That the government create a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund to resume health care services, bolster public health capacity and expand primary care teams, allowing Canadians wide-ranging access to health care.
That the government recognize and support the continued adoption of virtual care and address the inequitable access to digital health services by creating a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank and by expediting broadband access to all Canadians.
That the government act on our collective learned lessons regarding our approach to seniors care and create a national demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer and establish a Seniors Care Benefit.
That the government recognize the unique risks and financial burden experienced by physicians and front line health care workers by implementing the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, by extending eligibility of the Memorial Grant and by addressing remaining administrative barriers to physician practices accessing critical federal economic relief programs.
Five months ago COVID-19 hit our shores. We were unprepared and unprotected. We were fallible and vulnerable. But, we responded swiftly.
The federal government initiated Canadians into a new routine rooted in public health guidance.
It struggled to outfit the front line workers. It anchored quick measures to ensure some financial stability.
Canadians tuned in to daily updates on the health crisis and the battle against its wrath.
Together, we flattened the curve… For now.
We have experienced the impact of the first wave of the pandemic. The initial wake has left Canadians, and those who care for them, feeling the insecurities in our health care system.
While the economy is opening in varied phases – an exhaustive list including patios, stores, office spaces, and schools – the health care system that struggled to care for those most impacted by the pandemic remains feeble, susceptible not only to the insurgence of the virus, but ill-prepared to equally defend the daily health needs of our citizens.
The window to maintain momentum and to accelerate solutions to existing systemic ailments that have challenged us for years is short. We cannot allow it to pass. The urgency is written on the faces of tomorrow’s patients.
Before the onset of the pandemic, the government announced intentions to ensure all Canadians would be able to access a primary care family doctor. We knew then that the health care system was failing.
The pandemic has highlighted the criticality of these recommendations brought forward by the Canadian Medical Association. They bolster our collective efforts to ensure that Canadians get timely access to the care and services they need. Too many patients are succumbing to the gaps in our abilities to care for them. Patients have signaled their thirst for a model of virtual care. The magnitude of our failure to meet the needs of our aging population is now blindingly obvious. Many of the front line health care workers, the very individuals who put themselves and their families at risk to care for the nation, are being stretched to the breaking point to compensate for a crumbling system.
The health of the country’s economy cannot exist without the health of Canadians.
Long wait times have strangled our nation’s health care system for too long. It was chronic before COVID-19. Now, for far too many, it has turned tragic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a significant proportion of health care services came to a halt. As health services are resuming, health care systems are left to grapple with a significant spike in wait times. Facilities will need to adopt new guidance to adhere to physical distancing, increasing staff levels, and planning and executing infrastructure changes. Canada’s already financially atrophied health systems will face significant funding challenges at a time when provincial/territorial governments are concerned with resuscitating economies.
The CMA is strongly supportive of new federal funding to ensure Canada’s health systems are resourced to meet the care needs of Canadians as the pandemic and life continues. We need to invigorate our health care system’s fitness to ensure that all Canadians are confident that it can and will serve them.
Creating a new Health Care and Innovation Fund would focus on resuming the health care system, addressing the backlog, and bringing primary care, the backbone of our health care system, back to centre stage.
The CMA will provide the budget costing in follow-up as an addendum to this submission.
RECOMMENDATION 1 Creating a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund
It took a global pandemic to accelerate a digital economy and spark a digital health revolution in Canada. In our efforts to seek medical advice while in isolation, Canadians prompted a punctuated shift in how we can access care, regardless of our location or socio-economic situation. We redefined the need for virtual care.
During the pandemic, nearly half of Canadians have used virtual care. An incredible 91% were satisfied with their experience. The CMA has learned that 43% of Canadians would prefer that their first point of medical contact be virtual.
The CMA welcomes the $240 million federal investment in virtual care and encourages the government to ensure it is linked to a model that ensures equitable access.
A gaping deficit remains in using virtual care. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify digital opportunities to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required across provincial/territorial boundaries. To take full advantage of digital health capabilities, it will be essential for the entire population, to have a functional level of digital health literacy and access to the internet.
The continued adoption of virtual care is reliant on our ability to educate patients on how to access it. It will be further contingent on consistent and equitable access to broadband internet service.
Create a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank
Virtual care can’t just happen. It requires knowledge on how to access and effectively deliver it, from patients and health care providers respectively. It is crucial to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy, with the appointment of the Financial Literacy Leader within the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, can serve as a template for digital health literacy.
We recommend that the federal government establish a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank to develop indicators and measure the digital health of Canadians, create tools patients and health care providers can use to enhance digital health literacy, continually monitor the changing digital divide that exists among some population segments.
Pan-Canadian broadband expansion
It is critical to bridge the broadband divide by ensuring all those in Canada have equitable access to affordable, reliable and sustainable internet connectivity. Those in rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous communities are presently seriously disadvantaged in this way. With the rise in virtual care, a lack of access to broadband exacerbates inequalities in access to care. This issue needs to be expedited before we can have pride in any other achievement.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Embedding virtual care in our nation’s health care system
Some groups have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Woefully inadequate care of seniors and residents of long-term care homes has left a shameful and intensely painful mark on our record. Our health care system has failed to meet the needs of our aging population for too long.
The following two recommendations, combined with a focus on improving access to health care services, will make a critical difference for Canadian seniors.
A demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer
The Canada Health Transfer (CHT) is the single largest federal transfer to the provinces and territories. It is critical in supporting provincial and territorial health programs in Canada. As an equal per-capita-based transfer, it does not currently address the imbalance in population segments like seniors.
The CMA, hand-in-hand with the Organizations for Health Action (HEAL), recommends that a demographic top-up be transferred to provinces and territories based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population, with the federal contribution set to the current share of the CHT as a percentage of provincial-territorial health spending. A top-up has been calculated at 1.7 billion for 2021. Additional funding would be worth a total of $21.1 billion to the provinces and territories over the next decade.
Seniors care benefit
Rising out-of-pocket expenses associated with seniors care could extend from 9 billion to 23 billion by 2035. A Seniors Care Benefits program would directly support seniors and those who care for them. Like the Child Care Benefit program, it would offset the high out-of-pocket health costs that burden caregivers and patients.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Ensuring that better care is secured for our seniors
The federal government has made great strides to mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Amidst the task of providing stability, there has been a grand oversight: measures to support our front line health care workers and their financial burden have fallen short.
The CMA recommends the following measures:
1. Despite the significant contribution of physicians’ offices to Canada’s GDP, many physician practices have not been eligible for critical economic programs. The CMA welcomes the remedies implemented by Bill C-20 and recommends the federal government address remaining administrative barriers to physicians accessing federal economic relief program.
2. We recommend that the government implement the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, an income tax deduction for frontline health care workers put at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. In person patient care providers would be eligible to deduct a predetermined amount against income earned during the pandemic. The Canadian Armed Forces already employs this model for its members serving in hazardous missions.
3. It is a devastating reality that front line health care workers have died as a result of COVID-19. Extending eligibility for the Memorial Grant to families of front line health care workers who mourn the loss of a family member because of COVID-19, as a direct result of responding to the pandemic or as a result of an occupational illness or psychological impairment related to their work will relieve any unnecessary additional hardship experienced. The same grant should extend to cases in which their work contributes to the death of a family member.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Cementing financial stabilization measures for our front line health care workers
Those impacted by COVID-19 deserve our care. The health of our nation’s economy is contingent on the health standards for its people. We must assert the right to decent quality of life for those who are most vulnerable: those whose incomes have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, those living in poverty, those living in marginalized communities, and those doubly plagued by experiencing racism and the pandemic. We are not speaking solely for physicians. This is about equitable care for every Canadian impacted by the pandemic.
Public awareness and support have never been stronger. We are not facing the end of the pandemic; we are confronting an ebb in our journey. Hope and optimism will remain elusive until we can be confident in our health care system.
Racism is a structural determinant of health and drives health and social inequities. The recent incidents of anti-Black violence, racism and discrimination in the US and Canada also shed light on the structural inequities and racism that exist within the medical profession and the health system.
