Clinical photography is a valuable tool for physicians. Smartphones, as well as other devices supporting network connectivity, offer a convenient, efficient method to take and share images. However, due to the private nature of the information contained in clinical photographs there are concerns as to the appropriate storage, dissemination, and documentation of clinical images. Confidentiality of image data must be considered and the dissemination of these images onto servers must respect the privacy and rights of the patient. Importantly, patient information should be considered as any information deriving from a patient, and the concepts outlined therefore apply to any media that can be collected on, or transmitted with, a smart-device.
Clinical photography can aid in documenting form and function, in tracking conditions and wound healing, in planning surgical operations, and in clinical decision-making. Additionally, clinical photographs can provide physicians with a valuable tool for patient communication and education. Due to the convenience of this type of technology it is not appropriate to expect physicians to forego their use in providing their patients with the best care available.
The technology and software required for secure transfer, communication, and storage of clinical media is presently available, but many devices have non-secure storage/dissemination options enabled and lack user-control for permanently deleting digital files. In addition, data uploaded onto server systems commonly cross legal jurisdictions. Many physicians are not comfortable with the practice, citing security, privacy, and confidentiality concerns as well as uncertainty in regards to regional regulations governing this practice.1 Due to concern for patient privacy and confidentiality it is therefore incredibly important to limit the unsecure or undocumented acquisition or dissemination of clinical photographs.
To assess the current state of this topic, Heyns et al. have reviewed the accessibility and completeness of provincial and territorial medical regulatory college guidelines.2 Categories identified as vital and explored in this review included: Consent; Storage; Retention; Audit; Transmission; and Breach. While each regulatory body has addressed limited aspects of the overall issue, the authors found a general lack of available information and call for a unified document outlining pertinent instructions for conducting clinical photography using a smartphone and the electronic transmission of patient information.2
The discussion of this topic will need to be ongoing and it is important that physicians are aware of applicable regulations, both at the federal and provincial levels, and how these regulations may impact the use of personal devices. The best practices supported here aim to provide physicians and healthcare providers with an understanding of the scope and gravity of the current environment, as well as the information needed to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality is assessed and protected while physicians utilize accessible clinical photography to advance patient care. Importantly, this document only focusses on medical use (clinical, academic, and educational) of clinical photography and, while discussing many core concepts of patient privacy and confidentiality of information, should not be perceived as a complete or binding framework. Additionally, it is recommended that physicians understand the core competencies of clinical photography, which are not described here.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests that the following recommendations be implemented, as thoroughly as possible, to best align with the CMA policy on the Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy (CMA Policy PD2018-02). These key recommendations represent a non-exhaustive set of best practices - physicians should seek additional information as needed to gain a thorough understanding and to stay current in this rapidly changing field.
* Informed consent must be obtained, preferably prior, to photography with a mobile device. This applies for each and any such encounter and the purpose made clear (i.e. clinical, research, education, publication, etc.). Patients should also be made aware that they may request a copy of a picture or for a picture to be deleted.
* A patient's consent to use electronic transmission does not relieve a physician of their duty to protect the confidentiality of patient information. Also, a patient's consent cannot override other jurisdictionally mandated security requirements.
* All patient consents (including verbal) should be documented. The acquisition and recording of patient consent for medical photography/dissemination may be held to a high standard of accountability due to the patient privacy and confidentiality issues inherent in the use of this technology. Written and signed consent is encouraged.
* Consent should be considered as necessary for any and all photography involving a patient, whether or not that patient can be directly recognized, due to the possibility of linked information and the potential for breach of privacy. The definition of non-identifiable photos must be carefully considered. Current technologies such as face recognition and pattern matching (e.g. skin markers, physical structure, etc.), especially in combination with identifying information, have the potential to create a privacy breach.
* Unsecure text and email messaging requires explicit patient consent and should not be used unless the current gold standards of security are not accessible. For a patient-initiated unsecure transmission, consent should be clarified and not assumed.
* Transmission of photos and patient information should be encrypted as per current-day gold standards (presently, end-to-end encryption (E2EE)) and use only secure servers that are subject to Canadian laws. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns or standards for servers in other jurisdictions. Generally, free internet-based communication services and public internet access are unsecure technologies and often operate on servers outside of Canadian jurisdiction.
* Efforts should be made to use the most secure transmission method possible. For data security purposes, identifying information should never be included in the image, any frame of a video, the file name, or linked messages.
* The sender should always ensure that each recipient is intended and appropriate and, if possible, receipt of transmission should be confirmed by the recipient.
* Storing images and data on a smart-device should be limited as much as possible for data protection purposes.
* Clinical photos, as well as messages or other patient-related information, should be completely segregated from the device's personal storage. This can be accomplished by using an app that creates a secure, password-protected folder on the device.
* All information stored (on internal memory or cloud) must be strongly encrypted and password protected. The security measures must be more substantial than the general password unlock feature on mobile devices.
* Efforts should be made to dissociate identifying information from images when images are exported from a secure server. Media should not be uploaded to platforms without an option for securely deleting information without consent from the patient, and only if there are no better options. Automatic back-up of photos to unsecure cloud servers should be deactivated. Further, other back-up or syncing options that could lead to unsecure server involvement should be ascertained and the risks mitigated.
4. Cloud storage should be on a Canadian and SOCII certified server. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns for servers in other jurisdictions.
5. AUDIT & RETENTION
* It is important to create an audit trail for the purposes of transparency and medical best practice. Key information includes patient and health information, consent type and details, pertinent information regarding the photography (date, circumstance, photographer), and any other important facts such as access granted/deletion requests.
* Access to the stored information must be by the authorized physician or health care provider and for the intended purpose, as per the consent given. Records should be stored such that it is possible to print/transfer as necessary.
* Original photos should be retained and not overwritten.
* All photos and associated messages may be considered part of the patient's clinical records and should be maintained for at least 10 years or 10 years after the age of majority, whichever is longer. When possible, patient information (including photos and message histories between health professionals) should be retained and amalgamated with a patient's medical record. Provincial regulations regarding retention of clinical records may vary and other regulations may apply to other entities - e.g. 90 years from date of birth applies to records at the federal level.
* It may not be allowable to erase a picture if it is integral to a clinical decision or provincial, federal, or other applicable regulations require their retention.
* Any breach should be taken seriously and should be reviewed. All reasonable efforts must be made to prevent a breach before one occurs. A breach occurs when personal information, communication, or photos of patients are stolen, lost, or mistakenly disclosed. This includes loss or theft of one's mobile device, texting to the wrong number or emailing/messaging to the wrong person(s), or accidentally showing a clinical photo that exists in the phone's personal photo album.
* It should be noted that non-identifying information, when combined with other available information (e.g. a text message with identifiers or another image with identifiers), can lead to highly accurate re-identification.
* At present, apps downloaded to a smart-device for personal use may be capable of collecting and sharing information - the rapidly changing nature of this technology and the inherent privacy concerns requires regular attention. Use of specialized apps designed for health-information sharing that help safeguard patient information in this context is worth careful consideration.
* Having remote wipe (i.e. device reformatting) capabilities is an asset and can help contain a breach. However, inappropriate access may take place before reformatting occurs.
* If a smartphone is strongly encrypted and has no clinical photos stored locally then its loss may not be considered a breach.
* In the event of a breach any patient potentially involved must be notified as soon as possible. The CMPA, the organization/hospital, and the Provincial licensing College should also be contacted immediately. Provincial regulations regarding notification of breach may vary.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors March 2018
i Heyns M†, Steve A‡, Dumestre DO‡, Fraulin FO‡, Yeung JK‡
† University of Calgary, Canada
‡ Section of Plastic Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Calgary, Canada
1 Chan N, Charette J, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO. Should 'smart phones' be used for patient photography? Plast Surg (Oakv). 2016;24(1):32-4.
