The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the information below in
response to questions by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for consideration as part of the
development of regulations following the enactment of the Disability Tax Credit Promoters
Restriction Act. This information is in follow up to CMA’s submission to the CRA dated
December 19, 2014, attached for reference.
As explained in the CMA’s submission attached, the CMA strongly encourages the CRA to
include an exemption for “a health care practitioner duly licensed under the applicable
regulatory authority who provides health care and treatment” from the reporting requirements
in the forthcoming regulations enabled by the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restriction Act.
This exemption is necessary to ensure CRA does not impose duplicative regulatory oversight
of the medical profession, specific to the provision of this uninsured service. As fully explained
in the CMA’s brief, this exemption would not introduce a potential “loophole”.
Issue 1: Organizations Responsible for Physician Regulatory Oversight
The statutory authority for the regulatory oversight of physicians rests with the provincial and
territorial medical regulatory colleges. As explained on page 4 of the CMA’s submission,
medical regulatory colleges have statutory, comprehensive regulatory authority of physicians;
this authority captures: medical licensure, governing standards of practice, professional
oversight, and disciplinary proceedings. Included in this authority is broad regulatory
oversight for fees that physicians may charge for uninsured services, which would capture the
fee charged for the Disability Tax Credit form. The Federation of Medical Regulatory
Authorities of Canada (FMRAC) is the umbrella organization representing provincial and
territorial medical regulatory authorities in Canada and can address how best to contact
individual regulatory colleges.1
Issue 2: CMA’s Code of Ethics
In addition to policies, guidance and oversight by provincial and territorial regulatory
colleges, charging a fee associated with the delivery of an uninsured service, in this case a
fee associated with completing the form associated with the Disability Tax Credit, is captured
by Section 16 of the CMA’s Code of Ethics. Section 16 states: “In determining professional
fees to patients for non-insured services, consider both the nature of the service provided and
the ability of the patient to pay, and be prepared to discuss the fee with the patient.”2
Issue 3: Fee Structure for Uninsured Services
As the CRA does not provide remuneration to physicians for the completion of the Disability
Tax Credit form, the delivery of this service by physicians is an uninsured service. As an
uninsured service there is no set fee level. While provincial and territorial medical associations
Canadian Medical Association 3
May 15, 2015
may provide guidance to physicians within their jurisdiction on uninsured services, which may
be referenced in policies by regulatory colleges, this guidance does not constitute a set fee
schedule. As captured in the CMA’s Code of Ethics referenced above, physicians may
consider patient-specific and other factors in determining a fee for the delivery of an
uninsured service. The CMA encourages CRA to review relevant policies and guidance of
individual provincial and territorial regulatory colleges for a comprehensive understanding of
the oversight of uninsured services.
Once again, the CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide further information to support
the development of regulations to enable the new authorities of the Disability Tax Credit
Promoters Restriction Act and to ensure that CRA does not impose redundant and duplicative
regulatory oversight of the medical profession.
1 FMRAC’s Executive Director is Dr. Fleur-Ange Lefebvre and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
2 CMA’s Code of Ethics may be accessed here: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assetslibrary/
Re: Future Mandate of the Health Care Innovation Working Group (the Council of the Federation)
On behalf of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I am writing in advance of the meeting of the Council of the Federation later this month regarding the future mandate of the Health Care Innovation Working Group with respect to seniors care.
The CNA and CMA welcomed the Council of the Federation's prioritization of seniors care as an area of focus of the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Already, seniors and their families in communities across Canada face significant challenges accessing social supports and health services. These challenges will only intensify as the demographic shift progresses. Based on current trends and approaches, the proportion of provincial/territorial health spending associated with seniors care is forecast to grow by over 15% to almost 62% of health budgets by 2036.
Recognizing the significant pressure this will present for health care systems and provincial/territorial budgets moving forward, it is critical that the Council of the Federation maintain its prioritization of seniors care and meeting the needs of an aging population. As such, we respectfully encourage you in your capacity as Co-Chairs of the Health Care Innovation Working Group to ensure the future mandate of the working group on seniors care be included as part of the agenda at the January 30, 2015 meeting of the Council of the Federation.
The CNA and CMA are actively engaged on this issue and welcome the opportunity to meet with each of you to discuss how we may collaborate to ensure improved health outcomes for seniors, now and in the future.
Christopher S. Simpson, MD, FRCPC, FACC, FHRS
Karima Velji, RN, PhD, CHE
*Draft GST/HST Policy Statement - Qualifying Health Care Supplies and the Application of Section 1.2 of Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act to the Supply of Medical Examinations, Reports and Certificates (GST/HST Notices - Notice 286, October 2014)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, CMA's
mission is to help physicians care for patients.
On behalf of its more than 82,000 members and the Canadian public, CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada's physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and 51 national medical organizations.
The 2013 Federal Budget introduced amendments to the Excise Tax Act that extend the application of the Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) to supplies of reports, examinations and other property or services that are not made for the purpose of the protection, maintenance or restoration of the health of a person or for palliative care: new sections were added to the Excise Tax Act introducing additional conditions that must be met before uninsured health care services will be exempted from the GST/HST. These amendments are retroactive to March 22, 2013, for most provinces (exception: April 1, 2013, for Prince Edward Island).
In response, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) detailed the concerns of its members in a formal letter to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and requested that the CRA conduct a consultation with stakeholders.
On October 31, 2014, the CRA released a draft GST/HST policy statement, Qualifying Health Care Supplies and the Application of Section 1.2 of Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act to the Supply of Medical Examinations, Reports and Certificates, herein referred to as the draft policy.
The CRA notes that these "amendments clarify that [the] GST/HST applies to supplies of reports, examinations and other property or services that are not made for the purpose of the protection, maintenance or restoration of the health of a person or for palliative care."
The CMA has consulted with all provincial and territorial medical associations on this matter and is pleased to provide its comments with respect to the draft policy. This document is intended to (1) highlight CMA's concerns with respect to the draft policy and (2) provide recommendations to improve it.
Although the draft policy is intended to clarify CRA's position with respect to the meaning of the term "qualifying health care supply" (QHCS), it provides insufficient guidance with respect to the CRA's view on (1) the meaning of the different elements of a QHCS, (2) the factors to be considered when determining if a supply is a QHCS and/or (3) the documentation required to support a physician's conclusions regarding the nature of his/her supplies. The CMA is concerned that this ambiguity will ultimately lead to confusion for patients and clinicians alike.
Moreover, the CMA has identified the following high-level concerns with the draft policy:
* Changes in the draft policy are retroactive to March 22, 2013, for most provinces (exception: April 1, 2013, for Prince Edward Island). There is a prolonged gap between the coming into force date (budget date) and the date on which CRA issued guidance on the new tax rules.
* The draft policy places the responsibility for determining the purpose of a supply on the practitioner. The policy needs to provide additional guidance to practitioners on how to determine the purpose of a particular supply.
* The CRA must ensure that the audit process respects patient-physician confidentiality. The draft policy should indicate the record-keeping/reporting requirements a physician should consider.
The scope of the policy is also limited in some other ways. The policy does not address the implications for a physician of making a taxable supply, such as (1) how to apply the coming into force rule, (2) when to register for the GST/HST and (3) which rate of GST/HST to apply.
New purpose test
The CMA believes that physicians will find it problematic to apply the new purpose test in certain situations. This is because the purpose test is subjective and needs to be applied on a case-by-case, patient-by-patient basis. As a result, different individuals may reach different conclusions, depending on their expertise (i.e., physicians vs. CRA auditors).
Furthermore, the draft policy does not provide comments on the meaning of terms such as "for the purpose of" or the terms "maintaining health," "preventing disease" and "treating ... illness, disorder or disability." Moreover, the draft policy does not mention the first order supply principle or specify CRA's view on whose health must be maintained or whose disease, injury, illness, disorder or disability must be addressed. Must it be the recipient of the supply, the person to whom the services are rendered, or may it be another person? The answers to these questions are determined based on the particular scenario.
The draft policy places the responsibility for determining the purpose of a supply on the practitioner. However, the draft policy does not provide guidance on how to determine the purpose of a particular supply. Furthermore, it is conceivable that the purpose of a supply could change either during an initial visit (i.e., if an illness is identified) or over time (as a result of changing medical opinions on certain procedures).
Moreover, the draft policy does not recognize and consider that the diagnostic procedures performed by a practitioner when examining a patient are the same whether or not the practitioner is being paid by or providing a report to a third party. It also does not recognize and consider that even though the practitioner may be reporting to a third party, he/she is also discussing his/her recommendations for treatment with the patient.
1. Expand on the meaning of "for the purpose of," as follows:
* Discuss the first order supply principle and how it would apply to the purpose test in this circumstance (e.g., is the purpose the immediate reason for the supply or does one have to consider the eventual or ultimate goal?).
* Provide a list of factors that practitioners should consider when they are determining the purpose of the supply (see Appendix 1 for other CRA policy statements that include such lists).
* Discuss the impact of an additional purpose arising during the course of an examination.
2. Clarify the meaning of the following terms:
* maintaining health
* preventing disease
* treating, relieving or remediating an injury, illness, disorder or disability
3. Recognize and consider that the diagnostic procedures used by a practitioner when examining a patient are the same whether or not the practitioner is being paid or providing a report to a third party (e.g., insurance company, court) and that even though the practitioner may be reporting to a third party, the practitioner is also discussing their recommendations for treatment with the patient. The draft policy should address and explore this issue.
4. Provide examples of documentation that could be used to support a practitioner's decision, taking into account the need to maintain the confidentiality of patient records.
Assisting (other than financially) an individual in coping with an injury illness, disorder or disability
Without further guidance, the meaning of "assisting (other than financially) an individual in coping with an injury illness, disorder or disability" is subjective. Practitioners may disagree on whether or not a particular supply meets the definition.
The current policy provides insufficient guidance on how to determine if a report is for financial assistance or for coping with an injury, illness, disorder or disability. For example, reports to employers could be for either purpose.
5. Provide greater clarity with respect to the concept of "assisting (other than financially) an individual in coping with an injury illness, disorder or disability."
6. Provide comments on the meaning of the following terms:
* financial assistance
* injury, illness, disorder or disability
7. Provide factors to guide practitioners in determining when a report to a third party is for financial assistance or for another purpose.
8. Provide examples of documentation that would be sufficient to demonstrate to the CRA the validity of the practitioner's conclusion that a supply is a QHCS.
Single- versus multiple-supply analysis
The draft policy states:
"In cases where a supply is made for more than one purpose, all of these purposes would be considered when determining if the supply is a qualifying health care supply. If one of the purposes for the supply meets the definition of 'qualifying health care supply' then the supply would be a qualifying health care supply. However, it should be noted that supplies are generally made for a single purpose. In cases where a health care service, such as an examination or assessment, is supplied together with a report or certificate it is necessary to determine if the supplier has made a single or multiple supplies."
The addition of the single versus multiple supply analysis adds significant complexity to the process of determining whether a supply is a QHCS. If a service is considered by the CRA as constituting multiple supplies, each with a different tax treatment, the practitioner will have to apportion the fees between the supplies for tax application purposes.
It is not practical for a clinician to analyze whether a particular patient visit is a single supply or whether it constitutes multiple supplies. This responsibility would be an onerous burden for practitioners.
9. The draft policy should take the view that, in general, there is a single supply.
10. The draft policy should clearly indicate that the health care purpose is determinative and takes precedence over any other purpose. If a supply has multiple purposes, and one of the purposes is a qualifying health care supply, then the supply will be classified as a QHCS and thus exempt from GST/HST.
11. Provide practical examples of situations in which a practitioner could be making multiple supplies.
12. Provide a list of factors specific to the QHCS to help practitioners determine whether a supply constitutes a single supply or multiple supplies.
The draft policy includes 23 examples that each set out the CRA's view on whether or not a particular supply or combination of supplies qualifies as a QHCS and is therefore exempt. All of the examples involve a single supply; there are no scenarios involving multiple supplies.
Furthermore, although the examples provide the CRA's decision on whether or not the supply in question constitutes a QHCS, they do not discuss the various factors/elements that the CRA would consider in reaching that decision. For example, examples 3, 4 and 5 all involve an examination of a patient and a report or document that a patient provides to an employer or potential employer. The draft policy does not clearly explain why the supplies in examples 4 and 5 are QHCS but the supply in example 3 is not.
Moreover, in some cases, the examples provided by the CRA do not reflect all of the aspects of the scenario in question. For example, in Alberta, a driver's medical examination (and completion of the associated form) is an insured service after the age of 75 years, but example 10 makes the blanket statement that completion of such a form is not a QHCS. Another example is that in some cases there is a subtle distinction between sick notes and short-term disability forms, for time missed because of illness.
13. If both single- and multiple-supply concepts are included in the final version of the policy, examples with multiple supplies should also be included.
14. For each example, clarify in the rationale section how the tax status was determined in each example.
15. Include a linkage to the factors discussed in the draft policy statement suggested above in making its determination of the tax status of the supply.
16. The CRA should maintain a repository and distribute a list of additional examples not included in this iteration of the policy (e.g., annual executive medical examinations, applications for Disability Tax Credit).
17. The policy could include comments on GST/HST registration, collection and reporting requirements, the association rules and the small supplier threshold as well as possible eligibility for recoveries of GST/HST by way of rebate or input tax credits (ITC) and ITC allocation requirements.
