The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission. It provides recommendations to address major pan-Canadian challenges to the health of Canadians: improve how we provide care to our growing elderly population; improve access to primary care across the country; increase digital health literacy to take advantage of the benefits of new health information technologies; and better prepare for and mitigate the health impacts of a changing climate on Canadians.
Health systems across the country are currently struggling to meet the needs of our aging population. People aged 85 years and over—many of whom are frail—make up the fastest growing age group in Canadai.
Provincial and territorial health care systems (as well as care systems for populations falling under federal jurisdiction) are facing many challenges to meet the needs of an aging population. Canadians support a strong role for the federal government in leading a national seniors strategy and working with the provinces to ensure that all Canadians have the same level of access and quality of services, no matter where they live.
The 2017 federal/provincial/territorial funding agreement involving $6 billion over 10 years to improve access to home care services is a welcomed building block. But without greater investment in seniors care, health systems will not keep up. To be truly relevant and effectively respond to Canadians’ present and future needs, our health care system must provide integrated, continuing care able to meet the chronic and complex care needs of our growing and aging population. This includes recognizing the increased role for patients and their caregivers in the care process.
The federal government must ensure transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Health transfers are estimated to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.ii
The federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.iii
Providing care often comes with a financial cost such as lost income due to the caregiver’s withdrawal from the workforce to provide care. There are also increasing out-of-pocket costs for both caregivers and care receivers for health care-related expenses—privately covered expenditures on home and long-term care for seniors are projected to grow by an average of 5.8 per cent annually—nearly 1.5 times the pace of household disposable income growth. While the federal government offers tax credits that can be claimed by care receivers/caregivers, they are significantly under-utilized. While representing a significant proportion of caregivers, those with low or no income receive little to no federal government support through these programs. Middle-income earners also receive less than those earning high incomes.
The federal government create a Seniors Care Benefit that would be an easier, fairer and more effective way to support caregivers and care receivers alike.iv
Access to Care
Since the mid-1990s, the federal and provincial/territorial governments (FPT) have provided sustained leadership in promoting and supporting the transformation of primary care in Canada. In 2000, the First Ministers concluded the first of three Health Accords in which they agreed to promote the establishment of primary health care teamsv supported by a $800 million Primary Health Care Transition Fund (PHCTF) funded by the federal government, but jointly governed. The PHCTF resulted in large-scale sustained change in primary care delivery models in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta with interest in other jurisdictions as well.
However, the job is far from finished. Across Canada, access to primary care is challenging for many Canadians with a persistent shortage of family physicians. In 2017, 4.7 million Canadians aged 12+ reported they did not have a regular health care provider.vi Even those who have a regular provider experience wait time issues.
There has been widespread interest in primary care models since the development of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s (CFPC) vision document Family Practice: The Patient’s Medical Home (PMH), initially launched in 2011vii and recently re-launched.viii The model is founded on 10 pillars depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Patient’s Medical Home, 2019
The updated model places increased emphasis on team-based care and introduces the concept of the patient’s medical neighborhood that sets out connections between the primacy care practice and all delivery points in the surrounding community. While comprehensive baseline data are lacking, it seems
safe to conjecture that most Canadians are not enrolled in a primary care model that would measure up to the model’s 10 pillars.
The federal government, in concert with provinces and territories, establish a targeted fund in the amount of $1.2 billion to support a new time-limited Primary Health Care Transition Fund that would build on the success of the fund launched in 2000 with the goal of widely introducing a sustainable medical home model across jurisdictions. This would include the following key elements:
Age-sex-weighted per capita allocation across the provinces and territories;
Joint governance of the FPT governments with meaningful stakeholder engagement;
Respect for the Canada Health Act principles;
Common objectives (e.g., modeled on the CFPC Patient’s Medical Home framework);
Canada and most industrialized countries will experience a digital health revolution over the next decade with great potential to improve patient and population health. Digital health can be described as the integration of the electronic collection and compilation of health data, decision support tools and analytics with the use of audio, video and other technologies to deliver preventive, diagnostic and treatment services that promote patient and population health.
While most Canadian physicians’ offices and health care facilities are now using some form of electronic record keeping and most households have internet access, there remains a large deficit in using virtual care, both within jurisdictions and across provincial/territorial boundaries. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify opportunities for digital health to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required for physicians to deliver care to patients within and across provincial/territorial boundaries.
To take full advantage of digital health capabilities it will be essential for the population to have a functional level of digital health literacy: the ability to seek, find, understand and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem.ix This also includes the capability of communicating about one’s health to health care professionals (e.g., e-consults), self-monitoring health (e.g., patient portals) and receiving treatment online (e.g., Web-based cognitive behavioral therapy).x
There are no current data available on health literacy in Canada, let alone digital health literacy. One basic barrier to achieving digital health literacy is access to, and usage of the Internet, which has been termed the “digital divide” (e.g., older Canadians and low income households are less likely to have Internet access).Error! Bookmark not defined.
In 2001 the federal government established the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). Its mandate includes informing consumers about their rights and responsibilities in dealing with financial institutions and providing information and tools to help consumers understand and shop for financial products and services.xi In 2014 the FCAC appointed a Financial Literacy Leader who has focused on financial literacy, including activities such as conducting financial capability surveys and the development of a National Strategy for Financial Literacy.xii
Considering the anticipated growth of digital/virtual care it would be desirable to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy could serve as a template for digital health literacy.
The federal government establish a Digital Health Literacy Secretariat to:
Develop indicators and conducting surveys to measure and track the digital health literacy of Canadians;
Develop tools that can be used both by Canadians and their health care providers to enhance their digital health literacy; and
Assess and make recommendations on the “digital divide” that may exist among some population sub-groups due to a lack of access to information technology and lower digital health literacy.
Climate Change and Health
Climate change is the public health imperative of our time. There is a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate. A 2017 poll commissioned by Health Canada demonstrates a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate: 79% were convinced that climate change is happening, and of these, 53% accepted that it is a current health risk, with 40% believing it will be a health risk in the future.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified air pollution and climate change as one of the biggest threats to global health. Health care professionals see first-hand the devastating health impacts of our changing climate including increased deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution and increased heat-related conditions. Impacts are most common in vulnerable populations such as adults over 65 years, the homeless, urban dwellers and people with a pre-existing disease.
Canada’s health care system is already treating the health effects of climate change. A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of Canada’s health system, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services, not to mention the economic and social costs. The federal government must provide leadership to deal with the impact already being felt in Canada and around the world.
The federal government make strong commitments to minimize the impact of climate change on the health of Canadians by:
Ensuring pan-Canadian and inter-jurisdictional coordination to standardize surveillance and reporting of climate-related health impacts such as heat-related deaths, develop knowledge translation strategies to inform the public, and generate clinical and public health response plans that minimize the health impacts;
Increasing funding for research on the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities; and
Ensuring funding is provided to the health sector to prepare for climate change impacts through efforts to increase resiliency (i.e., risk assessments, readiness to manage disease outbreaks, sustainable practice).
i Statistics Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2014: Public Health in the Future. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/chang-eng.php; (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
ii The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018.
iii Canadian Medical Association. Meeting the demographic challenge: Investments in seniors care. Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. August 3, 2018. https://policybase.cma.ca/documents/Briefpdf/BR2018-16.pdf
iv The Conference Board of Canada. Measures to Better Support Seniors and Their Caregivers. March 2019. https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/health-advocacy/Measures-to-better-support-seniors-and-their-caregivers-e.pdf
v Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. News release – First Ministers’ meeting communiqué on health. September 11, 2000. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/news-release-first-ministers-meeting-communique-on-health/. Accessed 04/22/19.
vi Statistics Canada. Primary health care providers, 2017. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00001-eng.pdf?st=NGPiUkM5. Accessed 04/21/19.
vii College of Family Physicians of Canada. A vision for Canada. Family Practice: the patient’s medical home. http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/Resource_Items/PMH_A_Vision_for_Canada.pdf. Accessed 04/22/19.
viii College of Family Physicians of Canada. The patient’s medical home 2019. https://patientsmedicalhome.ca/files/uploads/PMH_VISION2019_ENG_WEB_2.pdf. Accessed 04/21/19.
ix Norman C, Skinner H. eHealth literacy: essential skills for consumer health in a networked world. J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e9. Doi:10.2196/jmir.8.2.e9.
x Van der Vaart R, Drossaert C. Development of the digital health literacy instrument: measuring a broad spectrum of health 1.0 and health 2.0 skills. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(1):e27. Doi:10.2196/jmir.6709.
xi Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. About FCAC.
xii Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. National Strategy for Financial Literacy. Phase 1: strengthening seniors’ financial literacy. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/financial-consumer-agency/migration/eng/financialliteracy/financialliteracycanada/documents/seniorsstrategyen.pdf. Accessed 06/24/19. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/corporate/about.html. Accessed 07/01/19.
With the advent of technology allowing for the extension of life, and as a result of the increasing importance of personal autonomy, decisional capacity, and informed consent and the growing awareness of issues related to quality of life and dying, Canadians have become increasingly interested in expressing their wishes regarding their health care and having more input into decisions about their care should they become incapable. Advance care planning (ACP) can help patients to achieve these goals.
The CMA supports development of a strategy for ACP1 in all provinces and territories. ACP leads to better concordance between patients' wishes and treatments provided,2,3 decreased anxiety for families,4 decreased moral distress for health care providers,5 decreased hospitalization rates of nursing home residents3 and fewer unnecessary medical treatments.3,6,7
ACP is at the intersection of the provision of health care, ethical values and legal rights and duties. In particular, it involves the acknowledgement of essential aspects of autonomy, informed consent, and respect of patients' care wishes now and in the future, and their intentions if they become incapable.8,9
The balancing of the need to obtain informed consent for a treatment option in the present with the need to respect health care preferences that were stated in the past has been addressed using various clinical, legal and institutional approaches across Canadian jurisdictions."
Physicians10 can play a significant role in ACP throughout the course of the patient-physician relationship, including in the pediatric setting. At any time, outcomes of the planning process can be documented and/or the patient can appoint a substitute decision-maker in writing. These documents can be identified as advance directives, personal directives or powers of attorney for personal care11 (hereinafter all will be referred to as advance directives). An advance directive does not remove the need for a physician to obtain consent before providing a treatment to a patient, except in an emergency. As stated in the Canadian Medical Protective Association's consent guide: "[U]nder medical emergency situations, treatments should be limited to those necessary to prevent prolonged suffering or to deal with imminent threats to life, limb or health. Even when unable to communicate in medical emergency situations, the known wishes of the patient must be respected."12
While much of the focus of ACP is on making care decisions and nominating proxy decision-makers in case the patient becomes incapable of making decisions in the future, ACP has much more utility. ACP conversations13 can assist patients in determining treatment trajectories and making decisions about the intensity level of interventions in their current care. Providers can have discussions with patients and their families about proposed treatments in the context of the patient's communicated goals and wishes. The process of ACP also helps patients and their families to become familiar with the language and processes used to make cooperative health care decisions.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This policy aims to provide guidance on key considerations pertinent to ACP in a way that is consistent with a physician's ethical, professional and legal obligations. This is a complex subject: physicians should be aware of the legislation in the jurisdiction in which they practise, the standards and expectations specified by their respective regulatory authority, as well as the policies and procedures of the setting(s) in which they practise (e.g., regional health authority, hospital).
1. ACP is a process of (a) respecting patients' wishes through reflection and communication, (b) planning for when the patient cannot make health care decisions and (c) discussion with friends, family and professionals; (d) it may result in a written document.5 It informs the substitute decision-maker and provides information for the clinician to consider in the provision of care within the bounds of the law.
2. Although often associated with the end of life, ACP represents the expression of a patient's wishes for any future health care when the patient is incapable. It expresses the patient's values and beliefs regarding current care decisions and provides information that can inform any decisions that must be made during an emergency when the patient's consent cannot be obtained. For these reasons, ACP should occur throughout a person's lifetime.
3. Respect for patients' dignity and autonomy is a cornerstone of the therapeutic physician-patient relationship. Patients' right to autonomous decision-making has become embedded in ethical frameworks, consent legislation and case law.14 Respect for the wishes of an incapable patient constitutes a preservation of autonomy and promotes trust between the physician and patient.15
4. The way in which the act of obtaining consent is weighed against the patient's stated wishes as outlined during the ACP process varies according to the jurisdiction in which the patient and physician are located.
1. Given the practical, ethical and legal complexities of ACP, physicians, medical learners should be supported in becoming familiar with ACP and comfortable in engaging in the process with their patients. To this end, CMA supports the development of training in ACP and efforts to make it available to all physicians and medical learners.16 For practising physicians and residents, many resources are available, for example:
a. Advance Care Planning in Canada: A National Framework
b. Facilitating Advance Care Planning: An Interprofessional Educational Program
c. Information from the Health Law Institute of Dalhousie University on the regulatory policies and legislation of individual provinces and territories
d. A comprehensive collection of Canadian resources compiled by the Speak Up campaign of the Advance Care Planning in Canada initiative
e. Pallium Canada's Learning Essential Approaches to Palliative Care module on ACP
In the case of medical students, the CMA supports the position of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students that end-of-life training is an essential facet of undergraduate medical education.
2. The issue of the supervision of medical learners practising ACP should be clarified, as considerable ambiguity currently exists.17 Medical learners would benefit from unified national guidelines concerning the nature of their participation in ACP, especially regarding end-of-life care. In the case of medical students, the CMA agrees with the recommendation of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students that supervision be mandatory during conversations about end-of-life care.
3. The CMA calls for more research on the outcomes associated with the provision of ACP training to physicians and medical learners.
4. The CMA recommends that governments and institutions promote information and education on ACP to patients and their substitute decision-makers.
PROFESSIONAL AND LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY
1. While respecting patients' values, all physicians are expected to encourage their patients to engage in ACP with them. ACP is not a one-time event. The nature of the conversation between the physician and the patient and the regularity with which they discuss the subject will depend on the patient's health status. Family physicians and physicians have ongoing care relationships with chronically ill patients are particularly well placed to have regular discussions with their patients about their beliefs, values and wishes. An effective exchange of information between family physicians (and other physicians who work in the community with outpatients) and acute or tertiary care physicians would assist in ensuring patient's wishes are considered.
2. ACP, in particular advance directives, are at the intersection of medicine and the law. Physicians should recognize this and ask patients whether they have an advance directive or have done any ACP.
3. There is wide variation across jurisdictions in terms of the requirements and procedures for ACP; therefore, physicians should inform themselves about any relevant legislation and the scope of the requirement to obtain consent within that jurisdiction when carrying out ACP.
1. The CMA supports institutional processes that recognize and support ACP. Support for ACP includes developing a consistent process for the exchange of information about patients' wishes and advance directives among health care providers, as patients traverse sectors and locations of care. Patients with a written advance directive must be identified and the advance directive integrated fully within the patient's records18 so that it is available across the institution (and ideally the health care system). The CMA advocates for the inclusion of advance care directive functionality as a conformance and usability requirement for electronic medical record vendors.19 Provinces and territories should be encouraged to establish robust organizational processes and resources for patients in all locations of care and strong province- or territory-wide policy, such as in Alberta.20
2. Institutions and other organizations should encourage health care providers to ask patients to bring their advance directive to appointments at the same time they ask them to bring a list of their medications or other medical information.
3. The CMA supports institutional/organizational audits of structures, processes and outcomes related to ACP as an important step in improving the quality and frequency of ACP activities.
ROLE FOR GOVERNMENTS
1. The CMA supports infrastructures enabling ACP, including funding that will support ACP and other end-of-life discussions.
2. The CMA promotes the incorporation of ACP into future federal and provincial/territorial senior strategies and dementia and/or frailty strategies.
3. The CMA supports the development of ACP metrics and their future inclusion in Accreditation Canada standards.
Advance care planning (ACP)
Advance care planning is a term used to describe a process of reflection, communication, conversation and planning by a capable individual with family, friends and professionals about their beliefs, values and wishes for a time when they no longer have the mental capacity to make decisions about their health care. ACP can also involve the naming of a substitute decision-maker.8
The legislated term "advance directive" has different names, definitions and legal authority across the country. For example, in British Columbia an advance directive is a written legal document that provides a mechanism for capable patients to give directions about their future health care once they are no longer capable. 21 As such, in BC an advance directive may, under certain circumstances, be considered "equivalent to consent to treatment and may be acted upon directly by a health care provider without consultation with an SDM [substitute decision-maker]." 8 In Alberta it is called a personal directive. In Ontario, "advance directive" is a generic non-legal term and refers to communications that may be oral, written or in other forms.8
In Quebec, advance care directives are legally binding, as set out in the Act respecting end-of-life care, which recognizes "the primacy of freely and clearly expressed wishes with respect to care. . ."22
Current legislation does not allow for medical assistance in dying to be requested by an advance directive.23 The CMA acknowledges that considerable public, expert and legal debate exists around the issue.
