Auditing Physician Billings
The CMA has developed a set of guiding principles to assist in the formation and modification of provincial/territorial billing audit processes. These principles will ensure that billing audit systems are fair, transparent, effective and timely, and that they uphold their original objectives of ensuring the accountability of public expenditures and educating physicians on appropriate billing practices.
As payments to physicians are made through public monies, the integrity of the payment system is validated through physician billing audits and reviews. Audits and reviews are usually prompted by: billings that appear to be outside of the “norm,” patient complaints, physician complaints or a “focus” on a particular service/area of practice/group of physicians. Each province/territory is responsible for and has in place particular processes and procedures to review physician billings.
Billing audits can be stressful events that, regardless of the audit outcome, have had adverse effects on a physician’s health and practice. Although changes over the years in billing audit practices have occurred, they have not addressed all of the physicians’ concerns. Inadequacies in the existing procedures, such as the lack of a clear decision-making process, established review timelines and options for recourse still remain.
In response to this situation, many provinces/territories are reviewing and modifying their existing billing audit process. The CMA and Canada’s physicians believe in an open, accountable and transparent health care financing system. It is for this reason that the CMA has developed this set of principles related to the key components of the audit process to ensure it is fair, efficient, effective and serves the purpose it was originally intended – to ensure the accountability of public funds and to educate physicians on proper billing practices.
Education on proper billing practices:
The audit and review process must be undertaken as an educational exercise. In a fee based system, billing code use and interpretation are complex and can often lead to unintentional errors. If or when inconsistencies occur, the physician must be alerted and provided with the opportunity to explain his/her billing behaviour.
To assist in moving the audit and review process from under a cloud of perceived punishment to that of educational enlightenment, the repayment of any funds shall not commence until the audit and review process is complete and all appeal options have been exercised.
As part of this overall educational framework, it is recommended that all newly licensed physicians be offered an educational program on proper billing interpretations, procedures and practices, and of the audit process itself.
Fair, Transparent and Timely Process:
In order for the audit and review process to be perceived as fair, it must operate at arms length from governments and the Colleges. As a profession, physicians have been granted the privilege of self-regulation by society. Given that medicine is a highly complex art and science, physicians are the only group truly qualified to set and maintain standards and to uphold accountability in matters of professional behaviour.
The billing audit and review process must observe the principles of “Natural Justice” in that the:
audit findings must be both impartial and be seen to be impartial and
physicians affected by the findings must be offered a fair hearing by being given notice in writing of the findings; the opportunity to respond to the findings; all of the information to prepare a response; sufficient time to prepare a response; and an oral hearing if there is a dispute on factual matters or if requested by the physician.
Physicians should be informed that legal counsel and assistance can be retained at any stage of the audit and review process. Physicians should consult with their respective provincial/territorial division or the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) to see whether such assistance is available, or with lawyers who specialize in this field.
Specific time limits should be adhered to in the auditing and reviewing of a physician’s billings practice, particularly related to when the review period should commence and to the duration of the review period. For example, billings should not be reviewable more than 24 months after the service is rendered and the review period should not be greater than 12 months. These limitation periods recognize that physicians will not be able to recall, with certainty, the vast amount of information contained in a patient’s medical record over the past 10 years – the average length of time in which medical records must be held. It also ensures that audits and reviews are conducted in a timely fashion minimizing undue stress and hardship on the physician and, in light of the health human resources shortage, enabling them to re-focus their attention and energy on taking care of their patients.
Audits and reviews to determine whether there has been any incorrect or inaccurate billing should be undertaken solely by a physician’s peers, and where possible, consisting of physicians from the same specialty and subspecialty and with similar practice type, geography and demography. This peer review group shall consider age-gender distribution and the morbidity of the patients as well as other pertinent matters in arriving at its findings and conclusions.
Any conclusions and/or findings from an audit and review must be prepared in a written report and forwarded, in a timely manner, to the physician and the paying agency. If either party is not satisfied with the findings, they have the option of launching an appeal.
The preferred route would be to pursue and use Alternative Dispute Resolution processes since they tend to encourage a more co-operative climate resulting in fair and appropriate settlements, while avoiding the excessive financial, psychological and procedural costs that can be associated with formal court proceedings.
These guiding principles are the product of an international, provincial and territorial scan of billing audit practices. They have undergone extensive consultation with the provincial/territorial medical associations and national medical organizations.
They should be used to form the foundation of and to guide any reviews or modifications to existing provincial/territorial audit and review processes.
CMA Policy, Medical Professionalism, 2002.
Student Behaviour Guide_Natural.Justice.htm, Dec. 2002
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has always recognized the unique requirements of those individuals suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective and for whom cannabis may provide relief.
However, there are a number of concerns, primarily related to the limited evidence to support many of the therapeutic claims made regarding cannabis for medical purposes, and the need to support health practitioners in their practice.1,2,3,4
While the indications for using cannabis to treat some conditions have been well studied, less
information is available about many potential medical uses.
Physicians who wish to authorize the use of cannabis for patients in their practices should consult relevant CMPA policy5 and guidelines developed by the provincial and territorial medical regulatory authorities to ensure appropriate medico-legal protection. The CMA’s policy Authorizing Marijuana for Medical Purposes6, as well as the CMA’s Guidelines For Physicians In Interactions With Industry7 should also be consulted.
The CMA makes the following recommendations:
1. Increase support for the advancement of scientific knowledge about the medical use of cannabis. The CMA encourages the government to support rigorous scientific research into the efficacy for therapeutic claims, safety, dose-response relationships, potential interactions and the most effective routes of delivery, and in various populations.
2. Apply the same regulatory oversight and evidence standards to cannabis as to pharmaceutical products under the Food and Drug Act, designed to protect the public by the assessment for safety and efficacy.
3. Increase support for physicians on the use of cannabis for medical purposes in their practice settings. As such, CMA calls on the government to work with the CMA, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons,
and other relevant stakeholders, to develop unbiased, accredited education options and licensing programs for physicians who authorize the use of cannabis for their patients based on the best available evidence.
In 2001, Health Canada enacted the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). These were in response to an Ontario Court of Appeal finding that banning cannabis for medicinal purposes violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.8 The MMAR, as enacted, was designed to establish a framework to allow legal access to cannabis, then an illegal drug, for the relief of pain, nausea and other symptoms by people suffering from serious illness where conventional treatments had failed.
While recognizing the needs of those suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease, CMA raised strong objections to the proposed regulations. There were concerns about the lack of evidence on the risks and benefits associated with the use of cannabis. This made it difficult for physicians to advise their patients appropriately and manage doses or potential side effects. The CMA believes that physicians should not be put in the untenable position of gatekeepers for a proposed medical intervention that has not undergone established regulatory review processes as required for all prescription medicines.
Additionally, there were concerns about medico-legal liability, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), encouraged those physicians that were uncomfortable with the regulations to refrain from authorizing cannabis to patients.
Various revisions were made to the MMAR, and then these were substituted by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2013/ 2014 and subsequently by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in 2016 and now as part of the Cannabis Act (Section 14)9. Healthcare practitioners that wish to authorize cannabis for their patients are required to sign a medical document, indicating the daily quantity of dried cannabis, expressed in grams.
For the most part, these revisions have been in response to decisions from various court decisions across the country.10,11,12 Courts have consistently sided with patients’ rights to relieve symptoms of terminal disease or certain chronic conditions, despite the limited data on the effectiveness of cannabis. Courts have not addressed the ethical position in which physicians are placed as a result of becoming the gate keeper for access to a medication without adequate evidence.
The CMA participated in many Health Canada consultations with stakeholders as well as scientific advisory committees and continued to express the concerns of the physician community. As previously noted, the Federal government has been constrained by the decisions of Canadian courts.
The current state of evidence regarding harms of cannabis use is also limited but points to some serious concerns. Ongoing research has shown that regular cannabis use during brain development (up to approximately 25 years old) is linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, especially if there is a personal or family history of mental illness. Long term use has also been associated with issues of attention, impulse control and emotional regulation. Smoking of cannabis also has pulmonary consequences such as chronic bronchitis. It is also linked to poorer pregnancy outcomes. Physicians are also concerned with dependence, which occurs in up to 10% of regular users. From a public and personal safety standpoint, cannabis can impact judgement and increases the risk of accidents (e.g. motor vehicle incidents). For many individuals, cannabis use is not without adverse consequences.3,13,14
Pharmaceutically prepared alternative options, often administered orally, are also available and regulated in Canada.15 These drugs mimic the action of delta-9-tetra-hydrocannabional (THC) and other cannabinoids and have undergone clinical trials to demonstrate safety and effectiveness and have been approved for use through the Food and Drug Act. Of note is that in this format, the toxic by-products of smoked marijuana are avoided.16 However, the need for more research is evident.
Approved by the CMA Board in December 2010.
Last reviewed and approved by the CMA Board in March 2019.
1 Allan GM, Ramji J, Perry D, et al. Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care. Canadian Family Physician, 2018;64(2):111-120. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/64/2/111.full.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
2 College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC). Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety: Preliminary Guidance. Mississauga: CFPC; 2014. Available: https://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/_PDFs/Authorizing%20Dried%20Cannabis%20for%20Chronic%20Pain%20or%20Anxiety.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
3 The 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: National Academies Press; 2017. 4 Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, et al. Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2015;313(24):2456-73.
5 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Medical marijuana: considerations for Canadian doctors. Ottawa: CMPA; 2018. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2014/medical-marijuana-new-regulations-new-college-guidance-for-canadian-doctors (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
6 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Authorizing marijuana for medical purposes. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11514 http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-04.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
7 Canadian Medical Association. (CMA) Guidelines for Physicians In Interactions With Industry. Ottawa: CMA; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf. (accessed 2019 Jan22).
8 R. v. Parker, 2000 CanLII 5762 (ON CA). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/1fb95 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
9 Cannabis Act. Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes. Section 14. 2018. Available: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2018-144/page-28.html#h-81 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
10 Hitzig v. Canada, 2003 CanLII 3451 (ON SC). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/1c9jd (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
11 Allard v. Canada,  3 FCR 303, 2016 FC 236 (CanLII), Available: http://canlii.ca/t/gngc5 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
12 R. v. Smith, 2014 ONCJ 133 (CanLII). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/g68gk (accessed 2019 Jan 8). 13 Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SRB. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219–2227.
14 World Health Organization. The health and social effects of nonmedical cannabis use. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016. Available: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/msbcannabis.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
15 Ware MA. Is there a role for marijuana in medical practice? Can Fam Physician 2006;52(12):1531-1533. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1952544/pdf/0530022a.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
16 Engels FK, de Jong FA, Mathijssen RHJ, et.al. Medicinal cannabis in oncology. Eur J Cancer. 2007;43(18):2638-2644. Available: https://www.clinicalkey.com/service/content/pdf/watermarked/1-s2.0-S0959804907007368.pdf?locale=en_US (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease (Update 2004) (Applicable to Canadians aged 20-60 years)
Obesity is a chronic condition that is multi-factorial in origin, complex to treat, and is a major contributor to heart disease, type II diabetes, hypertension, stroke and some cancers. Due to the magnitude of the impact that obesity has on heart disease and stroke, and to the clustering of risk factors for cardiovascular disease that are often found in the obese patient, obesity is recognized as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The impact of obesity points to the importance of prevention through healthy behaviours including increased physical activity and a healthy nutritional diet beginning early in life, and continuing through all stages of life. Solutions require comprehensive approaches that are both education and environment based, and that target and assist individuals, the family, and communities to engage in healthy lifestyle patterns and behaviours. Solutions also require ongoing research to develop and evaluate comprehensive approaches to obesity prevention, management and treatment, and surveillance data that measures and tracks obesity and its impact in Canada.
The World Health Organization defines obesity as a condition of excessive body fat accumulation to an extent that health may be compromised.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a widely accepted parameter used to distinguish between obese and non-obese adults aged 20 to 60 years and thus provides information about the subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease.
BMI is calculated by dividing the weight (in kilograms) by the square of the height (in metres).
BMI = weight (in kilograms)
height (in metres) * height (in metres)
A BMI equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2 is classified as obese, while a BMI in the range of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 is classified as overweight.
Waist circumference (WC) provides an independent prediction of health risks over and above BMI. Increased waist (abdominal) circumference is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dyslipidemia, type II diabetes and hypertension. As waist circumference increases above 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women, the risks of health-related illnesses increase.
Populations at Increased Risk
Obese individuals with diabetes, hypertension, or dyslipidemias or who are physically inactive are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to individuals without these conditions.
A BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2 (overweight) is associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia.
Weight gain during young adult life may be one of the most important determinants of future development of cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular disease. Adults who gain weight have increased risk of coronary heart disease compared to those with stable weight. Weight gain during adult life may contribute to future development of ischemic heart disease regardless of initial body weight (obese or non-obese).
Canadians of Aboriginal, Chinese, and South Asian (from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) descent have higher rates of obesity-related chronic diseases (for example diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease).
Individuals with lower socio-economic status have higher rates of obesity than those with higher socio-economic status.
Promotion of Healthy Weights
In April 2002, the Public Health Approaches to the Prevention of Obesity (PHAPO) Working Group of the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) identified that a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention should:
Address both dietary habits and physical activity patterns of the population
Address both societal and individual level factors
Address both immediate and distant causes
Have multiple focal points and levels of intervention (i.e. at national, regional, community and individual levels);
Include both policies and programs; and
Build links between sectors that may otherwise be viewed as independent.
Research is needed to:
Develop a standard definition and a standard measurement technique for determining obesity in children.
Develop obesity measures for older, ethnic and gender specific populations.
Identify and develop effective primary prevention methods for individuals, families and communities to reduce the prevalence of obesity in all stages of life.
Improve awareness and knowledge about the health effects of obesity and healthy living.
Develop effective primary prevention measures and strategies that are therapeutic, secondary and tertiary in nature.
Identify and track rates of obesity and overweight in Canada.
Assess the effectiveness of obesity prevention and treatment initiatives.
Identify and implement the most effective primary prevention strategies for ethnic populations.
Develop and implement effective healthy public policy for the prevention, treatment, and management of obesity.
Further, the surveillance of obese and overweight Canadians is necessary in order to assess the effectiveness of prevention and treatment initiatives. It is only through the combined action and resources of governments, non-governmental organizations, non-profit and private sectors to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to curb the growing trend of obesity in Canada.
