APPROACHES TO ENHANCING THE QUALITY OF DRUG THERAPY
A JOINT STATEMENT BY THE CMA ANDTHE CANADIAN PHARMACEUTICAL ASSOCIATION
This joint statement was developed by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association, a national association of pharmacists, and includes the goal of drug therapy, strategies for collaboration to optimize drug therapy and physicians' and pharmacists' responsibilities in drug therapy. The statement recognizes the importance of patients, physicians and pharmacists working in close collaboration and partnership to achieve optimal outcomes from drug therapy.
Goal of This Joint Statement
The goal of this joint statement is to promote optimal drug therapy by enhancing communication and working relationships among patients, physicians and pharmacists. It is also meant to serve as an educational resource for pharmacists and physicians so that they will have a clearer understanding of each other's responsibilities in drug therapy. In the context of this statement, a "patient" may include a designated patient representative, such as a parent, spouse, other family member, patient advocate or health care provider.
Physicians and pharmacists have a responsibility to work with their patients to achieve optimal outcomes by providing high-quality drug therapy. The important contribution of all members of the health care team and the need for cooperative working relationships are recognized; however, this statement focuses on the specific relationships among pharmacists, physicians and patients with respect to drug therapy.
This statement is a general guide and is not intended to describe all aspects of physicians' or pharmacists' activities. It is not intended to be restrictive, nor should it inhibit positive developments in pharmacist-physician relationships or in their respective practices that contribute to optimal drug therapy. Furthermore, this statement should be used and interpreted in accordance with applicable legislation and other legal requirements.
This statement will be reviewed and assessed regularly to ensure its continuing applicability to medical and pharmacy practices.
Goal of Drug Therapy
The goal of drug therapy is to improve patients' health and quality of life by preventing, eliminating or controlling diseases or symptoms. Optimal drug therapy is safe, effective, appropriate, affordable, cost-effective and tailored to meet the needs of patients, who participate, to the best of their ability, in making informed decisions about their therapy. Patients require access to necessary drug therapy and specific, unbiased drug information to meet their individual needs. Providing optimal drug therapy also requires a valid and accessible information base generated by basic, clinical, pharmaceutical and other scientific research.
Working Together for Optimal Drug Therapy
Physicians and pharmacists have complementary and supportive responsibilities in providing optimal drug therapy. To achieve this goal, and to ensure that patients receive consistent information, patients, pharmacists and physicians must work cooperatively and in partnership. This requires effective communication, respect, trust, and mutual recognition and understanding of each other's complementary responsibilities. The role of each profession in drug therapy depends on numerous factors, including the specific patient and his or her drug therapy, the prescription status of the drug concerned, the setting and the patient-physician-pharmacist relationship. However, it is recognized that, in general, each profession may focus on certain areas more than others.
For example, when counselling patients on their drug therapy, a physician may focus on disease-specific counselling, goals of therapy, risks and benefits and rare side effects, whereas a pharmacist may focus on correct usage, treatment adherence, dosage, precautions, dietary restrictions and storage. Areas of overlap may include purpose, common side effects and their management and warnings regarding drug interactions and lifestyle concerns. Similarly, when monitoring drug therapy, a physician would focus on clinical progress toward treatment goals, whereas a pharmacist may focus on drug effects, interactions and treatment adherence; both would monitor adverse effects.
Both professions should tailor drug therapy, including education, to meet the needs of individual patients. To provide continuity of care and to promote consistency in the information being provided, it is important that both pharmacists and physicians assess the patients' knowledge and identify and reinforce the educational component provided by the other.
Strategies for Collaborating to Optimize Drug Therapy
Patients, physicians and pharmacists need to work in close collaboration and partnership to achieve optimal drug therapy. Strategies to facilitate such teamwork include the following.
- Respecting and supporting patients' rights to make informed decisions regarding their drug therapy.
- Promoting knowledge, understanding and acceptance by physicians and pharmacists of their responsibilities in drug therapy and fostering widespread communication of these responsibilities so they are clearly understood by all.
- Supporting both professions' relationship with patients, and promoting a collaborative approach to drug therapy within the health care team. Care must be taken to maintain patients' trust and their relationship with other caregivers.
- Sharing relevant patient information for the enhancement of patient care, in accordance and compliance with all of the following: ethical standards to protect patient privacy, accepted medical and pharmacy practice, and the law. Patients should inform their physician and pharmacist of any information that may assist in providing optimal drug therapy.