To obtain informed consent, physicians must provide adequate information to the patient or capable decision-maker about the proposed procedure or treatment; the anticipated outcome; the potential risks, benefits and complications; and reasonable available alternatives, including not having the treatment; and they must answer questions posed by the patient. Consent is only informed if there is disclosure of matters that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would want to know.24 Consent must be given voluntarily, must not be obtained through misrepresentation or fraud, must relate to the treatment and must be informed.
Substitute decision-maker (SDM or agent or proxy)
A substitute decision-maker is a capable person who will make health care decisions on behalf of an incapable individual. In all jurisdictions the health care provider must take reasonable steps to become aware of whether or not there is a substitute decision-maker before providing health treatment to an incapable patient. Legally there are implementation differences across the country. For example, in BC a substitute decision-maker is appointed through a representation agreement, in Alberta through a personal directive and in Ontario through a power of attorney for personal care.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
1 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC14-25 - strategy for advance care planning, palliative and end-of-life care. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 Oct 17)
2 Houben CHM, Spruit MA, Groenen MTJ, et al. Efficacy of advance care planning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2014;15:477-89.
3 Martin RS, Hayes B, Gregorevic K, et al. The effects of advance care planning interventions on nursing home residents: a systematic review. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2016;7:284-93.
4 Mack JW, Weeks JC, Wright AA, et al. End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life: predictors and outcomes of receipt of care consistent with preferences. J Clin Oncol 2010;28(7):1203-8.
5 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Advance care planning in Canada: national framework. Ottawa; The Association; 2010.
6 Teo WSK, Raj AG, Tan WS, et al. Economic impact analysis of an end-of-life programme for nursing home residents. Palliat Med 2014;28(5):430-7.
7 Zhang B, Wright AA, Huskamp HA, et al. Health care costs in the last week of life: associations with end-of-life conversations. Arch Intern Med 2009;169(5):480-8.
8 Wahl J, Dykeman MJ, Gray B. Health care consent and advance care planning in Ontario. Toronto (ON): Law Commission of Ontario; 2014.
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
10 Physician involvement is not mandatory in the process. However, it is important for physicians to engage with their patients in ACP as this can facilitate change in patients' ACP behaviour and understanding.
11 Wahl JA, Dykeman MJ, Walton T. Health care consent, advance care planning, and goals of care practice tools: the challenge to get it right. Improving the last stages of life. Toronto (ON): Law Commission of Ontario; 2016.
13 Frank C, Puxty J. Facilitating effective end-of-life communication - helping people decide. CJS Journal of CME 2016;6(2). Available: http://canadiangeriatrics.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Facilitating-Effective-End-of-Life-Communication---Helping-People-Decide.pdf (accessed 2017 April 25).
14 Fleming v Reid (1991) 82 DLR (4th) 298 (CA ON); Cuthbertson v Rasouli, 2013 SCC 53; Malette v Shulman (1990), 72 OR (2d) 417; Starson v Swayze (2003) 1 SCR 722.
15 Harmon SHE. Consent and conflict in medico-legal decision-making at the end of life: a critical issue in the Canadian context. University of New Brunswick Law Journal 2010;60(1):208-29.
16 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC13-69 - training in advance care planning. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
17 Touchie C, De Champlain A, Pugh D, et al. Supervising incoming first-year residents: faculty expectations versus residents' experiences. Med Educ 2014;48(9):921-9.
18 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC14-19 - advance care plans. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
19 Canadian Medical Association. BD14-05-163 Advance care directive functionality. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
20 Conversations matter. Edmonton (AB): Alberta Health Services. Available: http://goals.conversationsmatter.ca.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/ (accessed 2017 May 19).
21 Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act, RSBC 1996, c 181, s.3
22 Act respecting end-of-life care, S-32.0001. Government of Quebec. Available : http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/ShowDoc/cs/S-32.0001
23 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying) S.C. 2016, c.3. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2016. Available: http://canlii.ca/t/52rs0 (accessed 2016 Oct 17)
24 Riebl v Hughes,  2 SCR 880; Hopp v Lepp,  2 SCR 192.
Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. The number of seniors expected to need help or care in the next 30 years will double, placing an unprecedented challenge on Canada’s health care system. That we face this challenge speaks to the immense success story that is modern medicine, but it doesn’t in any way minimize the task ahead.
Publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago when Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. People 85 and older make up the fastest growing age group in our country, and the growth in the number of centenarians is also expected to continue.
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities is studying ways Canada can respond to these challenges. Here, for your consideration, we present 15 comprehensive recommendations that would help our seniors remain active, contributing citizens of their communities while improving the quality of their lives. These range from increasing capital investment in residential care infrastructure, to enhancing assistance for caregivers, to improving the senior-friendliness of our neighbourhoods.
The task faced by this committee, indeed the task faced by all of Canada, is daunting. That said, it is manageable and great advances can be made on behalf of seniors. By doing so, we will ultimately deliver both health and financial benefits to all Canadians.
Dr. Laurent Marcoux, CMA President
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to submit this brief to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities as part of its study regarding how the Government can support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors population of tomorrow. This brief directly addresses the three themes considered by this Committee:
How the Government can improve access to housing for seniors including aging in place and affordable and accessible housing;
How the Government can improve income security for vulnerable seniors; and
How the Government can improve the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors including community programming, social inclusivity, and social determinants of health.
Improving access to housing for seniors
As part of a new National Housing Strategy, the federal government announced in the 2017 Budget that it will invest more than $11.2 billion in a range of initiatives designed to build, renew, and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help to ensure that Canadians have adequate and affordable housing that meets their needs. While a welcome step, physicians continue to see the problems facing seniors in relation to a lack of housing options and supports — problems that cascade across the entire health care system.
A major hindrance to social equity in health care delivery and a serious cause of wait times is the inappropriate placement of patients, particularly seniors, in hospitals. Alternate level of care (ALC) beds are often used in acute care hospitals to accommodate patients — most of whom are medically stable seniors — waiting for appropriate levels of home care or access to a residential care home/facility. High rates of ALC patients in hospitals affect all patients by contributing to hospital overcrowding, lengthy waits in emergency departments, delayed hospital admissions, cancelled elective surgeries, and sidelined ambulance services waiting to offload new arrivals (often referred to as code gridlock).1 Moreover, unnecessarily long hospital stays can leave patients vulnerable to hospital-acquired illnesses and disabilities such as delirium, deconditioning, and falls.
Daily costs - Ontario
$842: acute care hospital, per patient
$126: long-term care residence, per patient
$42: home care, per patient
# of acute care hospital beds = 18,571 14% waiting for placement = 2,600 beds
Providing more cost-effective and appropriate solutions will optimize the use of health care resources. It has been estimated that it costs $842 per day for a hospital bed versus $126 per day for a long-term care bed and $42 per day for care at home.2 An investment in appropriate home or residential care, which can take many forms, will alleviate inappropriate hospital admissions and facilitate timely discharges.
The residential care sector is facing significant challenges because of the rising numbers of older seniors with increasingly complex care needs. The demand for residential care will increase significantly over the next several years because of the growing number of frail elderly seniors requiring this service. New facilities will need to be constructed and existing facilities will need to be upgraded to comply with enhanced regulatory requirements and respond to residents’ higher care needs.
The Conference Board of Canada has produced a residential care bed forecast tied to population growth of age cohorts. It is estimated that Canada will require an average of 10,500 new beds per year over the next 19 years, for a total of 199,000 new beds by 2035. This forecast does not include the investments needed to renovate and retrofit existing long-term care homes.3 A recent report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information indicated that residential care capacity must double over the next 20 years (assuming no change in how care is currently provided), necessitating a transformation in how seniors care is provided across the continuum of care.4 These findings provide a sense of the immense challenges Canada faces in addressing the residential care needs of older seniors.
Investments in residential care infrastructure and continuing care will improve care for seniors while significantly reducing wait times in hospitals and across the system, benefiting all patients. Efforts to de-hospitalize the system and address the housing and residential care options for Canada’s aging population are key. The federal government can provide significant pan-Canadian assistance by investing in residential care infrastructure.
The CMA recommends that the federal government include capital investment in residential care infrastructure, including retrofit and renovation, as part of its commitment to invest in social infrastructure.
Improving income security for vulnerable seniors
Income is a key factor impacting the health of individuals and communities. Higher income and social status are linked to better health.5
Adequate Income: Poverty among seniors in Canada dropped sharply in the 1970s and 1980s but it has been rising in recent years. In 2012, the incidence of low income among people aged 65 years and over was 12.1%. This rate was considerably higher for single seniors at 28.5%.6
Incidence of low income (2012)
Seniors overall: 12.1%
Single seniors: 28.5%
Most older Canadians rely on Old Age Security (OAS), the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), and their personal pensions or investments to maintain their basic standard of living in retirement. Some seniors are also eligible for a Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to improve their financial security. The CMA recognizes the federal government’s actions to strengthen these programs and initiatives to ensure their viability and to provide sustainable tax relief. These measures must continue and evolve to support aging Canadians so they can afford to live at home or in age-friendly communities as they get older. The government’s actions to ensure adequate income support will also assist aging Canadians to take care of their health, maintain independence, and continue living safely without the need for institutional care.
On the topic of seniors’ income security, the financial abuse of seniors cannot be overlooked. Elder abuse can take many forms: financial, physical, psychological, sexual, and neglect. Often the abuser is a family member, friend, or other person in a position of trust. Researchers estimate that 4 to 10% of Canadian seniors experience abuse or neglect, but that only a small portion of this is reported. The CMA supports public awareness initiatives that bring attention to elder abuse, as well as programs to intervene with seniors who are abused and with their abusers.
The CMA recommends that the federal government take steps to provide adequate income support for older Canadians, as well as education and protection from financial abuse.
Improving the overall quality of life and well-being for seniors
Improving how we support and care for Canada’s growing seniors population has been a priority for CMA over the past several years. For the first time in Canada’s history, persons aged 65 years and older outnumber those under the age of 15 years.7 Seniors are projected to represent over 20% of the population by 2024 and up to 25% of the population by 2036.8 People aged 85 years and over make up the fastest growing age group in Canada — this portion of the population grew by 127% between 1993 and 2013.9 Statistics Canada projects, on the basis of a medium-growth scenario, that there will be over 11,100 Canadians aged 100 years and older by 2021, 14,800 by 2026 and 20,300 by 2036.7
Though age does not automatically mean ill health or disability, the risk of both increases with age. Approximately 75 to 80% of Canadian seniors report having one or more chronic conditions.10 Because of increasing rates of disability and chronic disease, the demand for health services is expected to increase as Canada’s population ages. The Conference Board of Canada has estimated 2.4 million Canadians 65 years and older will need continuing care, both paid and unpaid, by 2026 — a 71% increase since 2011.11
When publicly funded health care was created about 50 years ago, Canada’s population was just over 20 million and the average life expectancy was 71. Today, our population is over 36 million and the average life expectancy is 10 years longer. The aging of our population is both a success story and a pressing health policy issue.
National seniors strategy
Canada needs a new approach to ensure that both our aging population and the rest of Canadians can get the care they need, when and where they need it. The CMA believes that the federal government should invest in seniors care now, guided by a pan-Canadian seniors strategy. In doing so, it can help aging Canadians be as productive as possible — at work, in their communities, and in their homes.
The CMA is pleased with the June 2017 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance that called for the federal government to develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and Indigenous partners, a national seniors strategy in order to control spending growth while ensuring appropriate and accessible care.12 The CMA is also pleased that MP Marc Serré (Nickel Belt) secured support for his private members’ motion calling for the development of a national seniors strategy. Over 50,000 Canadians have already lent their support to this cause (see www.DemandaPlan.ca).
The CMA recommends that the federal government provide targeted funding to support the development of a pan-Canadian seniors strategy to address the needs of the aging population.
Improving assistance for home care and Canada’s caregivers
Many of the services required by seniors, in particular home care and long-term care, are not covered by the Canada Health Act. Funding for these services varies widely from province to province. The disparity among the provinces in terms of their fiscal capacity in the current economic climate will mean improvements in seniors care will advance at an uneven pace. The funding and delivery of accessible home care services will help more aging Canadians to recover from illness, live at home longer, and contribute to their families and communities. Multi-year funding arrangements to reinforce commitment to and financial investment in home care should be carefully considered.13 The development of innovative partnerships and models to help ensure services and resources for seniors’ seamless transition across the continuum of care are also important.
The CMA recommends governments work with the health and social services sectors, and with private insurers, to develop a framework for the funding and delivery of accessible and sustainable home care and long-term care services.
Family and friend caregivers are an extremely important part of the health care system. A 2012 Statistics Canada study found that 5.4 million Canadians provided care to a senior family member or friend, and 62% of caregivers helping seniors said that the care receiver lived in a private residence separate from their own.14 According to a report by Carers Canada, the Canadian Home Care Association, and the Canadian Cancer Action Network, caregivers provide an array of services including personal and medical care, housekeeping, advocacy, financial management, and social/emotional support. The report also indicated that caregivers contribute $25 billion in unpaid labour to our health system.15 Given their enormous contributions, Canada’s caregivers need support in the form of financial assistance, education, peer support, and respite care. A pan-Canadian caregiver strategy is needed to ensure caregivers are provided with the support they require.15
Personal and Medical Care
worth $25 billion in
Social-emo ional Suppor
The CMA recommends that the federal government and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian caregiver strategy, and expand the support programs currently offered to informal caregivers.
Canadians want governments to do more to help seniors and their family caregivers.16 The federal government’s new combined Canada Caregiver Credit
(CCC) is a non-refundable credit to individuals caring for dependent relatives with infirmities (including persons with disabilities). The CCC will be more accessible and will extend tax relief to more caregivers by including dependent relatives who do not live with their caregivers and by increasing the income threshold. Making the new CCC a refundable tax credit for caregivers whose tax owing is less than the total credit would result in a refund payment to provide further financial support for low-income families.
The CMA recommends that the federal government improve awareness of the new Canada Caregiver Credit and amend it to make it a refundable tax credit for caregivers.
The federal government’s recent commitment to provide $6 billion over 10 years to the provinces and territories for home care, including support for caregivers, is a welcome step toward improving opportunities for seniors to remain in their homes. As with previous bilateral funding agreements, it is important to establish clear operating principles between the parties to oversee the funding implementation and for the development of clear metrics to measure performance.
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop explicit operating principles for the home care funding that has been negotiated with the provinces and territories to recognize funding for caregivers and respite care as eligible areas of investment.
The federal government’s recent funding investments in home care and mental health recognize the importance of these aspects of the health care system. They also signal that Canada has under-invested in home and community-based care to date. Other countries have more supportive systems and programs in place — systems and programs that Canada should consider.
The CMA recommends the federal government convene an all-party parliamentary international study that includes stakeholders to examine the approaches taken to mitigate the inappropriate use of acute care for elderly persons and provide support for caregivers.
Programs and supports to promote healthy aging
The CMA believes that governments at all levels should invest in programs and supports to promote healthy aging, a comprehensive continuum of health services to provide optimal care and support to older Canadians, and an environment and society that is “age friendly”.17
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines healthy aging as “the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental health to enable seniors to take an active part in society without discrimination and to enjoy independence and quality of life.”18 It is believed that initiatives to promote healthy aging and enable older Canadians to maintain their health will help lower health care costs by reducing the overall burden of disability and chronic disease. Such initiatives should focus on physical activity, good nutrition, injury (e.g. falls) prevention, and seniors’ mental health (including depression).
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels support programs to promote physical activity, nutrition, injury prevention, and mental health among older Canadians.
For seniors who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex, and they may vary greatly from one person to another and involve many health care providers. Complex care needs demand a flexible and responsive health system. The CMA believes that quality health care for older Canadians should be delivered on a continuum from community-based health care (e.g. primary health care, chronic disease management programs), to home care
(e.g. visiting health care workers to give baths and foot care), to long-term care and palliative care. Ideally, this continuum should be managed so that the senior can remain at home and out of emergency departments, hospitals, and long-term care unless appropriate; easily access necessary care; and make a smooth transition from one level of care to another when necessary.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement models of integrated, interdisciplinary health service delivery for older Canadians.
Every senior should have the opportunity to have a family physician or to be part of a family practice that serves as a medical home. This provides a central hub for the timely provision and coordination of the comprehensive menu of health and medical services. A medical home should provide patients with access to medical advice and the provision of, or direction to, needed care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Research in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund found that the percentage of Canadian seniors who have a regular family physician or place of care is very high (98%); however, their ability to get timely access based on same-day or next-day appointments was among the lowest of 11 nations.19 Compared to seniors in most other countries surveyed, Canadian seniors were also more likely to use the emergency department and experience problems with care coordination.
The CMA recommends governments continue efforts to ensure that older Canadians have access to a family physician, supported by specialized geriatric services as appropriate.