CMA PATIENT SAFETY POLICY FRAMEWORK (Update 2010)
The CMA’s mission is to promote the highest standard of health and health care for Canadians. This means, among other things, ensuring that the health care system is safe for patients and providers and effective in achieving good health outcomes for individuals and society. Unfortunately, studies published in recent years have raised concern that health care is not as safe as it could be; data collected by researchers in various countries has shown that there are unacceptably high levels of preventable adverse events, as high as 16% in one study of adverse events associated with hospital admissions. A study conducted by G. R. Baker, P.G. Norton et al, “The Canadian Adverse Events Study: the incidence of adverse events among hospital patients in Canada” showed an adverse event rate of 7.5 per 100 hospital admissions. (1) This suggests that of the nearly 2.5 million hospital admissions yearly in Canada, approximately 185,000 are associated with an adverse event and 70,000 of those possibly preventable.
These studies have focused attention on health care error and adverse events, but patient safety requires that participants in the health care system are constantly aware of the risks present in the system, and that risks are addressed proactively - preferably before an adverse event occurs. If a preventable adverse event does occur, it provides an opportunity to learn about and correct sources of error.
The CMA considers that a national patient safety strategy, aimed at building a culture of safety, is a priority. This Policy Framework has been developed to provide a clear statement of the CMA’s views on the principles that should underpin a patient safety strategy and to ensure clear support and direction for CMA members and staff involved in patient safety initiatives.
The Health Care System
Errors and adverse events are inevitable in any complex system and more complex systems are more prone to errors. Nevertheless, studies have demonstrated an unacceptably high level of preventable adverse events associated with management of health care.
1. Patient safety initiatives should aim to improve health outcomes for patients by minimizing the rate of preventable adverse events and improving the management of events when they occur.
2. Patient safety is one aspect of quality health care; activities relating to patient safety should result in a net increase in the quality of health care.
3. Patient safety initiatives should recognize that error and adverse events occur because of qualities of the system within which individuals operate. A primary concern of initiatives should be to prevent future errors by addressing the system rather than blaming and punishing individuals.
The Canadian public has a reasonable expectation that health care will not result in avoidable injury.
4. Patient safety initiatives should support the accountability of the health sector, including providers, funders and regulators, to patients and the wider public for the safety of health care.
Participants in Health Care
Patients as partners
5. Patient safety initiatives should promote the role of patients as partners in the provision of safe care, including the prevention and management of adverse events.
6. Patient safety initiatives should encourage and anticipate the full and appropriate disclosure to patients of relevant information that is material to their health and healthcare, including information about adverse events or effects.
Professional responsibility and support
With a very few exceptions, health care is delivered by competent, caring professionals who are striving to achieve a good outcome for patients.
7. Patient safety initiatives should recognize the responsibility of professionals for achieving and maintaining the standard of their own practice.
8. Patient safety initiatives, while responding appropriately to adverse events, should be sensitive to the professional role and personal well being of individual physicians and other health care providers.
Learning and Collaboration
9. Patient safety initiatives should promote and reflect teamwork, communication and collaboration at all levels.
10. Patient safety initiatives should support learning from one’s own experience and the sharing of knowledge so that it is possible to learn from the experience of others.
Legal and Regulatory Environment
11. Patient Safety initiatives should promote a legal and regulatory environment that supports open communication and effective management of adverse events.
12. The protection afforded to the opinions expressed within quality assurance committees must be upheld
Evidence Base and Evaluation
Patient safety initiatives should be based on sound evidence.
Patient safety initiatives should contain provision for appropriate evaluation.
Patient safety initiatives should contain provision for broad dissemination of findings.
PATIENT SAFETY INITIATIVE AREAS
Building a culture of safety in Canadian health care will require the collaboration of many different groups and organizations. The CMA can play a leadership role within this larger group and within its own constituency of over 70,000 physicians. In some instances, it will be the CMA’s role to advocate for initiatives that can be delivered only by another provider or through a consortium; in other instances, CMA can assume sole responsibility for taking action. The CMA has identified that, as priorities, it will support:
Advocacy for changes to legislation and regulation that would remove disincentives for health care providers to share information about adverse events.
Raising awareness of patient safety and changing attitudes towards risk, error and adverse events within the health care community.
Developing and providing resources such as clinical practice guidelines and information technology systems that have been shown to standardize practice and reduce adverse events.
Reporting systems that collect and aggregate data on risks so that good practices can be developed and shared.
Education and training for health care professionals and managers to provide them with the conceptual and practical tools to introduce change into their practice and organizations.
Advocacy for, and development of, an agenda for patient safety research in Canada.
The involvement of government at all levels in supporting and committing resources to initiatives for improved patient safety.
Adverse event – any unintended injury or complication that is caused by health care management rather than the patient’s disease and that leads to prolonged hospital stay, morbidity or mortality. Adverse events do not necessarily result from error, for example a toxic reaction to a drug in a patient without apparent risk factors for the reaction.
Error – the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (“error of execution”) or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (“error of planning”). An error may not result in an adverse event if the error does not result in harm or is intercepted.
Risk – the chance of injury or loss as defined as a measure of the probability and severity of an adverse effect to health, property, the environment or other things of value.
(1) G. Ross Baker, Peter G. Norton, Virginia Flintoft, Régis Blais, Adalsteinn Brown, Jafna Cox, Ed Etchells, William A. Ghali, Philip Hébert, Sumit R. Majumdar, Maeve O'Beirne, Luz Palacios-Derflingher, Robert J. Reid, Sam Sheps, and Robyn Tamblyn. The Canadian Adverse Events Study: the incidence of adverse events among hospital patients in Canada Can. Med. Assoc. J., May 2004; 170: 1678 - 1686.
Climate Change and Human Health
Climate change is increasingly recognized as a significant threat facing society and has the potential to be one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st Century1. While the damage is being done now, many of the health effects may arise only decades in the future2.
Possible impacts could include some or all of the following:
* Increased mortality, disease and injuries from heat waves and other extreme weather events;
* Continued change in the range of some infectious disease vectors (i.e. 260-320 million more cases of malaria predicted by 2080, with six billion more at risk for dengue fever);
* Effects on food yields- increased malnutrition;
* Increased flooding in some areas and increased droughts in others, along with other impacts on freshwater supply;
* Increases in foodborne and waterborne illnesses;
* Warming and rising sea levels adding to displacement and also impacting water supply through salination;
* Impaired functioning of ecosystems;
* Negative effects on air quality associated with ground level ozone, including increases in cardio-respiratory morbidity and mortality, asthma, and allergens;
* Displacement of vulnerable populations (especially in coastal areas)1; and
* Loss of livelihoods3.
Most of the impacts of climate change will result from amplifying the existing health hazards found in populations4. How susceptible a population is to the effects of climate change is dependent on their existing vulnerabilities (i.e. disease burden, resources etc.) as well as their adaptive capacity5. The World Health Organization has projected that countries that have, and will likely continue to suffer the greatest effects, are those who have contributed the smallest amount to the causes of climate change.6
While the vast majority of climate change deaths will occur in developing countries with systemic vulnerabilities, a recent Health Canada report has noted that Canada is likely to experience higher rates of warming in this century than most other countries in the world. Climate change scenarios predict an increased risk of extreme weather and other climate events for all regions of Canada, with the exception of extreme cold7. Canadians most vulnerable to climate change include seniors, children and infants, socially disadvantaged individuals, and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease8. Those living in cities could be especially vulnerable due to the impact of the heat island effect. However, given their greater access to emergency, health, social, and financial resources, they might also have the greatest adaptive capacity9.
The health consequences of climate change have the potential to be more severe in far northern regions. Populations in Canada's north including aboriginals have already begun to see differences in their hunting practices as a result of changing ice patterns10, and the melting of permanent snowpacks11. Changes in ice patterns have also led to increased injuries12. In some places in the North, climate changes have led to greater risks from avalanches, landslides and other hazards13. Further problems are related to the infrastructure in Northern Canada, with some communities already noticing degradation of structures due to the thawing of the permafrost14. Given that much of the Northern infrastructure is already in disrepair, this represents a considerable problem. Geographic isolation, and a lack of resources may further exacerbate the situation15.
What CMA has done?
Physicians have a critical role to play in advancing public understanding of the potential impact of climate change on health and promoting health protecting responses.
The CMA has been working on the issue of climate change and human health for a number of years. CMA was supportive of Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and urged the Government of Canada to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfied Canada's international commitments while also maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.
In 2007, a number of resolutions were passed at General Council calling on government to properly plan for the health impacts of climate change and put in place measures to mitigate the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations in Canada's north. In that same year, CMA and the Canadian Nurses Association updated a joint position statement first entered into in 1994 calling for environmentally responsible activity in the health-care sector.
Most recently, the CMA has been an integral part of the drafting of the World Medical Association (WMA) policies on health and climate change. The WMA Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change was adopted at its annual General Assembly in New Delhi, India in October 2009, The declaration calls for action in five main areas; advocacy to combat global warming; leadership-help people be healthy enough to adapt to climate change; education and capacity building; surveillance and research; and collaboration to prepare for climate emergencies. This policy is written to complement the WMA declaration.
What needs to be done?
Climate change may lead to significant impacts on human health. While it is unlikely that these outcomes can be avoided, there are some strategies that can be employed to help limit the negative consequences.
Education and Capacity Building
There is a need for greater public and health professional awareness and education about climate change in order to gain understanding of the health consequences and support for strategies to reduce green house gases and mitigate climate change effects.
1. A national public awareness program on the importance of the environment and global climate change to personal health;
2. Encouraging health sciences schools to enhance their provision of educational programs on environmental health; and fostering the development of continuing education modules on environmental health and environmental health practices.
Surveillance and Research
There are important gaps in our knowledge on the health impacts of climate change as well as the effectiveness of various mitigation and adaptation strategies. Surveillance and reporting functions need to be strengthened to allow for greater accuracy in modeling of future impacts.
3. That the federal government must address the gaps in research regarding climate change and health by undertaking studies to
- quantify and model the burden of disease that will be caused by global climate change
- identify the most vulnerable populations, the particular health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and possible new protections for such populations;
- increase the collection and accuracy of health data, particularly for vulnerable and underserved populations;
- report diseases that emerge in conjunction with global climate change, and participate in field investigations, as with outbreaks of infectious diseases; and
- develop and expand surveillance systems to include diseases caused by global climate change.
Reducing the Burden of Disease to Mitigate Climate Change Impacts
How susceptible a population is to the effects of climate change is dependent on their existing vulnerabilities. Therefore, work needs to be done to reduce the burden of diseases and improve upon the social determinants of health for vulnerable populations in Canada and globally.
4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments work together to improve the ability of the public to adapt to climate change and catastrophic weather events by
- Encouraging behaviours that improve overall health,
- Creating targeted programs designed to address specific exposures,
- Providing health promotion information and education on self-management of the symptoms of climate-associated illness,
- Ensuring physical infrastructure that allows for adaptation;
5. That the federal government develop concrete actions to reduce the health impact of climate-related emissions, in particular those initiatives which will also improve the general health of the population;
6. That the federal government support the Millennium Development Goals and support the principles outlined in the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health report; and
Preparing for Climate Emergencies
To deal with the future burden of climate change related health issues there is a need to ensure adequate health capacity and infrastructure. Rebuilding of public health capacity globally is seen as the most important, cost-effective, and urgently needed response to climate change16. Domestically, there is a need to ensure adequate surge capacity within the health care system to be prepared for an increase in illness related to climate change effects. There is also a need to strengthen not only the health systems, but the infrastructure (i.e. housing) for vulnerable populations including Aboriginals and those in the North.
CMA recommends that the federal and provincial /territorial governments work together to:
7. Strengthen the public health system both domestically and internationally in order to improve the capacity of communities to adapt to climate change;
8. Ensure adequate surge capacity within Canada's health system to handle the increase in climate change related illness;
9. Ensure the health of vulnerable populations is adequate to handle climate change related situations;
10. Develop knowledge about the best ways to adapt to and mitigate the health effects of climate change;
11. Integrate health professionals into the emergency preparedness plans of government and public health authorities so that front-line providers are adequately informed and prepared to properly manage any health emergencies.
Advocacy to Combat Climate Change
Finally, there is a need to take action to reduce the damaging effects of climate change. The global community needs to come together to reduce the levels of green house gases being released in the atmosphere, and focus on safer more environmentally friendly energy sources. Investments in cuts to greenhouse gas emissions would greatly outweigh their costs, and could help to reduce the future burden of climate change related illness17.
12. That the government of Canada become a global leader in promoting equitable, carbon neutral economic, industrial, and social policies, and practices that fight global warming and adopt specific green house gas reduction targets as determined by the evolving science of climate change.
13. That health care professionals act within their professional settings to reduce the environmental impact of medical activities and to develop environmentally sustainable professional settings;
14. That all Canadians act to minimize individual impacts on the environment, and encourage others to do so, as well.
The CMA believes that Canada must prepare now for the potential health threat that climate change poses to its population. While many of these effects will take decades to materialize, certain populations, such as those in Canada's north, or those in low lying coastal areas, are already starting to experience the impact of climate change.
A focus on education and health promotion, as well as advocacy for improved public policy and primary health care resources will be a good start in dealing with this issue. Additionally, further research and data collection is necessary to improve our understanding of climate change and the effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Finally, the global community needs to act together to address the health and environmental impacts of climate change. By working together, in an international response, strategies can be implemented to mitigate any negative health effects of climate change.
Canada's physicians believe that: What is good for the environment is also good for human health. It is past time for those of us in the health sector in Canada to engage fully in the debate and discussions within our own house, as well as in the broader body politic to ensure that protecting human health is the bottom line of environmental and climate change strategies.
1 Currently a third of the world's population lives within 60 miles of the shoreline and 13 of 20 biggest world cities located on the coast- more than a billion people could be displaced (Costello et.al., 2009)
1 Costello, Anthony et.al. "Managing the health effects of climate change.' The Lancet Volume 373 May 16, 2009. pp.1693-1733.
2 World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization & United Nations Environment Programme (2003) Climate Change and Human Health- Risks and Responses, Summary. Available at: http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ccSCREEN.pdf
3 Confalonieri et.al., (2007) Human Health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf ; Epstein, Paul R. "Climate Change and Human Health." The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14) October 6, 2005.; Friel, Sharon; Marmot, Michael; McMichael, Anthony J.; Kjellstrom, Tord & Denny Vagero. "Global health equity and climate stabilization: a common agenda." The Lancet Volume 372 November 8, 2008. pp.1677-1683.