2 Unpublished - Heyns M, Steve A, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO, Yeung J. Canadian Guidelines on Smartphone Clinical Photography.
The CMA is pleased to provide this submission to the Senate Standing Committee, Social Affairs, Science &Technology on Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.
The CMA has long-standing concerns about the health risks associated with consuming cannabis,i particularly in its smoked form.1,2 Children and youth are especially at risk for cannabis-related harms, given their brains are undergoing rapid and extensive development.
The CMA's approach to cannabis is grounded in broad public health policy. It includes promotion of health and prevention of drug dependence and addiction; access to assessment, counselling and treatment services; and a harm reduction perspective. The CMA believes that harm reduction encompasses policies, goals, strategies and programs directed at decreasing adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use for the individual, the community and the society while allowing the user to continue to use drugs, not precluding abstinence.3,4
Specifically, the CMA recommends a multi-faceted cannabis public health strategy that prioritizes impactful and realistic goals before, and certainly no later than, any legalization of cannabis.5 We propose that the first goal should be to develop educational interventions for children, teenagers and young adults. Other goals relate to data collection; monitoring and surveillance; ensuring a proportionate balance between enforcement harms and the direct and indirect harms caused by cannabis use; and research.
There is an ongoing need for research into the medicinal and harmful effects of cannabis use. As noted by the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, 6 there is limited evidence on such subjects as synthetic cannabinoids; practices like "deep inhalation" to increase the psychoactive effects of cannabis; and the combination of risky behaviours, like early-onset and frequent use, associated with experiencing acute or chronic health problems.6
Since 2002, the CMA has taken a public health perspective regarding cannabis and other illegal drugs. More recently, the CMA endorsed the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, and we submitted 22 recommendations to the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation ("the Task Force").7
According to the recent Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, cannabis is the most used illicit drug in Canada.8 In particular, 25%-30% of adolescents or youth report past-year cannabis use.9 This concerns the CMA. The increasing rate of high usage, despite the fact that non-medical use of cannabis is illegal, coupled with cannabis' increased potency (from 2% in 1980 to 20% in 2015 in the United States),10 the complexity and versatility of the cannabis plant,ii the variable quality of the end product, and variations in the frequency, age of initiation and method of use make it difficult to study the full health impacts and produce replicable, reliable scientific results.
The CMA submits, therefore, that any legalization of cannabis for non-medical use must be guided by a comprehensive cannabis public health strategy and include a strong legal-regulatory framework emphasizing harm reduction principles.
Given that the Task Force employed a minimizing of harms approach11 and given how the proposed legislation aligns with the Task Force's recommendations,12 the bill addresses several aspects of a legal-regulatory framework "to provide legal access to cannabis and to control and regulate its production, distribution and sale."13 This work provides the starting point for creating a national cannabis public health strategy. The CMA has long called for a comprehensive drug strategy that addresses addiction, prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.3
There are, however, key public health initiatives that the Canadian government has not adequately addressed and should be implemented before, or no later than, the implementation of legislation. One such initiative is education. Education is required to develop awareness among Canadians of the health, social and economic harms of cannabis use especially in young people.
Supporting a Legal-Regulatory Framework that Advances Public Health and Protection of Children and Youth
From a health perspective, allowing any use of cannabis by people under 25 years of age, and certainly those under 21 years of age, is challenging for physicians given the effects on the developing brain.1,3,14 The neurotoxic effect of cannabis, especially with persistent use, on the adolescent brain is more severe than on the adult brain.15,16
Further, neurological studies have shown that adolescent-onset cannabis use produces greater deficits in executive functioning and verbal IQ and greater impairment of learning and memory than adult-onset use.17,18
This underscores the importance of protecting the brain during development. Since current scientific evidence indicates that brain development is not completed until about 25 years of age,19 this would be the ideal minimum age for legal cannabis use.
Youth and young adults are among the highest users of cannabis in Canada. Despite non-medical use of cannabis being illegal in Canada since 1923, usage has increased over the past few decades.
The CMA recognizes that a blanket prohibition of possession for teenagers and young adults would not reflect current reality or a harm reduction approach.3 Harm reduction is not one of polarities rather it is about ensuring the quality and integrity of human life and acknowledging where the individual is at within his/her community and society at large.5
The possibility that a young person might incur a lifelong criminal record for periodic use or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use means that the long-term social and economic harms of cannabis use can be disproportionate to the drug's physiological harm. The Canadian government has recognized this disproportionality for over 15 years. Since 2001, there have been two parliamentary committee reportsiii and two billsiv introduced to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis (30 g). It was recommended that small amounts of cannabis possession be a "ticketable" offence rather than a criminal one.
Given all of the above, the CMA recommends that the age of legalization should be 21 years of age and that the quantities and the potency of cannabis be more restricted to those under age 25.
Supporting a Comprehensive Cannabis Public Health Strategy with a Strong, Effective Education Component
The CMA recognizes that Bill C-45 repeals the prohibition against simple possession while increasing penalties against the distribution and sale of cannabis to young people, but this is not enough to support a harm reduction approach.
We note that the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy, with its $38 million budget, is intended to help reduce smoking rates and change Canadians' perceptions toward tobacco.20 Similarly, there are extensive education programs concerning the dangers of alcohol, particularly for young people.v
The government of Canada has proposed a modest commitment of $9.6 million to a public awareness campaign to inform Canadians, especially youth, of the risks of cannabis consumption, and to surveillance activities.21
A harm reduction strategy should include a hierarchy of goals with an immediate focus on groups with pressing needs. The CMA submits that young people should be targeted first with education. The lifetime risk of dependence to cannabis is estimated at 9%, increasing to almost 17% in those who initiate use in adolescence.22 In 2012, about 1.3% of people aged 15 years and over met the criteria for cannabis abuse or dependence - double the rate for any other drug - because of the high prevalence of cannabis use.23
The strategy should include the development of educational interventions, including skills-based training programs, social marketing interventions and mass media campaigns. Education should focus not only on cannabis' general risks but also on its special risks for the young and its harmful effects on them.
This is critical given that for many, the perception is that (i) legalization of possession for both adults and young people translates into normalization of use and (ii) government control over the source of cannabis for sale translates into safety of use. Complicating this has been the fear-mongering messaging associated with illegal drugs.
The evidence shows that fewer adolescents today believe that cannabis use has any serious health risks24 and that enforcement policies have not been a deterrent.25 Having an appropriate education strategy rolled out before legalization of possession would reduce the numbers of uninformed young recreational users. It would also provide time to engage in meaningful research on the impact of the drug on youth. Such strategies have been successful in the past; for example, the long-termvi Federal Tobacco Control Strategy has been credited with helping reduce smoking rates to an all-time low in Canada.26
The Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines were developed as a "science-based information tool for cannabis users to modify their use toward reducing at least some of the health risks."6 The CMA urges the government to support the widespread dissemination of this tool and incorporation of its messages into educational efforts. Other strategies must include plain packaging and labelling with health information and health warnings.
Supporting a One-System Approach. Alternatively, a Review of Legislation in Five Years
The CMA believes that once the act is in force, there will be little need for two systems (i.e., one for medical and one for non-medical cannabis use). Cannabis will be available for those who wish to use it for medicinal purposes, either with or without medical authorization (some people may self-medicate with cannabis to alleviate symptoms but may be reluctant to raise the issue with their family physician for fear of being stigmatized), and for those who wish to use it for other purposes. The medical profession does not need to continue to be involved as a gatekeeper once cannabis is legal for all, especially given that cannabis has not undergone Health Canada's usual pharmaceutical regulatory approval process.
The Task Force's discussion reflects the tension it heard between those who advocated for one system and those who did not. One concern raised by patients was about the stigma attached to entering retail outlets selling non-medical cannabis. The CMA submits that this concern would be alleviated if the federal government continued the online purchase and mail order system that is currently in place.