- Increasing physicians' and pharmacists' awareness that it is important to make themselves readily available to each other to communicate about a patient for whom they are both providing care.
- Enhancing documentation (e.g., clearly written prescriptions and communication forms) and optimizing the use of technology (e.g., e-mail, voice mail and fax) in individual practices to enhance communication, improve efficiency and support consistency in information provided to patients.
- Developing effective communication and administrative procedures between health care institutions and community-based pharmacists and physicians to support continuity of care.
- Developing local communication channels and encouraging dialogue between the professions (e.g., through joint continuing education programs and local meetings) to promote a peer-review-based approach to local prescribing and drug-use issues.
- Teaching a collaborative approach to patient care as early as possible in the training of pharmacists and physicians.
- Developing effective communication channels and encouraging dialogue among patients, physicians and pharmacists at the regional, provincial, territorial and national levels to address issues such as drug-use policy, prescribing guidelines and continuing professional education.
- Collaborating in the development of technology to enhance communication in practices (e.g., shared patient databases relevant to drug therapy).
- Working jointly on committees and projects concerned with issues in drug therapy such as patient education, treatment adherence, formularies and practice guidelines, hospital-to-community care, cost-control strategies, sampling and other relevant policy issues concerning drug therapy.
- Fostering the development and utilization of a high-quality clinical and scientific information base to support evidence-based decision making.
The Physician's Responsibilities
Physicians and pharmacists recognize the following responsibilities in drug therapy as being within the scope of physicians' practice, on the basis of such factors as physicians' education and specialized skills, relationship with patients and practice environment. Some responsibilities may overlap with those of pharmacists (see The Pharmacist's Responsibilities). In addition, it is recognized that practice environments within medicine may differ and may affect the physician's role.
- Assessing health status, diagnosing diseases, assessing the need for drug therapy and providing curative, preventive, palliative and rehabilitative drug therapy in consultation with patients and in collaboration with caregivers, pharmacists and other health care professionals, when appropriate.
- Working with patients to set therapeutic goals and monitor progress toward such goals in consultation with caregivers, pharmacists and other health care providers, when appropriate.
- Monitoring and assessing response to drug therapy, progress toward therapeutic goals and patient adherence to the therapeutic plan; when necessary, revising the plan on the basis of outcomes of current therapy and progress toward goals of therapy, in consultation with patients and in collaboration with caregivers, pharmacists and other health care providers, when appropriate.
- Carrying out surveillance of and assessing patients for adverse reactions to drugs and other unanticipated problems related to drug therapy, revising therapy and, when appropriate, reporting adverse reactions and other complications to health authorities.
- Providing specific information to patients and caregivers about diagnosis, indications and treatment goals, and the action, benefits, risks and potential side effects of drug therapy.
- Providing and sharing general and specific information and advice about disease and drugs with patients, caregivers, health care providers and the public.
- Maintaining adequate records of drug therapy for each patient, including, when applicable, goals of therapy, therapy prescribed, progress toward goals, revisions of therapy, a list of drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter drugs) currently taken, adverse reactions to therapy, history of known drug allergies, smoking history, occupational exposure or risk, known patterns of alcohol or substance use that may influence response to drugs, history of treatment adherence and attitudes toward drugs. Records should also document patient counselling and advice given, when appropriate.
- Ensuring safe procurement, storage, handling, preparation, distribution, dispensing and record keeping of drugs (in keeping with federal and provincial regulations and the CMA policy summary "Physicians and the Pharmaceutical Industry (Update 1994)" (Can Med Assoc J 1994;150:256A-C.) when the patient cannot reasonably receive such services from a pharmacist.
- Maintaining a high level of knowledge about drug therapy through critical appraisal of the literature and continuing professional development.
Care must be provided in accordance with legislation and in an atmosphere of privacy, and patient confidentiality must be maintained. Care also should be provided in accordance with accepted scientific and ethical standards and procedures.
The Pharmacist's Responsibilities
Pharmacists and physicians recognize the following responsibilities as being within the scope of pharmacists' practice, on the basis of such factors as pharmacists' education and specialized skills, relationship with patients and practice environment. Some responsibilities may overlap with those of physicians (see The Physician's Responsibilities). In addition, it is recognized that, in selected practice environments, the pharmacists' role may differ considerably.