Prescription drugs represent the fastest-growing item in the health budget and the second-largest category of health expenditure. As the population of seniors grows, there will be an ongoing need for detailed information regarding seniors’ drug use and expenditure to support the overall management of public drug programs.20 Despite some level of drug coverage for seniors in all provinces and territories, some seniors still skip doses or avoid filling prescriptions due to cost, and more research into the extent of this problem is required.21 The CMA supports the development of an equitable and comprehensive pan-Canadian pharmacare program. As a step toward comprehensive, universal coverage, the CMA has repeatedly called on the federal government to implement a system of catastrophic coverage for prescription medication to reduce cost barriers of treatment and ensure Canadians do not experience undue financial hardship. Moreover, with more drugs available to treat a large number of complex and chronic health conditions, the CMA supports the development of a coordinated national approach to reduce polypharmacy among the elderly.
The CMA recommends governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian pharmaceutical strategy that addresses both comprehensive coverage of essential medicines for all Canadians, and programs to encourage optimal prescribing and drug therapy.
Optimal care and support for older Canadians also depends on identifying, adapting, and implementing best practices in the care of seniors. PHAC’s Best Practices Portal22 is one noteworthy initiative, and the system needs to spread and scale best practices by leveraging and enhancing pan-Canadian resources that build capacity and improve performance in home care and other sectors.13
The CMA recommends that governments and other stakeholders support ongoing research to identify best practices in the care of seniors, and monitor the impact of various interventions on health outcomes and costs.
An environment and society that is “age friendly”
One of the primary goals of seniors policy in Canada is to promote the independence of older Canadians, avoiding costly institutionalization for as long as feasible. To help older Canadians successfully maintain their independence, governments and society must keep the social determinants of health in mind when developing and implementing policy that affects seniors. It is also important to eliminate discrimination against seniors and promote positive messaging around aging. An age-friendly society respects the experience, knowledge, and capabilities of its older members and accords them the same worth and dignity as it does other citizens.
Employment is also important for seniors who need or desire it. Many seniors are choosing to remain active in the workplace for a variety of reasons, such as adding to their financial resources or staying connected to a social network.23 The CMA recognizes the federal government’s support for seniors who opt to continue working. And, while many employers encourage older workers and accommodate their needs, employment may be difficult to find in workplaces that are unwilling to hire older workers.
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels and other partners give older Canadians access to opportunities for meaningful employment if they desire.
The physical environment, including the built environment, can help to promote seniors’ independence and successful, healthy aging. The World Health Organization defines an “age-friendly environment” as one that fosters health and well-being and the participation of people as they age.24 Age-friendly environments are accessible, equitable, inclusive, safe and secure, and supportive. They promote health and prevent or delay the onset of disease and functional decline. They provide people-centered services and support to enable recovery or to compensate for the loss of function so that people can continue to do the things that are important to them.24 These factors should be taken into consideration by those who design and build communities. For example, buildings should be designed with entrance ramps and elevators; sidewalks could have sloping curbs for walkers and wheelchairs; and frequent, accessible public transportation should be provided in neighbourhoods with large concentrations of seniors.
The CMA recommends that governments and communities take the needs of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems, and other aspects of the built environment.
The CMA recognizes the federal government’s commitment to support vulnerable seniors today while preparing for the diverse and growing seniors’ population of tomorrow. The CMA’s recommendations in this submission can assist the government as it seeks to improve access to housing for seniors, enhance income security for vulnerable seniors, and improve the overall quality of life for seniors in ways that will help to advance inclusion, well-being, and the health of Canada’s aging population.
To maximize the health and well-being of older Canadians, and ensure their active engagement and independence for as long as possible, the CMA believes that the health care system, governments, and society should work with older Canadians to promote healthy aging, provide quality patient-centred health care and support services, and build communities that value Canadians of all ages.
1 Simpson C. Code Gridlock: Why Canada needs a national seniors strategy. Address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa by Dr. Christopher Simpson, President, Canadian Medical Association; 2014 Nov. 18; Ottawa, Ontario. Available: https://www.cma.ca/En/Lists/Medias/Code_Gridlock_final. pdf#search=code%20gridlock (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
2 North East Local Health Integration Network. HOME First shifts care of seniors to HOME. LHINfo Minute, Northeastern Ontario Health Care Update. Sudbury: The Network; 2011. Cited by Home Care Ontario. Facts & figures - publicly funded home care. Hamilton: Home Care Ontario; 2017 Jun. Available: http://www.homecareontario.ca/home-care-services/facts-figures/publiclyfundedhomecare (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
3 Conference Board of Canada. A cost-benefit analysis of meeting the demand for long-term care beds. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; Manuscript submitted for publication.
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Seniors in transition: exploring pathways across the care continuum. Ottawa: The Institute; 2017. Available: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/seniors-in-transition-report-2017-en.pdf (accessed 2017 Jun 30).
5 World Health Organization. Health Impact Assessment (HIA). The determinants of health. Available: http://www.who.int/hia/evidence/doh/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
6 Statistics Canada. Persons in low income (after-tax low income measure), 2012. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Dec 10. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/141210/t141210a003-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 17).
7 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the provinces and territories, 2013 to 2063. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2014 Sep 17. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140917/dq140917a-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
8 Statistics Canada. Canada Year Book 2012, seniors. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11
402-x/2012000/chap/seniors-aines/seniors-aines-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Oct 18).
9 Public Health Agency of Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada, 2014: public health in the future. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/migration/phac-aspc/ cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/assets/pdf/2014-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
10 Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014 Nov. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2011_seniors_report_en.pdf (accessed 2016 Sept 19).
11 Stonebridge C, Hermus G, Edenhoffer K. Future care for Canadian seniors: a status quo forecast. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=7374 (accessed 2016 Sep 20).
12 Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. Getting ready: For a new generation of active seniors. Ottawa: The Committee; 2017 Jun. Available: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/NFFN/Reports/NFFN_Final19th_Aging_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 18).
13 Canadian Home Care Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association. Better Home Care in Canada: A National Action Plan. 2016. Ottawa: Canadian Home Care Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association; 2016. Available: http://www.thehomecareplan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Better-Home-Care-Report-Oct-web.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
14 Turcotte M, Sawaya C. Senior care: differences by type of housing. Insights on Canadian society. Cat. No. 75-006-X. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015 Feb 25. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-006-x/2015001/article/14142-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Sep 22).
15 Carers Canada, Canadian Home Care Association, Canadian Cancer Action Network. Advancing Collective Priorities: A Canadian Carer Strategy. 2017. Mississauga: Canadian Home Care Association, Canadian Cancer Action Network; 2017. Available: http://www.cdnhomecare.ca/media. php?mid=4918 (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
16 Ipsos Public Affairs, HealthCareCAN, Canadian College of Health Leaders. National Health Leadership Conference report. Toronto: Ipsos Public Affairs; 2016 Jun 6. Available: http://www.nhlc-cnls.ca/assets/2016%20Ottawa/NHLCIpsosReportJune1.pdf (accessed 2016 Jun 06).
17 Canadian Medical Association. Health and Health Care for an Aging Population. Ottawa: The Association; December 2013. Available: https:// www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Health_and_Health_Care_for_an_Aging-Population_ PD14-03-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 20).
18 Government of Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2010 – Canada’s experience in setting the stage for healthy aging. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/corporate/publications/ chief-public-health-officer-reports-state-public-health-canada/annual-report-on-state-public-health-canada-2010/chapter-2.html (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
19 Commonwealth Fund. 2014 International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults in Eleven Countries. 2014. New York: Commonweath Fund; 2014. Available: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/in-the-literature/2014/nov/pdf_1787_commonwealth_fund_2014_intl_ survey_chartpack.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
20 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug Use among Seniors on Public Drug Programs in Canada, 2002 to 2008. (2010). Ottawa: The Institute; 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/drug_use_in_seniors_2002-2008_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
21 Law MR, Cheng L, Dhalla IA, Heard D, Morgan SG. The effect of cost on adherence to prescription medications in Canada. CMAJ. 2012 Feb21;184(3):297-302. Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/3/297.short. (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
22 Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian Best Practices Portal. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2016. Available: http://cbpp-pcpe. phac-aspc.gc.ca/public-health-topics/seniors/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
23 Government of Canada. Action for Seniors report. 2014. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2014. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/ employment-social-development/programs/seniors-action-report.html (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
24 World Health Organization (WHO). Age-friendly environments. Geneva: WHO; 2017. Available: http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/age
friendly-environments/en/ (accessed 2017 Oct 23).
Antimicrobials (which include antibiotics) are a precious public resource and an essential tool for fighting infections in both humans and animals. Their importance to human medical, nutritional and economic security cannot be understated. Yet globally, antimicrobials are losing their effectiveness more quickly than new such drugs, treatments and therapies are being identified and introduced to market.1 Over time, this dynamic has eroded the human antimicrobial arsenal, placing the lives and futures of an unacceptable number of people at risk.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites come into contact with antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, antimalarials and anthelmintics, and undergo changes. The drugs are rendered ineffective and cannot eradicate infections from the body.
AMR is an international challenge that threatens to reverse over a century of progress in public health, health care and human development attributable to antimicrobial use. Indeed, the effects of AMR are already being felt across Canada’s health care system. Currently, Canada’s dedicated investment in solutions to militate against encroaching AMR in the AMR and antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) fields (both federally and provincially/territorially) can only be viewed as wholly inadequate to address the scope of the problem and the risks it poses for the health of Canadians.
Therefore, to: (1) promote awareness of AMR; (2) incentivize investment in AMR mitigation strategies; and (3) support the mobilization of an effective suite of more clinically effective management/treatment practices and policies, the following target audience recommendations are offered.a
a All the policy recommendations made in this document are not meant to be interpreted as clinical practice guidelines. Any individual who suspects they may have an infection should promptly consult a physician.
Key AMR principle — the “One Health” approach
a) The complexity of AMR underscores the need for coordinated action known as the “One Health” approach. The term implies integrated strategies that span the human, animal/agricultural and environmental sectors. Thus, cooperation across a wide variety of stakeholders is necessary to address the collective nature of AMR. These stakeholders include governments, health professionals, private and public partners, and the public at large.
b) The One Health approach will require attention and investment in the following domains: (1) surveillance of antimicrobial prescribing and usage; (2) infection prevention and control practices that mitigate the spread of resistant pathogens; (3) stewardship programs and practices that educate health professionals, the public, and the private sector and nudge each into more appropriate patterns of supply and demand; and (4) a program of innovation, research and development focused on diagnostics, vaccines and alternative treatments to reduce reliance on antimicrobials. This includes the development of novel antimicrobials that expand the currently available arsenal.
c) Given the global dimensions of AMR, a successful One Health approach will require ambitious investments in global AMR mitigation. Given that health infrastructure and resources are limited in low- to middle-income countries, the impacts of AMR will primarily be felt in those settings.
1. Physicians and allied health professionals
a) Be aware that AMR is a serious public health crisis.
b) Know that various Canadian prescribing aides/guidelines are available to assist physicians in choosing appropriate antibiotics and improving practice (e.g., Choosing Wisely Canada).
c) Know that using antibiotics appropriately can help combat AMR and that diagnosis and laboratory testing play a key role. This includes only prescribing antibiotics for conditions that are clinically infectious and of a non-viral nature. Viral infections are the greatest source of antibiotic misuse.
d) Consider delayed prescriptions and/or prioritize follow-up for patients when diagnosis is initially undifferentiated or when symptoms worsen, progress or are prolonged.
e) Know that prevention of infections through hand hygiene, vaccination and appropriate use of antibiotic prophylaxis is evidence based and effective
f) Know that durations of therapy and dosage rates for treating many infections change with time and that you should prescribe antimicrobials for the shortest effective duration (using the narrowest spectrum possible).
g) Consider the potential side effects of antibiotics (including C. difficile and allergic reactions) in prescribing and when counselling patients as to their potential side effects.
h) Engage in conversations with patients about antimicrobials regarding:
i. their appropriate use;
ii. their potential risks;
iii. when to delay, begin or end an antimicrobial prescription (e.g., delayed prescriptions); and
iv. when to seek medical reassessment if symptoms worsen or persist.
i) Ask your local hospital or specialty organization about educational initiatives related to antibiotic prescribing.
j) Collaborate where possible with colleagues in other prescribing professions to reduce unnecessary antimicrobial use.
2. Patients and the Canadian public
a) Be aware that AMR is a significant problem that is linked to the inappropriate use of antimicrobials like antibiotics. Therefore, commit to only taking antibiotics if they are prescribed and only as directed by an authorized health professional.
i. Never share, or use, the antibiotics of others as it may contribute to AMR and have serious consequences for your health.
b) Consider that your expectations about antimicrobials may unduly pressure physicians, and other prescribers, to provide you a prescription when an antimicrobial would not be appropriate or helpful.
c) Engage in a conversation with prescribers about:
i. whether an antimicrobial is necessary;
ii. the risks associated with taking an antimicrobial;
iii. whether there are simpler and safer options to pursue; and
iv. when you should take further actions if your symptoms worsen or do not improve.
d) Rather than keeping antimicrobials in your medicine cabinet, throwing them in the garbage/toilet or sharing them with family or friends, practise a One Health mindset. Dispose of all unused and expired antimicrobials at your local pharmacy. This will limit the spread of resistance and prevent antimicrobials from finding their way into the environment.
e) Help limit resistance by staying up to date with all recommended vaccinations, and practise good hand hygiene.
f) If you or a family member have had personal experiences with AMR, consider sharing them with local politicians (provincial/territorial and federal).
3. Governments (federal, provincial/territorial)
a) (Including internationally) immediately make substantial, long term, coordinated and directly dedicated financial investments in AMR and AMS. Specific areas to prioritize include:
i. AMR and AMS awareness campaigns targeted to the public;
ii. campaigns that support health professionals to incorporate AMS principles into their everyday practice;
iii. detailed, and integrated, action plans based on clear metrics of success and that address the needs of communities, primary care practitioners, patients and health care organizations (including long-term care facilities);
iv. practical surveillance of antimicrobial resistance, purchasing, prescribing and use that maximizes the opportunity to respond to changing landscapes;
v. studying in detail the links, and associated risks, between animal health and agricultural practices and human health;
vi. scaling up local AMS initiatives at the provincial/territorial and national health care delivery levels;
vii. pharmaceutical development pipelines and non-pharmacological treatment options for AMR infections;
viii. inexpensive, accurate and timely point-of-care diagnostic tests (usable in the community, at the bedside or in a clinic) to optimize prescribing; and
ix. fostering clinical research, development and innovation in the fields of AMR and AMS.
b) Scale up coordination between federal and provincial/territorial AMR and AMS activities.
c) Hold regular, high-level meetings of ministers of health, agriculture and finance (both federally and provincially/territorially) to discuss the implications of unchecked AMR and how best to mobilize public finances to address it.
d) Strongly consider an arms-length, national-level taskforce to address AMR and AMS.
e) Strengthen the roles of the chief public health officer and the provincial/territorial chief medical officers in addressing AMR and AMS.
f) Undertake a timely review of the Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (CARRS) with an emphasis on:
i. scaling up the system;
ii. standardizing all AMR reporting metrics across the country; and
iii. injecting adequate resources into AMR surveillance and tracking antimicrobial usage rates.
g) Establish a permanent review body on infectious disease, including pharmacists, microbiologist and other experts, to evaluate the forthcoming Pan-Canadian Action Plan on AMR and release regular progress reports.
4. Health care institutions and organizations
a) Implement strategic AMR plans that are coordinated, cross-departmental and adopted institution wide. These should be premised on:
i. standardized and comprehensive reporting metrics for AMR and antimicrobial usage;
ii. tailored infection prevention and control programs to screen for and effectively prevent new AMR infections;
iii. improving public and professional awareness of AMR organization wide;
iv. improving conservation measures such as prescribing practices (audit and feedback, incentives programs, etc.); and
v. supporting and incentivizing appropriate prescribing of antimicrobials.
b) Evaluate whether existing policies and procedures, diagnostics and testing capacities, and multidisciplinary and organizational cultures are strategically geared toward combatting AMR.
c) Where possible, develop collaborations with other local health institutions, clinical researchers and community, public and private partners to promote AMS.
5. Accreditation and regulatory bodies
a) Regularly review and establish meaningful criteria for accreditation, ethical codes and regulatory practice standards surrounding AMR and AMS so that practitioners and health institutions can be informed, supported and kept up to date on emerging AMR trends, practices and issues.
b) Adopt profession-specific mandatory requirements for AMR and AMS (proper credentialing and training, regular updating of knowledge and competence for prescribing antimicrobials, appropriate data collection regarding antimicrobial usage, etc.) as part of credentialing.
c) Work to promote, support and enhance existing AMS practices and programs.
d) Collaborate with health institutions, professional health associations and other accreditation and regulatory bodies to implement AMS goals/plans.
6. Colleges and faculties for medicine and allied health professions
a) Promote and support more educational resources for AMS and AMR, throughout the continuum of education (undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education).
i. Topics for these resources should include (1) awareness of AMR and AMS, (2) appropriate diagnostic testing, (3) strategies to minimize antimicrobial use and (4) personal prescribing practices.
b) Promote and support research on AMR and the implementation and dissemination of effective AMS strategies.