Given that there is a lack of consensus and insufficient data to calculate how much of the demand for cannabis will be associated with medical authorization, the Task Force recommended that two systems be established, with an obligation to review - specifically, a program evaluation of the medical access framework in five years.11
If there are two systems, then in the alternative, the CMA recommends a review of the legislation within five years. This would allow time to ensure that the provisions of the act are meeting their intended purposes, as determined by research on the efficacy of educational efforts and other research. Five-year legislative reviews have been previously employed, especially where legislation must balance individual choice with protecting public health and public safety.vii For example, like Bill C-45, the purpose of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is to protect public health and public safety.27 Its review within five years is viewed as allowing for a thorough, evidence-based analysis to ensure that the provisions and operations of the act are meeting their intended purpose(s).viii Furthermore, a harm reduction approach lends itself to systematic evaluation of the approach's short- and long-term impact on the reduction of harms.5
The CMA, therefore, submits that if a two-system approach is implemented when the legislation is enacted, the legislation should be amended to include the requirement for evaluation within five years of enactment. Criteria for evaluation may include the number of users in the medical system and the number of physicians authorizing medical cannabis use. The CMA would expect to be involved in the determination of such criteria and evaluation process.
Support has risen steadily in Canada and internationally for the removal of criminal sanctions for simple cannabis possession, as well as for the legalization and regulation of cannabis' production, distribution and sale. The CMA has long-standing concerns about the health risks associated with consuming cannabis, especially by children and youth in its smoked form. Weighing societal trends against the health effects of cannabis, the CMA supports a broad legal-regulatory framework as part of a comprehensive and properly sequenced public health approach of harm reduction.
1. The CMA recommends that the legalization age be amended to 21 years of age, to better protect the most vulnerable population, youth, from the developmental neurological harms associated with cannabis use.
2. The CMA recommends that a comprehensive cannabis public health strategy with a strong, effective health education component be implemented before, and no later than, the enactment of any legislation legalizing cannabis.
3a. The CMA recommends that there be only one regime for medical and non-medical use of cannabis, with provisions for the medical needs of those who would not be able to acquire cannabis in a legal manner (e.g., those below the minimum age).
3b. Alternatively, the CMA recommends that the legislation be amended to include a clause to review the legislation, including a review of having two regimes, within five years.
i The term cannabis is used as in Bill C-45: that is, referring to the cannabis plant or any substance or mixture that contains any part of the plant.
ii The plant contains at least 750 chemicals, of which there are over 100 different cannabinoids. Madras BK. Update of cannabis and its medical use. Agenda item 6.2. 37th Meeting of the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Department of Essential Medicines and Health Products, World Health Organization; 2015. Available: www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/6_2_cannabis_update.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
iii House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (2001) and the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs (2002).
iv An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Bill C-38), which later was reintroduced as Bill C-10 in 2003.
v For example, the Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP), a federal contributions program, is delivered by Health Canada to strengthen responses to drug and substance use issues in Canada. See Government of Canada. Substance Use and Addictions Program. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2017. Available: www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/canadian-drugs-substances-strategy/funding/substance-abuse-addictions-program.html (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
vi The Federal Tobacco Control Strategy was initiated in 2001 for 10 years and renewed in 2012 for another five years.
vii Several federal acts contain review provisions. Some examples include the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC b1996, c 19, s 9 (five-year review); the Preclearance Act, SC 1999, c 20, s 39 (five-year review); the National Defence Act, RSC 1985, c N-5, s 273.601(1) (seven-year review); the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, SC 2005, c 46, s 54 (five-year review); and the Red Tape Reduction Act, SC 2015, c 12 (five-year review).
viii The 2012 amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were adopted from Bill S-10, which died on order papers in March 2011. The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs reviewed Bill S-10 and recommended that the review period should be extended from two to five years as two years is not sufficient to allow for a comprehensive review. See Debates of the Senate, 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, No 147:66 (2010 Nov 17) at 1550; see also Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Eleventh Report: Bill S-10, An Act to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to Make Related and Consequential Amendments to Other Acts, with Amendments (2010 Nov 4).
1 Canadian Medical Association. Health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana. CMA submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Ottawa: The Association; 27 May 2014. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Brief-Marijuana-Health_Committee_May27-2014-FINAL.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
2 Canadian Medical Association. A public health perspective on cannabis and other illegal drugs. CMA submission to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 11 Mar 2002. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/BriefPDF/BR2002-08.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
3 Canadian Medical Association. Bill C-2 An Act to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Respect for Communities Act). CMA submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. Ottawa: The Association; 28 Oct 2014. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/CMA_Brief_C-2_Respect%C3%A9-for_Communities_Act-English.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
4 Harm Reduction International. What is harm reduction? A position statement from Harm Reduction International. London, UK: Harm Reduction International; 2017. Available: www.hri.global/what-is-harm-reduction (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
5 Riley D, O'Hare P. Harm reduction: history, definition and practice. In: Inciardi JA, Harrison LD, editors. Harm reduction: national and international perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 2000.
6 Fischer B, Russel C, Sabioni P, et al. Lower-risk cannabis use guidelines: a comprehensive update of evidence and recommendations. Am J Public Health 2017;107(8):e1-e12.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Legalization, regulation and restriction of access to marijuana. CMA submission to the Government of Canada - Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. Ottawa: The Association; 2016 Aug 29. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/2016-aug-29-cma-submission-legalization-and-regulation-of-marijuana-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
8 Government of Canada. Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS): 2015 summary. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2017. Available: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canadian-tobacco-alcohol-drugs-survey/2015-summary.html (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
9 Health Canada. Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS): summary of results for 2012. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2014. Available: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/drug-prevention-treatment/drug-alcohol-use-statistics/canadian-alcohol-drug-use-monitoring-survey-summary-results-2012.html (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
10 World Health Organization. The health and social effects of nonmedical cannabis use. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016. Available: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/251056/1/9789241510240-eng.pdf?ua=1 (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
11 Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. A framework for the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada: final report. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2016.
12 Government of Canada. Legislative background: an Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts (Bill C-45). Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2017.
13 An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, Bill C-45, First Reading 2017 Apr 13.
14 Crean RD, Crane NA, Mason BJ. An evidence based review of acute and long-term effects of cannabis use on executive cognitive functions. J Addict Med 2011;5(1):1-8.
15 Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012;109(40):E2657-64
16 Crépault JF, Rehm J, Fischer B. The cannabis policy framework by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: a proposal for a public health approach to cannabis policy in Canada. Int J Drug Policy 2016;34:1-4.
17 Pope HG Jr, Gruber AJ, Hudson JI, et al. Early-onset cannabis use and cognitive deficits: What is the nature of the association? Drug Alcohol Depend 2003;69(3):303-310.
18 Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, et al. Age of onset of marijuana use and executive function. Psychol Addict Behav 2011;26(3):496-506.
19 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2017.
20 Canadian Cancer Society. 2017 federal pre-budget submission. Canadian Cancer Society submission to the Standing Committee on Finance. 2014 Aug. Available: www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/FINA/Brief/BR8398102/br-external/CanadianCancerSociety-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
21 Health Canada. Backgrounder: legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis: the facts. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2017. Available: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/news/2017/04/backgrounder_legalizingandstrictlyregulatingcannabisthefacts.html (accessed 2017 Jul 27)
22 Hall W, Degenhardt L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet 2009;374(9698):1383-91.
23 Statistics Canada. Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental Health, 2012. The Daily. 2013 Sep 18. Statistics Canada cat. No. 11-001-X. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130918/dq130918a-eng.htm (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
24 Miech RA, Johnston LD, O'Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg, JE. Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2010. Vol 1: Secondary students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan; 2011.