- Evaluating the patients' drug-therapy record ("drug profile") and reviewing prescription orders to ensure that a prescribed therapy is safe and to identify, solve or prevent actual or potential drug-related problems or concerns. Examples include possible contraindications, drug interactions or therapeutic duplication, allergic reactions and patient nonadherence to treatment. Significant concerns should be discussed with the prescriber.
- Ensuring safe procurement, storage, preparation, distribution and dispensing of pharmaceutical products (in keeping with federal, provincial and other applicable regulations).
- Discussing actual or potential drug-related problems or concerns and the purpose of drug therapy with patients, in consultation with caregivers, physicians and health care providers, when appropriate.
- Monitoring drug therapy to identify drug-related problems or concerns, such as lack of symptomatic response, lack of adherence to treatment plans and suspected adverse effects. Significant concerns should be discussed with the physician.
- Advising patients and caregivers on the selection and use of nonprescription drugs and the management of minor symptoms or ailments.
- Directing patients to consult their physician for diagnosis and treatment when required. Pharmacists may be the first contact for health advice. Through basic patient assessment (i.e., observation and interview) they should identify the need for referral to a physician or an emergency department.
- Notifying physicians of actual or suspected adverse reactions to drugs and, when appropriate, reporting such reactions to health authorities.
- Providing specific information to patients and caregivers about drug therapy, taking into account patients' existing knowledge about their drug therapy. This information may include the name of the drug, its purpose, potential interactions or side effects, precautions, correct usage, methods to promote adherence to the treatment plan and any other health information appropriate to the needs of the patient.
- Providing and sharing general and specific drug-related information and advice with patients, caregivers, physicians, health care providers and the public.
- Maintaining adequate records of drug therapy to facilitate the prevention, identification and management of drug-related problems or concerns. These records should contain, but are not limited to, each patient's current and past drug therapy (including both prescribed and selected over-the-counter drugs), drug-allergy history, appropriate demographic data and, if known, the purpose of therapy and progress toward treatment goals, adverse reactions to therapy, the patient's history of adherence to treatment, attitudes toward drugs, smoking history, occupational exposure or risk, and known patterns of alcohol or substance use that may influence his or her response to drugs. Records should also document patient counselling and advice given, when appropriate.
- Maintaining a high level of knowledge about drug therapy through critical appraisal of the literature and continuing professional development.
Care must be provided in accordance with legislation and in an atmosphere of privacy, and patient confidentiality must be maintained. Products and services should be provided in accordance with accepted scientific and ethical standards and procedures.
Racism is a structural determinant of health and drives health and social inequities. The recent incidents of anti-Black violence, racism and discrimination in the US and Canada also shed light on the structural inequities and racism that exist within the medical profession and the health system.
The profession of medicine is grounded in respect for all people. This commitment recognizes that everyone has equal and inherent worth, the right to be valued and respected, and the right to be treated with dignity.
It’s critical that our medical culture – and society more broadly – upholds these values. But today, we’re reminded that there’s much more to do as a profession, and as a global community, to get us there.
Earlier this year, we launched our first-ever policy on equity and diversity in medicine Opens in a new window to help break down the many broad and systemic barriers that remain, to reduce discrimination and bias within our profession, and to create physically and psychologically safe environments for ourselves, our colleagues and our patients.
Alongside this policy comes a commitment to holding ourselves accountable to recognizing and challenging behaviours, practices and conditions that hinder equity and diversity, including racism.
Instances of racism, intolerance, exclusion, violence and discrimination have no place in medicine, and no place in our society. The Canadian Medical Association condemns racism in all its forms. Today, we stand alongside all those who have been affected by these appalling and inexcusable actions and beliefs.
Dr. Sandy Buchman
President, Canadian Medical Association
The current global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has presented the international medical community with unprecedented ethical challenges. The most difficult of these has involved making decisions about access to scarce resources when demand outweighs capacity.
In Canada, it is well accepted that everyone should have an equal opportunity to access and receive medical treatment. This is possible when there are sufficient resources. But in contexts of resource scarcity, when there are insufficient resources, difficult decisions have to be made about who receives critical care (e.g., ICU beds, ventilators) by triaging patients. Triage is a process for determining which patients receive treatment and/or which level of care under what circumstances in contexts of resource scarcity. Priority-setting for resource allocation becomes more ethically complex during catastrophic times or in public health emergencies, such as today’s COVID-19 pandemic, when there is a need to manage a potential surge of patients.