1 Public Health Agency of Canada. Tackling antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial use: a pan-Canadian framework for action. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2017. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/publications/drugs-health-products/tackling-antimicrobial-resistance-use-pan-canadian-framework-action/tackling-antimicrobial-resistance-use-pan-canadian-framework-action.pdf (accessed 2018 Aug 10).
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
See also CMA Policy Antimicrobial Resistance PD19-08
The world is at the tipping point of a post-antibiotic era. “Worldwide, we are relying more heavily on antibiotics to ensure our medical, nutritional, and economic security; while simultaneously causing the decline of their usefulness with overuse and ill-advised use.” It is estimated that the world’s use of antimicrobials increased by 65% between 2000 and 2015 — mainly in low- to middle-income countries.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the former head of the World Health Organization (WHO), described antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a slow-moving tsunami for public health. Other experts have characterized AMR as a looming “antibiotic apocalypse,” warning that all countries “will face disastrous consequences if the spread of AMR is not contained.” Others are now calling AMR the “climate change” of health care. According to the UK’s review on AMR, an estimated 10 million people globally will die annually by 2050, and AMR will surpass cancer to become the leading cause of death.
AMR occurs when “microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics). … As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.” Microorganisms that develop antimicrobial resistance are sometimes referred to as “superbugs.” “Nightmare bacteria,” as they have been dubbed, are bacterial strains that no conventional antimicrobial can effectively treat; their incidence is on the rise.
AMR represents a unique challenge for the medical profession as it is estimated that as many as 50% of current antibiotic prescriptions are either inappropriate or unnecessary. In addition, taking an antimicrobial involves potentially considerable exposure to side effects or risk. At stake are many currently routine, and lifesaving, forms of medical treatment. Critically, these include many medications for currently treatable bacterial infections, and many forms of surgery (including cesarean delivery), radiation therapy, chemotherapy and neonatal care.4
THE UNDERLYING DYNAMICS OF AMR
AMR is driven by a complex set of interlocking factors. These include: (1) increased global travel and medical tourism; (2) inappropriate, and unnecessarily high, use of antimicrobials in the agrifood sector; (3) poor medical prescribing practices; (4) inadequate implementation of infection prevention and control measures; (5) lack of knowledge, inappropriate expectations and misuse of antimicrobials on the part of the general public; (6) availability of poor-quality antimicrobials; (7) lack of access to rapid, affordable and accurate rapid diagnostic tools and infrastructure; (8) inadequate and underused surveillance data from AMR surveillance systems; (9) international travel rates; and (10) low commercial interest in, or support for, new antimicrobial research and development.
To make progress on AMR, we need to carefully think about how to address its various drivers. Antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) is a term describing coordinated efforts, at any program level, to: (1) promote the appropriate use of antimicrobials; (2) improve patient outcomes; (3) reduce microbial resistance and preserve the effectiveness of antimicrobials; and (4) decrease the spread of infections caused by multidrug-resistant organisms. AMS efforts are based on the “One Health” approach. These include: (1) surveillance; (2) conservation of existing AM effectiveness; (3) innovation through research and development; and (4) infection prevention and control.
Fundamentally, AMR can be thought of as a collective action problem, similar in character to the problem of climate change.3, While all stakeholders have a role to play in combatting AMR, each has very different resources, abilities and perspectives on AMR. Canada and much of the developed world have the luxury of health infrastructures, finances and regulatory frameworks that can make AMR mitigation possible. But in low- to middle-income countries — places where antibiotics might be the only real health care available — the very discussion of AMS can be perceived as threatening. Simply put, this illustrates the fact that solutions to AMR need to mobilize and leverage a collective strategy that is as broad and as connected as possible. To be successful, these solutions will need to do so in a manner that acknowledges the local reality of health care delivery.
Global investment in antimicrobial research and development is underwhelming, a dynamic described as a “drying up” of the pharmaceutical pipeline.8 This is evidenced by the recent large-scale withdrawal of major pharmaceutical companies from antimicrobial research and development, reflecting the lack of profitability in this area. On the pharmaceutical side, there are clear barriers to companies investing in the development of novel antimicrobials. Underlying factors include: (1) 10-year timelines, and an estimated minimum $1 billion price tag for development; (2) high development failure rates for new antimicrobials; (3) the inevitable emergence of resistance to any newly developed antimicrobial; (4) antimicrobials being offered at relatively cheap dosage rates over shorter durations of use; and (5) the need to preserve the efficacy of any antimicrobial’s future use, which limits their economic viability.8
WHAT ARE THE CANADIAN CONTEXTS?
AMR is already a major costly public health challenge in both the US and Canada. AMR infections are clearly linked to poorer health outcomes, longer hospital stays and higher mortality rates.3 The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) estimates that roughly 18,000 hospitalized Canadians contract drug-resistant infections per year. The Canadian Patient Safety Institute estimates that 8,000 Canadian patients die annually with an AMR-related infection. It is estimated that close to 23 million antibiotic prescriptions are written annually for patients in Canada, the approximate equivalent to 1.6% of the population being on an antimicrobial on any given day.
An action plan in Canada is being developed by PHAC. On the surface, the action plan appears comprehensive in that it outlines a One Health approach.10 However, despite commitments to take comprehensive, measurable action on AMS, Canadian leadership on AMR has historically lagged because of a lack of concrete coordination between PHAC and the provinces and because it has been challenging to implement local initiatives systemically.
Previous shortcomings were highlighted in the Auditor General of Canada’s 2015 report and again in a 2017 issue brief by HealthCareCAN.18 Although efforts continue and the action plan is set for release at some point in 2019, concerns remain that: (1) the scope of coordinated efforts with the provinces and territories requires an interest in cooperation that may not exist between the two levels of government; (2) relative to the scope of the problem, sufficient and dedicated resources won’t be allocated; and (3) efforts on the industrial and agricultural fronts may not be sufficiently coordinated with AMR efforts for human health.
In the spring of 2018 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) released a report outlining 10 recommendations for action on AMR in Canada. Although the federal government “accepted” most of the committee’s recommendations, no meaningful (and dedicated) AMR funding has been announced in advance of the action plan’s launch. Indeed, the federal government’s response to the HESA report sought to downplay the need for either urgent action or additional resources. This was done by pointing to nominal federal AMR efforts over the span of more than a decade.
It should be noted that a small number of excellent localized AMS initiatives exist and have begun yielding promising local AMS results in Canada. AMR and AMS champions such as Choosing Wisely Canada, Do Bugs Need Drugs, and the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada have long argued that with proper resourcing, localized initiatives can be scaled up to a systemic level of application within provincial health care systems.
GLOBALLY, WHERE DOES AMR STAND?
Urgent action is required at an international level to combat AMR. Although AMR remains a complex public health challenge, the benefits of AMS are clear. The preservation of these precious resources will save lives and can positively affect both quality of care and health care delivery costs.7,14 Globally, many higher income nations and, increasingly, middle-income countries have now developed AMR/AMS action plans. Like the situation in Canada, these emerging and existing global action strategies remain largely unimplemented. Initial cash infusions into the AM drug development pipeline are beginning to emerge.8
Despite this, experts warn that such investments are too short term and wholly inadequate to address the scope of the looming AMR crisis.8, This reflects the many complexities that exist in the implementation of AMR action plans, owing in large part to: (1) a general lack of resources or prioritization; (2) complacency about AMR as a pressing public health concern; (3) difficulties in generalizing local AMS efforts; (4) coordination between sectorial actors; and (5) a lack of tangible AMR metrics and evidence.
If AMS gains are to be made in low- and middle-income countries, the impact of limited resources in those settings will need to be considered.13 Realistically these countries will require various forms of monetary incentives and assistance to be able to effectively adopt AMR programs. If such support is not provided, human health rights will be affected and global AMS efforts will be undermined. Finally, there are now well-established calls for an international model, even a treaty, to be implemented on AMR/AMS.12,
Homeless and vulnerably housed populations are heterogeneous
and continue to grow in numbers in urban and
rural settings as forces of urbanization collide with gentrification and austerity policies.2
Collectively, they face dangerous living conditions and marginalization within health care systems.3
However, providers can improve the health of people who
are homeless or vulnerably housed, most powerfully by following
evidence-based initial steps, and working with communities and
adopting anti-oppressive practices.1,4,5
Broadly speaking, “homelessness” encompasses all individuals without stable, permanent and acceptable housing, or lacking the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it.6
Under such conditions, individuals and families face intersecting
social, mental and physical health risks that significantly increase
morbidity and mortality.7,8 For example, people who are homeless
and vulnerably housed experience a significantly higher prevalence of trauma, mental health conditions and substance use disorders than the general population.7,9 Canadian research reports
that people who experience homelessness face life expectancies
as low as 42 years for men and 52 years for women.7
A generation ago, homeless Canadians were largely middleaged, single men in large urban settings.10 Today, the epidemiology has shifted to include higher proportions of women, youth,
Indigenous people (Box 1), immigrants, older adults and people
from rural communities.13,14 For example, family homelessness
(and therefore homelessness among dependent children and
youth) is a substantial, yet hidden, part of the crisis.15 In 2014, of
the estimated 235 000 homeless people in Canada, 27.3% were
women, 18.7% were youth, 6% were recent immigrants or
migrants, and a growing number were veterans and seniors.10
Practice navigators, peer-support workers and primary care
providers are well placed to identify social causes of poor health
and provide orientation to patient medical homes.16,17 A patient’s
medical home is “a family practice defined by its patients as the
place they feel most comfortable presenting and discussing their
personal and family health and medical concerns.”18 Medical
care is “readily accessible, centred on the patients’ needs, provided throughout every stage of life, and seamlessly integrated
with other services in the health care system and the community”
(https://patientsmedicalhome.ca). Primary care providers are
also well positioned to mobilize health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and rehabilitation services.19
GUIDELINE VULNERABLE POPULATIONS CPD
Clinical guideline for homeless and vulnerably
housed people, and people with lived
Kevin Pottie MD MClSc, Claire E. Kendall MD PhD, Tim Aubry PhD, Olivia Magwood MPH,
Anne Andermann MD DPhil, Ginetta Salvalaggio MD MSc, David Ponka MDCM MSc, Gary Bloch MD,
Vanessa Brcic MD, Eric Agbata MPH MSc, Kednapa Thavorn PhD, Terry Hannigan, Andrew Bond MD,
Susan Crouse MD, Ritika Goel MD, Esther Shoemaker PhD, Jean Zhuo Jing Wang BHSc, Sebastian Mott MSW,
Harneel Kaur BHSc, Christine Mathew MSc, Syeda Shanza Hashmi BA, Ammar Saad, Thomas Piggott MD,
Neil Arya MD, Nicole Kozloff MD, Michaela Beder MD, Dale Guenter MD MPH, Wendy Muckle BScN MHA,
Stephen Hwang MD, Vicky Stergiopoulos MD, Peter Tugwell MD
n Cite as: CMAJ 2020 March 9;192:E240-54. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.190777
CMAJ Podcasts: author interview at https://soundcloud.com/cmajpodcasts/190777-guide
See related article at www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200199
Clinical assessment and care of homeless and vulnerably housed
populations should include tailoring approaches to a person’s
gender, age, Indigenous heritage, ethnicity and history of
trauma; and advocacy for comprehensive primary health care.
As initial steps in the care of homeless and vulnerably housed
populations, permanent supportive housing is strongly
recommended, and income assistance is also recommended.
Case-management interventions, with access to psychiatric
support, are recommended as an initial step to support primary
care and to address existing mental health, substance use and
Harm-reduction interventions, such as supervised consumption
facilities, and access to pharmacologic agents for opioid use
disorder, such as opioid agonist treatment, are recommended
for people who use substances.
MARCH 9, 2020
ISSUE 10 E241
However, the social and health resources available to homeless
and vulnerably housed people may vary based on geographic
setting, municipal resources, housing coordination, and patients’
mental health and substance use–related care needs. In addition, many physical and mental health disorders remain undiagnosed or inconsistently treated because of missed opportunities
for care, patient mistrust of the health care system or limited
access to health services.3
Homeless and vulnerably housed people can benefit from
timely and effective health, addiction and social interventions.
Our guideline provides initial steps for practice, policy and future
research, and is intended to build collaboration among clinicians, public health providers and allied health providers. Values
such as trauma-informed and patient-centred care, and dignity
are needed to foster trust and develop sustainable therapeutic
relationships with homeless and vulnerably housed people.20,21
The purpose of this clinical practice guideline is to inform providers
and community organizations of the initial priority steps and effective interventions for homeless and vulnerably housed people. The
guideline addresses upstream social and health needs (i.e., housing), as well as downstream health-related consequences of inadequate housing. The target audiences are health providers, policymakers, public health practitioners and researchers.
Our guideline does not aim to address all conditions associated with homelessness, nor does it aim to discuss in depth the
many etiologies of homelessness, such as childhood trauma, the
housing market, or the root causes of low social assistance rates
and economic inequality. Rather, this guideline aims to reframe
providers’ approach toward upstream interventions that can
prevent, treat and work toward ending the morbidity and mortality associated with homelessness.
A parallel set of Indigenous-specific clinical guidelines is currently being developed by an independent, Indigenous-led
team.22 This process recognizes the distinct rights of Indigenous
Peoples, including the right to develop and strengthen their own
economies, social and political institutions; the direct links
between historic and ongoing colonial policies and Indigenous
homelessness; and the need for Indigenous leadership and participation in research that is about Indigenous Peoples.
The steering committee and guideline panel members developed
and approved recommendations to improve social and health
outcomes for homeless and vulnerably housed people. The order
of these recommendations highlights priority steps for homeless
health care. We list a summary of the recommendations in Table 1
and we present our list of good practice statements in Table 2.
These good practice statements are based on indirect evidence
and support the delivery of the recommendations.
The methods used to develop the recommendations are
described later in this document. A summary of how to use this
guideline is available in Box 2.
Permanent supportive housing
Identify homelessness or housing vulnerability and willingness to consider housing interventions.
Ensure access of homeless or vulnerably housed individuals to
local housing coordinator or case manager (i.e., call 211 or
via a social worker) for immediate link to permanent supportive housing and/or coordinated access system (moderate certainty, strong recommendation).
Our systematic review (Tim Aubry, University of Ottawa, Ottawa,
Ont.: unpublished data, 2020) identified 14 trials on permanent
supportive housing (PSH).30–43 Several trials across Canada and the
United States showed that PSH initiatives house participants more
rapidly compared with usual services (73 v. 220 d; adjusted absolute difference 146.4, 95% confidence interval [CI] 118.0 to 174.9);30
increase the number of people who maintain stable housing at
2 years (pooled odds ratio [OR] 3.58, 95% CI 2.36 to 5.43);30,40 and
significantly increase the percentage of days spent stably
housed.41 No trials showed a significant improvement in mental
health symptoms compared with standard care.30,31,33,34,41,42
Two studies found that the mental health of PSH participants did
not improve as much as that of usual care participants (e.g., mean
difference –0.49, 95% CI –0.85 to –0.12).30,31
The At Home/Chez Soi trial showed small improvements in quality
of life for high-needs (adjusted standardized mean difference 0.15,
95% CI 0.04 to 0.24)30 and moderate-needs (mean difference 4.37,
95% CI 1.60 to 7.14) homeless participants in patients receiving PSH.41
Youth receiving PSH saw larger improvements in their quality of life
during the first 6 months (mean difference 9.30, 95% CI 1.35 to 17.24),
which diminished over time (mean difference 7.29, 95% CI –1.61 to
16.18).44 No trials showed a significant improvement in substance use
compared with standard care.30,33,41–43 Most trials reported no effect of
PSH on acute care outcomes (e.g., number of emergency department
visits and percentage of participants admitted to hospital).30,41 However, 2 trials suggest that PSH participants had lower rates of hospital
admission (rate reductions of 29%, 95% CI 10 to 44) and time in hospital (e.g., mean difference –31, 95% CI –48 to –14).34,38,45 One trial found
no effect of PSH on job tenure, hours of work per week or hourly wage
compared with standard care.46 Participants receiving PSH may have
increased odds of employment, but this depends on the severity of
participant needs.46 One trial found no effect on income outcomes.46
Box 1: Indigenous homelessness
Indigenous homelessness is a term used to describe First Nations,
Métis and Inuit individuals, families or communities who lack
stable, permanent and appropriate housing, or the immediate
prospects, means or ability to acquire such housing. However, this
term must be interpreted through an Indigenous lens to
understand the factors contributing to this condition. These
factors include individuals, families and communities isolated
from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each
other, animals, cultures, languages and identities as well as the
legacy of colonialism and genocide.11 It is estimated that urban
Indigenous people are 8 times more likely to experience
homelessness than the general population.11,12
The certainty of the evidence was rated moderate, because
blinding of participants and personnel was not feasible in any of
the trials we examined as a result of the nature of the intervention. Furthermore, several trials did not employ allocation concealment or blinding of outcome-assessment procedures, which
could introduce high risks of detection and performance biases.
Identify income insecurity.
Assist individuals with income insecurity to identify incomesupport resources and access income (low certainty, conditional recommendation).
