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.
Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
TUITION FEE ESCALATION AND DEREGULATION IN UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN MEDICINE (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is very concerned about high and rapidly escalating, undergraduate medical school tuition fees across Canada. Ontario set a precedent for the deregulation of tuition fees in May 1998 and many provinces have since followed. This policy gives universities, including medical schools, the discretion to set fees for training in those areas that lead to professional careers, such as medicine. For the 2008-2009 academic year, first-year tuition fees at most Ontario medical schools were triple the tuition fees in 1997-1998 at an average of $16,550 per year;1 this figure does not include compulsory "other fees" that can be as much as $1,700 per year.2 Irrespective of whether tuition fees have been regulated, some medical schools outside of Ontario have doubled their tuition fees within the same time period. Decreased government funding to universities is increasing the fiscal pressures on institutions and is driving these dramatic tuition fee increases. The CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant and detrimental impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services.
Broad Effects of High Tuition Fees
Lack of Diversity
Medical education in Canada has traditionally been affordable and accessible to individuals from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups who later serve an equally diverse population. Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees may close the door to individuals who either cannot afford the high costs of a medical education or wish to avoid the prospect of significant debt load upon graduation. High tuition fees may therefore create an imbalance in admissions to medical school by favouring those who represent the affluent segment of society and not the variety of groups reflected in the Canadian population. The proportion of medical students from lower income families is already extremely low and decreasing further.3 Paradoxically, funds that should be injected to making tuition fees reasonable - and therefore more accessible by a broader range of society - may soon need to be allocated to creating career promotion and special financial support programs that target those groups that have been alienated by high tuition fees.
Influence on Practice Choice and Practice Location ("Brain Drain")
It is likely that paying off debts as quickly as possible will become a key consideration when determining practice location and specialty. For instance, more students may feel compelled to maximize their earning potential by pursuing those specialties that generate high incomes; others may choose those specialties with short training periods so they can enter the workforce and start to pay off debts sooner.
Debt load may also influence where graduating physicians choose to practise medicine. The increasing willingness of American recruiters to pay off the debts of new graduates provides tremendous incentive to practise in the U.S. and explore research opportunities; unfortunately, it only aggravates the ongoing problem of the "brain drain" of Canadian physicians.4 While we have been enjoying a net gain of physicians from the U.S., we may experience net loss with physician shortages expected in the U.S. More physician retention and recruitment initiatives are needed to encourage physicians to remain in or return to Canada. This is especially true for rural and remote communities. Urban areas are often in a better financial position to offer incentives to new graduates than rural and remote communities where physician shortages are most pronounced.
Effects on Rural and Remote Areas
The CMA believes that governments must be made aware of the potentially negative impact of high tuition fees and student debt on physician workforce supply for the rural and remote areas of Canada. Research shows that medical students from rural and remote areas have a greater likelihood of returning to these communities to practise medicine.5 Research also shows that students of rural origin have higher student debts6 and are underrepresented in Canadian medical schools.7 Students from rural and remote communities face the challenge of not being able to live at home while they attend university. They must assume high relocation expenses and travel costs, as well as separation from their families while they are away at school. Of student respondents to the 2007 National Physician Survey, 53.1% of rural students compared with 67.4% of urban medical students had no debt upon entering medical school. When asked to predict their expected debt upon completion of medical school, 33.2% of rural students compared with 23% of urban students expected their debtload to exceed $100,000.8 Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees might make both the personal and financial costs of pursuing a medical education too significant for students from rural and remote areas to even consider. As a result, this may generate fewer physicians willing to practise in these areas and exacerbate the problem most rural and remote communities already face in attracting and retaining physicians. High tuition fees might also further increase the reliance on international medical graduates in rural and remote communities. While the CMA values the contributions of international medical graduates in alleviating shortages in physician supply, it believes that Canadian governments must adopt the guiding principle of self-sufficiency in the production and retention of physicians to meet population needs.
Effects on New and Potential Medical Students
Medical students affected by high and escalating tuition fees will graduate with unprecedented debt loads. Enormous education costs, already a reality in some provinces, are a growing trend. In 2007, over one third (36%) of students said they expected debtloads of $80,000 or more upon completion of medical school.9
A number of factors, as highlighted below, contribute to students' financial burden and may affect their ability to pay off debts and meet financial obligations. This, in turn, may influence their choice of medical discipline and practice location. Exorbitant education costs may also result in students considering dropping out of, or taking longer to complete, their medical studies because they cannot afford the ongoing costs, or are too overwhelmed with the combined stress of their medical studies and trying to make financial ends meet. The CMA is very concerned that excessive debt loads will exacerbate the stress already experienced by medical students during their training and will have a significant and negative impact on their health and well-being.