25 Spithoff S, Kahan M. Cannabis and Canadian youth: evidence, not ideology. Can Fam Physician 2014;60(9):785-7.
26 Health Canada. Strong foundation, renewed focus: an overview of Canada's Federal Tobacco Control Strategy 2012-2017. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2012. Available: www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/healthy-canadians/publications/healthy-living-vie-saine/tobacco-strategy-2012-2017-strategie-tabagisme/alt/tobacco-strategy-2012-2017-strategie-tabagisme-eng.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
27 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19, s 9.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health with respect to its study of Canada’s Food Guide. The CMA supports access to healthy foods to improve individual health and well-being and the overall health status of the population.1
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Obesity in Canada: Causes, consequences and the way forward. Ottawa: CMA; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2015-12.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
2 Colapinto C, Graham J, St. Pierre S. Trends and correlates of frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption, 2007 to 2014. Health Reports. 2018 January;29(1):9-14. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2018001/article/54901-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
3 Van Vliet B, Campbell N. Efforts to reduce sodium intake in Canada: Why, what, and when? Can J Cardiol. 2011;27(4):437–445.
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Early childhood development. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health equity and the social determinants of health: A role for the medical profession. Ottawa: CMA; 2013. Available http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
6 Health Canada. Eating well with Canada’s food guide. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2007. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/food-guide-aliment/view_eatwell_vue_bienmang-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
7 Collier R. Calls for a better food guide. CMAJ. 2018 November 18;186(17):1281. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4911 (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
8 Ministry of Health of Brazil. Dietary guidelines for the Brazilian population. 2nd ed. Brazil: Ministry of Health of Brazil; 2014. Available: http://www.foodpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Brazilian-Dietary-Guidelines-2014.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 1).
9 Report of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Obesity in Canada. A whole-of-society approach for a healthier Canada. Ottawa: Senate of Canada; 2016 March. Available: https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/soci/rms/01mar16/Report-e.htm (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
10 Health Canada. Evidence review for dietary guidance: summary of results and implications for Canada’s food guide. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2015. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/publications/eating-nutrition/dietary-guidance-summary-resume-recommandations-alimentaires/alt/pub-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
11 Government of Canada. Guiding principles [Canada’s food guide consultation]. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2017 April 5. Available: https://www.foodguideconsultation.ca/guiding-principles-detailed (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
The CMA has been active on nutritional issues for many years, both directly through its policy and government advocacy as well as through membership in various coalitions. Some of the issues addressed include the nutrition facts table, front-of-package labelling, a ban on the marketing of food and beverages to children younger than 16 years of age, and a levy on the manufacturers of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Canadians’ self-reported dietary intakes do not meet national dietary recommendations despite public education efforts concerning healthy eating and healthy diets. Children and adults are consuming fewer than the recommended number of servings of vegetables and fruits, an established proxy for healthy eating habits, and they are exceeding daily recommended intakes of sodium.2,3
The protection of vulnerable populations including children is of paramount concern to the CMA. Access to nutritious food is essential in early childhood development in support of later adult health.4 The availability of food security programs is a key element in preventing children from developing dietary deficiencies that would lead to an increased risk of chronic disease and greater difficulty in disease management later in life.5
The Food Guide has historically been a valued resource for Canadians, and physicians have found it useful in counselling their patients about healthy eating. However, there are serious concerns with the present Food Guide,6 which was released in 2007, and physicians have increasingly called for it to be reviewed.7
Other countries have made significant changes to their dietary guidelines. Brazil, for example, has developed a guideline that incorporates simple-to-follow, common-sense messaging, such as encouraging Brazilians to prepare meals from scratch and promoting the value of family meals.8
A new, modern Canadian guide is needed. Witnesses appearing before the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology characterized the current version as being “at best ineffective, and at worst enabling, with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada.”9
Health Canada is in the process of revising the Food Guide, having done an extensive review of the evidence10 and releasing Guiding Principles.11
Recommendations for a revised Food Guide
A new approach to a food guide that addresses the larger picture, beyond daily nutrient consumption recommendations, is fundamental to the effort to improve the health of all Canadians and to the larger goal of developing a food policy for Canada. Indeed, “coordinated investments in health promotion and disease and injury prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system.”12
12 Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Canadian Nurses Association (CNA). Principles for health care transformation in Canada. Ottawa: CMA and CNA; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD1113.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
13 Nexus H. Primer to action: Social determinants of health. Toronto: Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance; 2007. Available: http://www.ocdpa.ca/sites/default/files/publications/PrimertoAction-EN.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 1).
14 Tarasuk V, Mitchell A, Dachner N. Household food insecurity in Canada. Toronto: PROOF; 2016. Available: http://proof.utoronto.ca/resources/proof-annual-reports/annual-report-2014/ (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
15 Rao M, Afshin A, Singh G, et al. Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2013;3:e004277. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3855594/pdf/bmjopen-2013-004277.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 5).
16Lee A, Mhurchu CN, Sacks G, et al. Monitoring the price and affordability of foods and diets globally. Obes Rev. 2013 Oct;14 Suppl 1:82–95.
17 Food Banks Canada. Hungercount2016: A comprehensive report on hunger and food bank use in Canada, and recommendations for change. Toronto: Food Banks Canada; 2016. Available: https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/hungercount2016 (accessed 2018 Jan 30).
18 Raine K. Improving nutritional health of the public through social change: Finding our roles in collective action. Can J Diet Pract Res. 2014;75(3):160-164. Available: https://doi.org/10.3148/cjdpr-2014-017 (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
19 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s Support for Bill S-228: An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children).Ottawa: CMA; 2017.Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-07.pdf (accessed 2018 Feb 2).
20 Howard, C., Culbert I., Food Guide revamp encouraging plant-based, low-meat diet is good for people and the planet CBC February 11, 2018 Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/opinion-canada-food-guide-1.4530058 (accessed 2018 Feb 12)
1. The Food Guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
Food insecurity does not affect all Canadians equally, and there are very clear social patterns of vulnerability.13 Analyses of population survey data consistently identify low income as a predictor of household food insecurity. In addition, rates of food insecurity are highest among Aboriginal Canadians, households reliant on social assistance, households headed by single mothers, and those renting rather than owning a home.14 More research is needed to understand decisions surrounding the purchase of healthy foods versus unhealthy foods.15,16
Food Banks Canada reported that in March 2016, 863,492 people received food from a food bank, an increase of 1.3% over 2015, with eight of 10 provinces showing an increase.17 As the report notes, “approximately 1.7 million Canadian households, encompassing 4 million people, experience food insecurity each year” with 340,000 of them experiencing severe food insecurity.17
Other determinants of healthy eating include a wide range of contextual factors, such as the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, the physical environment, which determines food availability and accessibility, the economic environment, in which food is a commodity to be marketed for profit, and the social environment. Within the social environment, social status (income, education and gender) and cultural milieu are determinants of healthy eating that may be working "invisibly" to structure food choice.15
2. The Food Guide must be based on sound nutritional research
With unhealthy diets consistently linked with chronic disease such as cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia) and with an estimated 60% of Canadian adults and close to one-third of children being overweight or obese, there is a need for evidence-based approaches in the development of healthy eating policies and practices in Canada.
As the links between nutrition and disease and other impacts of nutrition on the health of our society are revealed and better understood, it is more important than ever to identify what influences healthy eating behaviours.18 Food choices are structured by a variety of individual determinants of behaviour, including one's physiological state, food preferences, nutritional knowledge, perceptions of healthy eating and psychological factors.
The Food Guide needs to incorporate emerging research on nutrition and health, for example, by emphasizing the need to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, as opposed to focusing on total fats. It also must take into account the changes in consumer behaviour and in the food supply.
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
Canadians must be able to trust Canada’s Food Guide as a source of unbiased information, based on evidence. The Food Guide must be part of a larger coordinated approach that also looks at other critical issues, such as the role of the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.19 CMA is concerned that conflict-of-interest situations have arisen in the past where recommendations might favour certain products or food groups over others.20 Canadians must have confidence that their health and wellness is the primary focus of an evidence-based revision process.