We identified 10 trials on income-assistance interventions, including
rental assistance,47–56 financial empowerment,47 social enterprise
interventions,48 individual placement and support,48,54 and compensated work therapy.52 Our systematic review showed the benefit that
income-assistance interventions have on housing stability (Gary
Bloch, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont., and Vanessa Brcic, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC: unpublished data, 2020).
Rental assistance increased the likelihood of being stably housed
(OR 4.60, 95% CI 3.10 to 6.83).56 Rental assistance combined with
case management increased the number of days in stable housing
per 90-day period compared with case management alone (mean
Table 1: Summary of evidence-based recommendations
Recommendations and clinical considerations Grade rating*
Recommendation 1: A homeless or vulnerably housed person Moderate certainty
Ensure access for homeless or vulnerably housed individuals to local housing coordinator or case manager (i.e., call
211 or via a social worker) for immediate link to permanent supportive housing and coordinated access system.
Clinical considerations: Many jurisdictions will provide alternative housing services for specific marginalized
populations, for example, Indigenous people, women and families, youth, those who identify as LGBTQ2+, those
with disabilities, refugees and migrants.
Recommendation 2: A homeless or vulnerably housed person with experience of poverty, income instability or
living in a low-income household
Assist individuals with income insecurity to identify income-support resources and access income.
Clinical considerations: Consult poverty screening tools when needed (e.g., https://cep.health/clinical-products
Recommendation 3: A homeless or vulnerably housed person with multiple comorbid or complex health needs
(including mental illness and/or substance use)
Identify history of severe mental illness, such as psychotic or mood and anxiety disorders, associated with
substantial disability, substance use, or multiple/complex health needs.
Ensure access to local community mental health programs, psychiatric services for assessment, and linkage to
intensive case management, assertive community treatment or critical time intervention where available.
Clinical considerations: Call 211 or consult primary care providers, social workers or case managers familiar
with local access points and less intensive community mental health programs.
Recommendation 4: A homeless or vulnerably housed person currently using opioids Very low certainty
Identify opioid use disorder.
Ensure access within primary care or via an addiction specialist to opioid agonist therapy (OAT), potentially in
collaboration with a public health or community health centre for linkage to pharmacologic interventions.
Clinical considerations: Encourage all patients taking opioid medication to have a naloxone kit. Though barriers
to prescribing methadone and buprenorphine remain, be aware of new regulations that aim to facilitate OAT
access and options in your jurisdiction, in particular for buprenorphine.
Recommendation 5: A homeless or vulnerably housed person with substance use disorder Very low certainty
Identify, during history or physical examination, problematic substance use, including alcohol or other drugs.
Identify the most appropriate approach, or refer to local addiction and harm-reduction/prevention services
(e.g., supervised consumption facilities, managed alcohol programs) via appropriate local resources such as
public health or community health centre or local community services centre.
Clinical considerations: In case of active opioid use disorder, facilitate patient access to OAT. Patients should be
made aware of supervised consumption facility locations (Appendix 1, available at www.cmaj.ca/lookup/suppl/
Note: LGBTQ2+ = lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and two-spirited.
*See Box 2 for definitions.
†211 is a special abbreviated telephone number reserved in Canada and the United States as an easy-to-remember 3-digit telephone number meant to provide information and
referrals to health, human and social service organizations.
ISSUE 10 E243
difference 8.58, p < 0.004).55 Compensated work therapy was found
to reduce the odds of homelessness (OR 0.1, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.3).52 No
income interventions showed an effect on mental health
The impact of these interventions on substance use outcomes
were mixed. Provision of housing vouchers did not affect substance
use over 3 years;55 however, compensated work therapy showed
immediate reductions in drug (reduction: –44.7%, standard error [SE]
12.8%; p = 0.001) and alcohol use problems (–45.4%, SE 9.4%; p =
0.001), as well as the number of substance use–related physical
symptoms (–64.4%, SE 8.0%; p = 0.001).52 These differences, however, tended to decline with time. No significant effects were found
on overall quality-of-life, finances, health and social relations scores.
Provision of housing vouchers resulted in higher family-relations
score and satisfaction, and quality of housing compared with standard care.55 One trial reported that rental assistance was associated
with reduced emergency department visits and time spent in hospital, but this reduction was not significantly different than in the comparator group.56 Individual placement and support was found to
improve employment rates only when there was high fidelity to the
model (OR 2.42, 95% CI 1.13 to 5.16).54 Financial-empowerment education and provision of housing vouchers had no effect on employment outcomes.47,55 Financial-empowerment education and individual placement and support had no effect on hourly wages.47,54
Provision of housing vouchers had no effect on monthly income.55
The certainty of the evidence was rated low because several
trials introduced high risk of detection and performance bias. Furthermore, 1 trial reported low consent rates of 47% and a 1:4 sampling ratio that further limited statistical power.52 As well, participants in the control group wanting to enter income-assistance
programs after completing the study had incentives to underreport
symptoms, which introduced high risk for measurement bias.
Identify history of severe mental illness, such as psychotic or
mood and anxiety disorders, associated with substantial disability, substance use disorders, or multiple or complex
Ensure access to local community mental health programs,
psychiatric services for assessment and linkage to intensive
case management, assertive community treatment or critical
time intervention where available (low certainty, conditional
Our systematic review examined the effectiveness of standard
case management, as well as specific intensive casemanagement interventions, such as assertive community treatment, intensive case management and critical time intervention
among homeless and vulnerably housed populations and corresponding level of need (David Ponka, University of Ottawa,
Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished data, 2020). We included a total of
56 citations, of which 10 trials reported on standard case management,51,57–65 8 trials on assertive community treatment,66–73
16 trials on intensive case management74–89 and 5 trials on critical
Box 2: How to use and understand this GRADE guideline
This guideline supplies providers with evidence for decisions
concerning interventions to improve health and social outcomes
for people who are homeless or vulnerably housed. This guideline
is not meant to replace clinical judgment. Statements about
clinical considerations, values and preferences are integral parts of
the recommendations meant to facilitate interpretation and
implementation of the guideline. Recommendations in this
guideline are categorized according to the Grading of
Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation
(GRADE) system as strong or conditional recommendations.
Strong recommendations indicate that all or almost all fully
informed patients would choose the recommended course of
action, and indicate to clinicians that the recommendation is
appropriate for all or almost all individuals. Strong
recommendations represent candidates for quality-of-care criteria
or performance indicators.
Conditional recommendations indicate that most informed
patients would choose the suggested course of action, but an
appreciable minority would not. With conditional
recommendations, clinicians should recognize that different
choices will be appropriate for individual patients, and they should
help patients arrive at a decision consistent with their values and
preferences. Conditional recommendations should not be used as
a basis for standards of practice (other than to mandate shared
Good practice statements represent common-sense practice, are
supported by indirect evidence and are associated with assumed
large net benefit.
Clinical considerations provide practical suggestions to support
implementation of the GRADE recommendation.
GRADE certainty ratings
High: further research is very unlikely to change our confidence in
the estimate of effect.
Moderate: further research is likely to have an important impact on
the confidence in the estimate of effect and may change the estimate.
Low: further research is very likely to have an important impact
on our confidence in the estimate of effect and is likely to change
Very low: any estimate of the effect is very uncertain.
Table 2: Good practice statements to support delivery of care
Good practice statement
1. Homeless and vulnerably housed populations
should receive trauma-informed and personcentred care.
2. Homeless and vulnerably housed populations
should be linked to comprehensive primary
care to facilitate the management of multiple
health and social needs.
3. Providers should collaborate with public health
and community organizations to ensure
programs are accessible and resources
appropriate to meet local patient needs.
Of 10 trials on standard case management, 10 evaluated
housing stability. Only 3 reported significant decreases in homelessness,57,62,63 an effect that diminished over time in 1 trial of a
time-limited residential case management in which participants
in all groups accessed substantial levels of services.57 A program
tailored to women reduced the odds of depression at 3 months
(OR 0.38, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.99), but did not show improvements in
the women’s overall mental health status (mean difference 4.50,
95% CI –0.98 to 9.98).64 One trial reported higher levels of hostility (p < 0.001) and depression symptoms (p < 0.05) among female
participants receiving nurse-led standard case management
compared with those receiving standard care.60 Few studies
reported on substance use, quality of life, employment or
Findings of assertive community treatment on housingstability, quality-of-life and hospital-admission outcomes are
mixed. Two trials found that participants receiving the treatment
reported fewer days homeless (p < 0.01)71 and more days in community housing (p = 0.006),70 whereas 2 trials reported no effect
on episodes of homelessness or number of days homeless.66,73
Further, these interventions showed an added benefit in reducing the number of participants admitted to hospital (mean difference –8.6, p < 0.05) and with visits to the emergency department
(mean difference –1.2, p = 0.009).67 Most trials of assertive community treatment reported no significant differences in mental
health outcomes, including psychiatric symptoms, substance
use, or income-related outcomes between the treatment and
Intensive case management reduced the number of days
homeless (pooled standardized mean difference –0.22, 95% CI
–0.40 to –0.03), but not the number of days spent in stable housing.78,80,89 In most studies, there was no major improvement in
psychological symptoms between the treatment and control
groups. However, 1 trial reported significantly greater reductions
in anxiety, depression and thought disturbances after 24 months
(mean difference change from baseline –0.32, p = 0.007), as well
as improved life satisfaction (mean difference 1.23, p = 0.001)
using intensive case management.86 One trial reported no significant difference in quality of life.83 Findings on substance use
were mixed. Six of the 10 trials reported that intensive case management was associated with improvements in substance use
behaviours.74,78,82,84,87,88 Participants receiving intensive case management reported fewer visits to the emergency department
(mean difference 19%, p < 0.05) but did not have shorter hospital
stays compared with control groups.85 Intensive case management had no effect on the number of days of employment, or on
income received from employment; however, income received
by participants through public assistance increased (e.g., mean
difference 89, 95% CI 8 to 170).78,85
Critical time intervention was beneficial in reducing the number of homeless nights (mean difference –591, p < 0.001) and the
odds of homelessness (OR 0.23, 95% CI 0.06 to 0.90) during the
final 18 weeks of follow-up.91 Participants receiving the treatment were rehoused sooner than those receiving standard
care,95 but did not spend more days rehoused.90 Adults receiving
critical time intervention showed significant improvements in
psychological symptoms (mean difference –0.14, 95% CI –0.29 to
0.01).90 However, findings for children’s mental health were
mixed: children aged 1.5–5 years showed improvements in internalizing (ß coefficient –3.65, 95% CI –5.61 to –1.68) and externalizing behaviours (ß coefficient –3.12, 95% CI –5.37 to –0.86),
whereas changes for children aged 6–10 years and 11–16 years
were not significant.93 There were no significant effects of critical
time intervention on substance-use,90 quality-of-life90,92 or
income-related outcomes.96 Two trials reported mixed findings
on hospital admission outcomes; in 1 study, allocation to critical
time intervention was associated with reduced odds of hospital
admission (OR 0.11, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.96) and total number of
nights in hospital (p < 0.05) in the final 18 weeks of the trial.97
However, another study reported a greater total number of
nights in hospital for the treatment group compared with usual
care (1171 v. 912).98
The certainty of the evidence was rated low because several
trials introduced high risk of detection and performance bias.
Opioid agonist therapy
Ensure access to opioid agonist therapy in primary care or by
referral to an addiction specialist, potentially in collaboration
with public health or community health centre for linkage to
pharmacologic interventions (low certainty, conditional
We conducted a review of systematic reviews on pharmalogic
interventions for opioid use disorder.99 Twenty-four reviews,
which included 352 unique primary studies, reported on pharmacologic interventions for opioid use disorder among general
populations.100–123 We expanded our inclusion criteria to general
populations, aware that most studies among “general populations” had a large representation of homeless populations in
their samples. We did not identify any substantial reason to
believe that the mechanisms of action of our interventions of
interest would differ between homeless populations who use
substances and the general population of people who use substances. Reviews on pharmacologic interventions reported on
the use of methadone, buprenorphine, diacetylmorphine (heroin), levo-a-acetylmethadol, slow-release oral morphine and
hydromorphone for treatment of opioid use disorder.
We found pooled all-cause mortality rates of 36.1 and 11.3 per
1000 person years for participants out of and in methadone
maintenance therapy, respectively (rate ratio 3.20, 95% CI 2.65 to
3.86), and mortality rates of 9.5 per 1000 person years for those
not receiving buprenorphine maintenance therapy compared
with 4.3 per 1000 person years among those receiving the therapy (rate ratio 2.20, 95% CI 1.34 to 3.61).116 Overdose-specific
mortality rates were similarly affected, with pooled overdose
mortality rates of 12.7 and 2.6 per 1000 person years for participants out of and in methadone maintenance therapy, and rates
of 4.6 and 1.4 per 1000 person years out of and in buprenorphine
maintenance therapy.116 Compared with nonpharmacologic
approaches, methadone maintenance therapy had no significant
ISSUE 10 E245
effect on mortality (relative risk 0.48, 95% CI 0.10 to 2.39).110 With
respect to morbidity, pharmacologic interventions for opioid use
disorder reduced the risk of hepatitis C virus (HCV) acquisition
(risk ratio 0.50, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.63)112 and HIV infection.103
Adverse events were reported for all agents.100,109,119,122 Treatment with methadone and buprenorphine was associated with
reduced illicit opioid use (standardized mean difference –1.17,
95% CI –1.85 to –0.49).109 Availability of buprenorphine treatment
expanded access to treatment for patients unlikely to enrol in
methadone clinics and facilitated earlier access for recent initiates to opioid use.117 The relative superiority of one pharmacologic agent over another on retention outcomes remains unclear;
however, use of methadone was found to show better benefits
than nonpharmacologic interventions for retention (risk ratio
4.44, 95% CI 3.26 to 6.04).110
The certainty of evidence ranged from very low to moderate,
primarily because of inconsistency, high risk of bias and evidence
from nonrandomized studies.
Identify problematic substance use, including alcohol or other
Identify the most appropriate approach or refer to local addiction and harm reduction/prevention services (e.g., supervised
consumption facilities, managed alcohol programs) via appropriate local resources, such as public health or community
health centre or les centres locaux de services communautaires (low certainty, conditional recommendation).
We conducted a review of systematic reviews on supervised
consumption facilities and managed alcohol programs.99 Two
systematic reviews, which included 90 unique observational
studies and 1 qualitative meta-synthesis reported on supervised
consumption facilities.124–126 For managed alcohol programs,
1 Cochrane review had no included studies,127 and 2 greyliterature reviews reported on 51 studies.128,129
Establishment of supervised consumption facilities was associated with a 35% decrease in the number of fatal opioid overdoses within 500 m of the facility (from 253.8 to 165.1 deaths per
100 000 person years, p = 0.048), compared with 9% in the rest of
the city (Vancouver).124 There were 336 reported opioid overdose
reversals in 90 different individuals within the Vancouver facility
over a 4-year period (2004–2008).125 Similar protective effects
were reported in Australia and Germany. Observational studies
conducted in Vancouver and Sydney showed that regular use of
supervised consumption facilities was associated with decreased
syringe sharing (adjusted OR 0.30, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.82), syringe
reuse (adjusted OR 2.04, 95% CI 1.38 to 3.01) and public-space
injection (adjusted OR 2.79, 95% CI 1.93 to 3.87).125 These facilities mediated access to ancillary services (e.g., food and shelter)
and fostered access to broader health support.125,126 Attendance
at supervised consumption facilities was associated with an
increase in referrals to an addiction treatment centre and initiation of methadone maintenance therapy (adjusted hazard ratio
1.57, 95% CI 1.02 to 2.40).125
Evidence on supervised consumption facilities was rated very
low to low, as all available evidence originated from nonrandomized studies.