Previous Education Debt and Accumulative Debt
Most Canadian medical schools make an undergraduate degree a prerequisite to application. As such, by the time most students are accepted into medical school, they may have already accumulated debt from a previous undergraduate degree. Many students have also completed postgraduate degrees before entering medical school.10 This debt continues to accumulate during the undergraduate years of medical school and into the postgraduate training period, which is anywhere from two years to seven years in duration. This does not include additional time spent doing fellowships. It may be very useful to establish a national clearinghouse of public and private financial assistance programs to help students in their search for financial support.
Limited or No Employment Opportunities during Undergraduate Training
Tuition fees, along with ongoing increases in living expenses, are already making it very difficult for some students to make ends meet. It makes matters worse that there are limited or no opportunities to generate income through employment during the academic year and the summer months. Given the intensity of the medical school program, some schools strongly advise against working part time. To further compound the problem, some schools have very short summer breaks. For those schools that do provide summer holidays, the holidays often start later than other university programs, by which time employment opportunities are scarce or low paying. There is also the common expectation that medical students will undertake unpaid clinical or research elective experiences during the summer to enhance their desirability for postgraduate medical programs.
Limited or No Remuneration for the Clinical Clerkship
During the clerkship years, there are no summertime breaks because students spend these years working in hospitals and other clinical settings. All Canadian medical students (outside of Québec) receive a relatively small stipend during their clerkship varying from $2,808 to $6,000;11 however, the stipend had previously been abolished in medical schools in Ontario and Québec in the early 1990s. Fortunately Ontario reinstated the stipend as the Final Year Medical Student Bursary in 2004.12
In addition to very limited or no opportunities to generate employment income, medical students must bear a number of unique and significant costs. These include very high textbook and instrument costs, as well as a variety of expenses associated with their clerkship, such as travel to and from the clinical setting and the need for professional attire. The introduction of distributed medical education including satellite campuses, co-campuses and rural learning sites has increased the amount of travel required of medical students as well as the associated costs.
Off-site electives also generate many additional expenses, including the cost for travel to the site - which may be in a different province - as well as accommodation and other living expenses. A 1999 survey of graduating medical students revealed that more than half took an off-site elective at a specific institution in order to increase their chances of being matched to that site.13 As postgraduate training becomes even more competitive, the number of students taking off-site electives may increase and so will the number of students who are adding this expense to their overall debt load.
Medical students must also assume considerable costs related to interviews for residency training, including the high costs for travel to various interview sites, accommodation expenses, application fees for the resident matching service and other miscellaneous expenses. There is also a considerable fee for the qualifying examination that is written at the end of medical school.
Insufficient Public Funding and Increasing Reliance on Bank Loans
Government financial support programs (bursaries and loans) are not increasing to meet students' needs due to rising tuition costs and living expenses. As a consequence, the number of students who must rely on interest-bearing bank loans to help support themselves while they are in school may increase. Unlike some government programs, repayment of bank loans often cannot be postponed until after graduation and interest payment is required during the course of study; this further exacerbates students' financial stress.
Upon graduation from medical school, students must pursue two to seven years of postgraduate training to obtain a licence to practise medicine. This training period is marked with fees for examinations as well as an annual tuition and/or registration fee. During 2008-2009, the tuition fee was as much as $3,900 in some provinces.14 Residents are also required to work long hours in hospitals and other clinical settings and have frequent on-call responsibilities. Although residents do receive a salary for this work, the remuneration is relatively modest when these factors and debt servicing payments are considered. In fact, mandatory debt maintenance can consume a very significant proportion of a resident's pay.15 The CMA opposes tuition fees for residents. While the CMA's opposition to residency tuition is based on a number of factors not limited to its financial impact, clearly, tuition fees exacerbate debt.
High Practice Start-up Costs and Decreased Pay Potential
Licensed physicians wanting to establish a clinical practice currently face start-up costs estimated between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on their practice specialty and type (e.g., solo versus group practice).16 Some specialties require capital investment over and above the basic start-up costs. These expenses will add to the significant debt that new physicians will bear in the next few years.