4. The Food Guide must reflect changing eating patterns reflective of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
Canadian society is more ethnically diverse than in the past, so it is necessary to keep in mind cultural preferences. The current food groups do not always take into account an understanding of traditional foods and cultural eating practices. These are intrinsically linked to identity and culture and contribute to overall health. Advice needs to be tailored to different ages and cultural groups.
There is also a need to emphasize patterns of eating, as opposed to a focus almost exclusively on nutrient requirements. It is important to promote eating as a social undertaking, recognizing the essential role that food has in bringing people together.
It is also important to support the development of basic, practical culinary skills, which will reduce Canadians’ dependence on restaurant meals and ultra-processed foods.
5. The Food Guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
The production and consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically in the last decades in both higher and lower income countries. Highly or ultra-processed food tends to contain less protein and dietary fibre than less processed foods and include high proportions of free sugar, total saturated fat, trans fat and salt. Typically, processed foods are energy dense (high in calories) but have fewer beneficial nutrients such as vitamins and proteins.
Most processed foods encourage unhealthy ways of eating and have become popular because of their accessibility and convenience. These features have changed the way food and in particular these products are consumed compared with unprocessed foods: increased “grazing,” eating alone or eating while carrying out other activities such as work or driving.
In addition, many calories consumed come in liquid form. Physicians are concerned with the Food Guide’s support for fruit juices, given the plethora of sugar-sweetened beverages, including milk and milk alternatives. There should be a maximum amount of juice recommended for children, and the Food Guide should instead support the consumption of actual fruit.
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
Reliable, trustworthy sources of information are essential to support healthy eating. However, the new Food Guide must not be just another set of rules and lists or a long, cumbersome document. The challenge will be to take the evidence around nutrition and health and make it meaningful and useful. This is the only way that the Food Guide will actually be able to support and even provoke change.
To do that it must focus on the needs of the Canadians, with tools that personalize information for different age and cultural groups. It should also be useful to people with certain health conditions who require regulation of their diet to improve health (e.g., people with diabetes or hypertension). It should support couples during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There can’t be only one set of guidance; rather, various versions should be produced that are adapted to different audiences.
The Food Guide needs to be practical and simple to use. The concept of the number and size of servings of different foods, for example, has been very confusing. Research has shown that Canadians do not weigh or measure their foods and serving sizes are often underestimated, promoting overconsumption. The Food Guide must support Canadians in deciphering food labels and making informed choices about what they consume. The use of technology will allow information to be more accessible.
The guidance must be sensitive to issues related to the social determinants of health and food security, with attention to the cost and accessibility of foods. A focus on good sources of proteins, for example, as opposed to red meats and dairy, could allow for more choice. The Food Guide should provide guidance to food banks and other programs that seek to provide food to low-income families in terms of what foods they should procure for their clients.
As one of the most trusted sources of health information, physicians also need to be able to access the latest evidence in a user-friendly manner. Resources must be succinct and easy for physicians to access in a busy practice. They should allow a physician to go into more depth should that be required. As well, point-of-care tools that help clinicians explain technical facts to their patients in an accessible manner are needed.
1. The Food Guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
2. The Food Guide must be based on sound nutritional research
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
4. The Food Guide must reflect changing eating patterns reflective of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
5. The Food Guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
The Canadian Medical Association wishes to commend the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for undertaking this study of the issue of chronic diseases related to aging.
It is a timely issue, since the first members of the Baby Boom generation turned 65 in 2011 and it's predicted that by 2031 a quarter of Canada's population will be 65 or older. Though chronic disease is not exclusive to seniors, its prevalence does rise with age: according to Statistics Canada, about 74% of Canadians over 65 have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis or depression and nearly 25% have three or more. The proportion is higher among people 85 years old and over.
What are the causes of chronic disease? There are many. Some of them are rooted in unhealthy behaviour: smoking, poor nutrition and, in particular, lack of physical activity. Physicians are concerned about rising obesity rates in Canada, for example, because obesity increases one's risk of developing chronic diseases later in life.
But there is more to chronic disease than unhealthy behaviour. It is also affected by a person's biological and genetic makeup, as well as by his or her social environment. Lower income and educational levels, poor housing, and social isolation, which is a greater problem for seniors than for other populations, are all associated with poorer health status.
Now the good news: chronic disease is not an inevitable consequence of aging. We can delay the onset of chronic disease, and perhaps even reduce the risk that it will occur. Patients who do have existing chronic disease, their conditions can often be controlled successfully through appropriate health care and disease management, so that they can continue to lead active, independent lives.
Thus the CMA supports initiatives promoting healthy aging - which the Public Health Agency of Canada defines as "the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, mental and social health as people age." Healthy lifestyles should be encouraged at any age.
For example, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which CMA supports, recommend that people 65 or older accumulate at least two-and-a-half hours per week of aerobic activity such as walking, swimming or cycling. Experts believe that healthy aging will compress a person's period of illness and disability into a short period just prior to death, enabling a longer period of healthy, independent and fulfilling life.
For those who are already affected with chronic diseases, treatment is long term and can be very complex. People with diabetes, for example, need a continuous ongoing program to monitor their blood sugar levels and maintain them at an appropriate level; people with arthritis or other mobility problems may require regular physical therapy. For the patient, chronic disease means a long-term management that is much more complicated than taking antibiotics for an infection. People with two or more chronic conditions may be consulting a different specialist for each, as well as seeking support from nurse counsellors, dieticians, pharmacists, occupational therapists, social workers or other health professionals.
Often, management requires medication. The majority of Canadians over 65 take at least one prescription drug, and nearly 15% are on five drugs or more, which increases the possibility that, for example, two of those drugs could interact negatively with each other to produce unpleasant and possibly serious side effects.
Long-term, complex chronic disease care is in fact the new paradigm in our health care system. About 80% of the care now provided in the United States is for chronic diseases, and there is no reason to believe Canada is greatly different. Hence, it is worth considering what form, ideally, a comprehensive program of chronic disease management should take, for patients of any age.
The CMA believes it should include the following four elements:
* First, access to a primary care provider who has responsibility for the overall care of the patient. For more than 30 million Canadians, that primary care provider is a family physician. Family physicians who have established long-standing professional relationships with their patients, can better understand their needs and preferences. They can build a relationship of trust, so that patients are comfortable in discussing frankly how they want to treat their conditions: for example, whether to take medication for depression or seek counselling with a therapist. The family physician can also serve as a co-ordinator of the care delivered by other providers. This leads to our second recommended element:
* Collaborative and coordinated care. The CMA believes that, given the number of providers who may be involved in the care of chronic diseases, the health care system should encourage the creation of interdisciplinary teams or, at minimum, enable a high level of communication and coordination among individual providers. We believe all governments should support:
o Interdisciplinary primary care practices, such as Family Health Networks in Ontario, which bring a variety of different health professionals and their expertise into one practice setting;
o Widespread use of the electronic health record, which can facilitate information sharing and communication among providers; and
o A smooth process for referral: for example, from family physician to specialists, or from family physician to physiotherapist. The CMA is working with other medical stakeholders to create a referral process tool kit that governments, health care organizations and practitioners can use to support the development of more effective and efficient referral systems.
The patient may also need non-medical support services to help cope with disability related to chronic disease. For example, a person with arthritis who wants to remain at home may need to have grab bars, ramps or stair lifts installed there. Ideally, a coordinated system of chronic disease management would also include referral to those who could provide these services.
* The third necessary element is support for informal caregivers. These are the unsung heroes of elder care. An estimated four million Canadians are providing informal, unpaid care to family members or friends. About a quarter of these caregivers are themselves 65 or older. Their burden can be a heavy one, in terms of both time and expense. Stress and isolation are common among caregivers.