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to comment on the draft policy as part of CRA's consultation process. To ensure that clinicians can implement the new requirements with minimal impact on their patients and their practice, additional clarity is required with respect to the meaning of the various elements in the definition of a QHCS, the factors to be considered when determining if a supply is a QHCS, and the documentation required to support a physician's conclusions regarding the nature of his/her supplies.
The CMA would welcome the opportunity to comment on future iterations of this policy.
Examples of GST/HST policy statements that include a list of factors to assist the reader in determining whether a particular set of facts meets the CRA's policy:
* P - 244: Partnerships - Application of subsection 272.1(1) of the Excise Tax Act.
* P - 238: Application of the GST/HST to Payments Made Between Parties Within a Medical Practice Organization
* P - 228: Primary Place of Residence
* P - 208R: Meaning of Permanent Establishment
* P - 276R: Application of Profit Test to Carrying on a Business
* P - 167R: Meaning of the First Part of the Definition of Business
* P - 164: Rent-to-own Agreements
* P - 111R: The Meaning of Sale with Respect to Real Property
* P - 104: Supply of Land for Recreational Units Such as Mini-homes, Park Model Trailers, and Travel Trailers
* P - 090 Remote Work Site
* P - 077R2 - Single and Multiple Supplies
* P - 051R2: Carrying on Business in Canada
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present its brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study of "Best Practices and Federal Barriers: Practice and Training of Health Professionals".
The subject under discussion is relevant to both parts of the CMA's mission. The CMA has undertaken considerable activity on the issue. For example, in 2012 and 2013 we participated, with the Canadian Nurses Association and the Health Action Lobby (HEAL) on the Council of the Federation's (CoF) working group on Team-based Care. For many years, the CMA has conducted the National Physician Survey, which develops comprehensive information on physician demographics and practice patterns.
In the past decade a number of health professions have expanded their scopes of practice. In most provinces, for example, pharmacists can now renew prescriptions or provide emergency prescription refills. Ontario has established nurse-practitioner-led primary health care clinics which collaborate with family physicians and others in the community. Nova Scotia has experimented with using paramedics as first-contact primary caregivers in rural or remote areas. Governments expand scopes of practice for a number of possible reasons: cost-effectiveness (i.e. replacing one health professional with a less expensive one); improving access, particularly in areas underserviced by physicians; increasing convenience for patients (for example, allowing a neighbourhood pharmacist to give a flu shot may save the patient from taking time off work for a doctor's appointment): or responding to lobbying by health provider groups.
The CMA believes that ideally, every health care provider should have a scope of practice that is consistent with his or her education and training, and that the health care system should enable them to practice to the fullest extent of this scope. More importantly, the scope of practice of every health professional should enable them to contribute optimally to providing high quality patient-centered care without compromising patient safety. Indeed, the primary reason for expanding the scope of practice of a health professional should be to improve Canadians' health and health care.
In the following pages we will discuss several specific topics related to the Scope of Practice issue, and make recommendations for a possible federal role in supporting best practices among health professionals.
1. A Canada-Wide Approach to Scopes of Practice
Scopes of practice are determined largely by provincial and territorial governments, and each jurisdiction has developed its own regulations regarding what health professional groups may do and under what circumstances. This has led to inconsistency across the country. For example, about half the jurisdictions in Canada allow pharmacists to order laboratory tests and prescribe for minor ailments; provinces vary in the degree to which they fund nurse
practitioner positions; and there is wide variation in how, and even if, physician assistants are regulated.
While recognizing that the authority to determine scopes of practice rests with provincial/territorial governments, CMA believes that it is desirable to work toward consistency in access to health services across Canada.
Recommendation 1: that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and with health professional associations to promote a consistent national approach to scope-of-practice expansions
2. Promoting and Facilitating Team-Based Care
The scopes-of-practice issue is closely related to the development of models for team-based care, a development that CMA supports. When Canadians seek health care today, it is mainly to help them maintain their health or to manage chronic diseases. This trend is expected to continue as the population ages and the rate of chronic disease rises correspondingly. For patients who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex and a number of different health and social-services professionals may be providing care to the same person. A patient might, for example, be consulting a family physician for primary health care, several medical specialists for different conditions, a pharmacist to monitor a complex medication regime, a physiotherapist to help with mobility difficulties, health care aides to make sure the patient is eating properly or attending to personal hygiene, and a social worker to make sure his or her income is sufficient to cover health care and other needs.
The complexity of today's health care requires that the system move away from the traditional "silo" method of delivering care and encourage health professionals to work collaboratively to effectively meet patients' needs. The CMA believes that the following factors contribute to the success of inter-professional care:
Patient access to a primary care provider who is familiar with the patient's needs and preferences, and has responsibility for the overall care of the patient, co-ordinating the various providers involved in this care. For more than 30 million Canadians, that primary care provider is a family physician. The College of Family Physicians of Canada believes that family practices can serve as patient's "medical home," in which care is anchored and co-ordinated by a family physician, with access to other health care providers as required.
Mechanisms that encourage collaboration and communication among providers. These include:
o Interdisciplinary primary care practices, such as Family Health Networks in Ontario, which permit patients to access a variety of different health professionals and their expertise from one practice setting;
Widespread use of the electronic health record, which can facilitate information sharing and communication among providers.
A smooth, seamless process for referral from one provider to another.
Role clarity and mutual trust. Each health professional on a care team should have a clear understanding of their own roles and the roles of other team members.
The CoF's Team-Based Care Working Group investigated the critical factors for successful team based care, and identified models in certain provinces that it believed should be considered for rollout across Canada. This rollout could be enhanced if it were encouraged by all governments, including the Government of Canada. In the past, Health Canada has supported demonstration projects in health system reform through the National Primary Care Research Group. The CMA believes that the federal government could take a similar role in future, in supporting and disseminating promising models of inter-professional practice. The dissemination process should be accompanied by a process to rigorously evaluate the effect of such models on health outcomes, quality of patient care, and health care costs.
Recommendation 2: that the Government of Canada support research into and evaluation of innovative models of team-based care, and actively promote the dissemination of successful models nationwide.
Recommendation 3: that Canada Health Infoway work with provinces and territories to increase the adoption of electronic medical records at the point of care and build connectivity among points of care.
3. A Health-Care System That Supports Best Practices in Team-Based Care
We have already discussed the part that governments could play in identifying, disseminating and evaluating models of inter-professional practice. The health care system's planners, funders and managers can also foster team-based care in other ways, such as:
Promoting education in inter-professional care. As the Committee has heard, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada's guiding principles for medical education include valuing inter-professionalism and incorporating it into residency learning and practice. CMA encourages the development of programs to help new physicians and other health professionals acquire the skills needed to function optimally an in inter-professional setting.
Improving access to health services not funded under the Canada Health Act. At present, patients who do not have private health care coverage must pay out of pocket for physiotherapy, dietitian services, mental health care and most social services. This works against the principles of inter-professional care by hindering access to necessary services; this could compromise patient health and safety.
Undertaking an open and meaningful consultation process when changes to scopes of practice are proposed. CMA's experience has been that physicians are more accepting of changes in other professions' scopes of practice if their medical associations have been involved in negotiation on these changes.
Ensuring that the supply of health professionals in Canada is sufficient to the needs of Canadian patients, by developing, implementing and monitoring human resource plans for all major health professions.
Recommendation 4: that the federal government work with provincial/territorial government and national health professional associations to develop and implement a health human resources plan that ensures Canadians' access to all appropriate health care providers.
In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association recognizes that the great majority of decisions regarding scopes of practice are made at the provincial/territorial level. But we believe that in order to encourage a Canadian health-care system in which all providers work together, contributing their unique skills and expertise to providing patient-centered, seamless, cost-effective care, the support and encouragement of the federal government will be extremely beneficial.
Authorizing Cannabis for Medical Purposes
The legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes came into effect with the Cannabis Act in October 2018, and patients continue to have access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The Cannabis Regulations have replaced the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. Patients can obtain cannabis for medical purposes when a physician or nurse practitioner provides a “medical document” , authorizing its use, and determining the daily dried cannabis dose in grams.
With the authorization, patients have the choice whether to (a) buy directly from a federally licensed producer; (b) register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for personal consumption; (c) designate someone to produce it for them; or (d) buy cannabis at provincial or territorial authorized retail outlets or online sales platforms, if above the legal age limit.
While acknowledging the unique requirements of patients suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective and for whom cannabis may provide relief, physicians remain concerned about the serious lack of clinical research, guidance and regulatory oversight for cannabis as a medical treatment. There is insufficient clinical information on safety and efficacy for most therapeutic claims. There is little information around therapeutic and toxic dosages and knowledge on interactions with medications. Besides the need for appropriate research, health practitioners would benefit from unbiased, accredited educational modules and decision support tools based on the best available evidence.
The Canadian Medical Association has consistently expressed concern with the role of gatekeeper that physicians have been asked to take as a result of court decisions. Physicians should not feel obligated to authorize cannabis for medical purposes.
Physicians who choose to authorize cannabis for their patients must comply with their provincial or territorial regulatory College's relevant guideline or policy. They should also be familiar with regulations and guidance, particularly:
Health Canada’s Information for Health Care Practitioners – Medical Use of Cannabis (monograph, summary and daily dose fact sheet),
the Canadian Medical Protective Association’s guidance;
the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s preliminary guidance Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety; and
the Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care, published in the Canadian Family Physician.
The CMA recommends that physicians should:
Ensure that there is no conflict of interest, such as direct or indirect economic interest in a licensed cannabis producer or be involved in dispensing cannabis;
Treat the authorization as an insured service, similar to a prescription, and not charge patients or the licensed producer for this service;
Until such time as there is compelling evidence of its efficacy and safety for specific indications, consider authorizing cannabis only after conventional therapies are proven ineffective in treating patients’ conditions;
Have the necessary clinical knowledge to authorize cannabis for medical purposes;
Only authorize in the context of an established patient-physician relationship;
Assess the patient’s medical history, conduct a physical examination and assess for the risk of addiction and diversion, using available clinical support tools and tests;
Engage in a consent discussion with patients which includes information about the known benefits and adverse health effects of cannabis in its various forms (e.g., edibles), including the risk of impairment to activities such as driving and work;
Advise the patient regarding harm reduction strategies and the prevention of accidental exposure for children and other people;
Document all consent discussions in patients' medical records;
Reassess the patient on a regular basis for its effectiveness to address the medical condition for which cannabis was authorized, as well as for addiction and diversion, to support maintenance, adjustment or discontinuation of treatment; and
Record the authorization of cannabis for medical purposes similar to when prescribing a controlled medication.
The Cannabis Regulations provide some consistency with many established provincial and territorial prescription monitoring programs for controlled substances. Licensed producers of cannabis for medical purposes are required to provide information to provincial and territorial medical licensing bodies upon request, including healthcare practitioner information, daily quantity of dried cannabis supported, period of use, date of document and basic patient information. The Minister of Health can also report physicians to their College should there be reasonable grounds that there has been a contravention of the Narcotic Control Regulations or the Cannabis Regulations.
Approved by CMA Board February 2015
Latest update approved by CMA Board in February 2020
ACCESSIBILITY: THE SOLUTION
LIES IN COOPERATION
Joint Brief of
The Quebec Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association
BILL no. 20:
An Act to enact the Act to promote access to family medicine and specialized medicine services and to amend various legislative provisions relating to assisted procreation
March 25, 2015
We would like to thank the members of the Committee on Health and Social Services for giving the Quebec Medical Association (QMA) and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) the opportunity to express their preliminary views on Bill 20. We use the word "preliminary" deliberately because the bill in its current form sets out broad principles but is lacking in specifics. We would have liked to see more transparency on the government's part early in the process, whereas the regulatory guidelines were only made public on March 19. This shows a lack of respect or courtesy, or is a deliberate expression of the government's determination to ignore the opinion of the professionals concerned, that is to say, physicians.
We have chosen not to critique the bill clause by clause, so we will not go that route for the regulatory guidelines either. We will instead limit ourselves to a few general comments.
For example, how was it determined that an HIV-positive patient is "worth" two vulnerable patients, or that a patient receiving end-of-life care at home is worth 25? Why not 22, 26, or 30? Only ministry insiders know for sure, since neither of our organizations was consulted. And how many civil servants will it take to measure and monitor this new form of "mathematical" medical practice?
The QMA is the only Quebec association whose members include general practitioners, specialists, residents and medical students. It calls on its vast network of members to consider the issues the medical profession faces, propose solutions and innovate in order to rethink the role doctors play in society and continually improve medical practice.
The CMA is the largest national association of Canadian physicians and advocates on their behalf at the national level. The association's mission is to help physicians care for patients. The CMA is a leader in engaging and serving physicians and the national voice for the highest standards for health and health care.
This brief is a historic first for both organizations. This is the first time that the CMA has submitted a brief in Quebec's National Assembly as well as the first time that the QMA and CMA have submitted a joint brief.
This joint initiative says a lot about how concerned the country's physicians are about Bill 20. This attack on the professional autonomy of physicians is unprecedented in the history of Canadian organized medicine. Undoubtedly, the issues speak to the entire medical profession because of the consequences the bill could have on the profession itself.