4Confalonieri et.al., (2007) Human Health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf; World Health Organization (2009) Protecting Health From Climate Change: Global research priorities. Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241598187_eng.pdf
5 Health Canada (2001) Climate Change and Health & Well-being: A Policy Primer Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/climat/policy_primer-abecedaire_en_matiere/index-eng.php
6 Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Corvalan, Carlos & Maria Neira "Global climate change: implications for international public health policy." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. March 2007, 85 (3) pp.235-237
7 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf
8 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf
9 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf
11 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf
12 Epstein, Paul R. "Climate Change and Human Health." The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14) October 6, 2005.
13 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf
14 Field, Christopher B. et.al. (2007) North America. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter14.pdf
15 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf
16 World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization & United Nations Environment Programme (2003) Climate Change and Human Health- Risks and Responses, Summary. Available at: http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ccSCREEN.pdf
17 Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Corvalan, Carlos & Maria Neira "Global climate change: implications for international public health policy." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. March 2007, 85 (3) pp.235-237
Canada's prized Medicare system is facing serious challenges on two key fronts: in meeting the legitimate health care needs of Canadians and in being affordable for the public purse. The founding principles of Medicare are not being met today either in letter or in spirit. Canadians are not receiving the value they deserve from the health care system. In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th of 30 countries (the U.S. was not included in the sample) in terms of value for money spent on health care. Canadians deserve better.
Canada cannot continue on this path. The system needs to be massively transformed, a task that demands political courage and leadership, flexibility from within the health care professions and far-sightedness on the part of the public. It is a lot to demand, but nothing less than one of Canada's most cherished national institutions is at stake. Unwillingness to confront the challenges is not an option.
With this report, "Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works, Care That Lasts" the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) declares its readiness to take a leadership position in confronting the hard choices required to make health care work better for Canadians. The focus of reform must better serve the patient. The system must adjust to changing needs for care and do so without crowding out other societal needs; many of them determinants of health themselves, such as education and sanitation, and the challenges posed by Canada's geographic, cultural, economic and emerging demographic realities.
This report sets out an ambitious but realizable roadmap to ready the system for the future. Its triple aim is to improve the health of the population at large, to improve the health care experiences of patients, and to improve the value for money spent on health and health care. The CMA seeks to spark a spirited discussion among physicians, other health care providers, governments and the public at large so that an urgent effort can be undertaken to put an improved system on a path to sustainability by the time the federal-provincial/territorial Health Accord expires on March 31, 2014. By so doing, a renewed Health Accord will be enabled to maximize value for patients and sustain a strong health care system for future generations.
This report is divided into three parts: The Problem; Our Vision; and The Framework for Transformation. It is in this last section that the CMA puts forth a five-pillar transformational plan, including a Charter for Patient-Centred Care, for securing Canada's public health care future. These policy directions have been influenced by our consultations with patients, patient advocacy groups and the public. These initiatives are necessary to support the important work already underway in illness prevention and health promotion, in enhancing capabilities for diagnosis and treatment, and in monitoring system performance. They also represent directions we must take towards preparing for the needs of future generations of Canadians.
The CMA, our partner provincial/territorial medical associations and the physicians of Canada are committed to the changes that will allow us to fulfill our objective to provide patients with optimal care within an effective, accountable and sustainable system today and for generations to come.
Medicare has enjoyed the resounding support of Canadians for nearly half a century. But new times bring new challenges to the health care system and so it has been forced from time to time to adapt and evolve. This document is predicated on the belief of the CMA that new demands for adaptation must be addressed starting now, and in a manner consistent with the spirit and principles that have guided Medicare from the beginning.
This report is divided into three Parts. The first lays out the underlying problem confronting the system; the second outlines a vision for Canada's health system by modernizing the guiding principles of Medicare, and the third provides the CMA's prescription for improving the system within and beyond the five original principles that are set out in the Canada Health Act (universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability and public administration).
Following the main report, Appendix A addresses the issue of health care funding and sustainability. This is meant to inform readers regarding the complexities inherent in the challenge of sustaining health care provision and funding for current and future populations.
Part 1: The Problem
Canada's health care system is valued by its citizens. At the same time, it is increasingly recognized that the system is inadequate to meet 21st Century needs and is in urgent need of reform. Canadians wait too long for care. Care providers feel overworked and discouraged. There are insufficient mechanisms to monitor system performance. Technical support needs modernizing.
Closer examination of how the five Medicare principles are being met reveals a number of concerns. While there is universal coverage for a narrow range of medically-necessary services, access to other essential health care services is inconsistent, both within and across jurisdictions. Exceedingly long waits for necessary medical care is prevalent. Efficiencies in the management of our health care system must also be found as Canada has recently been ranked last out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent.
Part 2: Our Vision
There are numerous steps required to transform Canada's health care system so that it becomes highly effective and meets the health needs of Canadians. A first step is to re-examine the five principles of the Canada Health Act and modernize them as they are no longer sufficient to meet current and evolving needs.
All Canadians must have timely access to an appropriate array of medically-necessary services across the full continuum of care, independent of their ability to pay. All health care must be patient-centred. Care must be delivered effectively and must be well-coordinated among all care providers. The health care system must be properly resourced to deliver care in a sustainable way that can accommodate our ever-changing health care needs.
Part 3: The Framework for Transformation
The CMA's Health Care Transformation Plan has three core goals: improving population health, improving the patient experience of health care, and improving the value for money spent on health care. The CMA has created a Framework for Transformation listing the actions needed for change - organized under five pillars:
1. Building a culture of patient-centred care
* Creation of a Charter for Patient-centred Care
2. Incentives for enhancing access and improving quality of care
* Changing incentives to enhance timely access
* Changing incentives to support quality care
3. Enhancing patient access along the continuum of care
* Universal access to prescription drugs
* Continuing care outside acute care facilities
4. Helping providers help patients
* Ensuring Canada has an adequate supply of health human resources
* More effective adoption of health information technologies
5. Building accountability/responsibility at all levels
* Need for system accountability
* Need for system stewardship
The CMA recognizes that none of these directions, taken separately, will transform our health care system. Nor do they represent an exhaustive list of steps, as there are many other directions that can be taken to support our vision. This framework does, however, contain the necessary directions toward the more efficient, high-functioning, patient-focused system that Canadians deserve.
Summary of CMA Recommended Directions
Implementation of these recommendations will require the collaboration of all levels of government and medical and other health organizations.
1. Gain government and public support for the CMA's Charter for Patient-Centred Care.
2. Implement partial activity-based funding for hospitals, whereby facilities are funded based on the number of patients they treat and the types of illnesses they have, to improve timely access to facility-based care.
3. Implement appropriate pay-for-performance systems to encourage quality of care at both the clinician and facility level.
4. Establish an approach to comprehensive prescription drug coverage to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
5. Begin construction immediately on additional long-term care facilities.
6. Create national standards, with input from both federal and provincial/territorial governments, for continuing care provision in terms of eligibility criteria, care delivery and accommodation expenses.
7. Develop options to facilitate pre-funding long-term care needs.
8. Initiate a national dialogue on the Canada Health Act in relation to the continuum of care.
9. Explore ways to support informal caregivers and long-term care patients.
10. Develop a long-term health human resources plan through a national body using the best available evidence to support its deliberations. Within this plan:
a) Increase medical school and residency training positions.
b) Invest in recruitment and retention strategies for physicians, nurses and other health care workers.
c) Ease the process of integration into our health care workforce for international medical graduates and Canadian physicians returning from abroad.
d) Introduce new providers such as physician assistants to the health care workforce and enhance collaborative, team-based care where appropriate.
11. Adopt the CMA's five-year plan to set out clear targets for accelerating the adoption of Health Information Technology (HIT) in Canada.
12. Accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing by 2012.
13. Require public reporting on the performance of the system, including outcomes.
14. Establish an arm's-length mechanism to monitor the financing of health care programs at the federal and provincial/territorial levels.
PART 1: THE PROBLEM
Summary: Canada's health care system is valued by its citizens. However, not only is our Medicare system failing to meet the five principles - universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration - originally laid out in the 1984 Canada Heath Act, but those five principles, while still relevant, need to be expanded in scope to serve the current and future health needs of Canadians.
Canadians believe that the relief of suffering and the promotion of health and human dignity are vitally important - for philosophical as well as pragmatic reasons. Simply stated, there is a broad recognition that health is a valued "good" allowing all Canadians to flourish as individuals and groups. Notwithstanding this fundamental belief, neither of the imperatives of our health care system - optimizing function and the compassionate relief of suffering and promotion of dignity - is being met for many people. Our population and our health providers encounter these failures on a daily basis.
Polls show that most Canadians unwaveringly support the five principles laid out in the 1984 Canada Health Act - universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration.1 In fact, since Medicare was first introduced - in Saskatchewan in 1962 and throughout the rest of Canada soon afterward - the idea of universal health care has become central to our national identity. Nearly half a century after Medicare was first introduced, however, Canada's health care system is falling short of the demands being placed on it from patients and providers.
Canadians well understand that universal health care requires significant public resources to maintain. While the escalating costs of health care are often perceived as the overriding problem, there are other factors contributing to the crisis.
Surveys have repeatedly shown that Canadians are highly satisfied with the care they receive once it is delivered. However, the general view among most Canadians is that their health care system is not as well managed as it must be. They are increasingly concerned about the lack of timely access to see their family physician, the long wait times for diagnostic testing, a widespread lack of access to specialists and specialized treatment, and the compromised quality of care in overburdened emergency rooms, or the unavailability of nearby ER facilities altogether. With our aging population, end of life issues are becoming increasingly important, yet many do not have access to expert palliative care.
The founding principles of Medicare are not being met today either in letter or in spirit. Canadians are not receiving the value they deserve from the health care system. Issues such as quality of care, accountability and sustainability are now recognized as key aspects of a high-performing health system. "Health" by today's standards is not just the assessment and treatment of illness, but also the prevention of illness, and the creation and support of social factors that contribute to health.
Also missing from our current system, but vitally important to proper care, is health information technology (HIT). In this area, Canada is woefully lacking in both resources and coordinated efforts toward a plan of HIT implementation.
Before addressing the missing elements in Canada's health care system, a proper diagnosis of the current system requires a closer look at how the health care system fails to deliver on all five founding principles of Medicare.
Studies have consistently shown that poorer, marginalized populations do not access necessary care. Wealthier populations use health care services more frequently than lower-income populations despite higher illness rates in low-income populations. Poorer communities have fewer services to support good health.
The most vulnerable populations are least able to access and navigate the health care system. At the same time, these are the people most likely to need health care because the essential determinants of health - housing, education and food security - are often not available to them.
Canada's system of universality resonates strongly with Canadians. However, while there is universal first-dollar coverage for insured hospital and medical services, there is uneven coverage of other services also essential to health and quality of life (e.g., prescription drugs and home care).
The principle of accessibility in the Canada Health Act does not define "timely access" to necessary care. For many patients, the months of waiting for necessary treatment amount to a complete lack of "accessibility."
While wait times have been reduced for a limited number of surgical procedures, many Canadians are still waiting far too long to receive necessary medical care for a wide variety of conditions. For many types of treatments, Canadians wait longer than citizens in most other industrialized countries that have similar universal health systems. Approximately five million Canadians do not have a family doctor, severely restricting access to adequate primary medical care.
Provincial/territorial health insurance plans must insure all "medically necessary" hospital and physician services.
Canadians are entitled to all medically necessary (evidence-informed) services to the greatest extent possible. However, since Medicare was established in the 1960s, care patterns have shifted dramatically - away from being primarily acute care in nature, to broader health needs including prevention, treatment and long-term management of chronic illnesses. In addition, new technologies, treatments and medications that were not foreseen by the original planners of Medicare have been developed to diagnose and treat illnesses.
At the time the Canada Health Act was passed, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this has declined to 41% in 2008.2 Notwithstanding these changes, there is significant public spending beyond services covered by the Act (in excess of 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care; however, these programs are not subject to the Act's program criteria and are often subject to arbitrary cutbacks. While a majority of the working-age population and their families are covered by private health insurance, those with lower incomes are less likely to enjoy such benefits. Furthermore, the proportion of Canadians working in non-standard employment conditions (e.g., part-time, temporary or contract work) is increasing and these workers are less likely to have supplementary benefits.3 In addition, while most jurisdictions provide some form of seniors' drug coverage, access to other supplementary benefits post-retirement is most likely highly variable.
Some of the more severe gaps in coverage include:
* the lack of access to prescription medications for those without private health insurance or who are ineligible for government drug benefit programs; this problem is particularly significant for many residents in Atlantic Canada
* the lack of continuing care, including both support for people to stay in their home (home care) or appropriate residential care (e.g., facility-based long-term care)
* a lack of adequate mental health services. Mental illness is one of the leading burdens of illness in Canada. Access to mental health services for both children and adults is poor. Psychiatric hospitals are not covered under the Canada Health Act. Many essential services, such as psychological services or out-of-hospital drug therapies, are not covered under provincial/territorial health insurance plans.
Canadians should receive coverage while travelling outside of their home province or territory.
Portability under the Canada Health Act does not cover citizens who seek non-urgent and non-emergency care outside their home province or territory. Canadians who obtain such care in another province or territory are not covered by their health insurance program unless they receive prior approval (usually for services not available in their home province or territory).
This principle is honoured by some jurisdictions but has never been fully implemented in Québec. Québec did not sign bilateral reciprocal billing agreements with the other provinces and territories stipulating that providers would be reimbursed at host-province rates. Consequently, Québec patients who receive medical care outside of their province must often pay cash for medical services received and then apply to recoup a portion of their costs from the Québec health insurance program.
5. Public administration
Health care insurance plans must be administered and operated on a non-profit basis. The principle of public administration is often misinterpreted to mean public financing of publicly delivered services. In fact, while Medicare services (medically necessary hospital and physician services) are overwhelmingly publicly financed, most services are privately delivered. Most physicians are independent contractors while most hospitals are private organizations governed by community boards. This misconception of what constitutes public administration has inhibited the development of innovative models for publicly funded, privately delivered services.
While Canada's system of Medicare is administered publicly, a case can certainly be made that Canada's health care system is not delivering value for the money spent: Canada is one of the highest spenders of health care when compared to other industrialized countries that offer universal care - Canada is the fifth-highest spender per capita on health care and sixth-highest in terms of spending on health as a percentage of GDP. Canadians spent an estimated $183 billion on health care in 2009, or $5452 per person.2 Of this amount, $3829, or 70%, is spent through the publicly funded system. Health care spending in Canada has increased by 6.8 annually over the past five years and has been increasing faster than the growth in the economy and more importantly faster than revenues at the federal and provincial/territorial levels.