The federal government has taken steps to provide much-needed support to informal caregivers. The most recent federal budget, for example, increased the amount of its Caregiver Tax Credit. We recommend that the government build on these actions, to provide a solid network of support, financial and otherwise, to informal caregivers.
* The fourth and final element is improving access to necessary services. Only physician and hospital services are covered through the Canada Health Act, and many other services are not. All provinces have pharmacare programs for people over 65, but coverage varies widely between provinces and many, particularly those with lower incomes, find it difficult to pay for their necessary medications. Seniors who do not have post-retirement benefit plans - and these are the majority - also need to pay out of pocket for dental care, physiotherapy, mental health care and other needed supports. We recommend that all levels of government explore adjusting the basket of services provided through public funding, to make sure that it reflects the needs of the growing number of Canadians burdened by chronic disease. In particular, we recommend that the federal government negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with provincial/territorial governments.
In conclusion, the CMA believes the committee is wise to consider how we might reduce the impact - on individual patients, the health care system and society - of chronic disease related to aging. Chronic disease management is a complex problem, but warrants close attention as it is now the dominant form of health care in Canada. We look forward to the results of the Committee's deliberations.
CMA CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM
A compassionate physician recognizes suffering and vulnerability, seeks to understand the unique circumstances
of each patient and to alleviate the patient’s suffering, and accompanies the suffering and vulnerable patient.
An honest physician is forthright, respects the truth, and does their best to seek, preserve, and communicate
that truth sensitively and respectfully.
A humble physician acknowledges and is cautious not to overstep the limits of their knowledge and skills or the
limits of medicine, seeks advice and support from colleagues in challenging circumstances, and recognizes the
patient’s knowledge of their own circumstances.
A physician who acts with integrity demonstrates consistency in their intentions and actions and acts in a
truthful manner in accordance with professional expectations, even in the face of adversity.
A prudent physician uses clinical and moral reasoning and judgement, considers all relevant knowledge
and circumstances, and makes decisions carefully, in good conscience, and with due regard for principles of
exemplary medical care.
The CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism articulates the ethical and professional commitments and responsibilities of the
medical profession. The Code provides standards of ethical practice to guide physicians in fulfilling their obligation to provide
the highest standard of care and to foster patient and public trust in physicians and the profession. The Code is founded on
and affirms the core values and commitments of the profession and outlines responsibilities related to contemporary medical
In this Code, ethical practice is understood as a process of active inquiry, reflection, and decision-making concerning what
a physician’s actions should be and the reasons for these actions. The Code informs ethical decision-making, especially in
situations where existing guidelines are insufficient or where values and principles are in tension. The Code is not exhaustive;
it is intended to provide standards of ethical practice that can be interpreted and applied in particular situations. The Code and
other CMA policies constitute guidelines that provide a common ethical framework for physicians in Canada.
In this Code, medical ethics concerns the virtues, values, and principles that should guide the medical profession, while
professionalism is the embodiment or enactment of responsibilities arising from those norms through standards,
competencies, and behaviours. Together, the virtues and commitments outlined in the Code are fundamental to the ethical
practice of medicine.
Physicians should aspire to uphold the virtues and commitments in the Code, and they are expected to enact the professional
responsibilities outlined in it.
Physicians should be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that govern medical practice in their jurisdictions.
Trust is the cornerstone of the patient–physician relationship and of medical professionalism. Trust is therefore
central to providing the highest standard of care and to the ethical practice of medicine. Physicians enhance
trustworthiness in the profession by striving to uphold the following interdependent virtues:
A. VIRTUES EXEMPLIFIED BY THE ETHICAL PHYSICIAN
B. FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENTS OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Consider first the well-being of the patient; always act to benefit the patient and promote the good of the patient.
Provide appropriate care and management across the care continuum.
Take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize harm to the patient; disclose to the patient if there is a
risk of harm or if harm has occurred.
Recognize the balance of potential benefits and harms associated with any medical act; act to bring about
a positive balance of benefits over harms.
Commitment to the well-being of the patient
Promote the well-being of communities and populations by striving to improve health outcomes and
access to care, reduce health inequities and disparities in care, and promote social accountability.
Commitment to justice
Practise medicine competently, safely, and with integrity; avoid any influence that could undermine
your professional integrity.
Develop and advance your professional knowledge, skills, and competencies through lifelong learning.
Commitment to professional integrity and competence
Always treat the patient with dignity and respect the equal and intrinsic worth of all persons.
Always respect the autonomy of the patient.
Never exploit the patient for personal advantage.
Never participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.
Commitment to respect for persons
Contribute to the development and innovation in medicine through clinical practice, research, teaching,
mentorship, leadership, quality improvement, administration, or advocacy on behalf of the profession or
Participate in establishing and maintaining professional standards and engage in processes that support
the institutions involved in the regulation of the profession.
Cultivate collaborative and respectful relationships with physicians and learners in all areas of medicine
and with other colleagues and partners in health care.
Commitment to professional excellence
Value personal health and wellness and strive to model self-care; take steps to optimize meaningful
co-existence of professional and personal life.
Value and promote a training and practice culture that supports and responds effectively to colleagues in
need and empowers them to seek help to improve their physical, mental, and social well-being.
Recognize and act on the understanding that physician health and wellness needs to be addressed at
individual and systemic levels, in a model of shared responsibility.
Commitment to self-care and peer support
Value and foster individual and collective inquiry and reflection to further medical science and to
facilitate ethical decision-making.
Foster curiosity and exploration to further your personal and professional development and insight; be
open to new knowledge, technologies, ways of practising, and learning from others.
Commitment to inquiry and reflection
C. PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
The patient–physician relationship is at the heart of the practice of medicine. It is a relationship of trust that recognizes the
inherent vulnerability of the patient even as the patient is an active participant in their own care. The physician owes a duty of
loyalty to protect and further the patient’s best interests and goals of care by using the physician’s expertise, knowledge, and
prudent clinical judgment.
In the context of the patient–physician relationship:
1. Accept the patient without discrimination (such as on the basis of age, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic
characteristics, language, marital and family status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status). This does not abrogate the right of the physician to refuse to
accept a patient for legitimate reasons.
2. Having accepted professional responsibility for the patient, continue to provide services until these services are no longer
required or wanted, or until another suitable physician has assumed responsibility for the patient, or until after the
patient has been given reasonable notice that you intend to terminate the relationship.
3. Act according to your conscience and respect differences of conscience among your colleagues; however, meet your
duty of non-abandonment to the patient by always acknowledging and responding to the patient’s medical concerns and
requests whatever your moral commitments may be.
4. Inform the patient when your moral commitments may influence your recommendation concerning provision of, or
practice of any medical procedure or intervention as it pertains to the patient’s needs or requests.
5. Communicate information accurately and honestly with the patient in a manner that the patient understands and can
apply, and confirm the patient’s understanding.
6. Recommend evidence-informed treatment options; recognize that inappropriate use or overuse of treatments or
resources can lead to ineffective, and at times harmful, patient care and seek to avoid or mitigate this.
7. Limit treatment of yourself, your immediate family, or anyone with whom you have a similarly close relationship to
minor or emergency interventions and only when another physician is not readily available; there should be no fee for
8. Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person who needs emergency medical care.
9. Ensure that any research to which you contribute is evaluated both scientifically and ethically and is approved by a
research ethics board that adheres to current standards of practice. When involved in research, obtain the informed
consent of the research participant and advise prospective participants that they have the right to decline to participate
or withdraw from the study at any time, without negatively affecting their ongoing care.
10. Never participate in or condone the practice of torture or any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedure.
Physicians and patients
11. Empower the patient to make informed decisions regarding their health by communicating with and helping the patient
(or, where appropriate, their substitute decision-maker) navigate reasonable therapeutic options to determine the best
course of action consistent with their goals of care; communicate with and help the patient assess material risks and
benefits before consenting to any treatment or intervention.