There was a lack of high-quality evidence for managed alcohol
programs. Few studies reported on deaths among clients of these
programs.128 The effects of managed alcohol programs on hepatic
function are mixed, with some studies reporting improvement in
hepatic laboratory markers over time, and others showing
increases in alcohol-related hepatic damage;129 however, this may
have occurred regardless of entry into such a program. This evidence suggested that managed alcohol programs result in stabilized alcohol consumption and can facilitate engagement with
medical and social services.128 Clients experienced significantly
fewer social, health, safety and legal harms related to alcohol
consumption.129 Individuals participating in these programs had
fewer hospital admissions and a 93% reduction in emergency service contacts.128 The programs also promoted improved or stabilized mental health128 and medication adherence.129
Cost effectiveness and resource implications
Permanent supportive housing
We found 19 studies assessing the cost and net cost of housing
interventions.30,41,45,130–145 In some studies, permanent supportive
housing interventions were associated with increased cost to the
payers, and the costs of the interventions were only partially offset by savings in medical and social services as a result of the
intervention.30,41,131–134,142 Six studies showed that these interventions saved payers money.135,137,139,141,144,145 Four of these studies,
however, employed a pre–post design.135,139,141,145 Moreover,
1 cost-utility analysis of PSH suggested that the provision of housing services was associated with increased costs and increased
quality-adjusted life years, with an incremental cost-effectiveness
ratio of US$62 493 per quality-adjusted life year.136 Compared
with usual care, PSH was found to be more costly to society (net
cost Can$7868, 95% CI $4409 to $11 405).138
Two studies55,146 focused on the cost effectiveness of incomeassistance interventions. Rental assistance with clients receiving
case-management intervention had greater annual costs compared with usual care or groups receiving only case management.55 For each additional day housed, clients who received
income assistance incurred additional costs of US$58 (95% CI $4
to $111) from the perspective of the payer, US$50 (95% CI –$17 to
$117) from the perspective of the health care system and US$45
(95% CI –$19 to $108) from the societal perspective. The benefit
gained from temporary financial assistance was found to outweigh its costs with a net savings of US$20 548.146
Twelve publications provided evidence on cost and costeffectiveness of case-management interventions.44,55,67,69,73,75,88,96,147–150
Findings of these studies were mixed; the total cost incurred by
clients of standard case management was higher than that of
clients receiving usual or standard care61,88 and assertive
community treatment,67,147 but lower compared with a US clinical
case-management program that included housing vouchers and
intensive case management.55 Cost-effectiveness studies using a
societal perspective showed that standard case management
was not cost effective compared with assertive community
treatment for people with serious mental disorders or those with
a concurrent substance-use disorder, as it was more expensive.67
For intensive case management, the cost of supporting housing
with this program could be partially offset by reductions in the use
of emergency shelters and temporary residences.41 Intensive case
management is more likely to be cost effective when all costs and
benefits to society are considered.41 A pre–post study showed that
providing this program to high-need users of emergency departments resulted in a net hospital cost savings of US$132 726.150
Assertive community treatment interventions were associated with lower costs compared with usual care.66,67,73,148,149 We
identified only 1 study on the cost effectiveness of critical time
intervention that reported comparable costs (US$52 574 v.
US$51 749) of the treatment compared with the usual services
provided to men with severe mental illness.96
Interventions for substance use
We identified 2 systematic reviews that reported findings from
6 studies in Vancouver on the cost effectiveness of supervised
consumption facilities;124,125 5 of these 6 studies found the facilities to be cost effective. After consideration of facility operating
costs, supervised consumption facilities saved up to Can$6 million from averted overdose deaths and incident HIV cases. Similarly, Can$1.8 million was saved annually from the prevention of
incident HCV infection.
Providers can, in partnership with directly affected communities,
employ a range of navigation and advocacy tools to address the
root causes of homelessness, which include poverty caused by
inadequate access to social assistance, precarious work, insufficient access to quality child care, social norms that allow the
propagation of violence in homes and communities, inadequate
supports for patients and families living with disabilities or going
through life transitions, and insufficient and poor-quality housing stock.151 In addition, providers should tailor their approach to
the patient’s needs and demographics, taking into account
access to services, personal preferences and other illnesses.152
Providers should also recognize the social and human value
of accepting homeless and vulnerably housed people into their
clinical practices. The following sections provide additional evidence for underserved and marginalized populations.
A scoping review of the literature on interventions for homeless
women (Christine Mathew, Bruyère Research Institute, Ottawa,
Ont.: unpublished data, 2020) yielded 4 systematic reviews153–156
and 9 randomized controlled trials (RCTs)36,60,92,95,157–161 that focused
specifically on homeless and vulnerably housed women. Findings
showed that PSH was effective in reducing the risk of intimate partner violence and improving psychological symptoms.158 For women
with children experiencing homelessness, priority access to permanent housing subsidies can reduce child separations and foster
care placements, allowing women to maintain the integrity of their
family unit.158 As well, Housing First programs for families, critical
time interventions during times of crisis, and therapeutic communities are associated with lower levels of psychological distress,
increased self-esteem and improved quality of life for women and
their families.92,155 A gender-based analysis highlighted the importance of safety, service accessibility and empowerment among
homeless women. We suggest that providers focus on patient
safety, empowerment among women who have faced genderbased violence, and improve access to resources, including
income, child care and other social support services.
A systematic review on youth-specific interventions reported
findings from 4 systematic reviews and 18 RCTs.162 Permanent
supportive housing improved housing stability. As well, individual cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to result in
significant improvements in depression scores, and family-based
therapies are also promising, resulting in reductions in youth
substance use through restoring the family dynamic. Findings on
motivational interviewing, skill building and case-management
interventions were inconsistent, with some trials showing a positive impact and others not identifying significant benefits.
Refugee and migrant populations
A qualitative systematic review on homeless migrants (Harneel
Kaur, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished data,
2020) identified 17 qualitative articles that focused on the experiences of homeless migrants.163–179 Findings indicated that discrimination, limited language proficiency and severed social networks negatively affected homeless migrants’ sense of belonging
and access to social services, such as housing. However, employment opportunities provided a sense of independence and
improved social integration.
Composition of participating groups
In preparation for the guideline, we formed the Homeless Health
Research Network (https://methods.cochrane.org/equity/
projects/homeless-health-guidelines), composed of clinicians,
academics, and governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders. The Homeless Health Guideline Steering Committee (K.P.
[chair], C.K., T.A., A.A., G.S., G.B., D.P., E.A., V.B., V.S. and P.T.) was
assembled to coordinate guideline development. Expert representation was sought from eastern and western Canada, Ontario,
Quebec and the Prairie provinces for membership on the steering committee. In addition, 5 people with lived experience of
homelessness (herein referred to as “community scholars”180)
were recruited to participate in the guideline-development activities. A management committee (K.P., C.K. and P.T.) oversaw the
participating groups and monitored competing interests.
The steering committee decided to develop a single guideline
publication informed by a series of 8 systematic reviews. The
ISSUE 10 E247
steering committee assembled expert working groups to operationalize each review. Each working group consisted of clinical
topic experts and community scholars who were responsible for
providing contextual expertise.
The steering committee also assembled a technical team,
which provided technical expertise in the conduct and presentation of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Finally, the steering committee assembled the guideline panel, which had the
responsibility to provide external review of the evidence and
drafted recommendations. The panel was composed of 17 individuals, including physicians, primary care providers, internists,
psychiatrists, public health professionals, people with lived
experience of homelessness, medical students and medical residents. Panel members had no financial or intellectual conflicts of
interest. A full membership list of the individual teams’ composition is available in Appendix 2, available at www.cmaj.ca/lookup/
Selection of priority topics
We used a 3-step modified Delphi consensus method (Esther
Shoemaker, Bruyère Research Institute, Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished
data, 2020) to select priority health conditions for marginalized
populations experiencing homelessness or vulnerable housing.
Briefly, between May and June 2017, we developed and conducted
a survey (in French and English), in which we asked 84 expert providers and 76 people with lived homelessness experience to rank
and prioritize an initial list of needs and populations. We specifically asked participants, while answering the Delphi survey, to
keep in mind 3 priority-setting criteria when considering the
unique challenges of implementing health care for homeless or
vulnerably housed people: value added (i.e., the opportunity for a
unique and relevant contribution), reduction of unfair and preventable health inequities, and decrease in burden of illness (i.e.,
the number of people who may have a disease or condition).181
The initial top 4 priority needs identified were as follows: facilitating access to housing, providing mental health and addiction care,
delivering care coordination and case management, and facilitating
access to adequate income. The priority marginalized populations
identified included Indigenous people; women and families; youth;
people with acquired brain injury, or intellectual or physical disabilities; and refugees and other migrants (Esther Shoemaker, Bruyère
Research Institute, Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished data, 2020). Each
working group then scoped the literature using Google Scholar and
PubMed to determine a list of interventions and terms relating to
each of the priority-need categories. Each working group came to
consensus on the final list of interventions to be included (Table 3).
We followed the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) approach for the development
of this clinical guideline, including the identification of clinical
questions, systematic reviews of the best available evidence,
Table 3: Descriptions of priority-need interventions
Permanent supportive housing
Long-term housing in the community with no set preconditions for access. Housing may be paired with the
provision of individualized supportive services that are tailored to participants’ needs and choices,
including assertive community treatment and intensive case management.
This guideline groups the Housing First model (a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing
housing) with permanent supportive housing.
Benefits and programs that improve socioeconomic status. This may include assistance that directly
increases income and programs that help with cost reduction of basic living necessities.
This guideline also groups employment programs (e.g., individual placement and support, and
compensated work therapy) in this category.
Standard case management allows for the provision of an array of social, health care and other services
with the goal of helping the client maintain good health and social relationships.
Intensive case management offers the support of a case manager who brokers access to an array of
services. Case-management support can be available for up to 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, and each
case manager often has a caseload of 15–20 service users.
Assertive community treatment offers team-based care to individuals with severe and persistent mental
illness by a multidisciplinary group of health care workers in the community. This team should be available
24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
Critical time intervention supports continuity of care for service users during times of transition. Case
management is administered by a critical time intervention worker and is a time-limited service, usually
lasting 6–9 months.
Pharmacologic interventions for
substance use disorder
Pharmacologic interventions for opioid use disorder, including methadone, buprenorphine,
diacetylmorphine, levo-a-acetylmethadol and naltrexone.
Pharmacologic agents for reversal of opioid overdose: opioid antagonist administered intravenously or
intranasally (e.g., naloxone).
Harm reduction for substance
Supervised consumption facilities: facilities (stand-alone, co-located or pop-up) where people who use
substances can consume preobtained substances under supervision.
Managed alcohol programs: shelter, medical assistance, social services and the provision of regulated
alcohol to support residents with severe alcohol use disorder.
assessment of the certainty of the evidence and development of
recommendations.182 We conducted a series of systematic reviews
to answer the following clinical question:
Should PSH, income assistance, case management, pharmacologic agents for opioid use, and/or harm-reduction interventions
be considered for people with lived experience of homelessness?
Systematic reviews for each intervention were driven by a logic
model. A detailed description of the methods used to compile evidence summaries for each recommendation, including search
terms, can be found in Appendix 3, available at www.cmaj.ca/
lookup/suppl/doi:10.1503/cmaj.190777/-/DC1. We sought evidence on questions considering population, interventions and
comparisons according to published a priori protocols.183–186 We
used relevant terms and structured search strategies in 9 bibliographic databases for RCTs and quasi-experimental studies. The
technical team reviewed titles, abstracts and full texts of identified
citations, selected evidence for inclusion and compiled evidence
reviews, including cost-effectiveness and resource-use data, for
consideration by the guideline panel. The technical team collected
and synthesized data on the following a priori outcomes: housing
stability, mental health, quality of life, substance use, hospital
admission, employment and income. Where possible, we conducted meta-analyses with random effects and assessed certainty
of evidence using the GRADE approach. Where pooling of results
was not appropriate, we synthesized results narratively.
In addition to the intervention and cost-effectiveness reviews,
the technical team conducted 3 systematic reviews to collect
contextual and population-specific evidence for the populations
prioritized through our Delphi process (women, youth, refugees
and migrants) (Christine Mathew, Bruyère Research Institute,
Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished data, 2020; Harneel Kaur, University
of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished data, 2020).162 Additionally,
we conducted 1 qualitative literature review to capture patient
values and preferences, focused on the experiences of people
who are homeless in engaging with our selected interventions.20
Drafting of recommendations
The steering committee hosted a 2-day knowledge-sharing
event, termed the “Homeless Health Summit,” on Nov. 25–26,
2018. Attendees included expert working group members, community scholars, technical team members, and other governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders. Findings from all
intervention reviews were presented and discussed according to
the GRADE Evidence to Decision framework.187 After the meeting,
the steering committee drafted GRADE recommendations (Box 2)
through an iterative consensus process. All steering-committee
members participated in multiple rounds of review and revision
of the drafted clinical recommendations.
Guideline panel review
We used the GRADE Evidence to Decision framework to facilitate
the development of recommendations187–189 (Appendix 4, available
We used GRADEpro and the Panel Voice software to obtain input
from the guideline panel.190 Panellists provided input on the wording and strength of the draft recommendations. They also provided
considerations for clinical implementation. We required endorsement of recommendations by 60% of panel members for acceptance
of a recommendation. After review by the guideline panel, the steering committee reviewed the final recommendations before sign-off.
Good practice statements
We developed a limited number of good practice statements to support the delivery of the initial evidence-based recommendations. A
good practice statement characteristically represents situations in
which a large and compelling body of indirect evidence strongly
supports the net benefit of the recommended action, which is
necessary for health care practice.191–193 Guideline-development
groups consider making good practice statements when they have
high confidence that indirect evidence supports net benefit, there
is a clear and explicit rationale connecting the indirect evidence,
and it would be an onerous and unproductive exercise and thus a
poor use of the group’s limited resources to collect this evidence.
The steering committee came to a consensus on 3 good practice
statements based on indirect evidence.
Identification of implementation considerations
We completed a mixed-methods study to identify determinants
of implementation across Canada for the guideline (Olivia
Magwood, Bruyère Research Institute, Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished
data, 2020). Briefly, the study included a survey of 88 stakeholders and semistructured interviews with people with lived experience of homelessness. The GRADE Feasibility, Acceptability, Cost
(affordability) and Equity (FACE) survey collected data on guideline priority, feasibility, acceptability, cost, equity and intent to
implement. We used a framework analysis and a series of meetings (Ottawa, Ont., Jan. 13, 2020; Hamilton, Ont., Aug. 16, 2019;
Gatineau, Que., July 18, 2019) with relevant stakeholders in the
field of homeless health to analyze our implementation data.
Management of competing interests
Competing interests were assessed using a detailed form adapted
from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Uniform Disclosure Form for Potential Conflicts of Interest194 and the
Elsevier sample coauthor agreement form for a scientific project,
contingencies and communication.195 These forms were collected
at the start of the guideline activities for the steering committee,
guideline panel and community scholars. All authors submitted
an updated form in June 2019 and before publication.
The management committee iteratively reviewed these statements and interviewed participants for any clarifications and
concerns. A priori, the management committee had agreed that
major competing interests would lead to dismissal. There were
no competing interests declared.
Our mixed-methods study (Olivia Magwood, Bruyère Research
Institute, Ottawa, Ont.: unpublished data, 2020) looking at guideline priority, feasibility, acceptability, cost, equity and intent to
implement, identified the following concerns regarding implementation of this guideline.
ISSUE 10 E249
Stakeholders highlighted the importance of increasing primary care providers’ knowledge of the process of applying to
PSH programs and informing their patients about the resources
available in the community.
The major concerns regarding feasibility arose around the limited availability of existing services, such as housing, as well as
administrative and human resources concerns. For example, not
all primary care providers work in a team-based comprehensive
care model and have access to a social worker or care coordinator
who can help link the patient to existing services. Furthermore,
wait lists for PSH are frequently long. Despite this, all stakeholders agreed that access to PSH was a priority and is a feasible
Allied health practitioners and physicians do not always agree
with their new role in this area. Some feedback suggested pushback from family physicians who have limited time with patients
and less experience exploring social determinants of health, such
as housing or income. The initial steps outlined in this guideline
would come at an opportunity cost for them. Stigma attached to
the condition of homelessness was recognized as an important
barrier to care for homeless populations.
Many stakeholders recognized that successful implementation of these recommendations may require moderate costs to
increase the housing supply, income supports and human
resources. However, supervised consumption facilities, with their
range of benefits, were perceived as cost-saving.
Many interventions have the potential to increase health
equity, if available and accessible in a local context. Many stakeholders highlighted opportunities to increase knowledge of the
initial steps and advocate on a systematic level to increase availability of services.
Suggested performance measures
We developed a set of performance measures to accompany this
guidleline for consideration by providers and policy-makers:
The proportion of adults who are assessed for homelessness
or vulnerable housing over 1 year.
The proportion of eligible adults who are considered for
income assistance over 1 year.
The proportion of eligible adults using opioids who are
offered opioid agonist therapy over 1 year.
The Homeless Health Research Network will be responsible for
updating this guideline every 5 years.
This guideline complements other published guidelines. This
current guideline aims to support the upcoming Indigenousspecific guidelines that recognize the importance of Indigenous
leadership and methodology that will recognize distinct underlying causes of Indigenous homelessness (Jesse Thistle, York University, Toronto, Ont.: personal communication, 2020).
The World Health Organization has developed guidelines to
promote healthy housing standards to save lives, prevent disease
and increase quality of life.196 Other guidelines specific to opioid
use disorder exist,197,198 including 1 for “treatment-refractory”
patients.199 In the United Kingdom, the National Institute for
Health Care and Excellence has published guidelines for outpatient treatment of schizophrenia and has published multimorbidity guidelines (www.nice.org.uk/guidance). The National
Health Care for the Homeless Council in the US has adapted best
practices to support front-line workers caring for homeless
How is this guideline different?
This guideline distills initial steps and evidence-based
approaches, to both homeless and vulnerably housed people,
with the assistance of patients and other stakeholders. It also
introduces a new clinical lens with upstream interventions that
provide a social and health foundation for community integration. Its initial steps support the vision of the Centre for Homelessness Impact in the UK, which envisions a society where the
experience of homelessness, in instances where it cannot be prevented, is only ever rare, brief and nonrecurrent.201 Finally, we
hope that our stakeholder engagement inspires and equips
future students, health providers and the public health community to implement the initial step recommendations.