Canada's health care system is under-performing on several key measures, such as timely access, despite the large amounts we spend on health care. Experts agree that Canada's current health care system is not delivering the level of care that other industrialized countries now enjoy. The Conference Board of Canada4, the World Health Organization5, the Commonwealth Fund6 and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy7 have all rated Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" and efficiency. New governance models should be considered to improve both system effectiveness and accountability.
In addition to the need for improving the performance of our health system is the issue of fiscal sustainability. In 1998, the Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, was among the first to sound an alarm about sustainability with a report on the implications of the aging population. His report projected that government spending on health as a share of GDP; if increases continued apace at an annual rate of 2% of real growth; could as much as double from its 1996 level of 6.4% to 12.5% by 2031.8 According to the most recent estimates from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), government health spending as a percentage of GDP reached 8.4% in 2009i - a level which has already exceeded the 8.1% estimate for 2011 set out in the high-growth scenario of the 1998 report.2
Most recently, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has again sounded the alarm in his February 2010 Fiscal Sustainability report.9 He projects that total provincial-territorial government health expenditure could rise to over 14% of GDP by 2040-41. This report presents estimates of the fiscal gap (which is defined as the increase in taxes and/or reduction in spending, measured relative to GDP) that is required to achieve sustainability over the long term. Under their baseline scenario, the government would need to increase revenue and/or reduce spending by $15.5 billion annually, starting immediately. Given that most commentators expect the demand for health care services to increase, reduced spending seems unlikely; hence the need to increase revenue is the most likely option. If there is no political appetite or public support for increasing public revenues for health on the basis of universality and risk pooling then we will be faced with choosing among options for raising funds from private sources.
A more detailed analysis of health care funding and sustainability is contained in Appendix A.
PART 2: OUR VISION
Summary: There are numerous steps required to transform Canada's health care system so that it becomes highly effective and meets the health needs of Canadians. A first step is to re-examine the five principles of the Canada Health Act - universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability, and public administration - and modernize them to meet current and evolving needs.
MODERNIZING THE PRINCIPLES OF MEDICARE
Change must be undertaken with the patients' interests at the centre. To the CMA, this means meaningful implementation and modernization of the Canada Health Act. Transformational change will refocus our system so that serves the patient - not the other way around as is so often the case today. Canada must follow the lead of other developed countries with universal health care systems that have succeeded in this fundamental objective.
Below are the modernized principles for Canada's health system recommended by the CMA:
All Canadians must have access to the full range of necessary (evidence-informed) health care services using a variety of funding options as necessary to ensure universal coverage regardless of ability to pay. This includes meeting the needs of vulnerable populations who may not be able to access services due to a variety of barriers (e.g., geographical, socio-economic and demographic).
All Canadians must have timely access to the full array of health care services over their life span, from primary care (including health promotion and illness prevention) through institutionally based secondary and tertiary care, to community and home-based services that promote rehabilitation and health maintenance, and to palliation at the end of life. There should be clear, measurable wait-time targets/benchmarks for access to necessary care, with publicly funded alternatives available in situations where timely care is not locally available to patients in need.
All Canadians must have access to the full complement of health services, with incentives in the system to encourage the prevention of illness and to promote optimum health while addressing the complex causative pathways affecting health and disease (i.e., social determinants of health). A defined set of nationally comparable, publicly funded core services should be available to all Canadians chosen through an evidence-informed and transparent manner. There should be an ongoing monitoring of the comparability of access to a full range of medically necessary health services across the country.
All Canadians must be eligible for coverage while travelling within Canada, outside of their home province/territory. This principle must be honored in all jurisdictions, and apply to all levels of necessary care.
5. Public administration
Services must be appropriately, efficiently and effectively delivered, with providers and patients working together to determine how that is done. The system must ensure that care is integrated and coordinated among providers and services to maintain continuity of care. From the patients' perspective, care must be well-coordinated among providers and between levels (i.e., physician to hospital, hospital back to home, etc.), supported by a functional and secure electronic health information system.
The system should be guided by properly structured incentives to reward efficient provision of timely, high-quality patient care. This would include incentives such as activity-based funding of hospitals (i.e., paying on the basis of services provided), and pay-for-performance measures for health care providers, with competition based on valid measures of quality and efficiency. The system would utilize both public and private service providers, and put uniform requirements and regulations in place for measuring quality.ii
The system must be able to demonstrate good value for money. There must be accountability mechanisms and performance measurements in place to ensure responsibility for monitoring and managing system performance (e.g., efficiency and effectiveness) at all levels. Regular public reporting on system performance will be required. Societal health goals and targets focused on outcomes will be set and monitored. Health care providers and the community will be actively involved in system decision-making.
The system needs to be patient-centred. Patient-centred care is seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner, based on need and not the ability to pay, that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family, and treats the patient with respect and dignity.
The system must be properly resourced in a sustainable manner. Funding must be sufficient to meet ongoing health care needs. The system must be resilient; that is, capable of withstanding or accommodating demand surges and fiscal pressures. It must have the capacity to innovate and improve and be able to anticipate emerging health needs. Prospective monitoring and documentation of emerging health needs and the burden of illness must be undertaken on an ongoing basis. Strategies must be developed and implemented to meet those needs properly.
PART 3: THE FRAMEWORK FOR TRANSFORMATION
Summary: The CMA's Health Care Transformation Plan has three core goals: improving population health, improving the patient experience of health care, and improving the value of money spent on health care. There are numerous steps required to transform Canada's health care system so that it becomes highly effective and meets the health needs of Canadians. The next steps are contained in a Framework for Transformation, organized under five pillars, with specific recommendations for action.
1. Building a culture of patient-centred care
* Creation of a Charter for Patient-centred Care
2. Incentives for enhancing access and improving quality of care
* Changing incentives to enhance timely access
* Changing incentives to support quality care
3. Enhancing patient access along the continuum of care
* Universal access to prescription drugs
* Continuing care outside acute care facilities
4. Helping providers help patients
* Ensuring Canada has an adequate supply of health human resources
* More effective adoption of health information technologies
5. Building accountability/responsibility at all levels
* Need for system accountability
* Need for system stewardship
The CMA recognizes that none of these directions, taken separately, will transform our health care system. Nor do they represent an exhaustive list of steps, as there are many other directions that can be taken to support our vision. This framework does, however, contain the necessary directions toward the more efficient, high-functioning, patient-focused system that Canadians deserve.
For the transformation plan to succeed, the following key enablers must be in place:
* leadership at all levels including strong political leadership
* well-informed Canadians who understand the need for, and characteristics of, a high-performing health system
* patients, physicians and other providers actively involved in the reform and management of the system
* a commitment to sustainability with adequate levels of resources to ensure that services are in place
* health information technology in place to improve service delivery, manage care within and between services, and monitor and evaluate organization and system performance
* incentives properly aligned to support a variety of funding and delivery models that can meet system goals (e.g., to improve access, to improve quality)
* co-ordinated health human resources planning at the provincial/territorial and national levels
* a commitment to support continuous quality improvement and evidence-informed decision-making at both the policy and clinical levels.
These five pillars contain the directions which the CMA believes are necessary to successfully transform our health care system. Many other reforms have been proposed in Canada and elsewhere but based on international experience, these should receive priority attention.
1. BUILDING A CULTURE OF PATIENT-CENTRED CARE
The concept of "patient-centred care" is taking hold in other developed countries which are also in the process of reforming their health care systems. The essential principle is that health care services are provided in a manner that works best for patients. Health care providers partner with patients and their families to identify and satisfy the range of needs and preferences. Health providers, governments and patients each have their own specific roles in creating and moving toward a patient-centred system.
Patients have consistently emphasized the importance of being respected, having open communication and confidentiality of personal information, in addition to quality medical care. While building a patient-centred system is clearly better for patients, it is also better for physicians and all health care providers and administrators. In a patient-centred system, physicians are provided the optimal environment to give the best possible medical care. From the perspective of health administrators, recruitment and retention of providers who are satisfied with their work and their environment can have many tangible benefits. For instance, hospitals employing patient-centred care principles have found improvements in patient outcomes in areas ranging from decreased length of stay and fewer medication errors to enhanced staff recruitment.10
It is recognized that health care providers strive to practise patient-centred care. Often the issue is that the system - intended to serve as a network of services - is where patient-centred care breaks down.
CHARTER FOR PATIENT-CENTRED CARE
An important first step in building a culture of patient-centred care is to establish a Charter for Patient-centred Care. As a vision statement, the Charter is built on a foundation of reasonableness and fairness, while acknowledging resource constraints. Notwithstanding resource constraints, governments have the duty to ensure availability of the resources required to provide high quality care. This Charter is a mutually reciprocal covenant among patients, physicians, other health care providers, funders and organizers of care.
Dignity and respect
* All persons are treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
* Health care is provided in an environment that is free from discrimination and/or stigma of any kind.
* Health care services respond to individual needs and give consideration to personal preferences.
Access to care (timeliness, continuity, comprehensiveness)
* Access to and timeliness of appropriate medical and psychiatric services is determined by health need.
* Access to appropriate services is not limited by the patient's ability to pay.
* Care is continuous between health care providers and across settings.
Safety and appropriateness
* Care is provided in accordance with the applicable professional standard of care, by appropriately qualified health care providers, regardless of the location of service.
* Care is based upon the best available evidence and is provided in the safest possible environment.
* The quality of all health care services is evaluated, monitored and improved proactively.
* Care is informed and influenced by lessons learned from any critical incident or adverse event and by patient experiences.
Privacy and security of information
* Personal health information is collected, stored, accessed, used, disclosed and accessible to patients in accordance with applicable law and professional codes of ethics.
* Providers and recipients of care share responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of information in personal health records.
* Patients participate actively with providers in decisions about their medical care and treatment.
* Personal support and assistance with communication is available when required.
* Patients may appoint another person (proxy decision-maker) to act on their behalf and to be aware of their personal health information.
* Decisions for care are made with full disclosure of all relevant information.
* Patients may consent to or refuse any examination, intervention or treatment, and may change or vary their decisions without prejudice.
* Individuals may decline to participate in research without prejudice.
Insurability and Planning of health services
* All parties use health care resources appropriately.
* Recipients and providers are informed and are able to be involved directly, or through representatives, in the planning, organization, delivery and evaluation of health care services.
* Decisions about the provision and insurability of drugs and all other treatments or services are made in accordance with evidence and best practices.
* Government decision-making with respect to the planning, regulation and delivery of health care products and services is transparent.
Concerns and complaints
* Patients may comment on any aspect of their personal health care and have concerns investigated and addressed without repercussions.
* Patients receive timely information and an expression of regret and sympathy if there is any adverse event during their care, regardless of the reason for such event.
* Providers speak publicly and advocate on behalf of Canadians for the provision of high quality care.
The creation of a Charter for Patient-centred Care, as presented above, is a solid foundation on which to build a culture of patient-centred care. In order for the Charter to work, it needs to have supporting mechanisms to ensure accountability. Metrics must be identified to track the elements of the Charter. The Charter needs to be accepted by governments, providers and patients to have an impact on the health system culture and care.
Other examples of activities to promote a culture of patient-centred care may include:
* increasing availability of programs to prevent illness
* increasing involvement of patients and their families in the delivery of care when desired (e.g., if preferred by the patient, family and friends may be trained to help provide care for patients while in the hospital or community)
* soliciting patients' feedback on health care services received, and readiness to make changes based on that feedback
* establishing patient and family advisory councils for hospitals or health regions
* establishing a process for patients or their family members to quickly and efficiently raise a concern about care
* providing patients with information about how to access medical records while in the hospital or in the community
Progress to date/Next steps
The final report of Saskatchewan's Patient First Review, For Patients' Sake (2009),11 devoted considerable attention to the need to re-orient health care to a more patient-centred system. As Commissioner Tony Dagnone stated in his report, "patient-first must be embedded as a core value in health care and be ingrained in the 'DNA' of all health care organizations". The report recommended the adoption of a Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities for that province.
More recently, an advisory committee to the Alberta Minister of Health has also recommended the creation of a Patient Charter for that province.12
Lessons can be learned from the effects of patient charters in other developed countries. The National Health Service in England recently adopted a constitution which establishes its principles and values: sets out the rights to which patients, public and staff are entitled; includes pledges that the National Health Service is committed to achieve; delineates the responsibilities which the public, patients and staff owe to one another to ensure that the National Health Service operates fairly and effectively.13 The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights describes seven charter rights to which patients, consumers, carers and families are entitled and the ways they can contribute to ensuring their rights are upheld.14 Those rights are: access, safety, respect, communication, participation, privacy and a right to comment on care and have concerns addressed.
2. PROVIDING INCENTIVES TO ENHANCE ACCESS AND IMPROVE QUALITY OF CARE
Canadians have consistently identified timely access as Canada's most pressing health issue. Many other health systems around the world have been successful in dealing with timely access and now are examining the quality of care being delivered. This direction looks at changing incentives to accomplish two related objectives: improving timely access and supporting quality care.
A. Enhance timely access
Most provinces have taken steps to improve timely access to certain components of their health system. For instance, the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative has set a target for specialty wait times to be no longer than three months within the next four years.15
At the physician level, several initiatives are underway across Canada. In late 2009, the Primary Care Wait Time Partnership involving the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the CMA released its final report entitled, The Wait Starts Here.16 The report identifies several strategies for improving timely access to primary care. Efforts are also underway in some jurisdictions, such as in Manitoba, to improve the referral process from family physician to specialist (i.e., the timeliness and the appropriateness of referrals).
Activity-based funding - an idea raised in the Kirby Commission's final report17 - is another strategy to improve timely access at the facility level. Activity-based funding is a reimbursement mechanism that pays hospitals for each patient treated on the basis of the complexity of their case. A reimbursement level is set for each type of case then applies to all hospitals within the jurisdiction. It is also known as service-based funding, case-mix funding or patient-focused funding. As such, funding is viewed as "following the patient" since the hospital is paid only if the service is provided, resulting in increased productivity and in some instances, competition among hospitals to treat patients.
Financing of hospital services in most industrialized countries involves some portion of activity-based funding. Canada, although it has been a pioneer in the methodology that underlies activity-based funding, has had limited application for funding purposes. Most hospitals in Canada receive their funding in the form of a global budget that is usually based on historical funding levels. As a result, a well-performing hospital emergency room does not receive any additional funding for seeing more patients.
Canada should move toward partial activity-based funding for hospitals to improve hospital productivity. It is almost impossible to decrease wait times and reward productivity without this change in funding. While some countries have implemented 100% activity-based funding, other countries have shown that productivity can increase when even 25% of hospital funding is allocated in this manner.