12. Respect the decisions of the competent patient to accept or reject any recommended assessment, treatment, or plan of
13. Recognize the need to balance the developing competency of minors and the role of families and caregivers in medical
decision-making for minors, while respecting a mature minor’s right to consent to treatment and manage their personal
14. Accommodate a patient with cognitive impairments to participate, as much as possible, in decisions that affect them;
in such cases, acknowledge and support the positive roles of families and caregivers in medical decision-making and
collaborate with them, where authorized by the patient’s substitute decision-maker, in discerning and making decisions
about the patient’s goals of care and best interests.
15. Respect the values and intentions of a patient deemed incompetent as they were expressed previously through advance
care planning discussions when competent, or via a substitute decision-maker.
16. When the specific intentions of an incompetent patient are unknown and in the absence of a formal mechanism for
making treatment decisions, act consistently with the patient’s discernable values and goals of care or, if these are
unknown, act in the patient’s best interests.
17. Respect the patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion from a recognized medical expert.
Physicians and the practice of medicine
Patient privacy and the duty of confidentiality
18. Fulfill your duty of confidentiality to the patient by keeping identifiable patient information confidential; collecting,
using, and disclosing only as much health information as necessary to benefit the patient; and sharing information only
to benefit the patient and within the patient’s circle of care. Exceptions include situations where the informed consent of
the patient has been obtained for disclosure or as provided for by law.
19. Provide the patient or a third party with a copy of their medical record upon the patient’s request, unless there is a
compelling reason to believe that information contained in the record will result in substantial harm to the patient or
20. Recognize and manage privacy requirements within training and practice environments and quality improvement
initiatives, in the context of secondary uses of data for health system management, and when using new technologies in
21. Avoid health care discussions, including in personal, public, or virtual conversations, that could reasonably be seen as
revealing confidential or identifying information or as being disrespectful to patients, their families, or caregivers.
Medical decision-making is ideally a deliberative process that engages the patient in shared decision-making and is informed
by the patient’s experience and values and the physician’s clinical judgment. This deliberation involves discussion with the
patient and, with consent, others central to the patient’s care (families, caregivers, other health professionals) to support
In the process of shared decision-making:
22. Recognize that conflicts of interest may arise as a result of competing roles (such as financial, clinical, research,
organizational, administrative, or leadership).
23. Enter into associations, contracts, and agreements that maintain your professional integrity, consistent with evidenceinformed
decision-making, and safeguard the interests of the patient or public.
24. Avoid, minimize, or manage and always disclose conflicts of interest that arise, or are perceived to arise, as a result of
any professional relationships or transactions in practice, education, and research; avoid using your role as a physician to
promote services (except your own) or products to the patient or public for commercial gain outside of your treatment role.
25. Take reasonable steps to ensure that the patient understands the nature and extent of your responsibility to a third party
when acting on behalf of a third party.
26. Discuss professional fees for non-insured services with the patient and consider their ability to pay in determining fees.
27. When conducting research, inform potential research participants about anything that may give rise to a conflict of
interest, especially the source of funding and any compensation or benefits.
28. Be aware of and promote health and wellness services, and other resources, available to you and colleagues in need.
29. Seek help from colleagues and appropriate medical care from qualified professionals for personal and professional
problems that might adversely affect your health and your services to patients.
30. Cultivate training and practice environments that provide physical and psychological safety and encourage help-seeking
31. Treat your colleagues with dignity and as persons worthy of respect. Colleagues include all learners, health care partners,
and members of the health care team.
32. Engage in respectful communications in all media.
33. Take responsibility for promoting civility, and confronting incivility, within and beyond the profession. Avoid impugning
the reputation of colleagues for personal motives; however, report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional
conduct by colleagues.
34. Assume responsibility for your personal actions and behaviours and espouse behaviours that contribute to a positive
training and practice culture.
35. Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship and leadership opportunities across all levels of training, practice,
and health system delivery.
36. Support interdisciplinary team-based practices; foster team collaboration and a shared accountability for patient care.
Physicians and self
Physicians and colleagues
Managing and minimizing conflicts of interest
38. Recognize that social determinants of health, the environment, and other fundamental considerations that extend
beyond medical practice and health systems are important factors that affect the health of the patient and of
39. Support the profession’s responsibility to act in matters relating to public and population health, health education,
environmental determinants of health, legislation affecting public and population health, and judicial testimony.
40. Support the profession’s responsibility to promote equitable access to health care resources and to promote resource
41. Provide opinions consistent with the current and widely accepted views of the profession when interpreting scientific
knowledge to the public; clearly indicate when you present an opinion that is contrary to the accepted views of the
42. Contribute, where appropriate, to the development of a more cohesive and integrated health system through interprofessional
collaboration and, when possible, collaborative models of care.
43. Commit to collaborative and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients and communities through efforts
to understand and implement the recommendations relevant to health care made in the report of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
44. Contribute, individually and in collaboration with others, to improving health care services and delivery to address
systemic issues that affect the health of the patient and of populations, with particular attention to disadvantaged,
vulnerable, or underserved communities.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
37. Commit to ensuring the quality of medical services offered to patients and society through the establishment and
maintenance of professional standards.
Physicians and society
The CMA’s stance on intervention and judicial advocacy is to bring an evidence-based perspective to assist in relation to the decision-making of issues at hand.
CMA’s strategic plan and guiding principles opens the possibility that there may be circumstances when legal advocacy, and in particular judicial advocacy, may be leveraged strategically and proactively as a further tool in CMA’s advocacy toolbox to bring a non-partisan, evidence-based perspective to the courtroom that would further the organization’s vision for “a vibrant professional and a healthy population”.
Purpose and Scope of Policy
Given CMA 2020, and informed by knowledge of past experiences, the purpose of this policy is to provide guidelines to assist with decision making as to whether CMA should use legal action, as part of its advocacy toolbox, to move CMA’s work forward on a cause or issue.
Cases Deemed Appropriate for CMA Judicial Advocacy – General Principles
1. Stage and Venue of Proceedings
a) Generally, CMA will only engage in a proposed case at an appellate level or in the highest forum in which a matter is likely to be finally decided.
b) Exceptionally, the CMA may engage in a proposed case at a lower court or a court of first instance where:
i) circumstances justify engagement, such as an invitation from the court or where physicians’ expertise is necessary to create a trial record that supports the CMA’s policy position(s) or provides added relevant information that is not otherwise being provided or would highlight a critical issue that requires attention or would attract the attention of relevant parties.
c) Exceptionally, CMA may leverage international fora (e.g., United Nations treaty bodies) where involvement could help advance a specific cause or issue being championed by the CMA.
2. CMA’s Role in Proceedings
With some rare exceptions , , the CMA will only assume the role of intervener in a proposed case. The CMA will intervene where the CMA may bring a non-partisan, evidence-based analysis to an issue and where there are compelling reasons for doing so, considering the evaluation criteria contained in the Reference Guide in Appendix 1 of this policy.
3. Relevance to Existing CMA Policy
a) The CMA may engage in a proposed case where engagement would constitute a significant contribution to the consideration of the issue or issues involved and only when the position sought to be advanced is:
i. supported by and consistent with previously adopted policy of CMA; or
ii. a matter of compelling public or professional interest which the Board of Directors then adopts as CMA policy following appropriate consultation.
b) Where there is CMA policy that is clear, relevant to the proposed case and a matter of record, the policy should be cited and explained (e.g., in factum or affidavit).
c) If the CMA’s proposed stance in a case proceeding supports a position which the CMA has not previously adopted as policy, the CMA Board of Directors must adopt the position as policy before authorizing the activity.
4. Issue of National, Special and/or Unifying Significance to Profession
a) The CMA will generally only engage in a proposed case of special and unifying significance to the medical profession.
b) The CMA will not engage in a proposed case where the matter is only of local or regional concern or of a private nature with no public interest or compelling professional or public policy component.