Physicians from China to Italy to Spain to the United States have found themselves in the unfathomable position of having to triage their most seriously ill patients and decide which ones should have access to ventilators and which should not, and which allocation criteria should be used to make these decisions. While the Canadian Medical Association hopes that Canadian physicians will not be faced with these agonizing choices, it is our intent, through this framework, to provide them with guidance in case they do and enable them to make ethically justifiable informed decisions in the face of difficult ethical dilemmas. Invoking this framework to ground decisions about who has access to critical care and who does not should only be made as a last resort. As always, physicians should carefully document their clinical and ethical decisions and the reasoning behind them.
Generally, the CMA would spend many months in deliberations and consultations with numerous stakeholders, including patients and the public, before producing a document such as this one. The current situation, unfortunately, did not allow for such a process. We have turned instead to documents, reports and policies produced by our Italian colleagues and ethicists and physicians from Canada and around the world, as well as provincial level documents and frameworks.
The CMA is endorsing and recommending that Canadian physicians use the guidance provided by Emmanuel and colleagues in the New England Journal of Medicine article dated from March 23rd, as outlined below. We believe these recommendations represent the best current approach to this situation, produced using the highest current standard of evidence by a panel of internationally recognized experts. We also recognize that the situation is changing constantly, and these guidelines may need to be updated as required.
The CMA will continue to advocate for access to personal protective equipment, ventilators and ICU equipment and resources. We also encourage physicians to make themselves aware of any relevant provincial or local documents, and to seek advice from their regulatory body or liability protection provider. It should be noted that some provinces and indeed individual health care facilities will have their own protocols or frameworks in place. At the time of its publication, this document was broadly consistent with those protocols that we were given an opportunity to review.
The CMA recognizes that physicians may experience moral distress when making these decisions. We encourage physicians to seek peer support and practice self-care. In addition, the CMA recommends that triage teams or committees be convened where feasible in order to help separate clinical decision making from resource allocation, thereby lessening the moral burden being placed on the individual physician.
The CMA recommends that physicians receive legal protection to ensure that they can continue providing needed care to patients with confidence and support and without fear of civil or criminal liability or professional discipline. In this time of uncertainty, physicians should be reassured that their good faith efforts to provide care during such a crisis will not put them at increased medical-legal risk. Providing such reassurance is needed so that physicians have the confidence to continue to provide care to their patients.
Recommendation 1: In the context of a pandemic, the value of maximizing benefits is most important. This value reflects the importance of responsible stewardship of resources: it is difficult to justify asking health care workers and the public to take risks and make sacrifices if the promise that their efforts will save and lengthen lives is illusory. Priority for limited resources should aim both at saving the most lives and at maximizing improvements in individuals’ post-treatment length of life. Saving more lives and more years of life is a consensus value across expert reports. It is consistent both with utilitarian ethical perspectives that emphasize population outcomes and with nonutilitarian views that emphasize the paramount value of each human life. There are many reasonable ways of balancing saving more lives against saving more years of life; whatever balance between lives and life-years is chosen must be applied consistently.
Limited time and information in a Covid-19 pandemic make it justifiable to give priority to maximizing the number of patients that survive treatment with a reasonable life expectancy and to regard maximizing improvements in length of life as a subordinate aim. The latter becomes relevant only in comparing patients whose likelihood of survival is similar. Limited time and information during an emergency also counsel against incorporating patients’ future quality of life, and quality-adjusted life-years, into benefit maximization. Doing so would require time-consuming collection of information and would present ethical and legal problems. However, encouraging all patients, especially those facing the prospect of intensive care, to document in an advance care directive what future quality of life they would regard as acceptable and when they would refuse ventilators or other life-sustaining interventions can be appropriate.
Operationalizing the value of maximizing benefits means that people who are sick but could recover if treated are given priority over those who are unlikely to recover even if treated and those who are likely to recover without treatment. Because young, severely ill patients will often comprise many of those who are sick but could recover with treatment, this operationalization also has the effect of giving priority to those who are worst off in the sense of being at risk of dying young and not having a full life.