Gaps in knowledge
Evidence-based policy initiatives will need to address the accelerating health and economic disparities between homeless and general
housed populations. As primary care expands its medical home
models,27 there will be a research opportunity for more traumainformed care202 to support the evidence-based interventions in
this guideline. Indeed, clinical research can refine how providers
use the initial steps protocol: housing, income, case management
and addiction. With improved living conditions, care coordination
and continuity of care, research and practice can shift to treatable
conditions, such as HIV and HCV infection, substance use disorder,
mental illness and tuberculosis.203
Medical educators will also need to develop new training
tools to support the delivery of interventions. Curricula and training that support the delivery of interventions, such as traumainformed and patient-centred care, will also be needed.12 Many
of the recommended interventions in this guideline rely on collaboration of community providers, housing coordinators and
case management. Interdisciplinary primary care research and
maintenance of linkages to primary care will benefit from new
homeless health clinic networks. Monitoring transitions in care
and housing availability will be an important research goal for
Canada’s National Housing Strategy and the associated Reaching
Homelessness has become a health emergency. Initial steps in
addressing this crisis proposed in this guideline include strongly
recommending PSH as an urgent intervention. The guideline also
recognizes the trauma, disability, mental illness and stigma
facing people with lived homelessness experience and thus recommends initial steps of income assistance, intensive case management for mental illness, and harm-reduction and addictiontreatment interventions, including access to opioid agonist
therapy and supervised consumption facilities.
The successful implementation of this guideline will depend
on a focus on the initial recommendations, trust, patient safety
and an ongoing collaboration between primary health care,
mental health providers, public health, people with lived experience and broader community organizations, including those
beyond the health care field.
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care: PEER simplified guideline. Can Fam Physician 2019;65:321-30.
198. Bruneau J, Ahamad K, Goyer M-È, et al.; CIHR Canadian Research Initiative in
Substance Misuse. Management of opioid use disorders: a national clinical
practice guideline. CMAJ 2018;190:E247-57.
199. Fairbairn N, Ross J, Trew M, et al. Injectable opioid agonist treatment for opioid use disorder: a national clinical guideline. CMAJ 2019;191:E1049-56.
200. Montauk SL. The homeless in America: adapting your practice. Am Fam Physician 2006;74:1132-8.
201. Teixeira L, Russell D, Hobbs T. The SHARE framework: a smarter way to end homelessness. London (UK): Centre for Homelessness Impact; 2018; Available: www.
homelesshub.ca/resource/share-framework-smarter-way-end-homelessness (accessed 2019 Dec. 12).
202. Purkey E, Patel R, Phillips SP. Trauma-informed care: better care for everyone.
Can Fam Physician 2018;64:170-2.
203. Homelessness & health: What’s the connection [fact sheet]. Nashville (TN): National
Health Care for the Homeless Council; 2011. Available: https://nhchc.org/wp-content
/uploads/2019/08/Hln_health_factsheet_Jan10-1.pdf (accessed 2019 June 1).
Competing interests: Gary Bloch is a founding member, former board
member and currently a clinician with Inner City Health Associates
(ICHA), a group of physicians working with individuals experiencing
homelessness in Toronto, which provided funding for the development
of this guideline. He did not receive payment for work on the guideline
and did not participate in any ICHA board decision-making relevant to
this project. Ritika Goel, Michaela Beder and Stephen Hwang also receive payment for clinical services from ICHA, and did not receive
payment for any aspect of the submitted work. No other competing interests were declared.
This article has been peer reviewed.
Affiliations: C.T. Lamont Primary Health Care Research Centre (Pottie,
d Wendy Muckle led
the Homeless Health Summit. Esther Shoemaker led the Delphi consensus. Olivia Magwood led the reviews on lived experiences and substance
use, Tim Aubry led the review on housing, Gary Bloch and Vanessa Brcic
led the review on income, David Ponka and Eric Agbata led the review
on case management, Jean Zhuo Jing Wang and Sebastian Mott led the
homeless youth review, Harneel Kaur led the homeless migrant review,
Christine Mathew and Anne Andermann led the homeless women
review, Syeda Shanza Hashmi and Ammar Saad led medical student
engagement and competency review, Thomas Piggott co-led the GRADE
Assessment with Olivia Magwood and Kevin Pottie, Michaela Beder and
Nicole Kozloff contributed substantially to the substance use review,
and Neil Arya and Stephen Hwang provided critical policy information.
All of the named authors engaged in the writing and review, gave final
approval of the version of the guideline to be published, and agreed to
be accountable for all aspects of the work.
Funding: This guideline was supported by a peer-reviewed grant from
the Inner City Health Associates, and supplemental project grants from
the Public Health Agency of Canada, Employment Social Development
Canada, Canadian Medical Association and Champlain Local Integrated
Health Network. Personnel from collaborating agencies provided nonbinding feedback during the preparation of systematic reviews and the
guideline. The funders had no role in the design or conduct of the study;
collection, analysis and interpretation of the data; or preparation,
review or final approval of the guideline. Final decisions regarding the
protocol and issues that arose during the guideline-development process were solely the responsibility of the guideline steering committee.
Acknowledgements: The authors thank everyone who participated in
the development of this guideline, including community scholars, technical team leads, guideline panel members and working group members.
Endorsements: Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Public Health
Association, Canadian Federation of Medical Students, The College of
Family Physicians of Canada, Public Health Physicians of Canada, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, The Canadian Alliance to
End Homelessness, Canadian Nurses Association
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent
the views of the funding agencies.
Correspondence to: Kevin Pottie, email@example.com
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to present its views to the study on poverty reduction strategies by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
The focus of the Committee’s study on improving the delivery of federal resources and services for the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy is of profound interest to the CMA, given our concerns about the need to address the social determinants of health. It is that perspective from which this paper will approach the Committee’s areas of interest.
Social Determinants of Health
The consequences of poverty on health are well established and include lower life expectancy, higher disease burden, and poorer overall health. Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.1 Many studies show that people low on the socioeconomic scale are likely to carry a higher burden of just about any disease.2
1 Keon, WJ, Pépin L. (2008) Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. Ottawa: The Senate of Canada; 2008. Available at: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/Committee/392/soci/rep/rep10apr08-e.pdf
2 Op cit. Dunn JR. The Health Determinants Partnership Making Connections Project
3 Munro D. Healthy People, Healthy Performance, Healthy Profits: The Case for Business Action on the SocioEconomic Determinants of Health. The Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa (ON); 2008.
Reducing inequities and thereby improving population health should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada.
The societal cost of poor health extends beyond the cost to the health care system: healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.3 Those living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods experience almost 20 years less disability-free life.
It is fundamental that the health impact of social and economic decisions be part of the policy development and decision-making process.
1. The CMA recommends that health impact assessments be included as part of the policy development and decision-making process in poverty reduction strategies, including in the development of legislation and regulations.
Neighbourhoods and Housing
Mounting evidence suggests that the built environment can play a significant role in our state of health. The literature indicates that the following connections between the built environment and public health are possible:
o Decreased physical activity;
o Increased prevalence of obesity;
o Increased prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases;
o Injuries and unintended fatalities;
o Heat exposure.4
4 Frank , L., Kavage S, & Devlin A. (2012). Health and the Built Environment: A Review. World Medical Association
5 Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology. (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
6 CMA. Active Transportation http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD09-04.pdf 2009
7 Statistics Canada. (2006, June 28). Childhood Obesity: A Troubling Situation. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from StatsCan: http://www41.statcan.ca/2006/2966/ceb2966_004-eng.htm
Canada's physical activity guidelines recommend that children ages 5 to 11 should be active for at least 60 minutes a day; those 18 and over should be active for at least 150 minutes per week.5 However, physical activity includes more than exercise and leisure time activity, it also includes active transportation such as walking to school, work or errands as part of daily living. CMA’s policy on Active Transportation recommends that all sectors (physicians and other health professionals, government, business and the public) work together, as a matter of priority, to support and encourage active transportation and physical activity.6 Urban planners must work together with health professionals to understand the impact on health.
Research shows that specific populations, such as children, the elderly, and low-income populations, are more affected.
Children: Obesity is an issue for Canadians nationwide, but particularly so for children. Between 1978 and 2004 there was a 70% increase in overweight and obese children aged 12-17.7 Obesity in children can lead to health issues such as hypertension, glucose intolerance, and orthopaedic complications.8 Furthermore it has a high likelihood of carrying over into adulthood and may result in further health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.9 Environments that promote physical activity are
especially important, including mixed use communities with walkable destinations, parks and recreational facilities.10
10 Dannenberg, A., Frumkin, H., & Jackson, R. J. (2011). Making Healthy Places Designing and Building for Health, Well-Being and Sustainability. Island Press.
11 Vogel, T., Brechat, P., Lepetre, P., Kaltenbach, G., Berthel, M., & Lonsdorfer, J. (2009). Health Benefits of Physical Activity in Older Patients: A Review. The International Journal of Clinical Practice, 63(2), 303-320.
12 Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. . (2002). Diabetes in Canada, 2nd Edition. Ottawa: Health Canada
13 Statistics Canada. (1996-97, May 29). National Population Health Survey, Cycle 2. Canada: The Daily.
14 Creatore, M., Gozdyra, P., Booth, G., & Glazier, R. (2007). Chapter 1: Setting the Context. In M. Creatore, P. Gozdyra, G. Booth, R. Glazier, & M. Tynan, Neighbourhood Environments and Resources for Healthy Living - A Focus on Diabetes in Toronto: ICES Atlas. Toronto: Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.
15 Op cit Dunn JR. The Health Determinants Partnership Making Connections Project
16 Raphael D. Addressing The Social Determinants of Health In Canada: Bridging The Gap Between Research Findings and Public Policy. Policy Options. March 2003 pp.35-40.
Elderly: The elderly population is generally less physically robust and more prone to chronic illnesses, which make them especially vulnerable to air pollution and heat exposure. Physical activity is an important aspect of daily life for this age group as it has been shown to reduce the negative health impacts of aging.11 Being physically active, however, requires accessible and safe streets, and transportation systems that cater to the needs of individuals with mobility issues. Special consideration is required when constructing the built environment to ensure the needs of this growing population.
Low Income Populations: Low income populations are at higher risk for chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and have a lower overall survivability for major heart attacks.12,13 They are also more likely to smoke, be overweight or obese, and are less likely to be physically active.14 Many of these factors can be linked to limited access to stable housing, housing location (normally close to highways or industrial zones with high pollution exposure), neighbourhood safety, and lack of access to or affordability of healthy food options.
2. The CMA recommends that the federal government work with all sectors to create a culture within communities that supports and encourages active transportation and physical activity.
Hundreds of research papers have confirmed that people in the lowest socio-economic groups carry the greatest burden of illness.15 Studies also suggest that adverse socio-economic conditions in childhood can be a greater predictor of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in adults than later life circumstances and behavioural choices.16 Finally,
the countries reporting the highest population health status are those with the greatest income equality, not the greatest wealth.17
17 Hofrichter R ed. Tackling Health Inequities Through Public Health Practice: A Handbook for Action. The National Association of County and City Health Officials & The Ingham County Health Department. Lansing (USA); 2006.
18 Bierman AS, Angus J, Ahmad F, et al. Ontario Women’s Health Equity Report : Access to Health Care Services : Chapter 7. Toronto (ON) Project for and Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report; 2010.
19 Bierman AS, Johns A, Hyndman B, et al. Ontario Women’s Health Equity Report: Social Determinants of Health & Populations at Risk: Chapter 12. Toronto (ON) Project for and Ontario Women’s Health EvidenceBased Report; 2010.; Williamson DL, Stewart MJ, Hayward K. Low-income Canadians’ experiences with health-related services: Implications for health care reform. Health Policy 2006; 76:106-121.
20 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Hospitalization Disparities by Socio-Economic Status for Males and Females. Ottawa(ON); 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/disparities_in_hospitalization_by_sex2010_e.pdf (accessed 2017 Jan 5)
21 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Hospitalization Disparities by Socio-Economic Status…;Roos LL, Walld R, Uhanova J, et al. Physician Visits, Hospitalizations, and Socioeconomic Status: Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions in a Canadian Setting. HSR 2005; 40(4): 1167-1185.
22 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC15-70 - Basic income guarantee. Approved August 26, 2015
Income plays a role in access to appropriate health care as well. Individuals living in lower income neighbourhoods, are less likely to have primary care physicians18, and are more likely to report unmet health care needs.19 They are more likely to be hospitalized for conditions which could potentially be avoided with appropriate primary care.20,21
In 2015, the CMA passed a resolution endorsing the concept of a basic income guarantee”22, which is a cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation. It ensures sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of employment status. A basic income guarantee has the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty. It has the potential to reduce the substantial, long-term social consequences of poverty, including higher crime rates and fewer students achieving success in the educational system.
In addition, resources and supports are needed to assist low-income Canadians regarding diet, shelter, skills development and other needs..
3. The CMA urges the Government of Canada to prioritize consideration of a basic income guarantee as a policy option for reducing poverty.
Prenatal and Early Childhood
Research suggests that 90% of a child’s brain capacity is developed by age five.23 High quality early childhood programs including programs to nurture and stimulate children and educate parents are highly correlated with the amelioration of the effects of disadvantage on cognitive, emotional and physical development among children.24,25
23 Arkin E, Braveman P, Egerter S & Williams D. Time to Act: Investing in the Health of Our Children and Communities: Recommendations From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Princeton (NJ); 2014.
24 Braveman P, Egerter D & Williams DR. The Social Determinants of Health: Coming of Age. Annu Rev Publ Health. 32:3.1-3.18. 2011.
25 European Union. Commission Recommendation of 20.2.2013: Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Brussels (Belgium); 2013.
26 Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Paediatric Society, College of Family Physicians of Canada. Child and Youth Health: Our Challenge: Canada’s Child and Youth Health Charter. Ottawa October 9, 2007.
In 2007, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the College of Family Physicians of Canada released Canada’s Child and Youth Health Charter.26 To reach their potential, children and youth need to grow up in a place where they can thrive — spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically and intellectually — and get high-quality health care when they need it. That place must have three fundamental elements: a safe and secure environment; good health and development; and a full range of health resources available to all. Children and youth of distinct populations in Canada, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis, must be offered equal opportunities as other Canadian children and youth through culturally appropriate resources.
Our children and youth must have a safe and secure environment where they can access clean water, air and soil; be protected from injury, exploitation and discrimination; and live in healthy family, homes and communities. Further, to ensure good health and development there must be access to prenatal and maternal care for the best possible health at birth and access to quality nutrition for proper growth, development and long-term health.
As well, early learning opportunities and high-quality care, at home and in the community must be accessible. Opportunities and encouragement for physical activity are crucial as well as access to high-quality primary and secondary education. Finally, affordable and available post-secondary education and a commitment to social well-being and mental health are paramount.
4. The CMA recommends that the federal government and the provinces and territories work to ensure that poverty does not continue to be a barrier to the healthy development of Canadian children, particularly in their first five years.
Socio-economic factors play a larger role in creating (or damaging) health than either biological factors or the health care system. Health equity is increasingly recognized as a necessary means by which we will make gains in the health status of all Canadians. Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. For those that are most vulnerable, this lack of access can serve to further exacerbate their already increased burden of illness and disease. Action is still required by the federal government to tackle the underlying social and economic factors which lead to the disparities in the health of Canadians.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to submit this brief to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in support of Bill S-228, An Act to Amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children). The CMA has over 85,000 physician-members; our mission is empowering and caring for patients and its vision is a vibrant profession and a healthy population.
The CMA is encouraged that the Senate is considering legislation that will protect children by prohibiting marketing of food and beverages directed to those under 13 years of age. We applaud Senator Nancy Greene Raine for sponsoring this important bill.
Obesity rates among children and youth in Canada have nearly tripled in the last 30 years. Obesity is of particular concern to Canada’s physicians because it increases a person’s risk of developing a number of serious health problems: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, lower back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders, and many types of cancer. Type 2 diabetes, once found only in adults, is now being seen in children.
