occurs.
* If a smartphone is strongly encrypted and has no clinical photos stored locally then its loss may not be considered a breach.
* In the event of a breach any patient potentially involved must be notified as soon as possible. The CMPA, the organization/hospital, and the Provincial licensing College should also be contacted immediately. Provincial regulations regarding notification of breach may vary.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors March 2018
i Heyns M†, Steve A‡, Dumestre DO‡, Fraulin FO‡, Yeung JK‡
† University of Calgary, Canada
‡ Section of Plastic Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Calgary, Canada
1 Chan N, Charette J, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO. Should 'smart phones' be used for patient photography? Plast Surg (Oakv). 2016;24(1):32-4.
2 Unpublished - Heyns M, Steve A, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO, Yeung J. Canadian Guidelines on Smartphone Clinical Photography.