Because maximizing benefits is paramount in a pandemic, we believe that removing a patient from a ventilator or an ICU bed to provide it to others in need is also justifiable and that patients should be made aware of this possibility at admission. Undoubtedly, withdrawing ventilators or ICU support from patients who arrived earlier to save those with better prognosis will be extremely psychologically traumatic for clinicians — and some clinicians might refuse to do so. However, many guidelines agree that the decision to withdraw a scarce resource to save others is not an act of killing and does not require the patient’s consent. We agree with these guidelines that it is the ethical thing to do. Initially allocating beds and ventilators according to the value of maximizing benefits could help reduce the need for withdrawal.
Recommendation 2: Irrespective of Recommendation 1, Critical Covid-19 interventions — testing, PPE, ICU beds, ventilators, therapeutics, and vaccines — should go first to front-line health care workers and others who care for ill patients and who keep critical infrastructure operating, particularly workers who face a high risk of infection and whose training makes them difficult to replace. These workers should be given priority not because they are somehow more worthy, but because of their instrumental value: they are essential to pandemic response. If physicians and nurses and RTs are incapacitated, all patients — not just those with Covid-19 — will suffer greater mortality and years of life lost. Whether health workers who need ventilators will be able to return to work is uncertain but giving them priority for ventilators recognizes their assumption of the high-risk work of saving others. Priority for critical workers must not be abused by prioritizing wealthy or famous persons or the politically powerful above first responders and medical staff — as has already happened for testing. Such abuses will undermine trust in the allocation framework.
Recommendation 3: For patients with similar prognoses, equality should be invoked and operationalized through random allocation, such as a lottery, rather than a first-come, first-served allocation process. First-come, first-served is used for such resources as transplantable kidneys, where scarcity is long-standing, and patients can survive without the scarce resource. Conversely, treatments for coronavirus address urgent need, meaning that a first-come, first-served approach would unfairly benefit patients living nearer to health facilities. And first-come, first-served medication or vaccine distribution would encourage crowding and even violence during a period when social distancing is paramount. Finally, first-come, first-served approaches mean that people who happen to get sick later on, perhaps because of their strict adherence to recommended public health measures, are excluded from treatment, worsening outcomes without improving fairness. In the face of time pressure and limited information, random selection is also preferable to trying to make finer-grained prognostic judgments within a group of roughly similar patients.
Recommendation 4: Prioritization guidelines should differ by intervention and should respond to changing scientific evidence. For instance, younger patients should not be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccines, which prevent disease rather than cure it, or for experimental post- or pre-exposure prophylaxis. Covid-19 outcomes have been significantly worse in older persons and those with chronic conditions. Invoking the value of maximizing saving lives justifies giving older persons priority for vaccines immediately after health care workers and first responders. If the vaccine supply is insufficient for patients in the highest risk categories — those over 60 years of age or with coexisting conditions — then equality supports using random selection, such as a lottery, for vaccine allocation. Invoking instrumental value justifies prioritizing younger patients for vaccines only if epidemiologic modeling shows that this would be the best way to reduce viral spread and the risk to others.
Epidemiologic modeling is even more relevant in setting priorities for coronavirus testing. Federal guidance currently gives priority to health care workers and older patients but reserving some tests for public health surveillance could improve knowledge about Covid-19 transmission and help researchers target other treatments to maximize benefits.
Conversely, ICU beds and ventilators are curative rather than preventive. Patients who need them face life-threatening conditions. Maximizing benefits requires consideration of prognosis — how long the patient is likely to live if treated — which may mean giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer coexisting conditions. This is consistent with the Italian guidelines that potentially assign a higher priority for intensive care access to younger patients with severe illness than to elderly patients. Determining the benefit-maximizing allocation of antivirals and other experimental treatments, which are likely to be most effective in patients who are seriously but not critically ill, will depend on scientific evidence. These treatments may produce the most benefit if preferentially allocated to patients who would fare badly on ventilation.
Recommendation 5: People who participate in research to prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutics should receive some priority for Covid-19 interventions. Their assumption of risk during their participation in research helps future patients, and they should be rewarded for that contribution. These rewards will also encourage other patients to participate in clinical trials. Research participation, however, should serve only as a tiebreaker among patients with similar prognoses.