The profession of medicine is grounded in respect for all people. This commitment recognizes that everyone has equal and inherent worth, the right to be valued and respected, and the right to be treated with dignity.
It’s critical that our medical culture – and society more broadly – upholds these values. But today, we’re reminded that there’s much more to do as a profession, and as a global community, to get us there.
Earlier this year, we launched our first-ever policy on equity and diversity in medicine Opens in a new window to help break down the many broad and systemic barriers that remain, to reduce discrimination and bias within our profession, and to create physically and psychologically safe environments for ourselves, our colleagues and our patients.
Alongside this policy comes a commitment to holding ourselves accountable to recognizing and challenging behaviours, practices and conditions that hinder equity and diversity, including racism.
Instances of racism, intolerance, exclusion, violence and discrimination have no place in medicine, and no place in our society. The Canadian Medical Association condemns racism in all its forms. Today, we stand alongside all those who have been affected by these appalling and inexcusable actions and beliefs.
Dr. Sandy Buchman
President, Canadian Medical Association
During these unprecedented times, Canada’s physicians, along with all front-line health care workers (FLHCWs), have not only put themselves at risk but have made enormous personal sacrifices while fulfilling a critical role in life-threatening circumstances.
The CMA recognizes and strongly supports the measures the federal government has taken to date to mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians. However, given the unique circumstances that Canada’s FLHCWs face, additional measures are required to acknowledge their role, the risks to themselves and their families, and the financial burden they have taken on through it all.
To gain a better understanding of this issue, the CMA commissioned MNP LLP (MNP) to conduct a thorough economic impact study. They assessed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on physician practices in Canada and identified policy options to mitigate these effects.
This brief summarizes the findings, provides an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physician practices across the country and highlights targeted federal measures that can significantly mitigate the evident challenges physicians are experiencing. It is important to note that the recommended measured were developed through the lens of recognizing the important contribution of Canada’s FLHCWs.
UNDERSTANDING HOW THE PANDEMIC
IS IMPACTING PHYSICIAN PRACTICES
Canada’s physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to the health of Canadians, our nation’s health infrastructure and our knowledge economy. In light of the design of Canada’s health care system, the vast majority of physicians are self-employed professionals operating medical practices as small business owners. Like most small businesses in Canada, physician practices have been negatively impacted by the necessary measures governments have established to contain this pandemic.
Under the circumstances of the pandemic, the provinces postponed non-emergent procedures and surgeries, indefinitely. According to data from the 2019 Physician Workforce Survey conducted by the CMA, approximately 75% of physicians reported practising in settings that would be expected to experience a reduction in patient volumes as a result of COVID-19 measures. This suggests “the vast majority of physicians in Canada anticipate declines in earnings as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.”
Physician practices include a variety of structures, which relate to the practice setting or type. In their economic impact study, MNP estimates that across the range of practice settings, the after-tax monthly earnings of physician practices are estimated to decline between 15% and 100% in the low-impact scenario, and between 25% and 267% in the high-impact scenario. These two scenarios are in comparison to a baseline scenario, prior to the pandemic. The low-impact scenario is based on the reduction of physician services reported during the 2003 experience with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) while the high-impact scenario estimates more significant impacts, being approximately double those observed during SARS.
Unlike salaried public sector professionals, such as teachers, nurses or public servants, most physicians operate as small business owners who are solely responsible for the management of their practices. They employ staff, rent office space and have numerous other overhead costs related to running a small business, which they are still responsible for regardless of decreased earnings. According to data published by Statistics Canada in 2019 there were 120,241 people employed in physician offices in Canada and an additional 28,054 employed in medical laboratories. Additionally, physicians manage significant overhead expenses that are unique to medical practice such as practice insurance, licence fees and continuing medical education. It’s important to understand that even hospital-based physicians may be responsible for significant overhead expenses, unlike other hospital staff. Like any small business owner grappling with drastic declines in revenue, physicians may be forced to reduce their staffing levels or even close their practices entirely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ADDRESSING THE GAPS: ENSURING THAT FEDERAL ECONOMIC PROGRAMS CAPTURE PHYSICIAN PRACTICES
To reiterate, the CMA supports the federal government’s decisive and meaningful response to the pandemic, including delivering critical economic relief programs. However, more detailed analysis is revealing that segments of physician practices are not eligible for these critical economic programs, because of technicalities.
At this time, the CMA has identified three key segments of physician practice models who may
not currently be eligible for the economic relief programs because of technicalities. These are:
1. hospital-based specialists
2. physician practices that operate as a small business but may not meet technical criteria
3. physicians delivering locum medical care
These technical factors reflect the complexity of the health system infrastructure in Canada. Although hospital-based specialists may receive some form of salary, they may still be structured as a small business and be responsible for paying overhead fees to the hospital. Many physicians may operate as a small business and remit a statement of self-employment, and they may not have a business number or a business bank account. As is common amongst other self-employed professionals, many physicians operate practices within cost-sharing structures. The CMA is deeply concerned that these structures are presently being excluded for the federal government’s critical economic relief programs. As a result, this exclusion is affecting the many employees of practices structured as cost-sharing arrangements. Finally, physicians providing care in other communities, known as locum practice, would also be responsible for overhead expenses.
It is the CMA’s understanding that the federal government is seeking to be inclusive in delivering economic relief programs to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, such as closures or unemployment. For physician practices, eligibility for federal economic relief programs would extend the reach of these mitigation measures to maintaining Canada’s critical health resources and services, as physician practices are responsible for a
significant portion of health system infrastructure.
As such, the CMA respectfully recommends that the federal government ensure that these critical economic programs be made available to all segments of physician practices.
To this end, the CMA recommends that
the federal government expand eligibility
for the federal economic relief program to:
1. Include hospital-based specialists paying fees for overhead expenses to the hospitals
(e.g., staff, equipment, space);
2. capture physician-owned medical practices using a “personal” banking account as well
as those in cost-sharing structures to access programs; and,
3. include physicians who provide locum medical care.
NEW FEDERAL TAX MEASURES TO SUPPORT AND RECOGNIZE FRONT-LINE HEALTH CARE WORKERS
It is also important to note that the impact of COVID-19 on FLHCWs goes well beyond the financial impacts.
All FLHCWs face numerous challenges trying to carry out their work during these difficult times. They put their health and the health of their families at risk. They make enormous sacrifices, sometimes separating themselves from their families to protect them. These risks and sacrifices can strain an individual’s mental health, especially when coupled with anxiety over the lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE). A survey conducted by the CMA at the end of April showed that almost 75% of physicians who responded to the survey indicated feeling very or somewhat anxious about the lack of PPE. FLHCWs deserve to be recognized for their unique role during
Given the enormous sacrifices and risks that FLHCWs are making every day, the federal government should enact measures to recognize their significant contributions during these unprecedented times.
The CMA recommends that the federal government implement the following
new measures for all FLHCWs:
1. An income tax deduction for FLHCWs put at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic,
in recognition of their heroic efforts. All FLHCWs providing in-person patient care during the pandemic would be eligible to deduct a designated amount against their income earned. This would be modelled on the deduction provided to members
of the Canadian Armed Forces serving in moderate- and high-risk missions.
2. A non-taxable grant to support the families of FLHCWs who die in the course of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic or who die as a result of an occupational illness or psychological impairment related to this work. The grant would also apply to cases in which the death of an FLHCW’s family member is attributable to the FLHCW’s work in responding to the pandemic. The CMA is recommending that access to the Memorial Grant program, or a similar measure, be granted to FLHCWs and
their family member(s).
3. A temporary emergency accommodation tax deduction for FLHCWs who incur additional accommodation costs as well as a home renovation credit in recognition of the need for FLHCWs to adhere to social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their family members. The CMA recommends all FLHCWs earning income while working at a health care facility or in a capacity related thereto
(e.g., paramedics or janitorial staff) be eligible for the deduction and credit.