Progress to date/Next steps
A number of provinces have taken steps to introduce activity-based funding for facility-based care. The government of British Columbia announced that it will provide "patient-focused funding" for the province's 23 largest hospitals.18 Ontario already has some limited activity-based funding for its hospitals and the government has announced that it will introduce patient-based payment for hospitals on April 1, 2011 as part of a multi-year implementation plan.19 Alberta announced in 2009 that it would be adopting a form of activity-based funding for long-term care facilities that started April 1, 2010 and for hospitals the year after.20 While not yet in place in Québec, the adoption of activity-based funding was recommended in the 2008 Castonguay report.21
Much of the work involved in supporting the adoption of partial activity-based funding has already been undertaken by CIHI and its well-developed Case Mix Group program supported by case-costing data from BC, Alberta and Ontario.
B. Support quality care
Timely access is one dimension of quality. But there are many other dimensions of quality including safety, effectiveness, appropriateness and acceptability. More recently in Canada, attention is now focused on incentives to improve quality in the processes of care to achieve better outcomes.
Incentives for providers
Pay-for-performance involves the use of an incentive payment to reward a hospital or physician provider for achieving a target for the quality of patient care. This may be linked to processes or outcomes of care and could be related to the attainment of a specified threshold and/or percentage improvement. Performance incentives may also be linked to the structure of health care delivery as well as the process of that delivery. 22 It is important to note that pay-for-performance, which refers to incentive payments for achieving quality targets, is not the same as activity-based funding, which is a reimbursement mechanism that pays hospitals for each patient treated on the basis of the complexity of their case.
Performance incentives can be targeted at both group output provided by a team of providers (nurses, physical therapists, physicians, etc.) as well as individual members of the team. The incentives may also be targeted at measuring the process involved in delivering the desired health care output.
Canada will likely follow the lead of other countries in increasing the focus on the outputs and outcomes of the health care system. The promise of pay-for-performance programs is that they can improve access, quality and accountability. Pink et al. 23 have tried to synthesize the international experience with pay-for-performance and its implications for Canada. Based on this assessment they offer four key considerations:
1. Pay-for-performance could potentially be used to target individual providers, provider groups/organizations, or health regions.
2. The selection of quality measures should consider provincial/territorial health goals and objectives, measures included in existing report cards, evidence and the ability to risk-adjust and the extent of provider acceptance.
3. Development of pay for performance should consider factors that are within the scope of control of providers, use positive incentives over disincentives and consider size/timing and perceived fairness of awards.
4. Program evaluation should consider the impact on patients and providers, quality measurement and how payments are used to improve quality.
In addition, they cite the need to address enablers/barriers including information technology, consultation, implementation costs and resistance.
Implement appropriate pay-for-performance systems. Adopt principles that secure equity and efficiency in pay-for-performance programs in Canada that will ensure the best outcomes for patients, physicians and the health care system at large.
Progress to date/Next steps
Pay-for-performance has already started in a number of provinces as seen in the table below.
Examples of pay-for-performance programs already in effect in Canada
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE INFORMATION]
Type of program
Family Physician Chronic Disease Management Incentive Program
Cumulative Preventive Care Bonuses for achieving specified thresholds of preventive care for their patients in five areas: influenza vaccine, pap smear, mammography, childhood immunizations and colorectal cancer screening
Physician Integrated Network has a Quality Based Incentive component24
Performance and Diligence Indicator (PDI) Fund for Family Physicians: The PDI Fund provides payments to family physicians who meet specific indicators in the care of their patients. The PDI program "will provide payments to individual family physicians, in and out of primary care networks, who meet specific performance and/or diligence indicators that deliver substantive clinical value"25
Full Service Family Practice Incentive Program: this includes an obstetrical care bonus payment and an expansion of the Full Service Family Practice Condition Payments that were introduced in 2003. The condition-based bonus payments are related to the monitoring patients' course of care according to BC Clinical Guidelines for diabetes, congestive heart failure and hypertension26
Pay-for-performance programs will continue to expand in Canada. Governments and insurance companies are introducing pay-for-performance incentive programs throughout the industrialized world with the goal of improving health care delivery efficiencies and especially to improve patient care. These are lofty goals because measuring improvements in patient care is complicated. It is vital that physicians, patients and the health care system establish principles that can guide them to make the best decisions concerning pay-for-performance. The scope of the program and what is measured will surely evolve. Full-scale adoption requires an electronic medical record (EMR) to be in place.
Incentives for patients
At a macro level, public policies can be instituted to encourage healthy behaviours and environmental improvements (e.g., water quality standards). At the individual level, consideration should be given to empowering patients through the use of patient incentives.
A rapidly emerging dimension of pay-for-performance is the use of incentives directed at the patient for health maintenance and healthy behaviours. Hall has reported that a number of US employers are offering tangible rewards to employees such as cash, merchandise, vacation days, and reductions in health care premiums or deductibles.27 These incentives are targeted variously at:
* activity (e.g., completing a health risk assessment)
* achievement (e.g., quitting smoking, lowering Body Mass Index)
* adherence (e.g., remaining tobacco-free for 12 months)
Positive incentives are used to promote healthy behaviours by transferring funds or alternate benefits to an individual. They work by providing immediate rewards for behaviours that usually provide only long-term health gains. Positive incentives have been shown to be effective in promoting singular, discrete behaviours, such as vaccinations, screening programs, and attending follow-up appointments. An example of an existing Canadian federal government incentive is the children's fitness tax credit. This credit is intended to promote physical activity among children by off-setting some of the cost incurred by families for sports and leisure programs.
In Germany, bonuses for healthy behaviours are integrated into the health system. They are offered for both primary and secondary prevention, including check-up programs, achieving healthy weights, smoking cessation, memberships in sports clubs, and other health-promoting activities. The bonuses take the form of points that can be redeemed for items, including sports equipment, health books or reduction in insurance premiums, or in some cases cash. There are also bonuses, in the form of a reduction in co-payments, for adhering to the treatment plan and participating in special care plans.28
Negative incentives or disincentives by governments largely involve the use of regulation and taxation in order to change individual behaviour. This helps to create an environment in which healthy choices are easier to make. For example, the taxation of tobacco, alcohol or unhealthy foods (such as those high in fat, salt or sugar) are commonly cited interventions. Taxes on tobacco products have been highly effective in reducing use. Studies linking cost to consumption of high-sugar content beverages demonstrate a strong link between higher prices and reduced consumption.29
3. ENHANCING PATIENT ACCESS ALONG THE CONTINUUM OF CARE
The continuum of care may be defined as the array of health services, regardless of the age of the recipient, ranging from primary care (including health promotion and illness prevention), through institutionally based secondary and tertiary care for acute medical situations, to community- and home-based services that promote health maintenance and rehabilitation for people with chronic problems, and finally to palliation at the end of life.
There is a strong realization that Canada's Medicare system covers a decreasing portion of this continuum. An example of where deficits exist is mental health. The CMA's 2008 annual meeting (General Council) tackled the issue of improving access to mental health services as part of a greater effort led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The CMA is currently working toward the several resolutions that were adopted, but there are two other areas that are in urgent need of attention.
Crucial to improved care is (A) universal access to comprehensive prescription drug coverage and; (B) improving access to continuing care (long-term care, home care and palliative care/hospice).
Physicians currently spend a significant amount of time assisting patients to obtain access to necessary prescription drugs. Physicians and families are also heavily engaged in time-consuming efforts to place patients in long-term care facilities or secure assistance in the home. Improving access for Canadians in these two areas would help create a more patient-centred health care system, and enhance efficiency for providers.
CMA approved a new policy on Funding the Continuum of Care in December 2009 that identifies a number of overall principles to enhance the continuum of care:
* optimal management of the continuum of care requires that patients take an active part in developing their care and treatment plan, and in monitoring their health status
* the issue of the continuum of care must go beyond the question of financing and address questions related to the organization of the delivery of care and to the shared and joint responsibilities of individuals, communities and governments in matters of health care and promotion, prevention and rehabilitation
* support systems should be established to allow elderly and disabled Canadians to optimize their ability to live in the community
* strategies should be implemented to reduce wait times for accessing publicly funded home and community care services
* integrated service delivery systems should be created for home and community care services
* any request for expanding the public plan coverage of health services, in particular for home care services and the cost of prescription drugs, must include a comprehensive analysis of the projected cost and potential sources of financing for this expansion
A. Universal access to prescription drugs
Prescription drugs represent the fastest-growing item in the health budget, and the second-largest category of health expenditure. It is estimated that less than one-half of prescription drug costs were publicly paid for in 2008.2 Moreover, Canada does not have a nationally coordinated policy in the area of very costly drugs that are used to treat rare diseases.
The term "catastrophic" has been used by First Ministers and in the National Pharmaceutical Strategy to describe their vision of national pharmaceutical coverage. As defined by the World Health Organization, catastrophic expenditure reflects a level of out-of-pocket health expenditures so high that households have to cut down on necessities such as food and clothing and items related to children's education. From the CMA's perspective, the goal is comprehensive coverage for the whole population, pooling risk across individuals and public and private plans in various jurisdictions.
Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, should establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
Such a program should include the following elements:
* a mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs
* uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans and across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income)
* federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both
* group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size
* a continued strong role for private supplementary insurance plans and public drug plans on a level playing field (i.e., premiums and co-payments to cover plan costs)
Furthermore the federal government should:
* establish a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective
* assess the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies
* provide adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans
* provide comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada
* mandate the CIHI and Statistics Canada to conduct a detailed study of the socio-economic profile of Canadians who have out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses, in order to assess barriers to access and to design strategies that could be built into a comprehensive prescription drug coverage program
Progress to date/Next steps
Provinces and territories have begun to establish public programs of income-based prescription drug coverage. Québec was the first, starting in 1997, and it remains the only province to mandate universal coverage - that is, citizens must have either public or private coverage. Alberta is the most recent to move in this direction, with a seven-point pharmaceutical strategy that was introduced in 2009.30
Overall, however, there is significant variation between the coverage levels of the various plans across Canada. For example, the Manitoba Pharmacare Program is based on adjusted total income (line 150 of the Income Tax return). For families with incomes above $75,000 the deductible is set at 6.08% of total family income.31 In Newfoundland and Labrador, the ceiling on drug costs is set at 10% of net family income (line 236 of the Income Tax return).32 There is wide variation in the burden of out-of-pocket expenditure on prescription drugs in Canada. In 2006 there was almost five-fold variation in the percentage of households spending more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs between PEI (10.1%) and Ontario (2.2%).33
There is some concern about access to cancer drugs, particularly those that are administered outside of hospital. The Canadian Cancer Society has recently reported that of the 12 cancer drugs approved since 2000 that are administered outside a hospital or clinic, three-quarters cost $20,000 or more annually.34 In 2009, Ontario Ombudsman André Morin issued a report critical of the Ministry of Health's decision to limit public funding of the colorectal cancer drug Avastin to 16 cycles.35 Subsequently the government announced that it would cover the cost beyond the 16 cycles if medical evidence from a physician indicates that there has been no disease progression.36
Most, if not all, key national health stakeholders (hospitals,37 pharmacists,38 nurses,39 brand name pharmaceuticals,40 life and health insurance industry41 plus the health charities) have adopted policy statements on catastrophic coverage. There seems to be an unprecedented consensus among health stakeholders on this issue.
The most likely window of opportunity to urge the federal government to take action in this area will be the renegotiation of the Health Accord that is set to expire on March 31, 2014.
B. Continuing care
Continuing care includes services to the aging and to the disabled of all ages provided by long-term care, home care and home support.42 Because continuing care services are excluded from the Canada Health Act, they are, for the most part, not provided on a first-dollar coverage basis. As this kind of care moves away from hospitals and into the home, the community or into long-term care facilities, the financial burden has shifted from governments to the general public. Furthermore, there is tremendous variation across the country in the accessibility criteria for both placement in long-term care facilities and for home care services.
According to Statistics Canada's most recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in the population (65+) is expected to almost double from its present level of 13% to between 23% and 25% by 2031.43 While the impact of an aging population on our health care system must not be overlooked, the continuing care needs of the disabled population at all ages must also be appropriately addressed.
In the 2004 Health Accord, the provinces and territories agreed to publicly fund two weeks of acute home care after hospital discharge, two weeks of acute community mental health care and end-of-life care.44 Outside of these areas, the types of services offered and funding models vary widely.
Continuing care in Canada faces three key challenges:
1. Lack of capacity and access: There is tremendous variation among regions in the levels of public funding for facility-based long-term care. Part of the reason is the lack of national standards for home care services, which results in a wide range of the types of services available, their accessibility, wait times and eligibility for funding. The widespread scarcity of long-term care facilities and home care services has had deleterious consequences: emergency departments are being used as holding stations while admitted patients wait for a bed to become available, surgeries are being postponed, and the care for Alternate Levels of Care patientsiii is compromised in areas that may not suit each patient's specific needs. Major investment is required in community and institutionally based care.
2. Lack of support for informal caregivers: Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers. More than one million employed people aged 45-64 provide informal care to seniors with long-term conditions or disabilities45 and 80% of home care to seniors is provided by unpaid informal caregivers.46
3. Lack of funding for long-term care: It is impractical to expect future requirements for long-term care to be funded on the same "pay-as-you-go" basis as other health expenditures. While there is general agreement that, wherever possible, residents should contribute at least a partial payment toward the cost of accommodation at a long-term care facility, the calculation for these charges is inconsistent across the country.
Ensure that all Canadians have affordable and timely access to all elements of any continuing care they require.
The CMA recommends the following actions:
* Construction should begin immediately on additional long-term care facilities. With the senior population projected to increase to around 24% of the population by 2031, and with 3.5% of seniors currently living in these facilities, in order to simply maintain the same occupancy rates, we will need roughly 2,500 additional homes by then. The Building Canada Fund is an ideal source of initial infrastructure funding.
* The federal government should work with the provinces and territories to create national standards for continuing care provision in terms of eligibility criteria, care delivery and accommodation expenses, using the Veterans Independence Plan as a starting point.
* The federal government should make long-term care insurance premiums tax deductible, introduce a Registered Long-term Care Plan and/or consider adding a third special provision for the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) that is similar to the Lifelong Learning Plan and the Home Buyers' Plan, which will allow working adults to draw from their RRSP, without penalty, to pay for their long-term care or home care needs; and consider adding a third payroll tax for continuing care purposes.
* Governments initiate a national dialogue on the Canada Health Act in relation to the continuum of care.