Recommendation 6: There should be no difference in allocating scarce resources between patients with Covid-19 and those with other medical conditions. If the Covid-19 pandemic leads to absolute scarcity, that scarcity will affect all patients, including those with heart failure, cancer, and other serious and life-threatening conditions requiring prompt medical attention. Fair allocation of resources that prioritizes the value of maximizing benefits applies across all patients who need resources. For example, a doctor with an allergy who goes into anaphylactic shock and needs life-saving intubation and ventilator support should receive priority over Covid-19 patients who are not frontline health care workers.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors April 2020
Medical professionalism (Update 2005)
The environment in which medicine is practised in Canada is undergoing rapid and profound change. There are now continued opportunities for the medical profession to provide leadership for our patients, our communities and our colleagues through strengthened professionalism. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is strongly committed to medical professionalism and has developed this policy both to inform physicians and others about its meaning and value and to promote its preservation and enhancement. This document outlines the major features of medical professionalism, the opportunities which exist in this area and the challenges which lie before us.
Why Medical Professionalism?
The medical profession is characterized by a strong commitment to the well-being of patients, high standards of ethical conduct, mastery of an ever-expanding body of knowledge and skills, and a high level of clinical independence. As individuals, physicians' personal values may vary, but as members of the medical profession they are expected to share and uphold those values that characterize the practice of medicine and the care of patients.
Medical professionalism includes both the relationship between a physician and a patient and a social contract between physicians and society. Society grants the profession privileges, including exclusive or primary responsibility for the provision of certain services and a high degree of self-regulation. In return, the profession agrees to use these privileges primarily for the benefit of others and only secondarily for its own benefit. Three major features of medical professionalism - the ethic of care, clinical independence and self-regulation - benefit physicians, their patients and society:
Ethic of care: This is characterized by the values of compassion, beneficence, nonmaleficence, respect for persons and justice (CMA's Code of Ethics). Society benefits from the ethic of care whereby, in the provision of medical services, physicians put the interests of others ahead of their own. Dedication and commitment to the well-being of others is clearly in the interests of patients, who are the primary beneficiaries.
Clinical independence: Medicine is a highly complex art and science. Through lengthy training and experience, physicians become medical experts and healers. Whereas patients have the right to decide to a large extent which medical interventions they will undergo, they expect their physicians to be free to make clinically appropriate recommendations. Although physicians recognize that they are accountable to patients, funding agencies and their peers for their recommendations, unreasonable restraints on clinical autonomy imposed by governments and administrators, whether public or private, are not in the best interests of patients, not least because they can damage the trust that is an essential component of the patient-physician relationship. Conversely, physicians are not morally obliged to provide inappropriate medical services when requested by patients despite their respect for patient autonomy.
Self-regulation: Physicians have traditionally been granted this privilege by society. It includes the control of entrance into the profession by establishing educational standards and setting examinations, the licensing of physicians, and the establishment and ongoing review of standards of medical practice. In return for this privilege, physicians are expected to hold each other accountable for their behaviour and for the outcomes they achieve on behalf of their patients. Self-regulation is exercised by many different professional organizations, from medical practice partnerships to the statutory provincial/territorial licensing bodies. It has evolved into a partnership with the public. Self-regulation benefits society by taking the best advantage of the professional expertise needed to appropriately set and maintain standards of training and practice, while providing suitable accountability in matters of professional behaviour. The profession's commitment to the maintenance of those standards is demonstrated by its willingness to participate in outcomes review at many levels, from institutional quality assurance activities to formal prospective peer review, and to actively support their statutory and legislated licensing authorities.
Opportunities in Medical Professionalism
Over the past few years much has been written about the issue of medical professionalism in both the lay and scientific media. The practice of medicine has changed considerably, and with these changes have come challenges but also opportunities. The medical profession continues to be a greatly respected one, and it is still generally seen as being distinct from many others because of the unique nature of the physician-patient relationship. There exists now an opportunity to reinforce the professional values and priorities that have sustained medicine for so long, and to embrace new approaches which will serve it well in the years to come.
Medical professionals must recognize that patients have a wide variety of resources available for their health care needs, from traditional physician services to paramedical practitioners, to complementary medicine and to information obtained from the internet. While maintaining responsibility for care of the patient as a whole, physicians must be able to interact constructively with other health care providers within an interdisciplinary team setting, and must be able to interpret information for patients and direct them to appropriate and accurate resources.
The relationship of physicians with their colleagues must be strengthened and reinforced. Patient care benefits when all health care practitioners work together towards a common goal, in an atmosphere of support and collegiality.