4. Provide additional child-care relief to FLHCWs by doubling the child-care deduction.
The CMA recommends the individuals listed above be eligible for the enhanced deduction.
It is important that any measures enacted be simple for the government to implement and administer as well as simple for FLHCWs to understand and access. The recommendations above will ensure that relief applies to a wide range of Canada’s FLHCWs who are battling COVID-19.
More details on these recommendations are provided in Appendix A to this brief.
INCREASING FEDERAL HEALTH FUNDING
TO SUPPORT SYSTEM CAPACITY
It is due to the action of the federal and provincial/territorial governments, together with Canadians, in adhering to public health guidance that our health systems have been able to manage the health needs of Canadians during the pandemic. However, as governments and public health experts consider how we may proceed in lifting certain restrictions, we are beginning to comprehend the enormity of the effort and investment required to resume health care services. During the pandemic, a significant proportion of health care services, such as surgeries, procedures and consults considered “non-essential” have been delayed. As health services begin to resume, health systems will be left to grapple with a significant spike in already lengthy waiting times. Further, all health care facilities will need to adopt new guidance to adhere to physical distancing, which may necessitate longer operating hours, increasing staff levels and/or physical renovations. Given these issues, the CMA is gravely concerned that Canada’s already financially struggling health systems will face significant funding challenges at a time when provincial/
territorial governments are grappling with recession economies. The CMA is strongly supportive of new
federal funding to ensure Canada’s health systems are resourced to meet the care needs of Canadians
as the pandemic continues.
As outlined in this brief, the overwhelming majority of Canada’s physician practices will be
negatively impacted financially by COVID-19. The indefinite postponement of numerous medical procedures, coupled with restrictions related to physical distancing resulting in reduced patient
visits, will have a material effect on physician practices, risking their future viability. As well,
all FLHCWs will be severely impacted by COVID-19 personally, through risks to themselves and their families. Many families of FLHCWs will also be impacted financially, from increased child-care costs
to, tragically, costs associated with the death of a loved one because of COVID-19.
In light of these substantial risks and sacrifices, the CMA urges the adoption of the above-mentioned recommendations designed to recognize the special contribution of Canada’s FLHCWs during these
The current global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has presented the international medical community with unprecedented ethical challenges. The most difficult of these has involved making decisions about access to scarce resources when demand outweighs capacity.
In Canada, it is well accepted that everyone should have an equal opportunity to access and receive medical treatment. This is possible when there are sufficient resources. But in contexts of resource scarcity, when there are insufficient resources, difficult decisions have to be made about who receives critical care (e.g., ICU beds, ventilators) by triaging patients. Triage is a process for determining which patients receive treatment and/or which level of care under what circumstances in contexts of resource scarcity. Priority-setting for resource allocation becomes more ethically complex during catastrophic times or in public health emergencies, such as today’s COVID-19 pandemic, when there is a need to manage a potential surge of patients.
Physicians from China to Italy to Spain to the United States have found themselves in the unfathomable position of having to triage their most seriously ill patients and decide which ones should have access to ventilators and which should not, and which allocation criteria should be used to make these decisions. While the Canadian Medical Association hopes that Canadian physicians will not be faced with these agonizing choices, it is our intent, through this framework, to provide them with guidance in case they do and enable them to make ethically justifiable informed decisions in the face of difficult ethical dilemmas. Invoking this framework to ground decisions about who has access to critical care and who does not should only be made as a last resort. As always, physicians should carefully document their clinical and ethical decisions and the reasoning behind them.
Generally, the CMA would spend many months in deliberations and consultations with numerous stakeholders, including patients and the public, before producing a document such as this one. The current situation, unfortunately, did not allow for such a process. We have turned instead to documents, reports and policies produced by our Italian colleagues and ethicists and physicians from Canada and around the world, as well as provincial level documents and frameworks.
The CMA is endorsing and recommending that Canadian physicians use the guidance provided by Emmanuel and colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine article dated from March 23rd, as outlined below. We believe these recommendations represent the best current approach to this situation, produced using the highest current standard of evidence by a panel of internationally recognized experts. We also recognize that the situation is changing constantly, and these guidelines may need to be updated as required.
The CMA will continue to advocate for access to personal protective equipment, ventilators and ICU equipment and resources. We also encourage physicians to make themselves aware of any relevant provincial or local documents, and to seek advice from their regulatory body or liability protection provider. It should be noted that some provinces and indeed individual health care facilities will have their own protocols or frameworks in place. At the time of its publication, this document was broadly consistent with those protocols that we were given an opportunity to review.
The CMA recognizes that physicians may experience moral distress when making these decisions. We encourage physicians to seek peer support and practice self-care. In addition, the CMA recommends that triage teams or committees be convened where feasible in order to help separate clinical decision making from resource allocation, thereby lessening the moral burden being placed on the individual physician.
The CMA recommends that physicians receive legal protection to ensure that they can continue providing needed care to patients with confidence and support and without fear of civil or criminal liability or professional discipline. In this time of uncertainty, physicians should be reassured that their good faith efforts to provide care during such a crisis will not put them at increased medical-legal risk. Providing such reassurance is needed so that physicians have the confidence to continue to provide care to their patients.
Recommendation 1: In the context of a pandemic, the value of maximizing benefits is most important. This value reflects the importance of responsible stewardship of resources: it is difficult to justify asking health care workers and the public to take risks and make sacrifices if the promise that their efforts will save and lengthen lives is illusory. Priority for limited resources should aim both at saving the most lives and at maximizing improvements in individuals’ post-treatment length of life. Saving more lives and more years of life is a consensus value across expert reports. It is consistent both with utilitarian ethical perspectives that emphasize population outcomes and with nonutilitarian views that emphasize the paramount value of each human life. There are many reasonable ways of balancing saving more lives against saving more years of life; whatever balance between lives and life-years is chosen must be applied consistently.
Limited time and information in a Covid-19 pandemic make it justifiable to give priority to maximizing the number of patients that survive treatment with a reasonable life expectancy and to regard maximizing improvements in length of life as a subordinate aim. The latter becomes relevant only in comparing patients whose likelihood of survival is similar. Limited time and information during an emergency also counsel against incorporating patients’ future quality of life, and quality-adjusted life-years, into benefit maximization. Doing so would require time-consuming collection of information and would present ethical and legal problems. However, encouraging all patients, especially those facing the prospect of intensive care, to document in an advance care directive what future quality of life they would regard as acceptable and when they would refuse ventilators or other life-sustaining interventions can be appropriate.
Operationalizing the value of maximizing benefits means that people who are sick but could recover if treated are given priority over those who are unlikely to recover even if treated and those who are likely to recover without treatment. Because young, severely ill patients will often comprise many of those who are sick but could recover with treatment, this operationalization also has the effect of giving priority to those who are worst off in the sense of being at risk of dying young and not having a full life.
Because maximizing benefits is paramount in a pandemic, we believe that removing a patient from a ventilator or an ICU bed to provide it to others in need is also justifiable and that patients should be made aware of this possibility at admission. Undoubtedly, withdrawing ventilators or ICU support from patients who arrived earlier to save those with better prognosis will be extremely psychologically traumatic for clinicians — and some clinicians might refuse to do so. However, many guidelines agree that the decision to withdraw a scarce resource to save others is not an act of killing and does not require the patient’s consent. We agree with these guidelines that it is the ethical thing to do. Initially allocating beds and ventilators according to the value of maximizing benefits could help reduce the need for withdrawal.
Recommendation 2: Irrespective of Recommendation 1, Critical Covid-19 interventions — testing, PPE, ICU beds, ventilators, therapeutics, and vaccines — should go first to front-line health care workers and others who care for ill patients and who keep critical infrastructure operating, particularly workers who face a high risk of infection and whose training makes them difficult to replace. These workers should be given priority not because they are somehow more worthy, but because of their instrumental value: they are essential to pandemic response. If physicians and nurses and RTs are incapacitated, all patients — not just those with Covid-19 — will suffer greater mortality and years of life lost. Whether health workers who need ventilators will be able to return to work is uncertain but giving them priority for ventilators recognizes their assumption of the high-risk work of saving others. Priority for critical workers must not be abused by prioritizing wealthy or famous persons or the politically powerful above first responders and medical staff — as has already happened for testing. Such abuses will undermine trust in the allocation framework.