Our input is intended to be realistic, constructive and reflective of our member's opinions and legitimate concerns.
Our two organizations-which, we note, are not negotiating bodies-have a profound understanding of the health community in Quebec, Canada and internationally.
In keeping with the tradition of our two organizations, we are constantly seeking ways to improve the health care system in order to bring about patient-centred care. That said, we are also well aware of the budget constraints Quebec is currently facing.
Our comments will mainly address the following points:
o Access to family physicians and specialists;
o The "productivity" of Quebec physicians;
o Examples elsewhere in Canada;
o Success factors.
Obviously, access to health care and services in Quebec is a problem, particularly with regard to family physicians.
Statistics Canada reported that, in 2013, an average 15.5% of Canadians did not have a regular medical doctor1. Quebec, with 25.1% of residents lacking a family physician, was well above the national average. All four of the Atlantic Provinces as well as Ontario provided better access than Quebec while Manitoba and British Columbia reported rates that were about the same as the national average.
Despite considerable investment in recent years, plainly many Quebecers still do not have access to a family physician and other specialists. We do not believe the status quo is an option. Something must be done.
Unlike as provided in Bill 20, however, we do not believe that imposing patient quotas on physicians is the solution. Quotas could have the adverse effect of leading physicians to choose quantity of care over quality, which could result in incomplete examinations, increased use of diagnostic tests and, ultimately, overdiagnosis.
This is the sort of practice that the QMA and CMA have been trying to eliminate for 18 months with their "Choosing Wisely Canada"2 awareness campaign, which advocates for better medicine and fewer tests and procedures of no added value. Overdiagnosis has significant impacts on cost, quality, effectiveness, efficacy and patient access to health care and, as a result, on the efficiency of the entire health care network. In short, doing more is not always better. The campaign has been embraced both by physicians and patients, but Bill 20 risks not only undermining considerable effort but also sending the public a contradictory message.
The "productivity" of Quebec physicians
The services provided by Quebec physicians have been the subject of much debate in recent months. The government's claim that Quebec physicians are less "productive" than their colleagues in other provinces is based on a false premise. The reality is that billing methods are different and cannot be meaningfully compared.
The national data shows that 8.5% of Canadian physicians are salaried, while 41.9% are paid a fee per service and 41.4% are paid lump sums or through capitation, or a combination of the two.
Longitudinal analysis of the 2014 National Physician Survey-a partnership between the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada-offers a way to relativize the "productivity" of Quebec physicians compared to that of their colleagues in other provinces. For more than a decade, the survey has been a point of reference for researchers, governments and stakeholders interested in analyzing and improving health care in Canada.
The Canadian database for this study clearly shows that the gap between the hours devoted per week to direct patient services by Quebec and other Canadian physicians is shrinking. Even though physicians in the rest of Canada still report working more than their Quebec colleagues, the difference decreased 44% between 2010 and 2014 to 1.37 hours per week. For family physicians, the gap decreased 23% to 2.41 hours in 2014. Plainly, we are far from the alarming situation that has been decried in recent weeks.
Furthermore, the results show that, on average, Quebec physicians perform more than 20% more research-related activities per week than their Canadian counterparts, confirming a trend over the past 10 years.
On-call work for health care establishments should also be considered in the productivity debate as family physicians who perform such work spend on average more than eight hours per week on related tasks compared to approximately six hours in the rest of Canada. Counting specialists, the figure rises to more than 11 hours per week, compared to a bit less than eight hours per week by family physicians and specialists in the rest of the country.
In 2014 Quebec family physicians reported having to spend 23% more time each week on administrative tasks than their Canadian colleagues (2.8 hours versus 2.27 hours). This trend has become more pronounced over the past 10 years.
In short, Quebec physicians work almost as much as their colleagues in the rest of Canada. Yet they appear to be less efficient. Why? Because of the shortcomings in the way our system is organized, physicians are busy doing administrative work, seeking out clinical information that should be at their fingertips, and performing tasks that could be left to other health care professionals.
These figures, which show that the number of hours worked by physicians in direct patient care declined an average of 10% in the other provinces between 2004 and 2014, raise a question. How is it that, despite this decrease in hours worked, there is better accessibility to health care services? Because in collaboration with physicians, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia have each successfully introduced measures in recent years to improve their services, particularly on the front line. Quebec would do well to examine those initiatives.
Elsewhere in Canada
A GP for Me
A GP for Me is an initiative in British Columbia jointly funded by the provincial government and Doctors of BC to:
Enable patients who want a family doctor to find one;
Increase the capacity of the primary health care;
Confirm and strengthen the continuous doctor-patient relationship; including better support for the needs of vulnerable patients.
The mission of Doctors of BC3 is to make a meaningful difference in improving the health care for British Columbians by working to achieve quality patient care through engagement, collaboration and physician leadership. Its goal is to promote a social, economic and political climate in which members can provide the citizens of BC with the highest standard of health care, while achieving maximum professional satisfaction and fair economic reward.
Ontario chose to tackle the access problem by obtaining the support and cooperation of faculties of medicine, health organizations and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Two hundred family health teams (the equivalent of Quebec's family medicine groups) were created. The groups promote access to care by bringing different health care providers together under the same roof. Ontario also has more specialized nurse practitioners than Quebec does. The result of all these efforts is that two million more Ontarians can now call on a family physician.
The inspiring example of Taber, Alberta
The Taber Integrated Primary Healthcare Project4 is an initiative launched in the early 2000s in the town of Taber, in rural Alberta. The goal of the project was to improve health care services delivery through integration of the services provided by a physician group and the Chinook Health Region. In light of the project's success, it was expanded to the entire region five years later.
According to Dr. Robert Wedel, one of the people behind the project, four factors explain the initiative's success: a community assessment and shared planning; evidence-based, interdisciplinary care; an integrated electronic information system; and investment in processes and structures that support change.
Community evaluation and shared planning: First, successful integration of primary health care depends on gaining an understanding of individual, family and community health care needs. Health services providers and users must also have a shared vision of optimal health care delivery.
Evidence-based, interdisciplinary care: Second, the introduction of interdisciplinary teams (physicians, nurses, managers and other health professionals) facilitated the transition from a facility-based service delivery approach to a community-based wellness approach.
Electronic information system: Third, the introduction of an integrated information system aided interdisciplinary care and access to patient information in various points of service.
Alternative payment plan: Finally, processes and structures were put in place to support change over the long term. An alternative payment plan was implemented to clarify physician remuneration, define service and productivity expectations and protect organizational autonomy.
The plan was also designed to enable physicians to delegate tasks to other professionals on the team in order to spend additional time with patients with more complex needs. The physicians now receive a fixed salary for specific services (in-clinic ambulatory services, emergencies, minor operations, prenatal care, and so on). However, some services continue to be billed on a fee-for-service basis (births, major operations and anaesthesia). Salaries are reduced when a registered patient receives care outside the physician group. Furthermore, organizational change strategies were put in place to address resistance to the changes. Modifications were made so that a common, integrated care site could eventually be established.
All these changes had significant, positive consequences in Taber but also throughout the Chinook region. This approach enables better monitoring of chronic diseases and more prevention and education services for patients. Also noted was better accessibility to care, even for vulnerable and generally underserved patients. In the early 2000s, patients had to wait about 30 days before the first available appointment, but the wait has been completely eliminated since 2006. Physician services increased about 10% and those by other professionals, 50%. Patients visit their physicians less often (2.1 visits per year rather than 5.6 visits in other regions), and a marked decline in emergency room visits and laboratory tests has been observed.
Quebec could capitalize on the Taber initiative by adapting it to the situation in Quebec and encouraging physicians to participate fully like the committed partners they are of patients and the health system.
Improvements from the Taber project and other initiatives in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia-all of which provide greater health care access than Quebec-share three common features that are available to Quebec as well:
o Electronic health records (EHRs)
Quebec lags behind other provinces in adopting EHRs. A mere 25% of Quebec physicians order diagnostic and laboratory tests electronically.
The 2014 National Physician Survey ranks Quebec almost last in health care system computerization. The Quebec Health Record Project promised for 2011 at a cost of $543 million has been, according the health minister himself, an abject failure. Recently he said that the Quebec government planned to deliver the project in 2021 at a cost of $1.6 billion before adding that he was not sure there would be money to pay for it. Physicians have nothing to do with this delay or the squandering of public funds. They're ready and waiting to make use of computerized records to improve health care access and communicate better with patients.
The confusion and delays in switching to EHRs in Quebec are a big part of the reason for Quebec's poor results on the survey. Some of the problems might indeed be caused by the older generation's reluctance to embrace information technology, but that's not the whole story. We need to have a system that is absolutely reliable and accessible.
Primary care organizations in Ontario are using electronic medical records to identify and support patient needs. All Ontario's primary care organizations mentioned using EHRs in descriptions they submitted on their quality improvement plans5-an example of how technology can be used to monitor patient needs and support improved delivery of care. Approximately 38% described using EHRs to identify specific diseases.
We cannot overlook the fact that EHRs have been the cornerstone of the productivity improvements elsewhere in Canada.
o Interdisciplinary work organization
Quebec also lags behind in providing environments conducive to greater interdisciplinary work and enlisting contributions from other health professionals (nurse practitioners [NPs], nurses, managers and other health professionals). Certain Canadian provinces are far ahead in this area. Team care allows the various professionals to do their regular tasks and delegate when the situation calls for it.
The solutions that have put most Canadian provinces on the road to solving the problem of frontline health care access have generally come through collaboration between the government and the medical profession. With effective information systems and the implementation of interdisciplinary approaches, in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, such health care systems manage to provide the kind of accessible, high quality care patients and taxpayers are entitled to expect when they need it.
The bottom line is that interdisciplinary work allows physicians to do what they do best: diagnose and treat.
o Remuneration practices for population-based responsibility
Quebec seems to be the Canadian province where physician remuneration is closest to a fee-for-service model. Quebec Health Insurance Plan data from 2013 shows that close to 80% of Quebec physicians' total compensation is fee-for-service.6 Elsewhere in the country, mixed remuneration methods appear to make it easier to foster population-based responsibility, i.e., not just covering a territory, but also incorporating the determinants of population health and well-being, among which are access to high quality services and the full participation of all stakeholders.
In its 2011 support strategy for the practice of population-based responsibility7, MSSS spelled out the government's approach. However, that strategy was developed around local service networks managed through CSSSs, which were recently done away with by Bill 10, An Act to modify the organization and governance of the health and social services network, in particular by abolishing the regional agencies.
The authors of the strategy define population-based responsibility collectively, as follows:
* Using health and social services data to develop a shared picture of the reality on the ground;
* Deciding, in consultation with the public, partners in the health and social services network and other sectors, on a basket of integrated, quality services to meet the needs of the local population;
* Strengthening actions on health determinants in order to improve the health and well-being of the entire local population; and
* Tracking performance and seeking ongoing improvements, in the interests of greater accountability
Implementing population-based responsibility clearly requires a collective approach. Nothing in Bill 20 appears to indicate that the government might arrive at such an approach.
No discussion of population-based responsibility would be complete without considering the Kaiser Permanente model. Kaiser Permanente is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide high quality, affordable health care services and improve the health of its members and the communities it serves. Approximately 9.9 million people receive health care from Kaiser Permanente, which has 17,000 physicians and 174,000 employees (including 48,000 nurses) working in 38 hospitals and medical centres and more than 600 clinics.
The organization lists five keys to its model's success:8
1. Accountability for population
3. Use of electronic health records and the Internet
4. Team care
5. Moving care out of doctor's office
There are no provisions in Bill 20 for developing any of the above.
Clearly, the fee-for-service model does not encourage population-based responsibility. We have seen in the Taber example a broad basket of services covered in the clinic's overall budget, with other things remaining fee-for-service (births, major operations, anaesthesia etc.).
The way physicians are currently compensated stands in the way of any strategy whereby physician groups would receive fixed budgets to care for a given population. This is where Bill 20 goes off track-by individualizing patient targets instead of grouping them. Under group approaches, a physician who fails to meet commitments and does not see the required number of patients risks repercussions from colleagues and not the government, because the physician is responsible for contributing to the group's objectives. A physician in that same clinic who sees only complex cases will necessarily see fewer patients, but colleagues will be freed up to deal with more.
We sincerely believe that physicians are in favour of a population-based responsibility approach. Yet the inescapable conclusion is that Bill 20, with its fee-per-service and individualized appointment targets, is taking us in a different direction entirely.
We are convinced that physicians are overwhelmingly in favour of mixed compensation methods. The health and welfare commissioner launched a series of studies to assess the impact of remuneration on health system effectiveness and efficiency. As soon as RAMQ data becomes available, researchers will be able to complete their work and show how adjusting remuneration methods would contribute to improving health care access.
It is no coincidence that we have not attempted a clause-by-clause critique of Bill 20. The government's entire approach needs to be changed. It is high time the government understood that physicians are part of the solution to health service access problems, and that a coercive approach is counterproductive and demoralizing.
History is full of examples in which working together in a climate of mutual respect led to impressive results. Both the QMA and CMA fully support the idea and purpose of the bill-to improve access to health care-but we believe Bill 20 is not the answer. We think changes worked out in partnership get the best results. All real improvements to the health care system have always been achieved in an atmosphere of dialogue and collaboration.