* Governments should adopt a policy framework and design principles for access to publicly funded medically necessary services in the home and community setting that can become the basis of a "Canada Extended Health Services Act".
* Governments and provincial/territorial medical associations review physician remuneration for home- and community-based services.
* Governments undertake pilot studies to support informal caregivers and long-term care patients, including those that
a) explore tax credits and/or direct compensation to compensate informal caregivers for their work
b) expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services in emergency situations
c) expand income and asset testing for residents requiring assisted living and long-term care
d) promote information on advance directives and representation agreements for patients
Progress to date/Next steps
Many other groups have released reports on this issue, including the Canadian Healthcare Association's 2009 reports on home care and long-term care. Among many other recommendations, both of these reports call for the introduction of national minimum standards for care and additional support for caregivers.47, 48
New Brunswick announced an ambitious long-term care strategy in early 2008 and the province has invested $167 million in long-term care facilities since 2007. There are plans to open 318 nursing home beds over the next three years, with plans to open a total of 700 in the next 10 years.49 The federal government should use New Brunswick as an example to encourage all other provinces and territories to follow suit.
In its final report released in April 2009, the Special Senate Committee on Aging made 32 recommendations; eight of them specifically address health care for seniors in terms of care provision, accommodation and affordability.50
As with improving access to prescription drugs, the most likely window of opportunity to press the federal government to take action in the area of continuing care will be the renegotiation of the 2004 Health Accord that is set to expire on March 31, 2014.
4. HELPING PROVIDERS HELP PATIENTS
The fourth pillar of health care transformation speaks to creating necessary resources to support patient-centred care. Two areas that are absolutely essential are: (A) an adequate supply of health human resources; and (B) health information technology at the level in which care is provided or point of care.
A. Health human resources
Every high-performing health system begins with a strong primary care system in place. Yet roughly 5 million Canadians do not have a regular family physician, and once Canadians do access primary care, they often face long waits to see consulting specialists, and further waits for advanced diagnostics and ultimately treatment. Part of the reason for these delays is the shortage of health care professionals in Canada.
An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study of countries with wait times shows that the availability of physicians has the strongest association with lower wait times than any other factor.51 Notably, Canada's physician supply relative to the population is far below the OECD average. Statistics indicate that in 2006 Canada had only 2.15 practising physicians per 1,000 population compared to the OECD average of 3.07.52 With the number of medical graduates similarly low in comparison to the OECD average, Canada cannot expect to make up the difference without some new sources for physicians.
Nurses and other health professionals are also in short supply, in Canada and across the globe. The Canadian Nurses Association is projecting a shortage of 60,000 full-time equivalent nurses in Canada by 2022 if no new policies are adopted,53 and Western Europe is also experiencing a significant nursing shortage. The global shortage of health professionals compounds the problem - while Canadian training programs still lack sufficient seats to produce enough new providers to meet current and future demands, Canadian-educated physicians, nurses, technicians, etc, are being lured away by ample opportunities to train and work outside of Canada.
Initiatives such as the Nursing Sector Study,54 Task Force Two,55 the 2004 Federal/Provincial/ Territorial 10-year Plan to Strengthen Health Care44 and the 2005 Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning56 have all yielded abundant information and recommendations, yet Canada still seems unable to maintain a stable supply of physicians, nurses, technicians or other health care professionals to provide the care and treatment patients need.
In its 2008 election platform, the federal government announced that it would contribute funds to the provinces and territories to create 50 new residency positions ($10 million/year for four years), ease repatriation of Canadian physicians living abroad ($5 million/year for four years) and help fund the development of nursing recruitment and retention pilot projects ($5 million over three years). On May 10, 2010, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced funding of $6.9 million for 15 additional family medicine residents in the University of Manitoba's Northern and Remote Family Medicine Program. This is a promising start.57
Collaborative care models - whereby health professionals work together with, and in the best interests of, the patient - can help address some of the gaps in health human resources. Over the past decade there have been three key trends pertinent to collaboration in health care:
* the contention/recognition that collaboration is an important element of quality patient-centred care
* the growing interest in inter-professional education among health professions
* the sustained efforts by governments to foster multidisciplinary teams by creating competitive conditions in primary care through expanding the scope of other non-physician providers
Physicians recognize the value of collaboration. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the CFPC and the CMA have all released policy documents that identified collaboration with other health professionals as a key role of the physician.58,59,60 The RCPSC has since been working to incorporate these roles and competencies in postgraduate medical training programs across Canada. In 2006, the national boards of ten health professional organizations including CMA and CFPC each ratified the principles and framework for interdisciplinary collaboration in primary health care that were developed by a consortium of staff of these organizations, sponsored by the federal Primary Health Care Transition Fund.61
In an effort to find ways to better distribute the workload and improve access to care, much attention has been turned to the role of physician extenders such as physician assistants. Physician assistants can be trained to work autonomously to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in a partnership and with the supervision of a licensed physician.
In Canada, four programs exist to train physician assistants. The Canadian Forces Medical Services School at the Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario trains Canadian Forces members while civilian physician assistants can train at McMaster University, the University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba. After the CMA Board approved the inclusion of the physician assistant profession as a designated health science profession within the accreditation process in 2003, its Conjoint Accreditation Services accredited the Canadian Forces' Physician Assistant Program in 2004. Although this program is currently the only one accredited, the other three schools are undergoing the process.
Working smarter, Canada needs to be more systematic about innovations and adoption of health sector resources. There is no national body in Canada equivalent to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the US, or the National Health Service's Institute for Innovation and Improvement in England, that is charged with promoting innovation in the delivery of health services. In Canada, the $800-million 2000 Primary Health Care Transition Fund and its fore-runner the $150-million 1997 Health Transition Fund were intended to buy transformation in areas linked to primary care. For the most part, this resulted in short-term pilot demonstration projects that ended when the money ran out. Arguably only Ontario and Alberta have achieved lasting results through the development and proliferation of new models of primary care delivery.
Ensure Canada's health care system has an adequate supply of human resources. Addressing health human resource shortages is critical to ensuring a sustainable, accessible and patient-centred health care system. The evaluation of and long-term planning for health human resources needs to be performed by a national body using the best available evidence to support its deliberations. Based on the defined need, there are four main mechanisms to address the shortage of health human resources in the Canadian health care system. These are:
1. increase medical school and residency positions to replenish and increase our physician supply for the future
2. invest in recruitment and retention strategies for physicians, nurses and other health care workers
3. ease the process of integration into our health care workforce for international medical graduates and Canadian physicians returning from abroad
4. introduce new providers such as physician assistants to the health care workforce
Progress to date/Next steps
Immediate specific steps for increasing Canada's supply of health human resources are as follows:
1. Urge the federal government to honour the remainder of its 2008 commitment to fund residency positions, repatriation of Canadian physicians abroad and pilot projects to recruit and retain nurses.
2. Secure comprehensive funding plans for physician assistant compensation.
3. Continue to work with the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada and provincial/territorial medical associations to monitor the impact of the new labour mobility provision of the Agreement on Internal Trade on the distribution and mobility of physicians.
4. Work with provincial/territorial medical associations to carry out an inventory and assessment of the payment arrangements across Canada that foster the emergence of new practice models based on an interdisciplinary approach and the use of new information technologies.
5. Work with other stakeholders to promote the idea of a national locus for innovation in the delivery of health care.
Since it can take ten years or longer to train a new physician depending on specialty, the results of increasing medical school placements and residency positions will not be immediate. However, this plan would ultimately increase the future supply of physicians, and serve as a step toward becoming more self-sufficient in the future.
As medical education and postgraduate training extend beyond academic health science centres to the community, and as inter-professional education takes on greater emphasis, educational programs need to ensure quality training experiences. Physicians-in-training require adequate human, clinical and physical resources to train appropriately. Programs must ensure that all new teaching sites are properly equipped to take learners.
Training new providers, such as physician assistants, is a medium-term option since it takes fewer years (as few as two depending on the program) to train them. Increasing their numbers within the health workforce and permitting them to share some tasks will allow physicians to devote more one-on-one time with patients. Similarly, integrating international medical graduates and repatriating Canadian physicians currently practising outside the country could be a quicker method of increasing physician numbers than training new physicians, provided that appropriate immigration policies and licensure processes are in place.
Removing certain constrains, such as limited operating room times, and providing support for collaborative models of care would allow the health human resources currently available to optimize their ability to practise. These options could see results in the shorter term.
B. More effective adoption of health information technologies (HIT)
Over the past decade, Canada's ministers and deputy ministers of health have been developing strategies to relieve mounting pressures within the health care sector. In all of these strategies, HIT has been viewed as a foundational component. Five main reasons for implementing HIT have been identified: improved health outcomes (patient safety, wait time reduction), increased accessibility, better integration of health care "silos," cost efficiencies and improved patient-provider satisfaction.
Multi-billion dollar investments made in Canada on HIT, however, have not yet resulted in significant benefits to providers or patients. In large measure this is due to the fact that all jurisdictions have taken a top-down approach to their HIT strategies and focused their investment on large-scale HIT systems and architecture, with very little investment being made at the points of care where the actual benefits of HIT will be realized.
The majority of health care occurs at the local level. Some 400 million patient encounters take place in Canada each year with most occurring in primary care settings with physicians, clinical teams, in home care and long-term care facilities.62 Patient-physician office interactions outnumber patient-hospital interactions by a ratio of 18 to 1. In Ontario (Diagram 1), just 3,000 out of an average of 247,000 patient visits per day - or 1.2% - are made in hospitals.
Diagram 1. Patient visits per day in Ontario (Canada Health Infoway)
Compared to a select group of other industrialized countries, Canada ranks last in terms of "health information practice capacity" (i.e., the use of EMRs in primary care practice). According to the most recent Commonwealth Fund study (Figure 1) conducted in 2009, only 37% of Canadian primary care physicians use some form of EMR. That compares to 99% in the Netherlands, 97% in New Zealand, 96% in the UK and 95% in Australia. 63
We need to move from a top-down approach to one that gives all providers, and in particular physicians, the lead role in determining how best to use HIT to improve care, improve safety, improve access and help alleviate our growing health human resource issue. HIT adoption needs to be accelerated, but in a way that focuses on the individual patient and where he or she interacts with the health care delivery system, with the intent of improving quality of care and patient safety. An important priority must be a clear, target-driven plan that meets the needs of Canadian physicians and their patients.
The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations will develop a five-year plan with clear targets for accelerating the adoption of HIT in Canada. This includes working with governments to accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing by 2012.
Progress to date/Next steps
In February 2009, the federal government announced a $500 million investment in HIT, with specific focus on EMRs and point of care integration, as part of their Economic Stimulus package. Transfer of these funds to Canada Health Infoway was delayed due to concerns over accountability and lack of progress on the electronic health record (EHR) agenda on the part of Infoway and most jurisdictions. The Office of the Auditor General's report on Infoway, and six provincial audits on jurisdictional EHR progress addressed these concerns and the funds were finally transferred in spring 2010.
CMA is working to ensure that the bulk of this investment is allocated to physician EMRs, as well as local interoperability solutions and applied research on EMR use and patient tools. How to achieve this goal will be described in detail in the CMA's upcoming five-year strategy for HIT investment in Canada, a plan to connect the delivery points at the front lines of care.
Provincially, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia have established EMR funding programs and are the most likely to meet targets and realize the value of HIT. The addition of $500 million federal stimulus funding to this environment will allow the remaining provinces and territories to implement similar programs.
The key will be to focus HIT efforts and investment directly at the point of care. The CMA five-year HIT plan takes a grassroots, bottom-up approach and identifies ways to quickly implement local and regional solutions that will deliver short-term, tangible benefits without building un-scalable, expensive point-to-point solutions.
The five-year HIT plan in and of itself is not the goal of this undertaking. The key to effectiveness lies in ensuring any HIT plan sets clear benchmarks and targets for reporting progress and demonstrating value of accelerated HIT adoption in terms of patient care - access, quality and safety.
The CMA five-year HIT strategy will set out clear targets and metrics for benchmarking progress and demonstrating value. Tracking and reporting on progress against these targets would occur over the following three to five years, with a final report card to be released at the end of this period.
5. BUILDING ACCOUNTABILITY/RESPONSIBILITY AT ALL LEVELS
Two key issues confronting the Canadian health care system are (A) the lack of accountability for system quality of care and performance, and (B) the lack of stewardship for the integrity of the public health insurance program and its long-term financial sustainability.
A. Need for system accountability
The past decade has seen growing demand for accountability for performance and outcomes at all levels of the health care system, which has been impossible to deliver due to a lack of direction, resources or accountability. As a result, Canada's ability to report publicly on the performance of the Canadian health care system has been piecemeal at best. A main stumbling block is the federal/provincial/territorial dynamic, with provinces and territories being primarily responsible for health care.
In 2000, First Ministers made a commitment to develop common indicators to report to their citizens and in 2003 they set out some 40 indicators in the areas of timely access, quality, sustainability and health status and wellness. Subsequently, the Health Council of Canada was set up to monitor the 2003 Health Accord, but since 2004 only the federal government has honoured its commitment to produce indicators, and Québec and Alberta do not participate on the Health Council. The December 2008 report of the federal Auditor General criticized Health Canada for a lack of interpretation in its report and on the limited number of indicators specific to the First Nations and Inuit Health, for which Health Canada is responsible.64
Some national organizations and private organizations are reporting on health system performance at the macro level. CIHI has been producing annual wait time reports in the past years. Think tanks that have also reported on health system performance include: the Commonwealth Fund, the Conference Board of Canada (which has ranked Canada as a middle-of-the-pack performer) and the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index, which has ranked Canada 30th out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent on health care in both 2008 and 2009 (the US was not included).7 The Wait Time Alliance65 has produced five report cards on wait times, assessing national and provincial/territorial performance on access to elective care. The CMA has been releasing an annual report card as part of the General Council meetings for the past nine years.
At the provincial/territorial level, reporting on health system performance varies widely. All provinces and territories have been reporting wait times, albeit in varying degrees and quality, for some elective surgical care. Several provinces have quality health councils which are producing reports on the quality of care being received. The Ontario Health Quality Council has released several reports on the performance of Ontario's health system, reporting on nine attributes of a high-performing health system.66 Many of these reports call for the need to accelerate the adoption of electronic health records to acquire better data and properly assess health system performance.