In addition to significantly higher debt load than the previous generation of new physicians, a number of factors may influence the net income of physicians and their ability to pay off debts. These include billing caps, stagnant fees for services, high malpractice insurance fees, overhead expenses and increasing non-remunerative administrative responsibilities.
In summary, the CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services. This impact includes:
* creating socioeconomic barriers to application to medical school and threatening the diversity of future physicians serving the public
* exacerbating the physician brain drain to the U.S. where new physicians can pay off their huge debts more quickly
* generating fewer physicians available or interested in practising in rural and remote areas of Canada
In response to its concerns regarding the deregulation of tuition fees and high tuition fee increases, the CMA recommends that:
1 governments increase funding to medical schools to alleviate the pressures driving tuition increases
2 any tuition increase should be regulated and reasonable
3 financial support systems for students be developed concomitantly or in advance of any tuition increase, be in direct proportion to the tuition fee increase and provided at levels that meet the needs of students.
Glossary of Terms
Undergraduate Program in Medicine, also known as "Medical School"
Medical school is the period of study, usually four years in duration that leads to the doctor of medicine or "MD" degree upon graduation. Most Canadian universities require applicants to the undergraduate medicine program to have at least a three-year degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science degree) before they are eligible to apply. Although the title "Doctor" is conferred upon successful completion of the undergraduate program, an additional two to seven years or more of residency training is required before these individuals can apply for a licence to practise medicine in Canada.
The clerkship is the period during the last one to two years of undergraduate studies in medicine during which medical students work in hospitals, clinics and physicians' offices.
Many students take off-site electives during their clerkship. An "elective" is a course or training that is not mandatory to the curriculum, but may be elected or chosen by the student. An "off-site" elective means that the training is being provided at a location different from the medical school where the student is enrolled; for example, the elective may be in a different city, province, or even a different country.
During the last year of undergraduate training, most graduating medical students participate in a national process that matches them with available residency training positions in Canada.
Residency/Postgraduate Training Period
After earning his/her MD degree and receiving the title "Doctor," additional training is required in a specific area before an individual may practise medicine in Canada. This period of training is referred to as "residency" or "postgraduate training;" the individuals undergoing the training are called "residents." Residents usually work in hospitals (also called "teaching hospitals") under the supervision of a licensed physician. Depending on the field of study, residency training may range from two to seven years or longer if subspecialty training is pursued (e.g., pediatric cardiology). At the end of residency training, individuals must pass a number of examinations to practise medicine in Canada.
A fellowship is training sought by individuals who wish to obtain expertise in a specific area of medicine above and beyond basic residency requirements.
1 Tuition Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine: Session Commencing Fall 2008. Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, November 2008.
3 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
4 "Are We Losing Our Minds? Trends, Determinants and the Role of Taxation in Brain Drain to the United States," The Conference Board of Canada, July 1999.
5 Advisory Panel Report on the Provision of Medical Services in Underserviced Regions. Canadian Medical Association, 1992.
6 2007 National Physician Survey.
7 Dhalla IA, Kwong JC, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE, Johnson IL, et al. Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian medical schools. CMAJ 2002;166(8):1029-35. 
8 2007 National Physician Survey.
9 2007 National Physician Survey.
10 "Educational Attainment at Time of Application of Registered and Not Registered Applicants to Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2006-2007 (Table 105)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p154.
11 "Duration of Clinical Clerkship and Amount of Stipend in Canadian Faculties of Medicine 2008-2009 (Table 7)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p9.
12 Clinical Clerkship Stipends by Faculty of Medicine, 1995-1996 to 1999-2000, Canadian Medical Association Research Directorate, January 2000.
13 Results of the Post-Match Survey of Students Graduating 1999, Canadian Resident Matching Service.
14 "Post-MD Clinical Trainee Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2008-2009 (Table 6)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p8.
15 2007 National Physician Survey.
16 Practice Management, MD Management Ltd.
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
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15. Elshaug AG, Watt AM, Mundy L, Willis CD. Over 150 potentially low-value health care practices: an Australian study. Med J Aust. 2012;197(10):556-60.
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22. McDonagh MS, Smith DH, Goddard M. Measuring appropriate use of acute beds. A systematic review of methods and results. Health policy. 2000;53(3):157-84.
23. Vetter N. Inappropriately delayed discharge from hospital: what do we know? BMJ. 2003;326(7395):927-8.
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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
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