To sum up, the QMA and CMA recommend first and foremost that the government work with the medical profession to improve access to health care, as well as the following measures:
* Speed up the process of switching to electronic health records-an indispensable tool in 2015.
* Reorganize tasks to accord a greater role to other health professionals (NPs, nurses, administrators and others) by forming care teams that can pool their knowledge and skills to better serve patients.
* Reconsider Quebec's near-exclusive reliance on fee-for-service and consider bringing in a form of mixed remuneration that leads towards a population-based responsibility model. Elsewhere in Canada, this approach has contributed significantly to improvements in health care access, particularly on the front line.
4 Wedel R, Kalischuk RG, Patterson E, et al. Turning Vision into Reality: Successful Integration of Primary Healthcare in Taber, Canada. Healthcare Policy 2007; 3(1): 81-95.
6 Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec. Évolution du coût des services médicaux et du nombre de médecins selon le mode de rémunération. Services médicaux, Québec, 2009-2013.
8 Molly Porter. An Overview of Kaiser Permanente: Integration, Innovation, and Information Systems in Health Care. Presentation for the Canadian Medical Association, Kaiser Permanente International, March 2, 2015.
Bill C-2 An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Respect for Communities Act)
Canadian Medical Association Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
On behalf of its more than 82,000 members and the Canadian public, CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada's physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and 51 national medical organizations.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) provides this brief for consideration as part of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs study of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Respect for Communities Act).1
Bill C-2 (formerly Bill C-65) is subsequent to the 2011 unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada2 that recognized the significant evidence on the benefits of Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection site. The Supreme Court ordered that the federal government grant the exemption for medical and scientific purposes to Insite.
The ruling left decisions regarding future applications for exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for Insite and other potential supervised injection sites up to the discretion of the Minister of Health, with the provision that the Minister seek to strike the appropriate balance between the public health and public safety goals, and suggests the decision be based on five elements: "evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility, the resources available to support its maintenance and expressions of community support or opposition." 3
In response, the Minister of Health proposed Bill C-2, which amends the CDSA to include section 56.1, and provides a federal regulatory framework for supervised consumption sites.*
CMA is deeply concerned with the proposed legislation, as it has the potential to create unnecessary obstacles and burdens that would ultimately deter the creation of new supervised consumption sites, even in municipalities where the need and cost-effectiveness has been well researched and the health and safety benefits clearly established. Moreover, it does not strike the appropriate balance between public health and public safety, as is the spirit and intent of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Insite. This will make the renewal of exemptions for Insite, the very facility which the Supreme Court ruled "saves lives", very difficult.
Public health approach to addiction
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. The CMA has long called for a comprehensive national drug strategy that addresses addiction, and includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement components.
Public health objectives in addressing addictions will vary depending upon the circumstances: preventing drug use in those who have not initiated use (e.g. pre-teens); avoiding use in circumstances associated with a risk of adverse outcomes (e.g. drug use and driving motor vehicle); assisting those who wish to stop using drugs (e.g. treatment, rehabilitation); and assisting those who continue to use drugs to do so in such a manner as to reduce the risk of adverse effects (e.g. needle distribution program).
Despite drug use being primarily a health and social issue, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach, as evidenced by a recent evaluation.4 This approach does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. Other models are more effective in achieving the desired objectives and more investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system.5
Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
Harm reduction is part of health practice
Harm reduction is not restricted to services for people who use drugs; it is an approach that is adopted routinely in every health and social program. For example, seat belts, air bags and helmets are encouraged and even mandated to reduce some of the possible harmful consequences of driving or cycling - regardless of who is at fault. Many medications do not cure diseases, and are essential to prevent complications. An example is the use of insulin by people with diabetes.6 There are many programs created to reduce the harms created by alcohol, a legal substance that contributes to a significant burden of disease, disability and deaths. Examples include low risk drinking guidelines, designated driver or alternate driver programs for drinkers, graduated licenses and changes in the hours of liquor stores to reduce the use of non-beverage alcohol.7 While the risk is still present, this approach reduces harms.
Harm reduction related to psychoactive substances, "refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community".8 They are part of a comprehensive approach which also includes abstinence-based programs.
The CMA fully supports harm reduction strategies as they aim to reduce mortality and morbidity even in the face of continued exposure to a potentially harmful substance. Addiction is an illness, and harm reduction is a clinically mandated and ethical method of care and treatment. Physicians must treat patients as a matter of good medical practice and ethical obligation, whether the patient is believed to contribute to his or her injury or not. Section 31 of CMA's Code of Ethics provides that all physicians must "recognize the responsibility of physicians to promote fair access to health care resources".9
Harm reduction information, services and interventions are respectful and non-judgmental, and have the purpose of promoting health and safety. These strategies were developed in response to critical situations and high costs to the health, social and criminal justice systems. Harm reduction approaches are evidence-based, cost effective and have a high impact on individual and community health. Such programs for injection drug users are now well established within every province and territory in Canada, in the form of needle and syringe distribution programs, methadone maintenance and the provision of sterilized equipment.10
Supervised Consumption Sites are evidence-based
Supervised consumption sites, within a comprehensive drug strategy, are another example of a harm reduction program. They were developed to reduce the harms of Injection drug use, which are an increased incidence and prevalence of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and skin- and blood-borne infections; frequent drug overdoses resulting in significant morbidity and mortality; and increased hospital and emergency service utilization. Many of these health problems are not due to the drugs themselves, but to the injection method and equipment.
Supervised consumption sites are "specialized facilities that provide injection drug users with a clean, safe, unhurried environment. Sterile injection equipment is provided and health care and social service professionals are available to deal with health issues, provide counselling, and facilitate access to detoxification and treatment programs. Supervision is provided by health professionals trained in low-risk injection techniques and overdose intervention."11 The drugs are acquired elsewhere, and they are located in areas of concentrated and highly visible drug scenes. Such services have existed for many years in many countries, and there are over 90 sites operating in countries such as Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.12
Clients of these sites have complex histories of trauma, mental illness and drug use, and live at the margins of society, unreached by traditional health and social services. Supervised consumption sites are developed as low threshold services for hard-to-reach populations which are experiencing unacceptable levels of deaths and diseases. Existing outreach and treatment programs are insufficient to meet the needs of this population, and these sites are a point of entry into health and social services.
Insite, the first supervised injection site in North America, operates in Vancouver's downtown east side as part of the 'four pillars' drug strategy: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement.13 14 In 2012, Insite had an average of 1028 visits per day. There were 497 overdose incidents with no fatalities and 3418 clinical treatment interventions. Insite staff made 4564 referrals for further health care, housing and social supports, and the vast majority was for detox and addiction treatment.15
Insite has been one of the most researched public health interventions to date.16 Research was conducted by the BC Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS, funded partially by Health Canada, and there are over 30 publications in leading peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals.17 18The evidence shows that there has been:
* A reduction in the overall rate of needle sharing in the area;19
* A reduction in deaths due to overdose in the area, with no overdose deaths in the facility;20 21
* Increased access to addiction counseling and increased enrolment in detox programs;22 23
* Opportunities for HIV prevention through education, and increased links between patients and HIV treatment and services;24
* Improvements in measures of public order including reduced public drug injections and publicly discarded syringes;25 and
* No increase in levels of drug dealing or other drug related crime in the area in which the facility is located. 26
* Cost savings to health and social systems, reducing risks of infectious diseases, intervening early when there are issues, and reducing the need for emergency care.27 28
Reports from other countries show similar results.29 30 However, "research evidence, even if it meets rigorous academic standards, might be insufficient to sway opinions among those who hold a firm view of addiction as a moral failure."31 Assertions that supervised consumption sites will not reduce disease transmission, exacerbate crime, encourage drug use, have destructive effects on local businesses and residents are not based on evidence.
Physicians believe that medical decisions must be based on evidence, not ideology or public opinion, and the evidence shows that supervised injection reduces the spread of infectious diseases, decreases the incidence of overdose and death and increases access to much needed services, without increasing problems with public safety.
Significantly, the Court accepted the evidence that "Insite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area."32 It also stated that Insite is supported by the Vancouver police, the city and provincial governments. Supervised consumption rooms aim to address problems of specific, high-risk populations of people who use drugs, particularly those who consume in public and other high risk situations. They seek to meet the needs of those who use drugs, but also of the communities that are struggling with a crisis situation.
The CMA has the following concerns with Bill C-2:
1. Bill C-2 does not strike a balance between the public health and public safety goals of the CDSA. As written, Bill C-2 disregards the strong evidence of important positive impacts on public health and public safety and giving undue emphasis on public opinion, which might not be fully informed or experienced. Although public opinion might initially be against the introduction of such facilities, public acceptance of supervised consumption sites is considerably high in most of the locations where they have been established, in both Vancouver sites (Insite and the Dr Peter Centre) and in European countries. "Health problems have been reduced, and law and order have been improved. Communities, neighbourhoods and local authorities are usually involved in the good functioning of the facilities through cooperation and communication."33 The Supreme Court states that there has been "no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its [Insite's] eight years of operation."
2. Bill C-2 contradicts the spirit and intent of the unanimous decision of the 2011 Supreme Court of Canada regarding Insite which states that "the potential denial of health services and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users outweigh any benefit that might be derived from maintaining an absolute prohibition on possession of illegal drugs".34 Bill C-2 does not acknowledge the extensive evidence that exists regarding supervised consumption sites both internationally and in Canada, as discussed previously. Passing Bill C-2 in its current form could potentially prevent the renewal of the exemption to Section 56 of the CDSA for Insite. A likely consequence will be further costly litigation.
3. Bill C-2 would impose multiple and significant barriers that providers of health services to obtain an exemption to section 56 of the CDSA. From five criteria in the Supreme Court decision concerning Insite, Bill C-2 lists 27 requirements (Section 56(1)(3)), which include demographic and scientific data, letters of opinions from representatives of local police and local and provincial governments, information about proposed staff, descriptions of planned procedures and reports from community consultations. Such evidence could require extensive resources and funding by local public health units and community agencies. Some of the data required may only be available in the context of a research project. The data is not only influenced by the existence or not of a supervised consumption site, but by many other factors, such as poverty, enforcement resources and others. Community opinion of supervised consumption sites can also change to be significantly positive after experiencing months of its operation. Finally, Bill C-2 does not address how the Minister is to weigh the information submitted, to guarantee impartiality, or even if he or she must consider an application. Even after meeting all those requirements, the Minister has the sole discretion to decide whether a site can open, and the preamble states that exemptions will only be granted in "exceptional circumstances".
4. Bill C-2 did not involve consultation with provincial and territorial ministries of health, community agencies and professional associations, such as the CMA. Public health authorities and particularly health professionals, who work with people with addictions on a daily basis, recognize the dire need for complementary approaches to substance use that address different needs. The exemption to section 56 is for medical purposes, and public health agencies have the competency to determine when there is a need.
It is the CMA's ultimate position that Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act must be withdrawn, and that it be replaced with legislation that recognizes the unequivocal evidence of benefits of supervised consumption sites, that was accepted by the Supreme Court. Legislation would enhance access to health services, which include prevention, harm reduction and treatment services in communities where the evidence has shown they would benefit from such health services.
* "Supervised consumption site" is the term used in Bill C-2, section 56.1, and defined as "a location specified in the terms and conditions of an exemption, granted by the Minister under subsection (2) for a medical purpose, that allows any person or class of persons described in the exemption to engage in certain activities in relation to an illicit substance within a supervised and controlled environment." The Supreme Court of Canada and other documents use terms such as "supervised injection site" "supervised injection services", "drug consumption rooms" or "safer injection site". In the literature, supervised consumption sites could also include supervised inhalation services.
1 Bill C-2: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 2nd Session, 41st Parliament. Retrieved from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6256959&File=4
2 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. Retrieved from: http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/7960/index.do
3 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra. p.192-3
4 Department of Justice (2013) National Anti-Drug Strategy Evaluation. Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cp-pm/eval/rep-rap/12/nas-sna/p1.html#sec23
5 Day, Brian (2008) "Ottawa's bad prescription on addiction." Toronto Star, Sunday June 8, 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/438967
6 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
7 National Alcohol Strategy Working Group (2007) Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm in Canada: toward a culture of moderation. Recommendations for a National Alcohol Strategy. Retrieved from: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-023876-2007.pdf
8 International Harm Reduction Association (2010) Harm Reduction: A position statement from the International Harm Reduction Association. IHRA Briefing. Retrieved from: http://www.ihra.net/files/2010/08/10/Briefing_What_is_HR_English.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Association (2010) Factum of the Intervener. Supreme Court of Canada (Appeal from the British Columbia Court of Appeal) between the Attorney General of Canada and Minister of Health for Canada and PHS Community Services Society, Dean Edward Wilson and Shelly Tomic, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/CMA-Factum_filed14April2011.pdf
10 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
11 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
12 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper. Retrieved from: http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17898/1/IDPC-Briefing-Paper_Drug-consumption-rooms.pdf
13 City of Vancouver Four Pillars Drug Strategy (2008) Limiting the harms of drug use. Retrieved from: http://vancouver.ca/fourpillars/harmReduction/limitHarmDrugUse.htm
14 Vancouver Coastal Health. Supervised Injection Site (N.D.) Services. Accessed September 19, 2014 at: http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/services/services
15 Vancouver Coastal Health. Supervised Injection Site (N.D.). Accessed September 19, 2014 at: http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/research/supporting_research/user_statistics
16 Urban Health Research Initiative (2010). Insight into Insite. Retrieved from: http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/insight_into_insite.pdf
17 Health Canada. Vancouver's Insite service and other supervised injection sites: what has been learned from Research? Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2008. Prepared for the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_sites-lieux/insite/index-eng.php
18 Wood, E. et al. (2006) Summary of findings from the evaluation of a pilot medically supervised safer injecting facility. Canadian Medical Association J, 175(11): 1399-1404.