Ontario has been a leader in health care reporting within Canada. Since the early 1990s, the Ontario Cardiac Care Network has been the gold standard for the comparison of cardiac centres on the basis of wait time and crude and risk adjusted mortality and length of stay data.67 In 1997, a research team at the University of Toronto, funded by the Ontario Hospital Association, began developing a hospital report that focused on key areas of hospital activity including patient perceptions of hospitals.68
In 2007, CIHI released Canada-wide Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratios (HSMR) for the first time. The HSMR is the ratio of actual (observed) deaths to expected deaths, and is adjusted for several factors that affect in-hospital mortality.69
Most recently, the Saskatchewan Health Quality Council issued its first Quality Insight report which reports at the health region (and, in some cases, hospital) level on 121 indicators in the areas of chronic diseases (asthma, diabetes, post heart attack), drug management and patient experience.70
The quest to improve quality of care is a dominant issue in European health systems. The UK, Denmark and the Netherlands have all implemented mechanisms to monitor the performance of their health system. Accountability and monitoring instruments in place in these three countries include: ratings of hospitals, ratings of doctors and system performance reports. In addition, the UK has organizations devoted to monitoring and improving the quality of its health care system.
Public reporting on health system performance enjoys high public acceptability. This was the finding of CMA's consultation process for its health care transformation project. Seventy percent of the public surveyed by Ipsos Reid supported independent reviews of hospitals on quality and performance.
National Health Goals were developed by the Government of Canada and approved in a broad consensus by all of the provinces and territories in 2005.71 While there was universal acceptance of these goals at the time, there has been limited action on developing a framework and indicators for monitoring achievements. Comprehensive approaches to population health require coordinated action across governments, supported by a common vision, such as national health goals. The CMA strongly supports the advancement of the National Health Goals agenda and believes that public reporting of supporting indicators reflecting the determinants of health as well as health services and outcomes are an important component of improving the health status of Canadians.72
Improve the accountability of the Canadian health care system by reporting publicly on the performance of the system including outcomes. What is needed is a systemic approach to public reporting that shifts the focus from "blame and shame" to quality improvement.
Progress to date/Next steps
Based on the foregoing, the most likely opportunity for advancing the idea of increased public reporting in the short term will be to work with existing national and provincial/territorial organizations involved in acquiring and analyzing data related to health system performance. At the federal level, the renegotiation of the Health Accord in the lead-up to March 31, 2014 is the best opportunity to see a heightened commitment to improve public reporting at a coordinated federal-provincial-territorial level.
Provincially, Québec's recent budget devoted considerable attention to the issue of system accountability. That government announced the annual publication of health accounts to improve transparency and public awareness on health care spending. The accounts, released with the budget, list health and social services spending and revenues. It also includes a breakdown of health sector resources including the number of physicians and nurses and hospitalization days.
B. Need for system stewardship
To ensure accountability and responsibility, it will be necessary to establish an arm's-length, independent body to monitor, in a transparent manner, the medium to longer-term prospects of the comparability and financing of health care programs for Canada and the provinces and territories.
Since its establishment, Canada's national Medicare program has been a funding partnership between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. Since the mid-1990s, this partnership has been beset by problems, due in part to the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces/territories to administer health programs and to the federal government's unilateral cut to cash transfers of some $6 billion with the implementation of the Canada Health and Social Transfer in 1996.
Three broad concerns have been expressed:
1. Lack of accountability of the provincial/territorial governments for use of health transfer funds: at the provincial level, the reports of both the Ménard (2005)73 and Castonguay (2008)21 commissions in Québec called for the establishment of a health account which would provide accountability for how revenues collected for health are used and to inform the public about issues such as financial sustainability of health programs.
2. Canada is a "patchwork quilt" in terms of the continuum of care: there is increasing concern about the wide variation in the level of services provided across the country. The Canada Health Act program criteria only apply to hospital and medical services, and those represent just 41% of total health spending. There is roughly a further 25% of health spending that is public but there is wide variability across jurisdictions with respect to coverage of broader continuum care, such as home care and prescription drugs. For example, Statistics Canada estimates that there was almost five-fold variation in the proportion of households spending more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs in 2006, ranging from 2.2% in Ontario to 10.1% in PEI.33
3. Canada may not be able to sustain Medicare on a "pay-as-you-go" basis: in 1998 the Auditor General of Canada published a report on the implications of the aging population which projected that government spending on health as a share of GDP could as much as double from its 1996 level of 6.4% to 12.5% by 2031 if it increased at an annual rate of 2% real growth.8
In 1998 the Auditor General recommended that the government produce long range financial projections on the basis of status quo policies and alternatives that would be presented to Parliament. In its response, the government indicated that it would continue its fiscal planning on the basis of setting and meeting short-run targets.
Clearly we need to be able to look beyond year-over-year budgeting and reporting.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has recently published a report on Canada's emerging "structural deficit" that estimated this shortfall will reach a level of $19 billion in 2013-14.74 The Parliamentary Budget Officer's mandate does not extend to the provincial/territorial governments.
While a number of agencies and organizations are doing work related to long-term system sustainability, each is constrained in some manner from carrying out the forward looking cross-jurisdictional analyses that are required.
Establish an arm's-length mechanism to monitor the financing of health care programs for the federal and provincial/territorial levels, to assess the comparability of coverage across jurisdictions, to assess value for money and to make recommendations to governments on the sustainability of the current Medicare program and mechanisms to fund additional programs that cover the continuum of care.
Progress to date/Next steps
At the federal level, the renegotiation of the Health Accord in the lead-up to March 31, 2014 is the best opportunity to see if such a concept could be acceptable at the federal/provincial/territorial level.
The CMA met with federal and provincial auditors general on March 16, 2010 to discuss system accountability and sustainability. The auditors general were very interested in this issue and some anticipate examining the matter in the coming months.
PART 4: AN ACTION PLAN FOR 2010-2014
With the CMA's ambitious triple aim of improving the health of the population at large, patients' health care experience and value for money spent, the transformation of health care will inevitably be a multi-year and multi-pronged initiative.
The first priority has been the release of this document, with its emphasis on adopting a Charter for Patient-centred Care. The final goal is to ensure that the First Ministers' Agreement in 2014 addresses longer-term fundamental issues, such as providing appropriate access to comprehensive pharmaceuticals and continuing care for all Canadians, and implementing a proper accountability framework.
As a multi-year initiative, the CMA will pursue the actions described under the health care transformation directions between now and 2013, in time for the negotiation of the next potential Health Accord expected to take effect after the current 2004 agreement expires.
As previously mentioned, the directions listed do not represent an exhaustive list. Rather, they are intended to serve as a foundation for change that will build momentum for health care transformation leading to better care.
It will be important to demonstrate tangible results - early wins - so that the public, health care providers and system funders can sense the move toward a more patient-focused system and become energized to implement subsequent actions.
Summary timeline of key health care transformation deliverables
Release of Framework and Charter for Patient-centred Care
IT: Federal support for EMRs
Partial Activity-Based Funding
Health human resources - new funding models (physician assistants)
Comprehensive pharmacare/long-term care
PART 5: CONCLUSION
The policy directions contained in this document, while fundamental, do not represent the entire array of possible choices. This document focuses on the "what" of health care transformation. The "how to" of implementation will require considerable further work, tailored to the needs and circumstances of the various jurisdictions and their populations.
Some of the directions in this document are meant to be carried out by government, some by providers, and some by patients. Many, but not all, of the ideas set out in this document will require additional investment by governments. It will not be possible to implement all of these policy directions at the same time. Much of what is outlined here will be put in place at the provincial/territorial level and will be phased in as each jurisdiction deems fit. Provinces and territories must be encouraged to share the lessons they learn as changes are made so that other jurisdictions can build on their successes. Provision must be made for evaluation and mid-course correction to ensure that the proposed directions achieve their intended objectives.
The CMA, our partner provincial/territorial medical associations and the physicians of Canada are committed to inspiring change, for the benefit of the patients we serve and in the interests of our members. The aspirations embodied in this document will foster transformation that allows us to accomplish our goals as physicians - to serve the public, provide for our patients' health needs optimally, and to make our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for the generations to come.
APPENDIX A - HEALTH CARE FUNDING AND THE SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE
The ability to pay for health care, which is in competition with all the other legitimate uses for public funds, and the ability to maintain a health workforce are both central to the concept of sustainability. While there is ample evidence that health spending continues to outpace other areas of public expenditure and the growth of government revenue, there is no consensus that we need to act on it. The section notes the necessity of raising funds from private sources if there is no political appetite or public support for increasing public revenues for health.
Other key points in this section:
* Appropriate investments in health care result in improved health, which reduces health care demand in the future by decreasing the burden of illness in the population. Better health and the resultant improved productivity of the population pays economic dividends for the country.
* Given our changing population demographics, governments in Canada will face challenges finding new revenue streams to fund appropriate initiatives such as long-term care, home care or enhanced pharmaceutical coverage over the next two decades.
* A large unfunded liability will be created as a consequence of the need to address our growing, aging population that is increasingly burdened with multiple chronic illnesses. Only recently have a few jurisdictions recognized the unfairness of saddling this economic burden on future generations.
* Overall health spending is consuming a rising proportion of total government program spending. It also is rising faster than the growth in our GDP, so our ability to pay for health care is increasingly in question. Other important societal programs will be increasingly jeopardized in order to pay for health care programs.
* Methods to manage the gap between current levels of expenditure and what will be required to maintain and respond to future health care demands include, a) reducing services and therefore reducing expenditures, b) raising taxes and c) developing new sources of revenue (such as patient co-payments, population health premiums and private insurance).
* Our system and culture relies on the principle of collective risk-pooling so as to lessen individual burden. To sustain health care for current and future Canadians and to expand the basket of required coverage, given our changing demographic reality, creative approaches to managing and funding our health system are necessary.
The ability to pay for health care is increasingly in question. The challenge of sustaining our health care system is what makes it imperative to move forward now with health care transformation. Sustainability in health care may be defined as the ability to deliver universal publicly funded health care services without compromising other government programs or the ability of future generations to pay. In 2001 the Honourable Roy Romanow was tasked by the federal government to study and make recommendations in order to "ensure over the long-term the sustainability of a universally accessible, publicly funded health system." The Romanow Commission put forward 47 recommendations in 2002 with a view to "buying change".75 Similarly, the Kirby Commission in its review of the Canadian health care system recommended an additional $5 billion of federal funding per year to restructure and renew Medicare.17 These reports were followed by additional federal funding in the amounts of $34.8 billion and $41.3 billion in the 200376 and 200444 First Ministers' Accords respectively. Eight years later it is evident that, for the most part, these Accords bought time, not change.
The directions set out in Part 3 of this report rest on two critical assumptions with respect to sustainability. The first is that there is a business case for quality. That is to say, investments in quality today will pay off in improved health that, in turn, will reduce health care demand and expenditures down the road. The resultant improved productivity from the reduction of illness in the population will generate economic dividends for the country.
A second assumption is that timely and appropriate interventions will relieve access bottlenecks currently generating unproductive costs. A study conducted for the CMA in 2008 makes the case: it estimated the cost of excess waiting for four procedures at almost $15 billion.77 Hence, the introduction of activity-based funding for hospitals might not reduce hospital costs in total, but if it increases throughput and timely access there will be offsets in improved quality of life and productivity of the population. Clearly, the gains resulting from these assumptions will not be realized in the short term.
All the numbers on sustainability, including the projections by Desautels and Page (highlighted in Part 1), assume the status quo in terms of publicly funded programs. But the current system is hardly sustainable on a quality of care basis, particularly given the demographic changes that will see fewer working-age Canadians supporting more and more elderly citizens weighed down by drug costs and the need, over time, for nursing home care. Given our changing population demographics, governments in Canada cannot avoid the challenge of finding new revenue streams to fund appropriate initiatives, such as long-term care, home care or enhanced pharmaceutical coverage over the next two decades.
Since the 1990s, there have been repeated recommendations for expanded public coverage of prescription drugs and home care. Health ministers have estimated it would cost $5 billion for governments to provide "catastrophic" pharmaceutical coverage, meaning no household has to spend more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs.78 In contrast, there has been no national policy discussion about the funding of long-term care. Alberta made an exploratory move in this direction in 2005 when it commissioned Aon Consulting to develop health insurance models for continuing care.79 Aon estimated that in order to pre-fund projected costs to 2050, a flat dollar charge of $779 per capita, indexed at 4% per year, would be required for all Albertans aged 16 or over.80 Similarly, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that long-term care accounted for 1.2% GDP in Canada in 2005 and that, at a minimum, the burden will double to 2.4% by 2050.81 A significant amount of this share will almost certainly be publicly funded.
Canada will soon have to grapple with how to finance a more comprehensive - and expensive - system of health and continuing care. This, in turn, raises issues about intergenerational equity, that is to say the fairness with which the costs of the system are distributed between generations. If these escalating costs are not addressed now, future generations will be unfairly, and possibly untenably, saddled with the burden flowing from today's growing elderly population.
Academics have developed a technique called generational accounting to measure this effect.82 Hagist has applied generational accounting to estimate the revenue gap for health expenditures in six countries. The revenue gap is the percentage increase in taxes that would have to be applied immediately for both living and future generations to bring current fiscal policy on a sustainable track. The same study also estimated a delayed revenue gap, which is the percentage increase that will be required if increases are postponed until 2050. The results for the six countries are shown in Table 1.
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE INFORMATION]
Estimates of current and delayed revenue gap for health expenditures
Selected countries (% increase)
Delayed Revenue Gap
Source: Hagist, C. Demography and Social Health Insurance. Baden-Baden:Nomos, 2008.
As one can see, significant immediate increases in revenues are required in all six countries and much more drastic increases will be required if action is delayed. Klumpes and Tang have also applied generational accounting to the funding of the UK National Health Service. They found that under the base assumption of a 2% real interest rate, future tax payers will need to contribute about ten-fold what 2005 new tax payers did.83 In Canada, Robson has applied similar methods to estimate the "unfunded liability" that will result from an aging population. He estimates that between 2007 and 2050, provincial and territorial health budgets will experience an aggregate liability of almost $1.9 trillion if things continue along as they are.84
Total health spending in Canada reached an historic high of 11.9% of GDP in 2009. While this reflects, in part, the effect of the recession in lowering GDP, health spending grew by 5.5% in nominal terms and 3.3% in real terms over 2008. Table 2 shows the average percentage increases in health and total program spending from 1999 to 2008 and the most recent experience of the provinces and territories as presented in their 2010-11 budgets.