Recommendation 3: For patients with similar prognoses, equality should be invoked and operationalized through random allocation, such as a lottery, rather than a first-come, first-served allocation process. First-come, first-served is used for such resources as transplantable kidneys, where scarcity is long-standing, and patients can survive without the scarce resource. Conversely, treatments for coronavirus address urgent need, meaning that a first-come, first-served approach would unfairly benefit patients living nearer to health facilities. And first-come, first-served medication or vaccine distribution would encourage crowding and even violence during a period when social distancing is paramount. Finally, first-come, first-served approaches mean that people who happen to get sick later on, perhaps because of their strict adherence to recommended public health measures, are excluded from treatment, worsening outcomes without improving fairness. In the face of time pressure and limited information, random selection is also preferable to trying to make finer-grained prognostic judgments within a group of roughly similar patients.
Recommendation 4: Prioritization guidelines should differ by intervention and should respond to changing scientific evidence. For instance, younger patients should not be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccines, which prevent disease rather than cure it, or for experimental post- or pre-exposure prophylaxis. Covid-19 outcomes have been significantly worse in older persons and those with chronic conditions. Invoking the value of maximizing saving lives justifies giving older persons priority for vaccines immediately after health care workers and first responders. If the vaccine supply is insufficient for patients in the highest risk categories — those over 60 years of age or with coexisting conditions — then equality supports using random selection, such as a lottery, for vaccine allocation. Invoking instrumental value justifies prioritizing younger patients for vaccines only if epidemiologic modeling shows that this would be the best way to reduce viral spread and the risk to others.
Epidemiologic modeling is even more relevant in setting priorities for coronavirus testing. Federal guidance currently gives priority to health care workers and older patients but reserving some tests for public health surveillance could improve knowledge about Covid-19 transmission and help researchers target other treatments to maximize benefits.
Conversely, ICU beds and ventilators are curative rather than preventive. Patients who need them face life-threatening conditions. Maximizing benefits requires consideration of prognosis — how long the patient is likely to live if treated — which may mean giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer coexisting conditions. This is consistent with the Italian guidelines that potentially assign a higher priority for intensive care access to younger patients with severe illness than to elderly patients. Determining the benefit-maximizing allocation of antivirals and other experimental treatments, which are likely to be most effective in patients who are seriously but not critically ill, will depend on scientific evidence. These treatments may produce the most benefit if preferentially allocated to patients who would fare badly on ventilation.
Recommendation 5: People who participate in research to prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutics should receive some priority for Covid-19 interventions. Their assumption of risk during their participation in research helps future patients, and they should be rewarded for that contribution. These rewards will also encourage other patients to participate in clinical trials. Research participation, however, should serve only as a tiebreaker among patients with similar prognoses.
Recommendation 6: There should be no difference in allocating scarce resources between patients with Covid-19 and those with other medical conditions. If the Covid-19 pandemic leads to absolute scarcity, that scarcity will affect all patients, including those with heart failure, cancer, and other serious and life-threatening conditions requiring prompt medical attention. Fair allocation of resources that prioritizes the value of maximizing benefits applies across all patients who need resources. For example, a doctor with an allergy who goes into anaphylactic shock and needs life-saving intubation and ventilator support should receive priority over Covid-19 patients who are not frontline health care workers.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors April 2020
It is with a sense of urgency that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) submits
the recommendations herein for emergency federal measures that, taken together,
will ensure Canadians receive appropriate care and that supportive measures are
implemented for public health protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Canada has made significant strides since SARS to establish and implement
effective public health infrastructure, resources and mechanisms, the significant
resource constraints across our health systems present a major challenge in our
current response. Federal emergency measures must be developed in the context
of the current state of health resources: hospitals across the country are already at
overcapacity, millions of Canadians lack access to a regular family doctor, countless
communities are grappling with health care shortages, virtual care is in its infancy,
and so on.
Another core concern is the chronic underfunding and ongoing budget cuts of
public health resources and programming. Public health capacity and leadership at
all levels is fundamental to preparedness to respond to an infectious disease threat,
particularly one of this magnitude.
It is in this context that the Canadian Medical Association recommends that the
following emergency measures be implemented by the federal government to
support the domestic response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
1410, pl. des tours Blair / Blair Towers Place,
bur. / Suite 500, Ottawa ON K1J 9B9
1) FEDERAL RECOMMENDATION AND SUPPORT FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING
In this time of crisis, Canadians look to the federal government for leadership and guidance.
The single most important measure that can be implemented at this time is a consistent
national policy calling for social distancing. This recommendation by the federal government
must be paired with the resources necessary to ensure that no Canadian will be forced to choose
between financial hardship — whether by losing employment or not being able to pay rent —
and protecting their health.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government immediately communicate guidance
to Canadians to implement social distancing measures. The CMA further recommends that the
federal government deliver new financial support measures as well as employment protection
measures to ensure that all Canadians may engage in social distancing.
2) NEW FEDERAL EMERGENCY FUNDING TO BOOST PROVINCIAL/
TERRITORIAL CAPACITY AND ENSURE CONSISTENCY
It is the federal government’s role to ensure a coordinated and consistent national response across
jurisdictions and regions. This is by far the most important role for the federal government in
supporting an effective domestic response, that is, protecting the health and well-being of Canadians.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government deliver substantial emergency funding to
the provinces and territories to ensure health systems have the capacity to respond to the pandemic.
Across the OECD, countries are rapidly stepping up investment in measures to respond to COVID-19,
including significant investment targeting boosting health care capacity. In considering the
appropriate level of federal emergency funding to boost capacity in our provincial/territorial
systems, the CMA urges the federal government to recognize that our baseline is a position of deficit.
New emergency federal funding to boost capacity in provincial/territorial health systems should
be targeted to:
rapidly enabling the expansion and equitable delivery of virtual care;
establishing a centralized 24-hour national information hotline for health care workers to obtain
clear, timely and practical information on clinical guidelines, etc.;
expanding the capacity of and resources for emergency departments and intensive care units;
coordinating and disseminating information, monitoring and guidance within and across
rapidly delivering income stabilization for individuals and families under quarantine.
Finally, the inconsistencies in the provision and implementation of guidance and adoption of
public health measures across and within and jurisdictions is highly concerning. The CMA strongly
encourages the federal government enable consistent adoption of pan-Canadian guidance and
measures to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians.
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3) ENSURING AN ADEQUATE SUPPLY OF PERSONAL PROTECTIVE
EQUIPMENT FOR CANADIAN HEALTH CARE WORKERS AND
ENSURING APPROPRIATE USAGE
The CMA is hearing significant concerns from front-line health care workers, including physicians,
about the supply and appropriate usage of personal protective equipment. It is the CMA’s
understanding that pan-Canadian efforts are underway to coordinate supply; however, additional
measures by the federal government to ensure adequate supply and appropriate usage are required.
Canada is at the outset of this public health crisis — supply issues at this stage may be exacerbated
as the situation progresses. As such, the CMA strongly recommends that the federal government
take additional measures to support the acquisition and distribution throughout health systems of
personal protective equipment, including taking a leadership role in ensuring our domestic supply via
international supply chains.
4) ESTABLISH EMERGENCY PAN-CANADIAN LICENSURE FOR
HEALTH CARE WORKERS
In this time of public health crisis, the federal government must ensure that regulatory barriers
do not prevent health care providers from delivering care to patients when and where they need
it. Many jurisdictions and regions in Canada are experiencing significant shortages in health
The CMA urges the federal government to support piloting a national licensure program so that
health care providers can opt to practice in regions experiencing higher infection rates or where
there is a shortage of providers. This can be accomplished by amending the Canadian Free Trade
Agreement (CFTA) to facilitate mobility of health care workers.