Although there are some challenges to professionalism, as outlined below, the greatest opportunity before us may be to remind physicians of the reasons they chose a career in medicine to begin with - for many, it is a calling rather than a job. In spite of the numerous recent changes in the health care system and the practice of medicine, the primary reason most physicians entered the field remains the same - the sanctity of the fiduciary relationship between physicians and their patients. The renewal of medical professionalism must be led from within the profession itself, and the CMA and its members are in a unique position to take advantage of the many opportunities which exist and to respond to the challenges we face.
Challenges to Medical Professionalism
Medical professionalism is being challenged from within and without. These challenges arise from pressures that may serve to undermine the ethic of care, clinical independence and self-regulation and may result, for individual physicians and the medical profession, in diminished morale and changes in lifestyle and practice patterns. These changes may have a detrimental impact on the health of physicians, and also on the quality of patient care.
Resource restraints: The CMA has identified scarcity of resources, whether human or material, as undermining the ability of physicians to maintain excellence in clinical care, research and teaching. Although much attention has been paid recently to the insufficient number of physicians in Canada, and although recent developments indicate some limited cause for optimism, much work remains to be done. Issues of access to continuing professional development, workforce sustainability, inadequate numbers of training positions for new doctors, the integration of foreign-trained physicians into the workforce and the apparent inability of governments to resolve inadequacies in health care funding continue to frustrate physicians' attempts to achieve their professional goals and care for their patients. These factors all have the potential for contributing to the decline of professional morale.
Bureaucratic challenges: This refers to the introduction of layers of management and policy directives between the physician and the patient. It is a result of changes that have taken place in the organization and delivery of medical care, especially the involvement of governments in all aspects of health care. The traditional one-on-one relationship of physician and patient is now set within a context of government and corporate interests, in which the physician may sometimes assume the status of an employee, that pose considerable challenges to the exercise of the professional values of clinical autonomy and self-regulation. Moreover, while the responsibility for organizing the delivery of scarce resources has been increasingly transferred from physicians to managers, physicians are still ultimately responsible, both morally and legally, for providing quality care. Although the increasing complexity of health care delivery requires recourse to sophisticated management systems, there is a danger that as physicians become increasingly answerable to or constrained by third parties, their ability to fulfill their commitment to their individual patients can be seriously compromised.
Unprofessional conduct: Some physicians do not uphold the values of the profession. A few put their interests or the interests of third parties ahead of the interests of their patients. The profession needs to meet this challenge by demonstrating its ability to uphold its values and its commitment to doing so. Supporting strong and transparent self-regulatory systems will be a key component of this endeavor.
Commercialism: In recent years the market mentality has expanded its influence to many areas formerly outside its domain, including governments, universities and the professions. Health care has become a major industry, one in which physicians play a central role, and commercial interests, whether private or public, may pressure physicians to compromise their responsibilities to their patients, research subjects and society. The potential for physicians and medical associations to become drawn into conflict-of-interest situations is increasing. Commercialism may compromise both the ethic of care and clinical independence by its reinterpretation of medical care as a commodity and the patient-physician relationship as something less than a fiduciary relationship. There is an inherent opportunity for the profession to address the issue of conflict of interest and to re-affirm its primary obligation and dedication to the patients it cares for.
Consumerism: Physicians strongly support the right of patients to make informed decisions about their medical care. However, the CMA's Code of Ethics requires physicians to recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that they consider to be beneficial to the patient or to others. There is a proliferation of health information and advertising in the popular media and on the Internet that may be inaccurate or poorly understood. Taken to its extreme, consumerism can be detrimental not just to professionalism but to the well-being of patients and the interests of society.
Industrialization: This refers to the increased division and specialization of labour in the delivery of health care, whereby the delivery of health care may become fragmented. There is increasing pressure within medicine to improve efficiency and optimize cost savings. While these may be important goals in the broader context of health care, we must ensure that they do not impact negatively on the doctor-patient relationship.
Realizing Opportunities and Dealing with Challenges
Individual physicians should protect, enhance and promote professionalism in medicine by reflecting the values of the medical profession in their practice and by contributing to the efforts of organized medicine to maintain and enhance the ethic of care, clinical autonomy and self-regulation. These efforts require action in 3 areas: policy, education and self-regulation.