5. Potential Case Outcome(s) and Effect(s)
Prior to engagement, the CMA must consider the potential impact(s) (both favourable and unfavourable) of the legal precedent that may set by the proposed case on members of the medical profession and patients.
6. Collaboration with Provincial/Territorial Associations, Affiliates and other Organizations
a) In the spirit of community building and collaborating with those who share our vision, the CMA welcomes opportunities to collaborate with provincial or territorial associations, affiliates and other organizations provided that these Guidelines are followed and that the other organizations
i. share positions on the issues at stake in the case that are consistent with CMA policy.
ii. can follow through on tasks, deadlines and communication needs related to collaboration.
b) While not mandatory, CMA would expect mutual assistance in funds and in kind when it collaborates with another organization (in relation to a judicial proceeding) or is asked to intervene.
7. Reputational Risk and Stakeholder Relations Implications
The CMA will consider as a general principle whether involvement in a proposed case:
a) may present the CMA with reputational risk(s) (e.g., inconsistent with mission and values, controversial, too political).
b) may impact relations with other stakeholders, including provincial/territorial medical associations, associates, affiliates and other organizations.
8. Financial and Resource Implications
The CMA will consider as a general principle the financial and resource implications of involvement in a proposed case such as the affordability of the proceeding, or competing demands for limited resources and staff availability. To the extent possible, the CMA will seek pro bono external legal assistance.
Authorization to Engage in Judicial Advocacy
CMA’s Senior Management Team will generally perform a preliminary analysis of the proposal to engage in a proposed case and may use the Reference Guide appended to these guidelines as a decision-making tool (see Appendix 1). The decision to engage in a proposed case must be ultimately authorized by the CMA Board of Directors. Once the Board has authorized the application, CMA staff will follow established internal protocol and procedures in the preparation of the required documentation according to the appended Working Draft Protocol (see Appendix 3). CMA staff will regularly provide the CMA Board with updates of the Court proceeding.
Appendix 1: Reference guide for determining if appropriate for CMA to engage in judicial advocacy on a matter, in accordance with CMA Guidelines on Judicial Advocacy
Degree to which criterion favours proposed judicial advocacy initiative
(please provide reasons for choice)
Somewhat favours Mildly favours Does not favour
Stage and venue of proceedings
Court of highest level?
If yes, mark as “strongly favours”
If yes, mark as “somewhat favours”
If not court of highest level or other appellate court, indicate jurisdiction
Relevance of matter to existing CMA policy
Is matter consistent with previously adopted policy?
Is matter of compelling public interest that may be adopted as policy?
Is matter of compelling professional interest that may be adopted as policy?
Issue of National, Special or Unifying Significance to the Profession
Does matter have impact beyond local/regional level?
Does matter have special or unifying significance for medical profession?
Collaboration or Request for Involvement
Other request for involvement?
Stakeholder relations implications
Appendix 2: Contents of Request for CMA to Intervene
1. Requests for CMA to intervene in court proceedings can arrive from multiple sources (internally – CMA Board, CMA provincial or territorial associations, affiliates, another organization, an individual member, etc.). CMA’s Legal Services Department may also monitor judicial developments and identify cases of special interest to CMA.
2. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the request for CMA to intervene in a court proceeding shall contain the following:
(i) The style or caption of the case, identification of the last court to render a decision in the case and the court in which it is proposed to intervene. A copy of the decision or order appealed from, any accompanying reasons and other relevant documentation must be attached to (or linked from) the proposal;
(ii) The date by which the proposed application for leave to intervene and factum must be filed;
(iii) The issues before the Court and potential outcomes, dissenting views and likelihood of success, including policy implications for CMA depending on the various outcomes;
(iv) The position sought to be advanced on CMA’s behalf and how this position is consistent with existing CMA policy. If there is no existing CMA policy, the request should state why CMA should adopt the policy prior to intervention;
(v) If the request relates to a local or regional matter, an explanation of how the position to be taken is not inconsistent with CMA policy and the broader interests and concerns of CMA;
(vi) Consultations undertaken, if any, on why the matter warrants CMA intervention as a compelling issue of public policy and special interest to the medical profession;
(vii) A list of other organizations that might have an interest in the intervention or co-intervening with CMA;
(viii) Disclosure of any personal or professional interest, in the matter on the part of any individual or organization participating in the decision to seek the Board of Directors’ authorization to intervene; and
(ix) Budget development.
3. Where the request to intervene arises in a case where there is no existing CMA policy on the issue, the party making the request should demonstrate the urgency and importance of adopting the policy position to be advanced.
Appendix 3: Working Draft Protocol and Procedures for Court Intervention Document
CMA staff will prepare the application documents for leave to intervene in concert with expert litigation legal counsel.
Depending on the issues before the Court, the President or Chair or the CMA Board may review the contents of the application documents for leave to intervene and the actual factum prior to filing with the Court. Alternatively, the application documents and factum will be shared as information items with the CMA President and Board after filing. The decision to obtain the President and/or Chair and/or Board approval or not prior to filing lies with the CMA CEO.
CMA staff may also consult with the President and Chair on the choice of individual filing the affidavit (called the “affiant”) on CMA’s behalf. The affiant will in most circumstances be a physician, usually at the elected level, with experience and expertise on the issues before the Court.
All CMA Departments will consult with and co-ordinate with the CMA Legal Department. For example, the content of any Communication Strategy documents (e.g. press releases, media alerts, news articles, etc.) as part of the court proceeding must be consistent with the contents of CMA’s application for leave to intervene documents and factum.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
These Guidelines constitute an implementation tool of seven recommendations and are informed by Guidelines for CMA’s Activities and Relationships with Other Parties (aka CMA’s Corporate Relationships Policy) and CMA’s Advertising and Sponsorship Policy.
These Guidelines apply to the Canadian Medical Association (and not to its subsidiaries). As these are Guidelines, exceptions may be necessary from time to time wherein staff may use their discretion and judgment.
Endorsement is an umbrella term encompassing “policy endorsement”, “sponsorship1” and “branding”.
Policy endorsement includes:
(a) CMA considering upon request, non-pecuniary public approval, which may include the use of
CMA’s name and/or logo, of an organization’s written policy, on an issue that aligns with CMA policy, where there is no immediate expectation of return; or,
(b) CMA adopting the policy of another organization as our policy; or
(c) CMA asking another organization to publicly support our policy.
(a) Criteria: For policy endorsement requests from another organization to endorse their policy2 the following criteria shall be applied:
i) we have a policy on the subject-matter and
ii) we are actively working on advancing that policy position and
iii) the organization has a follow-up action plan associated with its request.
(b) Approval: Where policy exists, approval requires a policy staff member (with portfolio responsibility) and the VP of Medical Professionalism, or the policy staff member (with portfolio responsibility) and the Chief Policy Advisor. Where no policy exists, approval of the Board of Directors is required.
(c) Annual confirmation: Where CMA adopts the policy of another organization3, CMA staff shall confirm annually, or more frequently if circumstances dictate, that the policy has not been altered by the other organization.
(d) Requests: Pursuit of personal endorsement requests are not appropriate. Wherever possible, requests should come from an organization and not an individual.
(a) Where CMA adopts the policy of another organization, the adopted policy shall become CMA policy, and will include a notation on the document as being an adopted policy of [organization].
(b) All adopted policies will be housed in an accessible searchable database.
(c) All requests by organizations for CMA to endorse their policy will be tracked in a central location, along with any response.
1 Sponsorship means, to consider upon request, pecuniary public approval, which may include the use of CMA’s name and/or logo, of an organization’s event (eg., conference), on an issue that is supported by CMA policy or that promotes CMA brand awareness, where there is an immediate expectation of return.
2 That is, part (a) of the definition in Section 2.
3 That is, part (b) of the definition in Section 2.