Specifically, that the following language be added to Article 705(3) of the CFTA:
(j) A regulatory authority of a Party* shall waive for a period of up to 100 days any condition of
certification found in 705(3)(a) - (f) for any regulated health care worker to work directly or
indirectly to address the Covid-19 pandemic or any health care emergency. Any disciplinary matter
emanating from work in any province shall be the responsibility of the regulatory authority of the
jurisdiction where the work is performed. Each Party shall instruct its regulatory authorities to set-up
a rapid check-in/check-out process for the worker.
*Party refers to a signatory of the CFTA
To further enable this measure, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver targeted
funding to the regulatory colleges to implement this emergency measure as well as targeted funding
to support the provinces/territories in delivering expanded patient care.
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5) ESTABLISH AN EMERGENCY NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
SERVICE FOR HEALTH PROVIDERS
Health care providers may experience trauma and hardship in meeting the increasing health needs
and concerns of Canadians in this time of crisis. The CMA strongly recommends that the federal
government establish an emergency National Mental Health Support Services hotline for all health
care providers who are at the front lines of patient care during the pandemic. This critical resource
will ensure our health care providers have the help they may need as they care for patients,
including helping them to deal with an increasing patient load.
6) IMPLEMENT A TARGETED TAX CREDIT FOR HEALTH PROVIDERS
EXPERIENCING FINANCIAL LOSS DUE TO QUARANTINE
In addition to supporting income stabilization measures for all Canadians who may benefit from
support, the CMA recommends that the federal government establish a time-limited and targeted
tax credit for health providers who may experience financial loss due to quarantine.
Many health care providers operate independently and may face significant fixed expenses as part of
their care model. As health care providers may have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, this
may result in significant financial loss. A time-limited tax credit to ease this loss may help ensure
the continued viability of their care model. Further, the CMA supports extending the federal tax
filing timeline in recognition of the fact that health care workers and all Canadians are focused
on emergency matters.
The CMA’s recommendations align with the OECD’s call to action: “Governments need to ensure
effective and well-resourced public health measures to prevent infection and contagion, and implement
well-targeted policies to support health care systems and workers, and protect the incomes of vulnerable
social groups and businesses during the virus outbreak.”
Now is the time to ensure that appropriate leadership continues and that targeted investments are
made to protect the health of Canadians.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to provide comments to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs concerning its study of Bill C-2 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts). We will confine our comments to the portion of the proposed legislation that relates to impaired driving.
Canada's physicians support measures aimed at reducing the incidence of drug-impaired driving. We believe impaired driving, whether by alcohol or another drug, to be an important public health issue for Canadians that requires action by all governments and other concerned groups.
Published reports indicate that the prevalence of driving under the influence of cannabis is on the rise in Canada. We note that:
* Results from the Canadian Addictions Survey suggest that 4% of the population have driven under the influence of cannabis in the past year, an increase from the 1.5% in 2003 and that rates are higher among young people.1
* It was estimated that in 2003, 27.45% of traffic fatalities involved alcohol, 9.15% involved alcohol and drugs, and 3.66% involved drugs alone while 13.71% of crash injuries involved only alcohol, 4.57% involved alcohol and drugs, and 1.83% involved drugs alone.2
* In a 2002 survey, 17.7% of drivers reported driving within 2 hours of using a prescribed medication, over-the-counter remedy, marijuana, or other illicit drug during the past 12 months.
* These results suggest that an estimated 3.7 million Canadians drove after taking some medication or drug that could potentially affect their ability to drive safely.
* The most common drugs used were over-the-counter medications (15.9%), prescription drugs (2.3%), marijuana (1.5%), and other illegal drugs (0.9%).
* Young males were most likely to report using marijuana and other illegal drugs.
* While 86% of the drivers were aware that a conviction for impaired driving results in a criminal record, 66% erroneously believed that the penalties for drug-impaired driving were less severe than those for alcohol-impaired driving. In fact, the penalties are identical.
* Over 80% of drivers agreed that drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs should be required to participate in physical coordination testing for drug impairment. However, only about 70% of drivers agreed that all drivers involved in a serious collision or suspected of drug impairment should be required to provide a blood sample.3
The CMA has, on several occasions, provided detailed recommendations on legislative changes concerning impaired driving. In 1999, the CMA presented a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during its review of the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code. While our 1999 brief focused primarily on driving under the influence of alcohol, many of the recommendations are also relevant to the issue of driving under the influence of drugs.
In June 2007, the CMA provided comments to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons during their study of Bill C-32 (An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts) which was later incorporated in the omnibus Bill now before your Committee.
Last year, the CMA published the 7th edition of its guide, Determining Medical Fitness to Operate Motor Vehicles. It includes chapters on the importance of screening for alcohol or drug dependency and states that the abuse of such substances is incompatible with the safe operation of a vehicle. This publication is widely viewed by clinical and medical-legal practitioners as the authoritative Canadian source on the topic of driver competence.
While changing the Criminal Code is an important step, the CMA believes further actions are also warranted. In our 2002 presentation to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, the CMA put forth our long standing position regarding the need for a comprehensive long-term effort that incorporates both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education campaigns. We believe such an approach, together with comprehensive treatment and cessation programs, constitutes the most effective policy in attempting to reduce the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers.
Drug-impaired drivers may be occasional users of drugs or they may also suffer from substance dependence, a well-recognized form of disease. Physicians should be assisted to screen for drug dependency, when indicated, using validated instruments. Government must create and fund appropriate assessment and treatment interventions.
Physicians can assist in establishing programs in the community aimed at the recognition of the early signs of dependency. These programs should recognize the chronic, relapsing nature of drug addiction as a disease, as opposed to simply viewing it as criminal behaviour.
While supporting the intent of the proposed legislation, the CMA urges caution on several significant issues, with regard to Clause 20 that amends the act as follows:
254.1 (1) The Governor in Council may make regulations
(a) respecting the qualifications and training of evaluating officers;
(b) prescribing the physical coordination tests to be conducted under paragraph 254(2)(a); and
(c) prescribing the tests to be conducted and procedures to be followed during an evaluation under subsection 254(3.1).
CMA contends that it is important that medical professionals and addiction medicine specialists in particular, should be consulted regarding the training offered to officers to conduct roadside assessment and sample collection.
Provisions in the Act conferring upon police the power to compel roadside examination raises the important issue of security of the person and the privacy of health information. As well, information obtained at the roadside is personal medical information and regulations must ensure that it be treated with the same degree of confidentiality as any other element of an individual's medical record. Thus, the CMA would respectfully submit that Clause 25 of Bill-C2 on the issue of unauthorized use or disclosure of the results needs to be strengthened because the wording is too broad, unduly infringes privacy and shows insufficient respect for the health information privacy interests at stake.
For instance, clause 25(2) would permit the use, or allow the disclosure of the results "for the purpose of the administration or enforcement of the law of a province". This latter phrase needs to be narrowed in its scope so that it would not, on its face, encompass such a broad category of laws.
Moreover, clause 25(4) would allow the disclosure of the results "to any other person, if the results are made anonymous and the disclosure is made for statistical or other research purposes" CMA would expect the federal government to exercise great caution in this instance, particularly since the results could concern individuals who are not actually convicted of an offence.
One should query whether the Clause 25(4) should even exist in a Criminal Code as it would not appear to be a matter required to be addressed. If it is, then CMA would ask the government to conduct a rigorous privacy impact assessment on these components of the Bill, studying in particular, such matters as sample size, degree of anonymity, and other privacy related issues, especially given the highly sensitive nature of the material.
CMA would ask whether clause 25(5) should specify that the offence for improper use or disclosure should be more serious than a summary conviction. Finally, it is important to base any roadside testing methods and threshold decisions on robust biological and clinical research.