Policy: All those involved in health care - physicians, patients, other health care providers, administrators, governments and the general public (as taxpayers, potential patients, relatives of patients, etc.) - should be informed about the values of the medical profession and where it stands on issue related to accountability, clinical autonomy and self-regulation. Policies of medical associations should reflect these values and should speak clearly on topics such as conflict of interest. Policies should be reviewed frequently and updated when necessary, in order to take account of the rapidly changing environment in which medicine is practiced. The topic of professionalism should be granted increasing importance in policy discussions. Policies should be developed and updated in related areas, such as conflict of interest and physician-industry interactions.
In order to be consistent and trustworthy, medical associations should adhere to the same high standards of behaviour that they require of individual physicians. The challenges posed by resource restraints, bureaucratization, unprofessional conduct, commercialism and consumerism are no less serious for associations than for individuals and require sound harmonized policies for both. The CMA has an opportunity for leadership in this regard.
Education: However professional values and policies are established, they must be transmitted to current and future members of the profession in order to have any effect.
Like most other aspects of medical education, the values of professionalism are both taught and modeled. Professionalism should be an essential component of the formal medical curriculum at the undergraduate and postgraduate training levels. Moreover, active demonstration of professionalism such as role modeling by physicians, and in the internal culture of the medical schools and hospitals where students receive their training, should be used to advantage and challenged when necessary. Likewise for physicians in practice, formal continuing professional development programs and role modeling by other physicians are important for the maintenance of professionalism.
Physicians need to communicate and test their understanding of their professional role with others involved in patient care at numerous levels. Such initiatives, which would engage patients, other professionals and policy-makers, require further development.
The CMA and other medical organizations have taken leadership roles in assisting patients and health care providers in making informed decisions by creating numerous continuing professional development opportunities and readily available clinical information for physicians, effective patient education materials, self-help books and validated Web sites, including www.cma.ca. These efforts need to continue and be strengthened.
Self-regulation: In order to maintain self-regulation in an environment that is increasingly suspicious of such privileges, the medical profession has to demonstrate that self regulation benefits society in general. This requires, among other things, that the medical profession continue to demonstrate its commitment to the tasks required by self-regulation, including setting and enforcing high standards of behaviour for both individual physicians and medical associations.
Physicians continue to value medical professionalism highly. They believe that it benefits patients greatly and that it should be preserved and enhanced. Professionalism will continue to be based on the relationship of trust between patients and physicians, and the primacy of the physician-patient relationship. It encompasses the values of compassion, beneficence, nonmaleficence, respect for persons and justice. As professionals, physicians will strive to maintain high standards of ethics, clinical practice and education and demonstrate a capacity for social responsibility through self-regulation and accountability (see CMA Policy Statement The Future of Medicine).
The CMA welcomes opportunities to engage in dialogue with others as to how professionalism in health care can be preserved and enhanced for the benefit of patients, physicians and society in general.
The Role of Physicians in Recognizing and Supporting
Treatment of Gambling Addiction
(Update November 2005)
Gambling is a common activity in our society. For a small percentage, this behaviour can become pathological, affecting the well-being of gamblers as well as their families and workplaces. This disorder has been described in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" Fourth Edition, (DSM IV) and is recognized as an illness by physicians.
Physicians have a role in identifying pathological gambling behaviour and being aware of the resources that exist to treat and support addicted individuals and their families. To assist them in performing this role, the CMA makes the following recommendations:
* The CMA supports the development of core curricula in gambling disorders to be offered at undergraduate and post-graduate levels and through CME programs. These could include inter-professional or interdisciplinary curricula developed in partnership with other health professionals.
* The CMA supports the development and dissemination of resources to help practising physicians screen patients to identify those with gambling addiction and to provide appropriate treatment.
* Governments should ensure the timely availability of quality treatment services appropriate to the age, culture and background of client groups.
* The CMA encourages research into gambling addiction, which could include:
identifying the biological basis for gambling;
identifying best-practice interventions to reduce the prevalence of problem gambling;
measuring the social and economic impacts of gambling on individuals and communities; and
dispelling the myths surrounding gambling addiction.
* Governments and others should work together to implement educational and policy strategies to reduce the prevalence of problem gambling. These could include:
elementary school programs to help prevent pathological gambling disorders;
limiting the number of gambling establishments, particularly video lottery terminals (VLTs) and casinos;
placing age limits on accessibility to VLTs so that children and adolescents are restricted from their use; and
promoting lower risk gambling approaches for primary prevention and harm reduction such as gambling only with a predetermined loss limit and not gambling alone.