19 Kerr, T. et al. (2005) Safer injection facility use and syringe sharing in injection drug users. The Lancet 366: 316-18.
20 Milloy M.J., Kerr, T., Tyndall, M., Montaner, J., & Wood E. (2008) Estimated drug overdose deaths averted by North America's first medically-supervised safer injection facility. PLoS ONE 3(10):e3351.
21 Marshall B. D. L., Milloy, M.-J., Wood, E., Montaner, J. S. G., & Kerr, T. (2011). Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America's first medically supervised safer injecting facility: A retrospective population-based study. Lancet. Published online April 18, 2011. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62353-7.
22 Wood, E. et al. (2007) Rate of detoxification service use and its impact among a cohort of supervised injecting facility users. Addiction 102: 916-919.
23 Tyndall, M.W. et al. (2005) Attendance, drug use patterns, and referrals made from North America's first supervised injection facility. Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
24 Tyndall, M.W. et al. (2006) HIV seroprevalence among participants at a medically supervised injection facility in Vancouver Canada: Implications for prevention, care and treatment. Harm Reduction J 3:36.
25 Wood, E. et al. (2004) "Changes in public order after the opening of a medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users." Canadian Medical Association J 171(7): 731-34.
26 Health Canada. Vancouver's Insite service and other supervised injection sites: what has been learned from Research? Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2008. Prepared for the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_sites-lieux/insite/index-eng.php
27 Andresen, M.A. & Boyd, N. (2010) A cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis of Vancouver's supervised injection facility. Int.J.DrugPolicy 21(1): 70-76.
28 Pinkerton, S.D. (2010) Is Vancouver Canada's supervised injection facility cost-saving? Addiction 105(8): 1429-36.
29 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper.
30 Hedrich, D. (2004) European report on drug consumption rooms. Report prepared for the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
31 Watson, T.M. et al. (2012) Police Perceptions of Supervised Consumption Sites (SCSs): A Qualitative Study. Substance Use & Misuse, 47:364-374.
32 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra. p. 136
33 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper. (p.20)
34 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra (p.188).
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIANS RECOMMENDING MOBILE HEALTH APPLICATIONS TO PATIENTS
This document is designed to provide basic information for physicians about how to assess a mobile health application for recommendation to a patient in the management of that patient's health, health care, and health care information.
These guiding principles build on the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients.1
* Mobile health applications, distinct from regulated medical devices, may be defined as an application on a mobile device that is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The functions of these applications may include:
o The ability to store and track information about an individual or group's health or the social determinants thereof;
o Periodic educational information, reminders, or motivational guidance;
o GPS location information to direct or alert patients;
o Standardized checklists or questionnaires.2
* Mobile health applications can enhance health outcomes while mitigating health care costs because of their potential to improve a patient's access to information and care providers.3
* Mobile health applications are most commonly used on a smart phone and/or tablet. Some may also interface with medical devices.
* The use of mobile health applications reflects an emerging trend towards personalized medicine and patient involvement in the management of their health information. By 2016, 142 million health apps will have been downloaded.4 According to some industry estimates, by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded at least one mobile health application.5
* While mobile health application downloads are increasing, there is little information about usage and adherence by patients. It is believed that many patients cease to use a mobile health application soon after downloading it.
* Distributers of mobile health applications do not currently assess content provided by mobile health applications for accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, timeliness, or conformity to clinical practice guidelines.6 However, mobile applications may be subjected to certain standards to ensure critical technical requirements such as accessibility, reachability, adaptability, operational reliability, and universality.
* Increasingly there are independent websites providing reviews of medical apps and checklists for health care professionals. However, the quality criteria used by these sites, potential conflicts of interest, and the scope and number of mobile apps assessed are not always declared by these groups.
To date, randomized controlled trials are not usually employed to assess the effectiveness of mobile health applications. Some believe that the rigorousness of this type of assessment may impede the timeliness of a mobile health application's availability.7
* Some examples of the uses of mobile health applications include tracking fitness activities to supplement a healthy lifestyle; supported self-management of health and health information; post-procedure follow up; viewing of test results; and the virtualization of interaction between patients and providers, such as remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. Some mobile health applications may be linked to a patient profile or patient portal associated with a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization.
* Some mobile health applications may be an extension of an electronic medical records (EMR) platform.
* The objective of recommending a mobile health application to a patient must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or otherwise for the purpose of health promotion.
* A mobile health application is one approach in health service delivery. Mobile health applications should complement, rather than replace, the relationship between a physician and patient.
* No one mobile health application is appropriate for every patient. Physicians may wish to understand a patient's abilities, comfort level, access to technology, and the context of the application of care before recommending a mobile health application.
* Should a physician recommend a mobile health application to a patient, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to legislation and regulation (if existing) and/or professional obligations.
* If the mobile health application will be used to monitor the patient's condition in an ongoing manner, the physician may wish to discuss with the patient what they should watch for and the steps they should take in response to information provided.
* Physicians are encouraged to share information about applications they have found effective with colleagues.
* Physicians who require additional information about the competencies associated with eHealth and the use of health information technologies may wish to consult The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's (RCPSC) framework of medical competencies, CanMEDS.8
* Physicians may wish to enter into and document a consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information or information printed out from electronic management platforms like mobile health applications. This agreement may include a one-time conveyance of information and recommendations to cover the elements common to many mobile health applications, such as the general risk to privacy associated with storing health information on a mobile device.
Characteristics of a safe and effective mobile health application
A mobile health application does not need to have all of the following characteristics to be safe and effective. However, the more of the following characteristics a mobile health application has, the likelier it will be appropriate for recommendation to a patient:
1. Endorsement by a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization
As recommended by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), it is best to select mobile health applications that have been created or endorsed by a professional or recognized association or medical society.9 Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse applications for use in their clinical environments. There may also be mobile health applications associated with an EMR platform used by an organization or practice. Finally, some mobile health applications may have been subject to a peer review process distinct from endorsement by an association or organization.
There are a number of usability factors than can complicate the use of mobile applications, including interface and design deficiencies, technological restrictions, and device and infrastructure malfunction.
Many developers will release periodic updates and software patches to enhance the stability and usability of their applications. Therefore, it would be prudent for the physician recommending the mobile health application to also recommend to the patient that they determine if the application has been updated within the last year.
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application to a patient may wish to ask about the patient's level of comfort with mobile health technologies, their degree of computer literacy, whether or not the patient owns a mobile device capable of running the application, and whether or not the patient is able to bear potential one-time or ongoing costs associated with use of the application.
Physicians may consider testing the application themselves beforehand to understand whether its functionality and interface make it easy to use.
3. Reliability of information
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application may wish to understand how the patient intends to use the information, and/or review the information with the patient to understand whether it is current and appropriate.
Information presented by the mobile health application should be appropriately referenced and time-stamped with the last update by the application developer.
4. Privacy and security
In 2014, the Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta assessed approximately 1200 mobile applications and found nearly one-third of them required access to personal information beyond what should be required relative to their functionality and purpose, and that basic privacy information was not always made available.10
Physicians entering into and documenting a consent discussion with their patients may wish to include the electronic management of health information in the scope of these discussions, and make a notation of the discussion in the patient's health record.
Some mobile health applications may feature additional levels of authentication for use, such as an additional password or encryption protocols. If all other factors between applications are equal, physicians may wish to recommend that patients use mobile health applications adhering to this higher standard of security.
5. Avoids conflict-of-interest
Physicians may wish to recommend that patients learn more about the company or organization responsible for the development of the application and their mandate. There is a risk of secondary gains by mobile health application developers and providers where information about patients and/or usage is gathered and sold to third parties.
A standardized conflict of interest statement may be made available through the mobile health application or on the developer's website. If so, physicians may wish to refer the patient to this resource.
Physicians who develop mobile applications for commercial gain or have a stake in those who develop applications for commercial gain may risk a complaint being made to the College on the basis that the physician engaged in unprofessional conduct if they recommend mobile health applications to their patients in the course of patient care.
6. Does not contribute to fragmentation of health information
Some mobile health applications may link directly to an EMR, patient portal, or government data repository. These data resources may be standardized, linked, and cross-referenced.
However, health information entered into an application may also be stored on a mobile device and/or the patient's home computer, or developers of mobile health applications may store information collected by their application separately. While there may be short-term benefits to using a particular mobile health application, the range of applications and developers may contribute to the overall fragmentation of health information.
If all other factors between applications are considered equal, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications which contribute to robust existing data repositories, especially an existing EMR.
7. Demonstrates its impact on patient health outcomes
While not all mobile health applications will have an appropriate scale of use and not all developers will have the capacity to collect and analyze data, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications that have undergone validation testing to demonstrate impact of use on patient health outcomes. If mobile health applications are claiming a direct therapeutic impact on patient populations, physicians may wish to recommend that their patients seek out or request resources to validate this claim.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Physician guidelines for online communication with patients. Ottawa: The Association; 2005. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.pdf?_ga=1.32127742.1313872127.1393248073
2 US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and Food and Drug Administration staff. Rockville (MD): The Administration; 2015. Available:
3 Canada Health Infoway. Mobile health computing between clinicians and patients. White paper. Toronto: The Infoway; 2014 Apr. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/video-gallery/doc_download/2081-mobile-health-computing-between-clinicians-and-patients-white-paper-full-report
4 iHealthBeat. 44M mobile health apps will be downloaded in 2012, report predicts. Available: www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/12/1/44m-mobile-health-apps-will-be-downloaded-in-2012-report-predicts
5 Jahns R-G. 500m people will be using healthcare mobile applications in 2015. Research2guidance. Available: www.research2guidance.com/500m-people-will -be-using-healthcare-mobile-applications-in-2015/
6 Lyver, M. Standards: a call to action. Future Practice. 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
7 Rich P. Medical apps: current status. Future Practice 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The CanMEDS 2015 eHealth Expert Working Group report. Ottawa: The College; 2014. Available: www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/common/documents/canmeds/framework/ehealth_ewg_report_e.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Managing information to delivery safer care. Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/managing-information-to-deliver-safer-care
10 Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. Global privacy sweep rasies concerns about mobile apps [news release]. Available: www.oipc.ab.ca/downloads/documentloader.ashx?id=3482
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the promotion of healthy lifestyles in order to improve individual health and well-being and the overall health status of the population. Healthy lifestyles refer to patterns of individual practices and personal behavioural choices that are associated with optimal health. Two of the most important behaviours to create or maintain optimum health are healthy eating and physical activity.
For many Canadians, their diet and physical activity levels can have a negative rather than positive impact on their overall health. There is a particular concern for children and youth who are growing up in increasingly obesogenic environments that reinforce practices that work against a healthy lifestyle.1 Childhood obesity research tells us that overweight and obese children are more likely to stay the same into adulthood.2 To reverse this trend, determined action is required for children and youth to learn and acquire healthy behaviours that they will maintain throughout their life. Healthy lifestyles are central to successful aging and improving the likelihood of recovery after poor health.3
This policy paper discusses the importance of physical activity and healthy eating, and the role that individuals and families, schools, workplaces, communities, the food industry and all levels of governments can play in promoting healthy lifestyles. We know that collaborative action is required to make it easier for Canadians to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their daily lives - to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
What are the health impacts of unhealthy diets and physical inactivity
Diet is the leading risk factor for death, disability and life-years lost; being estimated to cause over 65,000 deaths and 864,000 life years lost in Canada in 2010.4
Unhealthy diet has been consistently linked with cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia) and some cancers,5 which constitutes the majority of the disease burden in Canada. An estimated 80% of hypertension, which affects over 7 million Canadians, is directly or indirectly attributed to unhealthy diet.6
An estimated 60% of Canadian adults and close to one-third of children are overweight or obese, largely caused by unhealthy diets.7 Overweight and obesity (and the lifestyle choices associated with them) are contributors to more than 18 chronic conditions.8 This includes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and liver disease, as well as breast, colon and prostate cancer.
Obesity is a public health issue not unique to Canada as the rates are increasing worldwide. Obesity is generally attributed to the fact that, as a society, we are increasing our calorie intake while at the same time burning less energy in physical activity. While it is difficult to determine how many deaths are directly attributable to obesity, we know that obesity often co-exists with other risk factors such as the lack of physical activity.