CMA also notes with interest Clause 21, specifically the creation of a new offence of being "over 80" (referring to 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, or a .08 blood alcohol concentration level or BAC) and causing an accident that results in bodily harm which will carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and life imprisonment for causing an accident resulting in death. (Clause 21)
We would also urge the Committee to take the opportunity that the review of this proposed legislation provides to recommend to Parliament a lower BAC level. Since 1988 the CMA has supported 50 mg% as the general legal limit. Studies suggest that a BAC limit of 50 mg% could translate into a 6% to 18% reduction in total motor vehicle fatalities or 185 to 555 fewer fatalities per year in Canada.4 A lower limit would recognize the significant detrimental effects on driving-related skills that occur below the current legal BAC.5
In our 1999 response to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights' issue paper on impaired driving6 and again in 2002 when we joined forces with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), CMA has consistently called for the federal government to reduce Canada's legal BAC to .05. Canada continues to lag behind countries such as Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany, which have set a lower legal limit. 7
CMA expressed the opinion that injuries and deaths resulting from impaired driving must be recognized as a major public health concern. Therefore we once again recommend lowering the legal BAC limit to 50 mg%. or .05%.
We also wanted to note our support for Clause 23 which addresses the issue of liability by extending the existing umbrella of immunity for qualified medical practitioners to the new provision under 254(3.4)
23. Subsection 257(2) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(2) No qualified medical practitioner by whom or under whose direction a sample of blood is taken from a person under subsection 254(3) or (3.4) or section 256, and no qualified technician acting under the direction of a qualified medical practitioner, incurs any criminal or civil liability for anything necessarily done with reasonable care and skill when taking the sample.
Finally, CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate deterrent legislation, such as Bill C-2, must be accompanied by a public awareness and education strategy. This constitutes the most effective long-term approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers. The CMA supports this multidimensional approach to the issue of the operation of a motor vehicle regardless of whether impairment is caused by alcohol or drugs.
Again, the CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input into the legislative proposal on drug-impaired driving. We stress that these legislative changes alone would not adequately address the issue of reducing injuries and fatalities due to drug-impaired driving, but support their intent as a partial, but important measure.
Brian Day, MD
1 Bedard, M, Dubois S, Weaver, B. The impact of cannabis on driving, Canadian Journal of Public Health, Vol 98, 6-11, 2006
2 G. Mercer, Estimating the Presence of Alcohol and Drug Impairment in Traffic Crashes and their Costs to Canadians: 1999 to 2003 (Vancouver: Applied Research and Evaluation Services, 2005).
3 D. Beirness, H. Simpson and K. Desmond, The Road Safety Monitor 2002: Drugs and Driving (Ottawa: Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 2003). Online: www.trafficinjuryResearch.com/whatNew/newsItemPDFs/RSM_02_Drugs_and_ Driving.pdf
4 Mann, Robert E., Scott Macdonald, Gina Stoduto, Abdul Shaikh and Susan Bondy (1998) Assessing the Potential Impact of Lowering the Blood Alcohol Limit to 50 MG % in Canada. Ottawa: Transport Canada, TP 13321 E.
5 Moskowitz, H. and Robinson, C.D. (1988). Effects of Low Doses of Alcohol on Driving Skills: A Review of the Evidence. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT-HS-800-599 as cited in Mann, et al., note 8 at page 12-13
6 Proposed Amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada (Impaired Driving): Response to Issue Paper of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. March 5, 1999
7 Mann et al
Appropriateness in Health Care
This paper discusses the concept of appropriateness in health care and advances the following definition:
The Canadian Medical Association adopts the following definition for appropriateness in health care: It is the right care, provided by the right providers, to the right patient, in the right place, at the right time, resulting in optimal quality care.
Building on that definition it makes the following policy recommendations:
* Provinces and territories should work with providers to develop a comprehensive framework by which to assess the appropriateness of health care.
* Provinces and territories should work with providers to develop robust educational products on appropriateness in health care and to disseminate evidence-informed strategies for necessary changes in care processes.
* Provinces and territories should work with providers to put in place incentives to decrease the provision of marginally useful or unnecessary care.
As health systems struggle with the issue of sustainability and evidence that the quality of care is often sub-optimal, increasing attention is focused on the concept of appropriateness. A World Health Organization study published in 2000 described appropriateness as "a complex, fuzzy issue"1. Yet if the term is to be applied with benefit to health care systems, it demands definitional clarity. This policy document presents the Canadian Medical Association definition of appropriateness which addresses both quality and value. The roots of the definition are anchored in the evolution of Canadian health care over the last two decades. The document then considers the many issues confronting the operationalization of the term. It concludes that appropriateness can play a central role in positive health system transformation.
At the Canadian Medical Association General Council in 2013 the following resolution was adopted:
The Canadian Medical Association adopts the following definition for appropriateness in health care: It is the right care, provided by the right providers, to the right patient, in the right place, at the right time, resulting in optimal quality care.
This definition has five key components:
* right care is based on evidence for effectiveness and efficacy in the clinical literature and covers not only use but failure to use;
* right provider is based on ensuring the provider's scope of practice adequately meets but does not far exceed the skills and knowledge to deliver the care;
* right patient acknowledges that care choices must be matched to individual patient characteristics and preferences and must recognize the potential challenge of reconciling patient and practitioner perceptions;
* right venue emphasizes that some settings are better suited in terms of safety and efficiency to delivering a specific type of care than others;
* right time indicates care is delivered in a timely manner consistent with agreed upon bench marks.
It is essential to appreciate that the "right cost" is a consequence of providing the right care, that it is an outcome rather than an input. In other words, if all five components above are present, high quality care will have been delivered with the appropriate use of resources, that is, at the right cost. Equally, however, it should be cautioned that right cost may not necessarily be the affordable cost. For example, a new drug or imaging technology may offer small but demonstrable advantages over older practices, but at an enormous increase in cost. Some might argue that right care includes the use of the newer drug or technology, while others would contend the excessive opportunity costs must be taken into consideration such that the older practices remain the right care.
An Evolving Canadian Perspective from 1996 to 2013
In a pioneering paper from 1996 Lavis and Anderson wrote:
...there are two distinct types of appropriateness: appropriateness of a service and appropriateness of the setting in which care is provided. The differences between the two parallel the differences between two other concepts in health care: effectiveness and cost-containment...An appropriate service is one that is expected to do more good than harm for a patient with a given indication...The appropriateness of the setting in which care is provided is related to cost effectiveness2.
This very serviceable definition moved beyond a narrow clinical conception based solely on the therapeutic impact of an intervention on a patient, to broader contextual consideration focused on venue. Thus, for example, the care provided appropriately in a home-care setting might not be at all appropriate if given in a tertiary care hospital. Significantly, the authors added this important observation: "Setting is a proxy measure of the resources used to provide care"2. This sentence is an invitation to expand the original Lavis and Anderson definition to encompass other resources and inputs identified over the ensuing decades. Three elements are especially important.
Timeliness became an issue in Canadian health care just as the Lavis and Anderson paper appeared. In 1997 almost two-thirds of polled Canadians felt surgical wait times were excessive, up from just over half of respondents a year earlier3. By 2004 concern with wait times was sufficiently pervasive that when the federal government and the provinces concluded the First Ministers' Agreement, it included obligations to provide timely access to cancer care, cardiac care, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration4. These rapid developments indicate that timeliness was now considered an essential element in determining the appropriateness of care.
A second theme that became prominent in health care over the last two decades was the concept of patient-centredness. When the Canadian Medical Association released its widely endorsed Health Care Transformation in Canada in 2010, the first principle for reform was building a culture of patient-centred care. Succinctly put, this meant that "health care services are provided in a manner that works best for patients"5. To begin the process of operationalizing this concept CMA proposed a Charter for Patient-centred Care. Organized across seven domains, it included the importance of: allowing patients to participate fully in decisions about their care; respecting confidentiality of health records; and ensuring care provided is safe and appropriate. This sweeping vision underscores the fact that care which is not matched to the individual patient cannot be considered appropriate care.