Health advocates are concerned that because of obesity, today’s generation of children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Children and youth who are obese are at higher risk of developing a range of health problems, and weight issues in childhood are likely to persist into adulthood. Diet-related chronic disease risk stems from long-term dietary patterns which start in childhood. Canadian statistics reveal children, consume too much fat, sodium and sugars (foods that cause chronic disease) and eat too little fiber, fruits and vegetables (foods that prevent chronic disease). The current generation of Canadian children is expected to live shorter less healthy lives as a result of unhealthy eating.1
CMA’s Cautions against Marketing
Children and youth in Canada are exposed to a barrage of marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages through a variety of channels and techniques – tactics which undermine and contradict government, health care professional and scientific recommendations for healthy eating. Research undertaken for the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that kids see over 25 million food and beverage ads a year on their favourite websites and that over 90% of the food and beverage product ads viewed online are unhealthy.2
Unhealthy food and beverage advertising influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests, and consumption patterns and has been identified as a probable cause of childhood overweight and obesity by the World Health Organization.3
The CMA has long been calling on governments to explore ways to restrict the advertising and promotion of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods. In 2006 CMA recommended that media advertising of high-calorie, nutrient-poor "junk" food in children's television programs be banned altogether. As the ways and means of advertising have expanded so too has our thinking, and in 2012 CMA adopted a policy on Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages to Children and Youth in Canada which called for the restriction of all marketing to children under 13 years of age of unhealthy foods and beverages. In 2014, CMA endorsed the Ottawa Principles and the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition. The Ottawa Principles went further to help refine the definitions, scope and principles meant to guide marketing to kids (M2K) policy-making in Canada.4 They recommend the restriction of commercial marketing of all food and beverages to children and youth age 16 years and younger. Restrictions would include all forms of marketing with the exception of non-commercial marketing for public education.
At present, Canada relies on voluntary industry codes to govern advertising and marketing practices. However, recent Canadian research into industry self-regulation has shown no reduction in children’s exposure to ads for unhealthy foods.5 The CMA believes that for maximum efficacy, regulatory measures are required to minimize the negative effect of food marketing on health. Only legally enforceable regulations have sufficient authority and power to ensure high-level protection of children from marketing and its persuasive influence over food preference and consumption.
Not only health organizations are in favour of restrictions on the marketing to children. Recent public opinion polling from Heart and Stroke’s 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians highlights that 72% believe the food and beverage industry markets its products directly to children, 78% believe the food and beverages advertised to children are unhealthy and 70% feel that children are exposed to too much advertising by the food and beverage industry.
In her introduction of Bill S-228, Senator Raine noted that this is not the first time that that legislation on this issue has come before the Canadian Parliament. The CMA sincerely believes that now is the time for action. We cannot delay any longer. Canadian children and parents need an environment free from the influence of food and beverage marketing in which to make health nutritious food choices.
Childhood obesity and overweight are serious health problems in Canada, and as such are of great concern to the country’s physicians and to the Canadian Medical Association. The causes, CMA believes, are rooted mainly in changes in our environment and their effect on our eating and physical activity habits. The consequences are extremely serious, both for individual Canadians’ health and for the sustainability of Canada’s health care system.
CMA believes that the way forward requires a number of different interventions, on many levels. The prohibition of the marketing of foods and beverages directed to children is one element of a wider healthy eating strategy that supports Canadians.
Once again, CMA commends the Senate of Canada on conducting this study. We urge support of the Child Health Protection Act and believe that it can assist in creating a social environment that supports healthy eating and healthy weight.
1 Canadian Medical Association, Restricting Marketing Of Unhealthy Foods And Beverages To Children And Youth In Canada, A Canadian Health Care And Scientific Organization Consensus Policy Statement, December 2012
2 Heart & Stroke (2017). The kids are not alright. How the food and beverage industry is marketing our children and youth to death. 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians.
3 World Health Organization. Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2010.
4 The Ottawa Principles, Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, accessed at https://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/foodsecurecanada.org/files/ottawaprinciples.pdf, June 7, 2017.
5 Heart & Stroke (2017). The kids are not alright. How the food and beverage industry is marketing our children and youth to death. 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians.
Concussions and head injuries are a common occurrence in sport and leisure activities, and frequently occur in occupational settings as well. While the majority of individuals who suffer from a concussion will recover with time, others may be at risk for serious and lasting complications. These include (1) children; (2) previous history of head injury or concussion; (3) prior mental health symptoms; and (4) missed diagnosis and management.
This aim of this advocacy and policy document is to improve safety during activity by raising awareness of concussions, and by working to improve the detection and safe management of concussions when they occur. It is not a clinical practice guideline. It should not be perceived as a plea to avoid sports or leisure activities, but rather as a call for safer sporting, leisure, and occupational practices. The documented health benefits that result from establishing an active lifestyle in youth and maintaining it throughout life cannot be overstated.
Achieving balance of safe play in sport, leisure and occupational activities while promoting greater physical activity levels for Canadians would have the effect of reducing health care costs in Canada, while promoting a healthier concussion recovery culture for all Canadians.
Therefore, to promote better concussion and head trauma awareness and prevention, as well as better management/treatment practices, the following policy recommendations for key target audiences across all levels of sport, leisure, and occupational activity are made.
Key Concussion & Head Injury Principles:
a) The detection of concussions and head injury should be a shared responsibility and any stakeholder/observer to such an injury should verbally raise their concerns that a concussion may have occurred.
i. It is important to understand that individuals with a possible concussion, or head injury, may not be able to recognize that they are suffering from a concussion;
ii. It is important to recognize that engrained within popular culture are dangerous notions (e.g., to minimize, ignore, downplay, or play through the pain, etc.) that cause individuals/observers to ignore the real, often hidden, dangers of such injuries.
b) Broadly speaking, access to the latest edition of the internationally recognized Concussion Recognition Tool (CRT) should be promoted/available to help identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion;
c) Any individual who sustains more than a minor head injury should be immediately removed from play, activity, or occupation, and not permitted to return on the same day3 (regardless of whether a concussion is later suspected).
i. These individuals should be the subject of observation for developing/evolving concussion symptoms or emergency warning signs (especially within the first 4 hours post-injury, but also up to 48 hours when red-flag symptoms are present).
d) Following first aid principles, where an individual displays signs of a serious head or spinal injury, that individual should lie still (not moving their head or neck) until a qualified individual has performed an evaluation; to determine whether emergency evacuation for medical assessment is necessary.
e) Any individual with a suspected concussion (especially where red-flag symptoms are present), or more severe traumatic brain injury, should be promptly evaluated by a physician to:
i. Either rule-out or confirm a diagnosis via an appropriate medical assessment; and
ii. Institute the provision of an age-appropriate follow-up care plan (including progressive return to school, work, and play protocols) if such an injury is confirmed.1
f) Ideally, a physician knowledgeable in concussion management determines when, and how, a concussed individual should progressively return to both cognitive (school or work) and physical activities.
g) Following a suspected, or diagnosed concussion, an individual should not return to play, or resume any activity associated with a heightened risk of head trauma, until cleared by a physician to do so.1
a) Where possible, encourage safe play practices in sports, and where appropriate, educate patients about the risks of head injuries (associated with high-risk behavior in sports, leisure and occupational activities).
b) Gain/maintain, through relevant continuous medical education, competencies related to the assessment, diagnosis and management of concussion according to most current clinical practice recommendations (e.g., latest edition of the CRT, SCAT, Child SCAT, Acute Concussion Evaluation Tool, etc.).
c) Be aware that clinical practice guidelines and assessment tools exist to assist in assessing and treating concussed individuals (e.g., Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, Parachute Canada, etc.).
d) When assessing a patient with a potential concussion:
i. Rule out the presence of more severe traumatic brain and musculoskeletal injury;
ii. Assess for any previous concussion history, risk factors and newly arising complications;
iii. Educate and instruct parents, athletes and any individual that sustains a concussion about what to do, and what to expect, in the post concussive phase. (This should be based on the most current age-appropriate concussion management guidelines);4
iv. Provide individualized recommendations on how to optimally apply the progressive return-to-school, work, and play strategies with consideration for the specificities of the patient’s usual activities and responsibilities;4
v. Work to provide concussed patients timely access for medical reassessment in the event of worsening or persistent symptoms (including mental health); and
vi. In the presence of persistent or worsening symptoms (including mental health), consider what external, evidence based, concussion resources may be necessary as well as referral.
2. Medical Colleges & Faculties:
a) Promote/support medical education regarding; awareness, detection/diagnosis; and the appropriate management of concussions, throughout the continuum of medical education (undergraduate, post-graduate, and continuing medical education).
b) Support research in concussion prevention, detection, and treatment or management.
3. Athletes in Contact/Collision Sports:
a) (Prior to the commencement of the sporting season) be given age-appropriate instruction2 to understand:
i. How to identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion using the latest edition of the internationally recognized CRT (e.g. Concussion Recognition Tool, or Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT));
ii. The risks associated with concussion (including long term and mental health); especially, the risks of potentially life-threatening complications associated with continued sport participation, while presenting with signs or symptoms of a possible concussion;
iii. What to do/expect if a concussion is ever suspected (including for teammates), and the expected role of the athlete and team members;
iv. Removal and progressive returns to school, work and play policies/procedures, and the expected role of the athlete in the recovery process; and
v. How to foster a healthy sporting culture (that promotes: safe play practices; fosters concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support; and combat injury stigmatization).
b) Have such instruction reinforced periodically throughout the sporting season as needed.
c) Be aware of, and seek treatment for, potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
4. Parents with Minors in Contact/Collision Sports:
a) Prior to the commencement of a sporting season, request and be open to receiving instruction2 on:
i. How to identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion using the latest edition of the internationally recognized CRT (e.g. Concussion Recognition Tool, or Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT));
ii. The risks associated with concussion; especially, the risks of potentially life-threatening complications associated with continued sport participation, while presenting with signs or symptoms of a possible concussion;
iii. What to do/expect if a concussion is ever suspected for an athlete;
iv. Removal and progressive returns to school, work and play policies/procedures, and the expected role of the parent(s) in the recovery process; and
v. How to foster a healthy sporting culture that promotes: safe play practices; fosters concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support; and combats injury stigmatization.
b) Have such instruction reinforced periodically throughout the sporting season as needed.
c) Be prepared to address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
5. Individuals Who Sustain a Head Injury Outside of Organized Sports:
a) Be aware of possible signs and symptoms of a possible concussion, and immediately withdraw from activity and seek medical assessment a possible concussion is suspected.1
i. Refer to the latest addition of the internationally recognized CRT (Concussion Recognition Tool) for further guidance on signs and symptoms.3
b) Understand the risks associated with concussion; including the risks of potentially life-threatening complications associated with repeated head injury if signs or symptoms of a possible concussion are present.
c) In the event of a diagnosis of concussion, judiciously implement the medical recommendations received regarding their gradual return to cognitive and physical activity (including the need for medical reassessment in the presence of persistent symptoms).
d) Openly communicate their recovery needs and work with any group or individual who might support them in their recovery process (e.g., employers, family members, school, etc.).
e) Be aware of, and seek treatment for, potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
6. Coaches, Trainers, Referees, & First Responders:
a) Receive certified emergency first aid training.
b) Receive periodic education (ideally annually) on national standards regarding the signs and symptoms, potential long-term consequences, appropriate steps for initial intervention, and immediate management (including: athlete removal-from-play; observation; determining when medical assessment is necessary; and progressive return to school, work and play procedures).
c) Be trained in the use of the latest edition of the internationally recognized CRT (Concussion Recognition Tool) – to detect whether an injured individual is suffering from a concussion.2
d) Be knowledgeable and responsible to ensure safety and safe play practices are applied throughout the sporting season.
e) Be responsible for fostering a healthy sporting culture (promote safe play practices, foster concussion/injury prevention and reporting, peer-to-peer support and combat injury stigmatization).
f) Be prepared to address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
7. Licensed Health Care Providers Involved as Therapists in Sport Environments:
a) Be fully licensed in their professional field and pursue continuing professional development to maintain competencies related to concussion and head injuries.
b) Promote the implementation of properly adapted concussion management protocols (that comply with the most current clinical recommendations, based on consideration for the specificities of each sport environment and available resources).
c) Work with qualified physicians to initiate/implement tailored medically supervised concussion management protocols that define:
i. Mutual and shared health professional responsibilities to optimize the quality, and safety of patient care (within one’s scope of practice); and
ii. The optimal corridors for timely access to medical (re)assessment with due consideration for available resources.
d) Be prepared to address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
8. Educational Institutions & Sports Organizations:
a) (Especially in the cases involving minors) implement, and keep updated, prevention strategies to include:
i. Safety standards that include safe play policies; and
ii. Mandatory safety gear/equipment (tailored to individual sport settings).
b) Mandatory concussion and head injury protocols that work to:
i. Reduce the occurrence of concussions and head injury by promoting: safe play practices; fostering concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support, and combatting injury stigmatization;
ii. Ensure the prompt detection, and standardized early management of concussion and head injuries, by informing all potential stakeholders (in the preseason phase) about the nature/risks of concussion and head injury, and how any such occurrence will be dealt with should they occur;
iii. Enshrine into practice removal-from-play, and post-injury observation of athletes;
iv. Progressively reintegrate students back into symptom guided educational and physical activities based on the most current recommendations;2
v. Reintegrate injured athletes back into unrestricted training activities and sport once medical clearance has been obtained; and
vi. Foster better lines of communication for injury management/recovery between: parents, athletes, coaches, school personnel, therapists and physicians.
vii. Address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
9. Employers (Occupational Considerations)
a) Comply with workplace safety laws and implement safety standards to reduce the incidence of head injuries in the work environment.
b) Integrate considerations for concussion and head injury in health and safety protocols that work to:
i. Reduce the occurrence of concussions and head injury by promoting: safe practices; concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support, and combats injury stigmatization;
ii. Ensure prompt detection and standardized early management of concussion and head injuries by informing potential stakeholders about the nature/risks of concussion and head injury, and how occurrences will be dealt with should they occur;
iii. Enshrine into practice/ workplace culture the removal-from-work, and post-injury observation of workers;
iv. Progressively reintegrate workers back into symptom guided cognitive and physical activities based on the most current recommendations;
v. Reintegrate injured workers with a confirmed diagnosis of concussion, progressively back into work activities only once medical clearance has been obtained; and
vi. Foster better lines of communication, and support for, injury management between: employees, employers, medical professionals and insurances.
vii. Address the potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
10. Governments & Professional Regulatory Bodies:
a) Implement comprehensive public health strategies for the Canadian population to:
i. Increase awareness that concussions can be sustained in accidents, sports, leisure and occupational contexts;
ii. Inform head injuries should be taken seriously; and
iii. Explain how and why concussions should be prevented and promptly assessed by a physician where they are suspected to have occurred.
b) Define appropriate scopes of practice for all health professionals involved in the field of concussion detection, management, and treatment.
c) Work with key stakeholders to develop compensation structures to support physicians to allocate the time necessary to: (1) conduct appropriate assessments to rule out concussions, (2) provide ongoing concussion management, and (3) develop detailed medical clearance plans.
d) Work with key stakeholders to develop standardized educational tools for physicians to provide to patients with concussions.
i. Ideally this would include contextualized tools for sports teams, schools, and employers.
e) Adopt legislation or regulation for educational institutions and community-based sport associations to establish clear expectations/obligations regarding concussion awareness and management for youth in sports (e.g., Ontario’s Rowan’s law).
i. To have meaningful impact, such initiatives must also be accompanied by: implementation funding to support the development and implementation of sport specific concussion management protocols; and monitoring/compliance programs.
f) Establish a national concussion and sports injury surveillance system (with standardized metrics) to collect detailed head and sport injury related information. Thus, providing the ability to research such injuries in an ongoing and timely manner.
g) Provide research opportunities/funding on concussions. Specific examples of research areas to prioritize include:
i. Effective prevention strategies for both adults and children in a range of sport, leisure, or occupational environments;
ii. The incidence and impact of concussions in children, and how to reduce their occurrence (inside and outside of sport);
iii. Address knowledge gaps for concussion identification, management, and medical clearance for physicians not specialized in concussion care;
iv. Explore all health professionals’ participation in concussion management providing for respective: competency, expertise, interdisciplinary collaboration, and appropriate roles;
v. Evaluate how emerging point of care diagnostics and biomarker testing will be incorporated into sport, leisure and work environments;
vi. Continued development of effective, user-friendly, and age appropriate management strategies/tools for physicians regarding concussion identification, management, and medical clearances; and
vii. Develop a harmonized understanding of “concussion” and “mild traumatic brain injury” (MTBI) constructs/concepts, so that adults with concussion signs or symptoms, who do not meet the more restrictive MTBI criteria, are properly managed.
McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvorak J, et al. Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport - the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sport Held in Berlin. Br J Sports Med 2017, 51: 838-847.
Parachute Canada. Canadian Guideline on Concussion in Sport. 2017. Available: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/canadian-guideline-on-concussion-in-sport (accessed 2018 Jul 31).
Concussion in Sport Group. Concussion Recognition Tool 5. Br J Sports Med 2017 51: 872. Available: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/early/2017/04/26/bjsports-2017-097508CRT5.full.pdf (accessed 2018 July 31st). (accessed 2018 Jul 31).
Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. Guidelines for Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury & Persistent Symptoms. Health Care Professional Version. 3rd Ed, Adults (18 + years of age). Toronto: Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation; 2018. Available: http://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/fileadmin/media/adult-concussion-guidelines-3rd-edition.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 31).
Concussion in Sport Group. Sport Concussion Assessment Tool – 5th Ed. Br J Sports Med 2017, 0:1-8. Available: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/early/2017/04/26/bjsports-2017-097508CRT5.full.pdf (accessed 2018 July 31).
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors March 2019