Exercise is one of the top modifiable risk factor for chronic disease.9 Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, bone and joint diseases, and depression.10 The risk for many of these conditions is reduced by 20 - 40% in adults with the highest levels of physical activity compared to those with the lowest levels of physical activity. Recent research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with higher risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cancer independent of physical activity levels.11
According to the most recent Canadian Health Measures Study physical activity levels for children and youth are low with 6 out of 10 waking hours devoted to sedentary pursuits. Obesity is rising and physical fitness is declining.12
Canadians who do not achieve adequate levels of physical activity or eat unhealthy foods are vulnerable to preventable chronic diseases, premature death, and contribute to high health care costs. For instance, in 1999, $2.1 billion or 2.5% of the total direct health care costs were attributable to physical inactivity.13
To understand why the rates of obesity and overweight are rising, it may be helpful to look at what we already know about healthy eating and physical activity.
What we know about healthy eating
While modern science has allowed us to expand our knowledge of the impact of nutrients and food on human health we continue to be beset with illness and disease caused by the foods we consume. Having the right amount and type of food recommended in Canada's Food Guide is a first step towards healthy eating. But Canadians self-reported dietary intakes do not meet national dietary recommendations despite high reliance on public education concerning healthy eating and healthy diets. Children and adults are under-consuming the recommended servings of vegetables and fruits, an established proxy for healthy eating habits, and exceeding daily recommended intakes of sodium.14,15
As the links between nutrition and disease, and the impact on the health of our society are revealed it is more important than ever to understand what influences healthy eating behaviours. Food choices are structured by a variety of individual determinants of behaviour, ranging from one's physiological state, food preferences, nutritional knowledge, perceptions of healthy eating and psychological factors.
Many processed foods have become popular due to their accessibility and 'convenience factor', but these features have changed the way food and in particular these products are consumed compared to unprocessed foods: increased 'grazing', eating alone or eating while carrying out other activities such as work or driving. In addition, many calories consumed come in liquid form.16
Growth in the production and consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically in the last decades in both higher and lower-income countries.17 A number of studies have shown that because less healthy foods are cheaper than healthier food, individuals from lower socioeconomic classes tend to be more dependent on unhealthy foods for nourishment.18
Other determinants for healthy eating include a wide range of contextual factors, such as the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, the physical environment, which determines food availability and accessibility, the economic environment, in which food is a commodity to be marketed for profit, and the social environment. Within the social environment, social status (income, education and gender) and cultural milieu are determinants of healthy eating that may be working "invisibly" to structure food choice.19
What we know about physical activity
Canada's Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children and youth aged 5 to 17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day; and adults get 150 minutes of physical activity per week.20 In fact, about 94% of Canadian children and youth do not meet minimum physical activity guidelines.21 Furthermore, about 85% of Canadian adults do not meet the minimum guidelines. Physical activity includes but is not limited to sports and recreation. Using active transportation to get to work as well as being active at work is an alternative form of MVPA and can also lead to improved health.
For most Canadians, the average day is spent on passive activities such as TV viewing, computer and game-console use, workplace sitting, and time spent in automobiles. Moreover, the sprawling suburban communities, in which many live, do not encourage physical activity.
Emerging research suggests that prolonged sitting time is associated with an increased health risk.22 These findings mean that one can meet the minimum physical activity guidelines and still not engage in a healthy lifestyle. Spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn't seem to significantly offset the risk. Hence too much sitting is a risk distinct from too little exercise.
While further research is required to identify which methods of exercise promotions work best for individuals,23 it is clear that supportive environments and infrastructures are essential for Canadians to make physical activity part of their daily lives. CMA's policies about the Built Environment and Active Transportation support the role of the environment on our physical activity patterns.
How we can promote physical activity and healthy eating
A sedentary lifestyle is a cue for physician advice.24 Physical activity is a vital sign that may require as much attention as other traditional vital signs25 - weight, blood pressure, or smoking history. Physicians are eager to initiate these conversations, especially with patients living with chronic diseases. A message must be repeated many times in order to effect a change in lifestyle. Physicians can reiterate the medical importance of physical activity and healthy eating by reinforcing this message during each office visit, and writing the recommendation on a prescription pad.26 For instance, in British Columbia, physicians are prescribing exercise on specially-designed pads, distributing free pedometers, and hosting free walking events for their patients and the public. In the Edmonton area, Primary Care Networks are prescribing free access passes or a free month of access at local municipal recreation facilities. And in Nova Scotia, physicians have been running a free provincial running program for over 10 years that benefits thousands of kids in elementary school.
Nonetheless these clinical interventions alone cannot shape healthier food consumption patterns and lifestyle choices. An obvious starting point to develop a comprehensive policy is to understand the interplay between individual and environmental determinants that influence our behaviours. In this regard, CMA has developed policies on Active Transportation and the Built Environment and Health which recognize the role of neighborhood design and alternative modes for transportation for an active lifestyle. This approach is also at the heart of the Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy (PCHLS)27, approved in 2005 by all levels of government. CMA commends the efforts put in the PCHLS to prioritize healthy eating and physical activity.
What we recommend
CMA looks forward to working with others in making options for physical activity and healthy eating more available and accessible to all Canadians. The following recommendations highlight the potential contributions of the following sectors: health professionals, all levels of government, communities, workplaces, schools, the food industry and individuals and families.
CMA encourages physicians to promote healthy eating and physical activity inside and outside their office.
Physicians are lifestyle change agents and remain the preferred source of information about health for many people. Physicians, who are committed to physical activity, are role models whose advice on healthy living is more likely to be adopted.28 CMA encourages physicians to address any work-imposed limitations - such as the lack of time, motivation, or tiredness - that could also influence their own exercise and eating habits.
In clinical practice, physicians can help patients start or maintain a healthy lifestyle by:
* assessing nutrition and physical activity as part of routine assessments;
* determining the factors that influence individual patient's nutrition and physical activity levels;
* assessing patient's readiness to change and tailoring interventions and support to their current situation;
* providing an exercise prescription to encourage physical activity to maintain or improve health status, and
* working in inter-professional teams to provide patient education with other health care providers such as dieticians.
Medical students and residents, while reporting a high level of importance for exercise prescription concede a low level of expertise in this area upon graduation.29,30,31 As knowledge develops, physicians and other health professionals should be kept updated and encouraged to incorporate the most effective interventions into their practices. The CMA encourages the development of continuing medical education courses on issues related to physical activity and healthy eating.
Within the healthy living approach, there are multiple opportunities to extend the role of physicians into the community as observed in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Edmonton area. Physicians can establish strong community norms for a healthy lifestyle by:
* establishing and reinforcing healthy food policies in hospital cafeterias or at health-related meetings and conferences
* using, facilitating and advocating for the use of active transportation in their communities
* working within the community to ensure that recreation centres and other facilities are available and patients can be referred to the services most appropriate to their needs
Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Governments
CMA calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to commit to a long-term, well-funded Canada-wide strategy for healthy living beyond 2015.
In 2005, Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial governments endorsed a 10-year Healthy Living Strategy Framework, whose initial priorities included the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity. The national strategy addressed information and support for Canadians to help them make healthy choices; support for physicians and other health professionals in counselling patients on healthy weight and in treating existing obesity; community infrastructures that make healthy living easier; and public policies that encourage healthy eating and physical activity. The federal and provincial / territorial governments have undertaken a number of activities in the intervening years to promote physical activity and healthy eating but much remains to be done.
CMA believes that all levels of governments have a continuous obligation to provide public guidance on healthy eating and to promulgate policies, standards, regulations and legislations that support the availability and accessibility of healthy and affordable food and beverage choices.
CMA calls on governments to improve access to nutritious food at affordable prices for all Canadians.
The price of milk, fresh produce and other healthy foods can vary greatly across Canada. In many remote areas, they are often more expensive than processed, nutrition-poor foods because of high transportation costs. Governments should implement effective programs to offset the impact of transportation costs on food prices in northern and remote communities. Even in urban areas, nutritious food may be unaffordable for people on low incomes. School meal programs, social assistance rates that take into account the cost of purchasing healthy food, access to urban farmers' markets can help to ensure that all Canadians have access to healthy foods at a reasonable price.
CMA calls on governments to ban marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
The typical Canadian child may be exposed to as many as 40,000 advertisements for food a year.32 This does not include point-of-sale promotions, such as displays of candy bars at convenience-store counters. CMA's policy on marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and youth calls for a ban on marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
CMA calls on governments to set rigorous standards for front of package food labeling and for the advertising of health claims for food.
Brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way to provide health information to consumers, who should be encouraged to seek out objective information sources for answers to their questions about physical activity and healthy eating. To improve the quality of information received through commercial channels, the CMA recommends that health claims made for foods be strictly regulated to ensure that they are based on the best available scientific evidence and that they are accurately communicated to consumers. Food advertisements should be pre-cleared before airing in the media, and the provisions against deceptive advertising in the Food and Drug Act should be strengthened.
CMA recommends that governments at all levels invest in evidence-based research on healthy eating and physical activity and share the results of this research with all Canadians.
CMA encourages all levels of governments to continue to fund and support research for healthy lifestyles. There is a clear need to invest in research to strengthen the evidence base about physical activity and healthy eating, particularly on:
best measures for assessing overweight and obesity;
the effectiveness of weight management and treatment programs; and
the effect of policy interventions on healthy eating and physical activity on rates of obesity and obesity-related disease.
CMA encourages governments to continue to work with the food industry to improve the food environment in Canada.
The partnership and collaboration of food manufacturers is needed to help Canadians make healthier food choices. The food industry can work with governments to:
reduce the salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and calorie content of processed foods and pre-prepared meals;
provide information about the calorie and nutrition content on restaurant menus;
restrict advertising and in-store promotion of high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat foods, particularly those aimed at children;
provide user-friendly consumer information about their products, including and accurate health and advertising claims;
improve the nutrition fact table to make it more user friendly and increase the amount of information for example, by identifying the amount of free sugars.
CMA calls on municipal governments to create environments that encourage healthy and active living and on federal, provincial and territorial governments to support them in this endeavour.
Communities have an important role to play to promote healthy behaviours for children, youth, and adults. They shape how many Canadians decide to live, work and play in their daily life. Through mixed-use land planning and building design, communities can create walking-friendly environments, and reduce the time people spend in cars. To achieve this, communities should consider:
developing and maintaining a community-wide network of walking and cycling paths;
zoning communities in such a way that amenities are within walking distance of homes; and
revising building codes to make stairs accessible, pleasant and safe, so that people have an alternative to taking the elevator.
Canadians are considerably more physically active in the summer than in the winter and this could have an impact on obesity trends.33 Communities could improve pathways to healthy lifestyles year-round by improving access to indoor sport and recreation facilities, especially during winter. Where possible, communities should consider partnering with schools to share the use of gymnasiums, playgrounds, fields, courts, and tracks with the public after school hours and on weekends. In doing so, communities are ensuring the best use of time and resources, but also sharing liability for the development, operation, and maintenance of the facilities.
Community food security can happen if local residents have equal access to safe, affordable and nutritious food. Communities have a role to play in advocating for healthier food options in schools and workplaces, encouraging community kitchens to teach cooking skills, and supporting local agriculture and farmers markets. This, in turn, would encourage individuals to eat more healthy foods.
CMA encourages employers to actively promote the health of their employees by providing opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food choices in cafeterias.
Prolonged, unbroken time spent sitting in front of a screen is very common in the workplace. In addition, four out of five commuters sit daily in their private vehicles to go to work.34 As Canadians spend most of their adult life at work, it is important to reduce workplace sitting. CMA encourages employers, especially in sedentary occupational groups, to increase opportunities for physical activity. For example, employers can promote healthy behaviours by:
Building on-site fitness facilities or entering into agreements with off-site fitness centres to provide programs for their employees
Providing showers, bike racks and other amenities for employees for those who want to commute to work on foot or by bike.
Healthier food options in cafeteria and vending machines can promote and encourage healthy eating by employees.
Schools, where children spend most of their time outside of home, present an excellent opportunity to instil healthy behaviours at an early age. They could, for example, provide comprehensive nutrition education, serve nutritious food in their cafeterias and promote physical activity by providing formal instruction and informal recreation time. Schools can provide the most effective and efficient way to reach not only the children themselves, but their parents, teachers, and other community members.35
CMA encourages school boards to provide at least 60 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades.
Only 26% of Canadian schools reported that they had implemented daily physical education classes for their students.36 There is some evidence that school-based physical activity can increase physical activity levels and reduce time spent watching television at home. 37 For instance, schools can promote physical activity through unstructured out-of-home play, structured sports, or active transportation (e.g. walking to school). Children who are physically active and spend less time watching television after school are less likely to become overweight before age 12.38
CMA recommends that schools provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices, provide nutrition education, and initiate programs aimed at encouraging healthy food consumption and skills to prepare meals from scratch.
CMA calls for restrictions on the sale of high-calorie, high fats, sugars or salts foods/drinks in recreational facilities frequented by young people.
Fast food restaurants and convenience stores can be an important influence on children's eating habits and food choices.39 Children attending schools within a short distance of fast food restaurants eat fewer fruits and vegetable servings, and drink more soft drinks than others who did not have similar establishments within proximity.40 To encourage effective school-based nutrition interventions, it is therefore important to educate students about the nutrition value of foods, healthy food choices, and provide healthy canteens or cafeterias.
Individuals and families
CMA recommends that all Canadians work toward achieving and maintaining health by:
educating themselves about their dietary needs and about the caloric and nutrition content of foods; and
engaging in physical activity, with the goal of at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day for children and youth, and 150 minutes per week for adults.