A third significant development over the last two decades was heightened awareness of the importance of scopes of practice. This awareness arose in part from the emphasis placed on a team approach in newer models of primary care6, but also from the emergence of new professions such as physician assistants, and the expansion of scopes of practice for other professionals such as pharmacists7. As the same health care activity could increasingly be done by a wider range of health professionals, ensuring the best match between competence required and the service provided became an essential element to consider when defining appropriateness. Under-qualified practitioners could not deliver quality care, while overly-qualified providers were a poor use of scarce resources.
To summarize, as a recent scoping review suggested, for a complete conceptualization of appropriateness in 2013 it is necessary to add the right time, right patient and right provider to the previously articulated right care and right setting8.
Why Appropriateness Matters
The most frequent argument used to justify policy attention to appropriateness is health system cost. There is a wealth of evidence that inappropriate care - avoidable hospitalizations, for example, or alternative level of care patients in acute care beds - is wide spread in Canada9; eliminating this waste is critical to system sustainability. In Saskatchewan, for example, Regina and Saskatoon contracted in 2011 with private clinics to provide a list of 34 surgical procedures. Not only were wait times reduced, but costs were 26% lower in the surgical clinics than in hospitals for doing the same procedures10.
There is, however, an equally important issue pointing to the importance of ensuring appropriate care: sub-optimal health care quality. In the United States, for example, a study evaluated performance on 439 quality indicators for 30 acute and chronic conditions. Patients received 54.9% of recommended care, ranging from a high of 78.7% for senile cataracts to 10.5% for alcohol dependence11. A more recent Australian study used 522 quality indicators to assess care for 22 common conditions. Patients received clinically appropriate care in 57% of encounters, with a range from 90% for coronary artery disease to 13% for alcohol dependence12. While no comparable comprehensive data exist for Canada, it is unlikely the practices in our system depart significantly from peer nations. Focusing on appropriateness of care, then, is justified by both fiscal and quality concerns.
Methodology: the Challenge of Identifying Appropriateness
While there is a clear need to address appropriateness - in all its dimensions - the methods by which to assess the appropriateness of care are limited and, to date, have largely focused on the clinical aspect.
The most frequently used approach is the Rand/University of California Los Angeles (Rand) method. It provides panels of experts with relevant literature about a particular practice and facilitates iterative discussion and ranking of the possible indications for using the practice. Practices are labeled appropriate, equivocal or inappropriate13. A systematic review in 2012 found that for use on surgical procedures the method had good test-retest reliability, interpanel reliability and construct validity14. However, the method has been criticized for other short-comings: panels in different countries may reach different conclusions when reviewing the same evidence; validity can only be tested against instruments such as clinical practice guidelines that themselves may have a large expert opinion component2; Rand appropriateness ratings apply to an "average" patient, which cannot account for differences across individuals; and, finally, Rand ratings focus on appropriateness when a service is provided but does not encompass underuse, that is, failure to provide a service that would have been appropriate9.
The Rand method, while not perfect, is the most rigorous approach to determining clinical appropriateness yet devised. It has recently been suggested that a method based on extensive literature review can identify potentially ineffective or harmful practices; when applied to almost 6000 items in the Australian Medical Benefits Schedule, 156 were identified that may be inappropriate15. This method also presents challenges. For example, the authors of a study using Cochrane reviews to identify low-value practices note that the low-value label resulted mainly from a lack of randomized evidence for effectiveness16.
Assessing the appropriateness of care setting has focused almost exclusively on hospitals. Some diagnoses are known to be manageable in a community setting by primary care or specialty clinics. The rate of admissions for these ambulatory care sensitive conditions (ACSCs) - which fell from 459 per 100,000 population in 2001-02 to 320 per 100,00 in 2008-09 - is one way of gauging the appropriateness of the hospital as a care venue9. A second measure is the number of hospital patients who do not require either initial or prolonged treatment in an acute care setting. Proprietorial instruments such as the Appropriateness Evaluation Protocol (AEP)17or the InterQual Intensity of Service, Severity of Illness and Discharge Screen for Acute Care (ISD-AC)18 have been used to assess the appropriateness of hospital care for individual patients. While these instruments have been applied to Canadian hospital data19,20, there is a lack of consensus in the literature as to the reliability and utility of such tools21-23.
Benchmarks exist for appropriate wait times for some types of care in Canada through the work of the Wait Time Alliance4. These include: chronic pain, cancer care, cardiac care, digestive health care, emergency rooms, joint replacement, nuclear medicine, radiology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatric surgery, plastic surgery, psychiatric illness, and sight restoration. The recommendations are based on evidence-informed expert opinion.
The other two domains of appropriateness - right patient, right provider - as yet have no objective tools by which to assess appropriateness.
Determining appropriateness demands a complex and time-consuming approach, and its operationalization faces a number of barriers.
The availability of some health care services may be subject to political influence which will over-ride appropriateness criteria. For example, recommendations to close smaller hospitals deemed to be redundant or inefficient may not be implemented for political reasons.
Patient expectations can challenge evidence-based appropriateness criteria. In a primary care setting, for instance, it may be difficult to persuade a patient with an ankle sprain that an x-ray is unlikely to be helpful. The insistence by the patient is compounded by an awareness of potential legal liability in the event that clinical judgment subsequently proves incorrect. Choosing Wisely Canada recommends physicians and patients become comfortable with evidence-informed conversations about potentially necessary care24.
Traditional clinical roles are difficult to revise in order to ensure that care is provided by the most appropriate health professional. This is especially true if existing funding silos are not realigned to reflect the desired change in practice patterns.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, even if agreed upon appropriateness criteria are developed, holding practitioners accountable for their application in clinical practice is extremely difficult due to data issues25. Chart audits could be conducted to determine whether appropriateness criteria were met when specific practices were deployed, but this is not feasible on a large scale. Rates of use of some practices could be compared among peers from administrative data; however, variation in practice population might legitimately sustain practice variation. For diagnostic procedures it has been suggested that the percentage of negative results is an indicator of inappropriate use; however, most administrative claim databases would not include positive or negative test result data26. This data deficit must be addressed with health departments and regional health authorities.
There are several additional constraints on the use of the concept by health system managers.
First, the vast majority of practices have never been subject to the Rand or any other appropriateness assessment. Even for surgical procedures clinical appropriateness criteria exist for only 10 of the top 25 most common inpatient procedures and for 6 of the top 15 ambulatory procedures in the United States. Most studies are more than 5 years old27.
Second, while the notion is perhaps appealing to policy makers, it is incorrect to assume that high use of a practice equates with misuse: when high-use areas are compared to low use areas, the proportion of inappropriate use has consistently been shown to be no greater in the high-use regions28,29.
Finally, it is uncertain how large a saving can be realized from eliminating problematic clinical care. For example, a US study modeling the implementation of recommendations for primary care found that while a switch to preferentially prescribing generic drugs would save considerable resources, most of the other items on the list of questionable activities "are not major contributors to health care costs"30. What is important to emphasize is that even if dollars are not saved, by reducing inappropriate care better value will be realized for each dollar spent.
These methodological and other challenges31 notwithstanding, the Canadian Medical Association puts forward the following recommendations for operationalizing the concept of appropriateness and of clinical practice.
1. Provinces and territories should work with providers to develop a comprehensive framework by which to assess the appropriateness of health care.
Jurisdictions should develop a framework32 for identifying potentially inappropriate care, including under-use. This involves selecting criteria by which to identify and prioritize candidates for assessment; developing and applying a robust assessment methodology; and creating mechanisms to disseminate and apply the results. Frameworks must also include meaningful consideration of care venue, timeliness, patient preferences and provider scope of practice. International examples exist for some aspects of this exercise and should be adapted to jurisdictional circumstances. Necessarily, a framework will demand the collection of supporting data in a manner consistent with the following 2013 General Council resolution:
The Canadian Medical Association supports the development of data on health care delivery and patient outcomes to help the medical profession develop an appropriateness framework and associated accountability standards provided that patient and physician confidentiality is maintained.
2. Provinces and territories should work with providers to develop robust educational products on appropriateness in health care and to disseminate evidence-informed strategies for necessary changes in care processes.