Ultimately, healthy eating and physical activity require that individuals take action to make healthy choices in their lives. To inform these choices, Canadians should be supported with appropriate resource materials with consistent information about healthy eating and physical activity. For instance, many young children do not choose what they consume; their parents buy and prepare the food for them. Research suggests that mothers and children appear to have divergent attitudes towards food and mealtimes.41 In this regard, it is important for parents to be well-informed and able to explain the tangible benefits of foods and their nutritional components to their children before they reach adulthood.
What we conclude
Healthy behaviours are easier to maintain through life if acquired in childhood and encouraged by the family. Therefore Canadian families should be supported in efforts to ensure that both children and adults eat nutritiously and exercise daily. We believe there is a role for everyone in promoting healthy behaviours - including health professionals, individuals, families, schools, workplaces, communities, the food industry and all levels of governments.
Popular approaches seek to provide individuals with information and options about healthy lifestyles choices. However, individual choice is not sufficient to ensure healthy behaviours.
Many barriers to the adoption of healthy behaviours and lifestyle choices can be met through a targeted population health approach, and evidence-based policy and regulatory controls. A comprehensive change in culture and mindset, political endorsement and multifaceted strategies are needed to promote and facilitate change to improve the dietary practices and physical activity levels of Canadians.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The Canadian Medical Association encourages physicians to promote healthy eating and physical activity inside and outside their office.
2. The Canadian Medical Association calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to commit to a long-term, well-funded Canada-wide strategy for healthy living beyond 2015.
3. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to improve access to nutritious food at affordable prices for all Canadians.
4. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to ban marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
5. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to set rigorous standards for front of package food labeling and for the advertising of health claims for food.
6. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that governments at all levels invest in evidence-based research on healthy eating and physical activity and share the results of this research with all Canadians.
7. The Canadian Medical Association encourages governments to continue to work with the food industry to improve the food environment in Canada.
8. The Canadian Medical Association calls on municipal governments to create environments that encourage healthy and active living and on federal, provincial and territorial governments to support them in this endeavour.
9. The Canadian Medical Association encourages employers to actively promote the health of their employees by providing opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food choices in cafeterias.
10. The Canadian Medical Association encourages school boards to provide at least 60 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades.
11. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that schools provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices, provide nutrition education, and initiate programs aimed at encouraging healthy food consumption and skills to prepare meals from scratch.
12. The Canadian Medical Association calls for restrictions on the sale of high-calorie, high fats, sugars or salts foods/drinks in recreational facilities frequented by young people.
13. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that all Canadians work toward achieving and maintaining health by:
* educating themselves about their dietary needs and about the caloric and nutrition content of foods; and
* engaging in physical activity, with the goal of at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day for children and youth, and 150 minutes per week for adults.
1 Swinburn B, Egger G. The runaway weight gain train: too many accelerators, not enough brakes. BMJ. 2007;329:736-9.
2 Waters E, de Silva-Sanigorski A, Hall BJ, et al. Interventions for preventing obesity in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(12): CD001871.
3 Shields M, Martel L. (2006). Healthy living among seniors. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2005. Available: www5.statcan.gc.ca/bsolc/olc-cel/olc-cel?catno=82-003-S20050009086&lang=eng (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
4 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Global burden of disease arrow diagram. Seattle (WA): The Institute; 2013. Available: www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/gbd/visualizations/gbd-arrow-diagram (accessed 2010 Mar 15)
5Committee on Public Health Priorities to Reduce and Control Hypertension in the U.S. Population, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. A population-based policy and systems change approach to prevent and control hypertension. Report, v-173. Washington (DC): National Academies Press; 2010.
6 Beaglehole R, Bonita R, Horton R, et al. Priority actions for the non-communicable disease crisis. Lancet 2011;377(9775):1438-47.
7 Roberts KC, Shields M, de Groh M, et al. Overweight and obesity in children and adolescents: results from the 2009 to 2011 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Rep. 2012;23(3):37-41.
8 Canadian Institute for Health Information, Public Health Agency of Canada. Obesity in Canada. Ottawa: The Agency; 2011. Available: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/oic-oac/index-eng.php (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
9 Lim SS, Vos T, Flaxman AD, et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study 2010. Lancet. 2012;380:2224-60.
10Colley, R, Garriguet D, Janssen I, et al. Physical activity of Canadian adults: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Study. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-003 XPE. Health Rep. 2011 Mar;22(1).
11 Statistics Canada. Directly measured physical activity of Canadian adults, 2007-2011. Health fact sheets. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
12 Colley R, Garriguet D, Janssen I, et al. Physical activity of Canadian children and youth: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Study. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-003 XPE. Health Rep. 2011 Mar;22(1).
13 Katzmarzyk PT, Gledhill N, Shephard RJ. The economic burden of physical inactivity in Canada CMAJ. 2000;163(11):1435-40.
14 Statistics Canada. Fruit and vegetable consumption. Health fact sheets. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-625-XWE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11837-eng.htm (accessed 2013 Nov 8).
15 Garriguet D. Canadians' eating habits. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-003. Health Rep. 2007;18(2):17-32. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006004/article/habit/9609-eng.pdf (accessed 2013 Jul 10).
16 Monteiro CA. Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12(5):729-31. DOI:10.1017/S1368980009005291.
17 Monteiro CA, Levy RB. A new classification of foods based on the extent and purpose of their processing. Uma nova classifi cação de alimentos baseada na extensão e propósito do seu processamento. Cad Saude Publica. 2010;26(11):2039-49.
18 World Health Organization. Obesity the "new norm": day 1 of nutrition and NCDs conference. 2013. Available: www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-policy/pages/news/news/2013/07/obesity-the-new-norm-day-1-of-nutrition-and-ncds-conference
19 Raine KD. Determinants of healthy eating in Canada: an overview and synthesis. Can J Public Health. 2005;96(Suppl 3):S8-14, s18-15.
20 Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian physical activity guidelines. Ottawa: The Society; 2011. Available: www.csep.ca/guidelines (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
21 Statistics Canada. Canadian health measures survey: directly measured physical activity of Canadians, 2007 to 2011. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013 May 30. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130530/dq130530d-eng.pdf (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
22 Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, et al. Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38(3):105-13.
23 Foster C, Hillsdon M, Thorogood M, Kaur A, Wedatilake T. Interventions for promoting physical activity. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 (1). Review.
24 Glasgow RE, Eakin EG, Fisher EB, et al. Physician advice and support for physical activity results from a national survey. Am J Prev Med. 2001;21(3):189-96.
25 Salis R. Developing healthcare systems to support exercise: exercise as the fifth vital signs. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(6):473-4.
26 Andersen RE, Blair SN, Cheskin LJ, et al. Encouraging patients to become more physically active: the physician's role. Ann Intern Med. 1997;127(5):395-400.
27 Public Health Agency of Canada. Overview of the Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy. 2010. Available: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/ipchls-spimmvs-eng.php (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
28 Lobelo F, Duperly J, Frank E. Physical activity habits of doctors and medical students influence their counselling practices. Br J Sports Med. 2009;43(2):89-92.
29 Rogers LQ, Gutin B, Humphries MC, et al. Evaluation of internal medicine residents as exercise role models and associations with self-reported counseling behavior, confidence, and perceived Success. Teach Learn Med. 2006;18(3):215-21.
30 Connaughton AV, Weiler RM, Connaughton DP. (May-June 2001). Graduating medical students' exercise prescription competence as perceived by deans and directors of medical education in the United States: implications for Healthy People 2010. Public Health Rep. 2001;116:226-34.
31 Vallance JK, Wylie M, MacDonald R. Medical students' self-perceived competence and prescription of patient-centered physical activity. Prev Med. 2009;48(2):164-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.12.006
32 The Kaiser Family Foundation. The role of media in childhood obesity. Menlo Park (CA): The Foundation; 2004 Feb. Available: http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-role-of-media-in-childhood-obesity.pdf (accessed 2014 Mar 19).
33 Merchant AT, Dehghan M, Akhtar-Danesh N. Seasonal variation in leisure-time physical activity among Canadians Can J Public Health. 2007;98(3):203-8.
34 Statistics Canada. Commuting to work. National Household Survey. 2011. Available: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-012-x/99-012-x2011003_1-eng.cfm (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
35 Perez-Rodrigo C. School-based nutrition education: lessons learned and new perspectives. Public Health Nutr. 2001;4(1A):131-9.
36 Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Policies related to physical activities. 2011 opportunities for physical activity at school survey. 2012 Aug 14. Available: http://www.cflri.ca/sites/default/files/node/1054/files/Schools%202011%20Bulletin%2012%20-%20Policy%20EN.pdf
(accessed 2013 Sep 15).
37 Dobbins M, Husson H, DeCorby K, et al. School-based physical activity programs for promoting physical activity and fitness in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;2:CD007651.
38 O'Brien M, Nader PR, Houts RM, et al. The ecology of childhood overweight: a 12-year longitudinal analysis. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007;31(9):1469-78.
39 Howard PH, Fitzpatrick M, Fulfrost B Proximity of food retailers to schools and rates of overweight ninth grade students: an ecological study in California. BMC Public Health. 2011;11(68).
40 Davis B, Carpenter C. Proximity of fast-food restaurants to schools and adolescent obesity. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(3):505-10.
41 Le Bigot Macaux A. Eat to live or live to eat? Do parents and children agree? Public Health Nutr. 2001;4(1A):141-6.
IMPROVING EFFICIENCY IN THE CANADIAN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
Achieving value in health care systems is an important objective for all nations.1 Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. This policy statement puts forth recommendations for system sustainability and improving quality of care. All system stakeholders including providers, funders and patients bear responsibility to ensure the health care system is as efficient as possible. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation.
Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. The concept of efficiency in health care has two applications. The most common is technical efficiency, which is defined as producing maximum output for a given level of inputs, or minimizing input for a given level of output.2 The difference between actual output and the maximum achievable output may be attributed to inefficiency within the system.
The second is called allocative efficiency, which refers to optimizing resource allocation to produce maximum outputs that fulfill societal demands. Canadian research suggests that increasing technical and allocative efficiency rather than increasing spending could solve some of the current challenges regarding health care quality and sustainability. Based on a macro system-level approach to estimating efficiency among its member countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has estimated that all of its member countries could achieve better value from their health care spending-Canada could save 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product in public spending by 2017 if it were to become as efficient as the most efficient OECD countries.3
2. Health care inefficiencies
The various inefficiencies in the Canadian health care system may be categorized and visualized using the conceptual framework developed by Bentley et al in 2008 for the U.S. health care system 4 (see Figure 1). In Canada, no such framework exists.
The framework of Bentley et al contains three main categories of inefficiencies - clinical, operational, and administrative. Clinical inefficiencies relate to practice variation challenges including, the provision of inappropriate care. Operational inefficiencies include duplication of health care services, inefficient processes, overly expensive inputs, and errors in data collection and processing. Administrative inefficiencies may be generally thought of as excess transaction costs associated with claims payment and excess costs of administration and management over and above what is required to deliver front-line health care.
Figure 1. Typology of health care inefficiencies
Source: Adapted from Bentley et al, 2008.
2.1 Clinical Inefficiencies
Clinical waste and inefficiencies refer to services that provide marginal or no health benefit compared with less costly alternatives. This may include practice variation and the provision of inappropriate and cost-ineffective care, or the underuse of more appropriate care. There is overlap between clinical inefficiencies (e.g., providing the wrong service) with operational inefficiencies (the inefficient production of services).
The chief contributor to clinical inefficiencies or waste in the health care field is practice variation-the reduction of unwarranted care variation is the foundation of the quality movement. John Wennberg and colleagues have pioneered the main body of work in this area through their studies on small area variation in care delivery.5 Over the last quarter century, technical studies on clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have been developed in increasing numbers to address issues of appropriateness of care and care variation.
CPGs are defined as "systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances".6 CPGs should contribute to better health, enhance the quality of care by reducing practice variation, and contribute to better value and lower costs by encouraging more appropriate use of resources by care providers.7 Although there has been no systematic approach in Canada to developing and disseminating CPGs, or to ensuring the quality of the CPGs produced, various organizations have developed initiatives to tackle this issue.8
Since the early 1990s, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has developed and maintained a CPG Infobase, which contains roughly 1,200 guidelines.9 The uptake of CPGs is a crucial component and insufficient resources are applied to necessary clinical practice change processes. Moreover, CPGs should be distillable to actionable points-of-care recommendations suited to the intended end user (e.g., family physicians).
In January 2012, the Council of the Federation (CoF) established the Health Care Innovation Working Group, which comprises all provincial and territorial health ministers, to determine practical and innovative ways to increase the value and effectiveness of care.10 The group's CPG recommendations focused on cardiovascular disease and diabetes - two of the most prevalent and highest-costing chronic diseases in Canada (see Appendix A for list of CPGs). In accordance with the CoF, the CMA recommends:
1. Developing chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system.
2. Integrating clinical practice guidelines with electronic medical records.
3. Implementing a pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines strategy.
4. Using evidence-informed clinical practice guidelines to evaluate patient outcomes, appropriateness, and cost-effectiveness.
5. Developing deployment strategies to ensure maximum use of clinical practice guidelines by physicians.
Clinical practice guidelines need regular updating as new evidence emerges. Therefore, a Pan-Canadian strategy should include a system of regular review and updating using development methods that would exclude the possibility of industry bias. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada (see below).