Both trainees and practicing physicians should have access to education and guidance on the topic of appropriateness and on practices that are misused, under-used, or over-used. Appropriately designed continuing education has been shown to alter physician practice. Point of care guidance via the electronic medical record offers a further opportunity to alert clinicians to practices that should or should not be done in the course of a patient encounter33.
An initiative co-led by the Canadian Medical Association that is designed to educate the profession about the inappropriate over use of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions is Choosing Wisely Canada. The goal is to enhance quality of care and only secondarily to reduce unnecessary expenditures. It is an initiative consistent with the intent of two resolutions from the 2013 General Council:
The Canadian Medical Association will form a collaborative working group to develop specialty-specific lists of clinical tests/interventions and procedures for which benefits have generally not been shown to exceed the risks.
The Canadian Medical Association believes that fiscal benefits and cost savings of exercises in accountability and appropriateness in clinical care are a by-product rather than the primary focus of these exercises.
3. Provinces and territories should work with providers to put in place incentives to decrease the provision of marginally useful or unnecessary care.
Practitioners should be provided with incentives to eliminate inappropriate care. These incentives may be financial - delisting marginal activities or providing bonuses for achieving utilization targets for appropriate but under-used care. Any notional savings could also be flagged for reinvestment in the health system, for example, to enhance access. Giving physicians the capacity to participate in audit and feedback on their use of marginal practices in comparison to peers generally creates a personal incentive to avoid outlier status. Public reporting by group or institution may also move practice towards the mean30. In any such undertakings to address quality or costs through changes in practice behaviour it is essential that the medical profession play a key role. This critical point was captured in a 2013 General Council resolution:
The Canadian Medical Association will advocate for adequate physician input in the selection of evidence used to address costs and quality related to clinical practice variation.
When appropriateness is defined solely in terms of assessing the clinical benefit of care activities it can provide a plausible rational for "disinvestment in" or "delisting of" individual diagnostic or therapeutic interventions. However, such a narrow conceptualization of appropriateness cannot ensure that high quality care is provided with the optimal use of resources. To be truly useful in promoting quality and value appropriateness must be understood to mean the right care, provided by the right provider, to the right patient, in the right venue, at the right time.
Achieving these five components of health care will not be without significant challenges, beginning with definitions and moving on to complex discussions on methods of measurement. Indeed, it may prove an aspirational goal rather than a completely attainable reality. But if every encounter in the health system - a hospitalization, a visit to a primary care provider, an admission to home care - attempted to meet or approximate each of the five criteria for appropriateness, a major step towards optimal care and value will have been achieved across the continuum. Viewed in this way, appropriateness has the capacity to become an extraordinarily useful organizing concept for positive health care transformation in Canada.
Approved by CMA Board on December 06, 2014
1. World Health Organization. Appropriateness in Health Care Services, Report on a WHO Workshop. Copenhagen: WHO; 2000.
2. Lavis JN, Anderson GM. Appropriateness in health care delivery: definitions, measurement and policy implications. CMAJ. 1996;154(3):321-8.
3. Sanmartin C, Shortt SE, Barer ML, Sheps S, Lewis S, McDonald PW. Waiting for medical services in Canada: lots of heat, but little light. CMAJ. 2000;162(9):1305-10.
4. Wait Time Alliance. Working to Improve Wait Times Across Canada. Toronto: Wait Time Alliance; 2014. Available: http://www.waittimealliance.ca. (accessed April 18, 2013)
5. Canadian Medical Association. Health Care Transformation in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2010.
6. Canadian Medical Association. CMA Policy: Achieving Patient-centred Collaborative Care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2008.
7. Maxwell-Alleyne A, Farber A. Pharmacists' expanded scope of practice: Professional obligations for physicians and pharmacists working collaboratively. Ont Med Rev. 2013;80(4):17-9.
8. Sanmartin C, Murphy K, Choptain N, et al. Appropriateness of healthcare interventions: concepts and scoping of the published literature. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2008;24(3)342-9.
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Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (UPDATE 2000)
The Canadian Medical Association has developed the following general principles to serve as guidelines for various bodies, health care professionals and the general public. Specific aspects of infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficency syndrome (AIDS) that relate to physicians' ethical responsibilities as well as society's moral obligations are discussed. Such matters include: the need for education, research and treatment resources; the patient's right to investigation and treatment and to refuse either; the need to obtain the patient's informed consent; the right to privacy and confidentiality; the importance of infection control; and the right to financial compensation in the case of occupational exposure to HIV.
Physicians should keep their knowledge of AIDS and HIV infection up to date.
Physicians should educate patients and the general public in the prevention of AIDS by informing them of means available to protect against the risk of HIV infection and to avoid further transmission of the virus.
Health authorities should maintain an active public education program on AIDS that includes the school population and such initiatives as public service announcements by the media.
All levels of government should provide resources for adequate information and education of health care professionals and the public on HIV-related diseases; research into the prevention and treatment of HIV infection and AIDS; and the availability and accessibility of proper diagnosis and care for all patients with HIV infection.
HIV antibody testing
Physicians have an ethical responsibility to recommend appropriate testing for HIV antibody and to care for their patients with AIDS or refer them to where treatment is available.
Physicians should provide counselling to patients before and after HIV antibody testing.
Because of the potential psychologic, social and economic consequences attached to a positive HIV test result, informed consent must, with rare exceptions, be obtained from a patient before testing. However, the CMA endorses informed mandatory testing for HIV infection in cases involving the donation of blood, body fluids or organs.
The CMA recognizes that people who have doubts about their serologic status may avoid being tested for fear of indiscretion and therefore supports voluntary non-nominal testing of potential HIV carriers on request.
The CMA supports the Canadian Blood Service and Hema-Québec in their programs of testing and screening blood donations and blood products.
Confidentiality in reporting and contact tracing
The CMA supports the position that cases of HIV infection should be reported non-nominally with enough information to be epidemiologically useful. In addition, each confirmed case of AIDS should be reported non-nominally to a designated authority for epidemiologic purposes.
The CMA encourages attending physicians to assist public health authorities to trace and counsel confidentially all contacts of patients with HIV infection. Contact tracing should be carried out with the cooperation and participation of the patient to provide maximum flexibility and effectiveness in alerting and counselling as many potentially infected people as possible.
In some jurisdictions physicians may be compelled to provide detailed information to public health authorities. In such circumstances, the CMA urges those involved to maintain confidentiality to the greatest extent possible and to take all reasonable steps to inform the patient that their information is being disclosed.
The CMA Code of Ethics (article 22) advises physicians that disclosure of a patient’s HIV status to a spouse or current sexual partner may not be unethical and, indeed, may be indicated when physicians are confronted with an HIV-infected patient who is unwilling to inform the person at risk. Such disclosure may be justified when all of the following conditions are met: the partner is at risk of infection with HIV and has no other reasonable means of knowing of the risk; the patient has refused to inform his or her sexual partner; the patient has refused an offer of assistance by the physician to do so on the patient's behalf; and the physician has informed the patient of his or her intention to disclose the information to the partner.
The CMA stresses the need to respect the confidentiality of patients with HIV infection and consequently recommends that legal and regulatory safeguards to protect such confidentiality be established and maintained.
Health care institutions and professionals should ensure that adequate infection-control measures in the handling of blood and body fluids are in place and that the rights of professionals directly involved in patient care to be informed of and protected from the risks of HIV infection are safeguarded.
The CMA does not recommend routine testing of hospitalized patients.
The CMA urges appropriate funding agencies to assess the explicit and implicit costs of infection control measures and to ensure that additional funds are provided to cover these extraordinary costs.
Occupational exposure and the health care professional
Health care workers should receive adequate financial compensation in the case of HIV infection acquired as a result of accidental occupational exposure.
Physicians and other health care providers with HIV infection have the same rights as others to be protected from wrongful discrimination in the workplace and to be eligible for financial compensation for work-related infection.
Physicians with HIV infection should consult appropriate colleagues to determine the nature and extent of the risk related to their continued involvement in the care of patients.