There is an increasing trend in health care utilization in areas such as medical procedures, drugs, and physician services.11 Questions remain about whether or not people are receiving care that is appropriate and based on the best available scientific information.12 Inappropriate care, such as the hospitalization of patients who need community-based services or prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory infections that are likely viral in origin, is another source of clinical inefficiency, using scarce resources for marginal or no health benefit.
The CMA recently defined appropriate care as the right care, provided by the right provider, to the right patient, in the right venue, at the right time:
* "right care" is based on evidence for effectiveness and efficacy in the clinical literature, and not only implies appropriateness of use, but inappropriateness of 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;
* "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.
As a corollary to this definition, if all five components are present, high quality care has been delivered with the optimal use of resources, that is, waste has been eliminated and the best value has been obtained.
Appropriateness is primarily determined by analyses of the evidence of clinical effectiveness, safety, and other health system impacts.13 The practical application of appropriateness is made when these analyses are qualified by (a) clinician judgment, particularly in atypical circumstances14 and (b) societal and ethical principles and values, including patient preferences.
There are a number of perverse incentives that can contribute to the delivery of inappropriate care across the system. These exist at the system level (e.g., patients staying in hospitals longer than needed due to the lack of community services), as well as at the individual encounter level (changes in fee codes for insured medical services such as new consult fees to see a patient every six months). Physicians and payers such as governments need to work together to eliminate perverse incentives based on available medical evidence. Physician incentives should align with system needs. The challenge is getting governments, health authorities and provincial and territorial medical associations, and individual providers agreeing on system goals and objectives.
In the U.S., an innovative appropriateness initiative called Choosing Wisely was established in 2011 with the goal of improving care quality and reducing harm to patients by avoiding unnecessary interventions, with the added benefit of possible cost reductions.15 The initiative challenged specialty societies to identify five clinical activities in their field that are generally of little value or are potentially harmful to patients.16
In Canada, CMA's 2013 General Council called for the formation of 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. Choosing Wisely Canada was launched on April 2, 2014 with the release of eight lists produced by nine specialty societies (one list was released jointly by the CMA's Forum on General and Family Practice Issues (GP Forum) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC)). Twelve additional medical specialty societies released lists in October 2014. The Choosing Wisely Canada campaign is endorsed and supported by over 35 national specialty societies representing a broad spectrum of physicians, as well as by all provincial medical associations, patient organizations, accrediting bodies and others (Website: www.choosingwiselycanada.org). Choosing Wisely Canada aims to promote physician-patient communication about unproductive care and conserve resources by eliminating unneeded activities. This initiative also serves as an example of the role of public education campaigns to help improve appropriate care.
The development of a Canadian version of the Choosing Wisely initiative assists in operationalizing the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim concept of better care, better health, better value. Specific benefits include:
* Improving accountability by providing transparent, evidence-informed care;
* Facilitating patients to make the right care decisions;
* Enhancing physician-patient relationships: improve communication and decision-making between patients and their physician; and
* Reducing clinical inefficiencies.
The ultimate objective and impetus for adopting a Choosing Wisely initiative must be to improve patient outcomes. Cost savings to the system should occur as a byproduct. Physicians are in the best position to identify which medical services are unnecessary.
Both patients and providers need to be aware of the costs associated with each treatment option, recognizing there is a balance to strike between cost and value. To facilitate this process, the CMA recommends:
6. Making available data on the cost and cost-effectiveness of treatment options at the point of care.
7. Collecting information to evaluate cost-effective care.
8. Posting costs generated by requests for diagnostic and laboratory tests in electronic medical records.
Evaluation should take place to ensure the posting of costs is targeted to areas where it will be most effective.
2.2 Operational inefficiencies
Examples of operational waste include: undertaking tests or procedures more frequently than clinically necessary (e.g., duplication of tests); unnecessary time spent waiting for medical services or time wasted from processes that add little value; using brand drugs for patients who get equal benefit from generics; and health and cost consequences of medical errors or the use of defective medical devices.
These system inefficiencies can amount to very significant costs to the health care system, patients and the economy. For instance, lengthy waits can have serious health consequences for patient outcomes and result in the substitution of additional health care services while waiting (e.g., use of pain medication). A 2008 study calculated the economic impact of excessive wait times for five procedures (hip and knee replacement surgery, MRIs, CABG surgery and cataract surgery) in all 10 provinces. It found that, in addition to the obvious emotional, physical and financial toll endured by patients and their families, lengthy waits for these medical treatments cost Canada's economy an estimated $14.8 billion overall in 2007 in reduced economic activity by patients ($16.9 billion in 2014 dollars). This included a $4.4 billion reduction in federal and provincial government revenues.17
Notwithstanding a shortage in health care infrastructure, there is general consensus that not all hospital infrastructure is used to its fullest capacity, contributing to lengthy wait times for many patients. This can include excessive turnover time between cases or limited operating room hours that can result in the last patient of the day being unable to receive their surgery at great cost to the patient and their family. In many instances, urban hospitals must cancel surgeries due to overbooked operating room time when in smaller and rural communities, operating rooms are not fully utilized. Strategies should be explored to enable greater use of health infrastructure resources in smaller community hospitals that will serve to enhance timely access to care for patients. This would also ensure that staff had a level of activity that would maintain their skills.
There has been significant uptake of operations research and quality improvement processes to help eliminate operational waste and address unnecessary waiting by patients. To this end, CMA will continue to work with its partners in the Wait Time Alliance to identify strategies to improve timely access to care for patients across the continuum. The CMA will also study the potential health applications of the Theory of Constraints within the Canadian health care system.18
There can also be system-wide inefficiencies in the various health systems operating in the country and in terms of how health systems interact with other systems such as economic and social support systems (e.g., lack of services to address homelessness). Changes in one component of the health care system can negatively affect the efficiency in another component. For instance, cuts made to home care services can lead to a rise in the number of alternate-level-of care (ALC) patients in hospitals, increased wait times in emergency departments, and elective surgery cancelations. A more recent source of system inefficiency has been occurring due to the piecemeal adoption of electronic medical records and information systems (EMR) throughout the country. The multitude of systems adopted by different segments of the health care system has resulted in problems with system inter-operability that often exacerbate administrative and clinical inefficiencies such as preventing the electronic attachment of test results leading to the reordering of tests.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) developed a model to measure and evaluate "health system efficiency" within Canada. It measures the average efficiency of health systems in Canada's health regions and the factors that help explain variations in estimates of system efficiency (measured as the reduction in potential years of life lost (PYLL) from treatable causes of death). The study found that equitable access to physician care is positively associated with efficiency.19 Unfortunately, over 4 million Canadians still do not have a regular family physician.20
In addition, the CIHI study found that factors related to the social determinants of health can also affect system efficiency (e.g., missed prevention opportunities). Frequently, the health care system is relied on to address preventable health needs that are attributable to the social determinants of health (e.g., injuries or illnesses caused by lack of affordable housing or poverty). Furthermore, these factors can negatively affect the effectiveness of any treatment provided by the health care system.21
Governments and health administrators should focus on improving efficiencies where there is the highest volume of services as new models of efficiency do not always show results in low volume areas.
2.3 Administrative inefficiencies
Health programs can be funded and administered at a variety of levels: local, regional, provincial and federal, as well as through employers. According to CIHI, administration accounted for $6.3 billion, or 3.1%, of health care costs in Canada in 2011-roughly middle of the pack among OECD countries22-but this is only the cost of providing public and private health insurance programs and the costs associated with health departments'operations.11 Generally, differences in the level of health administration can be explained in part by the type of health system and financing used such as whether multiple insurance providers exist or the extent that complex funding and billing procedures are in place.23 1
In terms of other administrative costs, we do not know how Canada has evolved over time in comparison to other sectors of the economy or how we compare internationally with respect to the effectiveness of administration expenditures.1 There have been questions about the expansion and contraction of regional health authorities in Canada over the past two decades. However, Canada does not have a detailed set of health accounts that would permit such analysis. CIHI has recently begun to report the percentage of administrative services expenses (general administration, finances, human resources and communications) as a percentage of total expenses for over 600 hospitals as part of its Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP).24
One source of administrative waste is the cost of duplicate collection and recording of health information. The health sector has been slow in adopting health information technology to help reduce this form of administrative waste.
Another cause of inefficiency is the increase in administrative burden faced by Canadian physicians and their patients. A major contributor is the rise in requests for physicians to complete third party forms from insurance companies and governments (see Appendix B for a list of examples of federal health programs and related medical forms). Different definitions of concepts are frequently used in these forms, but in many instances they are asking for similar information about the same patient. Physicians are also frequently requested to complete sick notes-the CMA believes such an absence does not require physician confirmation of illness and represents an inefficient use of scarce health care resources.25
The cumulative effect of a physician being requested to complete several forms each day can result in significant administrative burden and take away time that physicians can spend providing direct patient care. Standardizing definitions and wording on third-party forms can save time and reduce administrative errors. Physicians fully support any efforts by the private insurance industry and governments to standardize their medical forms. In addition, consideration should be given to instances where other designated providers can be tasked with completing particular forms. Where suitable, electronic medical records (EMRs) can improve the completion and timely submission of third-party forms to the benefit of patients, providers and third-parties.
To address these administrative inefficiencies, the following actions have been recommended by CMA:
9. Federal and provincial auditors general design and implement a protocol for detailed enumeration of administrative costs within their health care systems, including tracking of these costs over time, and issue an annual public report.
10. CIHI conduct a detailed study of administrative costs of Canadian hospitals and regional health authorities and report the findings.
11. Harmonize and centralize, in electronic and written format, all administrative forms that physicians must fill out on behalf of their patients.
3. Innovating for efficiency
Since the late 1990s, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and other granting bodies have provided considerable funding for applied health services research to aid the implementation of pilot projects to improve the quality of care delivered in Canada. However, Canada is frequently criticized for its inability to move beyond pilot projects to full implementation. One often-cited reason is the lack of communication about promising innovations from one jurisdiction to another. Other reasons include regulatory barriers such as funding silos, and pilot project funding for a limited duration to prevent meaningful outcome evaluation. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful and sustained system innovation.26
The CMA supports:
12. Developing and testing innovative structures or programs to demonstrate clear evidence of improvement in health care outcomes and fiscal sustainability before wide-spread adoption into the Canadian health delivery system.
13. Developing policy tools that provide criteria for identifying barriers to quality, efficiency and equity in emerging models of health care delivery.
14. Creating a registry of physician-managed health care transformation projects. This registry should outline the challenges and lessons learned associated with each project for those interested in adopting similar projects.
Addressing efficiency challenges in the Canadian health care system can improve the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care, while making the system more cost-effective and sustainable. Many components of the health care inefficiencies set out by Bentley et al are now being considered by governments. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation. Physicians should practice high quality, evidence-informed health care, and advocate for cost-effective allocation of scarce resources. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada.
Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) recommended by
The Health Care Innovation Working Group of the Council of the Federation
The group recommended each province and territory work with their health authorities to adopt the following CPGs:
* The C-CHANGE guidelines for cardiovascular disease published by the Canadian Cardiovascular Harmonization of National Guidelines Endeavour (C-CHANGE) to reduce guideline variations and confusion among care providers.
* Harmonized guidelines for diagnosis, which include:
o Laboratory testing (e.g., urine analysis, ECGs)
o Risk stratification strategies (e.g., family history, lifestyle choices, and diabetic patients).
* Harmonized guidelines for treatment, which include:
o Establishing treatment targets (e.g., limiting alcohol consumption, healthy body weight, glycemic or glucose targets)
o Health behavior interventions (e.g., balanced heart healthy diet, limiting salt intake, smoking cessation)
o Pharmacological therapy (e.g., assessment of drug and drug interactions, co-morbidities).
Examples of federal health programs and related medical forms
physicians are frequently requested to complete
* Canada Pension Plan Disability
* Disability Tax Credit
* Employment Insurance (Sickness Benefits Claim)
* Non-Insured Health Benefits (for First Nations people and Inuit)
* Veterans Disability Pension
* Compassionate Care Leave
* Exception/Limited Use Drug Request Form (to permit access to drugs not on provincial formularies)
* Interim Federal Health Program
* Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring forms
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8 The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has launched a Strategy for Patient Oriented Research and one of its core elements is the improvement of guideline development, dissemination and uptake through support for guideline development and dissemination. Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Canada's strategy for patient-oriented research: improving health outcomes through evidence-informed care. Ottawa: The Institutes; 2011. Available: www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/documents/P-O_Research_Strategy-eng.pdf (accessed 2012 Feb 22).
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15 Siwek J. Choosing wisely: top interventions to improve health and reduce harm, while lowering costs. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):128-33.
16 The Good Stewardship Working Group. The "top 5" lists in primary care. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(15):1385-90.
17 Centre for Spatial Economics. The economic cost of wait times in Canada. Ottawa: The Centre; 2008. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/EconomicReport-e.pdf (accessed 2014 Apr 14).
18 Knight A. The theory of constraints in health and social care. Aldbury (UK): QFI Consulting; 2011.
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20 Statistics Canada. Access to a regular medical doctor, 2012. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11832-eng.htm (accessed 2014 Jan 5).
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