Health and Program Spending 1999-2008 and
Selected Indicators 2010 Provincial Territorial Budgets
Province / Territory
1999-2008 Average Annual % Increase in Health Spendinga
1999-2008 Average Annual % Increase in Program Spendinga
Health as % Program Spending 2010-11
% Increase in Health Spending 2010-11 over 2009-10
% Increase in Program Spending 2010-11 over 2009-10
% Increase in Revenue 2010-11 over 2009-10
Data sources available upon request
a Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
b Note the budget also contains an estimate that health is 45% of program spending in 2010-11
c Total health spending by function is estimated at 42.1% of all government spending
The evidence is incontrovertible that health spending has continuously outpaced other areas of public expenditure. All provinces are expecting further health spending increases in 2010-11 - ranging from 3.7% in Québec to 16.6% in Alberta. In eight out of ten provinces, increases in health spending exceed increases in both total program spending and provincial/territorial revenue. As a percentage of program spending, health stands near or just over 45% in six provinces.
Aside from Québec (which is discussed below), few measures have been taken to address the problem. It may well require a province or territory to exceed the psychological barrier of 50% to incite a concerted response. This is suggested by a February 2010 poll done for CMA by Ipsos Reid in which respondents were also asked to estimate the actual, appropriate and maximum proportions of their provincial/territorial budget that are or should be devoted to health. The averages estimated by the public are as follows:
* actual current percentage - 38%
* appropriate percentage - 47%
* maximum percentage - 52%.
The prospect of going beyond the 50% threshold of the share of government program spending on health might be likened to the proverbial "crossing the Rubicon," which means following a course of action on which there is no turning back. To follow the 50%+ trajectory under the current parameters of Medicare, taxes will surely have to increase, either through general taxation or a dedicated health premium or some variant thereof. Another option that would still pool risk would be the establishment of a contributory social insurance fund.
If, however, there is no political appetite or public support for increasing public revenues for health on the basis of universality and risk pooling then we will be faced with options for raising funds from private sources. These could include co-payments for publicly insured services, private insurance or out-of-pocket payment for uninsured/deinsured services, and deductibles linked to utilization.
Québec has been the first among the provinces and territories to acknowledge that the current approach to funding health care is neither sustainable in the long term nor fair to future generations - and to announce measures to address the problem. It has taken three major task forces over the past decade to get to this point. In 2001 the Clair Commission recommended a capitalized (pre-funded) insurance plan to cover loss of autonomy.85 Clair also put forward the idea of the creation of a provincial health insurance corporation apart from the Health Ministry. In 2005 the Ménard Committee again recommended the establishment of an insurance scheme for persons experiencing loss of autonomy, as well as the creation of a health and social services account that would provide transparency and accountability for the sources and uses of funds.73 In 2008 the Castonguay Task Force recommended a dedicated "health stabilization fund" that would be funded in part by a deductible linked to medical visits that would be collected at year-end through the income tax system. Castonguay also recommended a health account.21
In response to these studies, the 2010-11 Québec budget contained the following measures:
* starting July 1, 2010 a health contribution (premium) will be introduced, to be collected through the tax system; starting at $25 per adult, this will increase to $200 by 2012 at which time it is expected to raise $945 million
* further study of the introduction of a health deductible as proposed by Castonguay
* the introduction of an annual health account86
Other jurisdictions will also need to give consideration to options for at least partially pre-funding future health care expenditures.
The findings of the February 2010 survey conducted for CMA by Ipsos Reid suggest that Canadians would prefer an option that would assure that funds raised would be dedicated to health care over an option that would simply add additional funds to the consolidated revenue account (Figure 2).
In considering such options, however, one must be mindful of the current experience with existing mechanisms that are available to Canadians to accumulate savings. According to Canada Revenue Agency Statistics for the 2007 tax year, one in four (26.4%) Canadians with a taxable return reported making a RRSP contribution.87 The likelihood of making RRSP contributions was strongly correlated with income - 15% or fewer with those with incomes less than $25,000 reported one, rising to greater then 60% among those with incomes of $80,000 or greater. There may be greater uptake with the Tax-free Savings Account (TFSA) that was introduced in 2009. A poll done by Ipsos Reid in June 2009 found that 21% of households had opened a TFSA.88 No research has been done on the salience of saving for future health needs as compared to RRSPs and TFSAs.
The CMA's 2006 discussion paper It's About Access: Informing the Debate on Public and Private Health Care provides a comprehensive overview and discussion of the international application and pros and cons of a range of public and private funding options.
It also sets out ten policy principles to guide policy decision-making related to the public-private interface. In brief, these are:
1. Timely Access 6. Quality
2. Equity 7. Professional Responsibility
3. Choice 8. Transparency
4. Comprehensiveness 9. Accountability
5. Clinical Autonomy 10. Efficiency89
We believe that these principles will serve to guide a national debate.
i Derived as the .7023 public share of the estimate of 11.9% of GDP going to total health expenditure.
ii The CMA's 2007 policy statement 'It's still about access! Medicare Plus' sets out comprehensive recommendations for the public-private interface in the delivery and funding of health care.
iii Patients who remain in hospital while waiting for placement in long-term care facilities or for home care arrangements to be made.
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5 World Health Organization. World health report 2000. Health systems: Improving performance. Geneva, 2000.
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7 Eriksson D, Björnberg A. Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2009. Winnipeg: Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 2009.
8 Auditor General of Canada. April 1998 Report. Chapter 6 population aging and information for Parliament: understanding the choices. www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_199804_06_e_9312.html. Accessed 01/26/10.
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13 Department of Health. The NHS Constitution. www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_113645.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
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17 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians - the federal role. Volume six: Recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
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19 Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Patient-based payment for hospitals. Backgrounder May 3,2010. www.health.gov.on.ca/en/news/release/2010/may/bg_20100503.pdf.Accesed 06/06/2010
20 Duckett S. "Thinking Economically in the health Sector". Presented to the Economics Society of Northern Alberta. 13 Nov 2009.
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24 PIN is a Manitoba Health and Healthy Living primary care renewal initiative that focuses on fee-for-service (FFS) physician groups. Its goal is to facilitate systemic improvements in the delivery of primary care. See: www.gov.mb.ca/health/phc/pin/index.html
25 Alberta Medical Association President's Letter September 16, 2009. See: www.albertadoctors.org/bcm/ama/ama-website.nsf/AllDoc/4C2E247349659BD58725763300532A11/$File/preslet_sept16_09.pdf
26 British Columbia Medical Association. Full service family practice incentive program: frequently asked questions. Vancouver, 2006.
27 Hall B. Health incentives: the science and art of motivating healthy behaviours. Benefits Quarterly 2008; 24(2):12-22.
28 Schmidt H. Bonuses as incentives and rewards for healthy responsibility: A good thing? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 2008; 33: 198-220.
29 Andreyeva T, Long M, Brownell K. The impact of food prices on consumption: a systematic review of research on the price elasticity of demand for food. Am J Public Health. 2010 Feb; 100(2):216-22.
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Lessons from the frontlines: A report on Pandemic H1N1 from Canadian Medical Association, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, National Specialty Society for Community Medicine
One year ago, a novel influenza virus claimed its first victim in Mexico, and soon the world was plunged into its first influenza pandemic in 40 years. Although pandemic H1N1 (pH1N1) swept across the globe, we were fortunate this time as the virus was far less virulent than first feared. Now that pH1N1 has peaked and faded, it is time to look at what we learned and how it will help us plan for the next national public health emergency.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the National Specialty Society for Community Medicine and the Canadian Medical Association have joined together to present a picture of lessons learned from the front lines of the pandemic. Together we represent over 80,000 physicians, of whom almost 50,000 are family physicians, engaged in all aspects of Canada's health care and public health systems.
Canada's experience with SARS in 2003 was a "wake-up call"; much changed in its aftermath. The creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada led by a chief public health officer and the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network increased Canada's ability to respond to a public health emergency like pH1N1. The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Sector, as well as complementary provincial and territorial plans, provides a framework and approach to responding to a pandemic.
In many ways, this planning paid off. Canada mobilized quickly in response to the pH1N1 threat. Morbidity and mortality were lower than feared, and 45% of the population was vaccinated. But this response can also be seen as a "dress rehearsal" for a more severe influenza pandemic or some other national public health emergency: a test of our plans and an opportunity to learn from experience, with the time to incorporate these lessons into our strategic planning.
Those on the front lines of response understand how health emergencies test our entire system - public health, acute and primary care and the community-based family physician. The success of our response depends on planning and practice, the effectiveness of public health and clinical countermeasures, our health human resources, the surge capacity within our health care and public health systems and our ability to reach the public. One of our greatest challenges in Canada is also to establish a coherent national and provincial/territorial strategy that can be implemented at a local level.
Although we believe that Canada's overall response to pH1N1 produced many success stories, there were circumstances that challenged us as health professionals. Both health care and public health need further strengthening, and their separate infrastructures and the interdependence between these structures need attention and bolstering. The following comments focus on two overarching areas that influenced our ability to respond to the pandemic: communications and health system integration.
Communication was a consistent source of concern. Channels of communication among the various levels of public health providers were stronger than those for primary care providers, especially family physicians. On 9 Aug. 2009, following the first wave of pH1N1, our leaders wrote to chief public health officer of Canada Dr. David Butler-Jones on behalf of our members to share their thoughts and recommendations on how to improve communications with physicians. Family physicians in particular, but also other front-line health care providers, needed communication that was tailored to the practice setting, resources that were easy to access, and clear messages written in a manner that allowed rapid implementation into clinical practice during health emergencies because the timing of clinical response was critical. We recommended that front-line clinical practitioners be involved in the development of guidelines and the strategies for their dissemination, so that the content could be linked directly to the clinical setting.
Family physicians are part of our first line of defence during infectious disease outbreaks. To ensure optimum patient care, they need clinical guidance quickly. Many physicians felt that the urgent need to provide consistent, clinically relevant information was not well recognized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Public Health Network and, in some cases, provincial, territorial, regional or local levels.
It took three months after recognition of the emerging pandemic to publish Interim Guidance for Ambulatory Care of Influenza-like Illness in the Context of H1N1. The current Public Health Network process of federal/provincial/territorial (FPT) consultation and consensus building seemed ill-suited to the acute national need for clinical information on issues such as the use and prescription of anti-viral medications. As provincial authorities and professional medical organizations moved to fill the void, different approaches and recommendations arose independent from one another. Better integration of primary care response by a national organization such as PHAC and the provincial/territorial health ministries could address the needs of clinical practitioners in concert with public health responses. This would also ensure that care directives are translated into user-friendly formats appropriate to clinical settings.
We were pleased to be able to work with PHAC in fall 2009 to produce Pandemic H1N1: Fast Facts for Front-line Clinicians. This resource was highly valued by many of our members, and the collaboration demonstrated how health organizations can work effectively with government to contribute their expertise to the development and distribution of appropriate, clinically relevant information. Nevertheless, our critics declared that it was too little, too late.
In situations where scientific evidence is rapidly changing, the processes used to distribute information to both front-line public health and clinical professionals must be designed to avoid confusion. Coordinated, unified communication strategies are needed at the national, provincial/territorial and local levels. Regardless of the official source, the information must be consistent.
During the pandemic, many physicians and public health workers complained that multiple levels of government provided similar, but not the same advice. The differences led to skepticism, and the inundation of messages led to overload. The bottom line is that clinically relevant and trustworthy information should be provided on a timely basis, even if levels of certainty are fluctuating.
Jurisdictions with effective communication to the primary care sector were characterized by cooperation and consultation between the medical community and the provincial, territorial and regional health authorities, both before and during the crisis.
1. That the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the provinces and territories, evaluate the effectiveness of pH1N1 communications between public health and physicians and other front-line primary health care providers, and use the finding of this evaluation to research options for future response to a public health crisis.
2. That federal, provincial/territorial public health authorities and health care professionals and their associations work together in the inter-pandemic period to develop a pan-Canadian communication strategy to be used during health emergencies.
3. The establishment of a pan-Canadian centre within the Public Health Agency of Canada - similar to the Centre for Effective Practice - to undertake timely knowledge translation of clinical management guidelines for clinicians during public health crises.
Surveillance and electronic communications
The national response to infectious disease would have been greatly facilitated if system-wide communicable disease surveillance had been in place to support the sharing of data between public health and the rest of the health care system, particularly at the regional and local levels of pandemic response. Clinicians' practices are highly influenced by illness patterns that develop regionally and locally within their practice populations; thus, surveillance data are useful in determining appropriate treatment. Real-time data were not available to most physicians and when data did become available, they were already several weeks old. Delayed clinical guidelines were not a suitable substitute for timely surveillance information.
Expansion of the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) in primary care, with bi-directional links to public health electronic health records (EHRs), could have facilitated surveillance and communications. Family practice clinics with EMRs were able to quickly identify high-risk patients, communicate with them to schedule vaccination appointments and collect the required data for public health. The varied levels of success of public pH1N1 vaccination clinics were further proof of the need to move to standard use of EMRs and EHRs in the health system.
Communications can be enhanced through the sharing of data between the public health and primary care systems. EMRs may help resolve the challenge of collecting data from primary care sites. Collaboration among the PHAC, the Canadian Medical Association and the Information Technology Association of Canada's Health Division led to development of a pilot project to demonstrate the use of primary care EMRs as real-time sentinel surveillance tools for public health action to supplement existing surveillance mechanisms. In addition, after a successful two-year pilot project, the College of Family Physicians of Canada is working with the PHAC, in association with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, to conduct surveillance for five chronic diseases using EMRs, local networks across Canada and a national central repository for standardized data. These studies represent the increasingly important role of electronic information in surveillance and the value of collaboration between public health and primary care.
4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments provide EMR funding to enable clinical care and public health authorities to build interconnectedness and allow real-time information collection and analysis.
The division of responsibility between federal and provincial/territorial authorities for health care and emergency response influences how we respond to public health emergencies. Provincial/territorial governments have a primary role to play in regulating health matters within their boundaries. At the same time, the federal government has responsibilities related to national public safety and health protection. There can be no disputing the legitimacy of federal involvement in public health matters of an interprovincial/territorial nature.
Under International Health Regulations, the federal government also has a responsibility to report and monitor public health emergencies of potential harm to other countries.
Since Canada's SARS experience, there has been much progress in building FPT cooperation and increasing consultation on public health matters. However, the division of responsibility has led us to a situation where public health and clinical guidance in each province and territory was similar, yet different. Although the Pandemic Influenza Committee and the Special FPT Advisory Committee on H1N1 Influenza strove for consensus at the national level, individual provinces and territories were under no obligation to implement the guidance agreed to at the FPT level. Consultative and collaborative processes at the FPT level created delays in decision-making and directly interfered with the capacity of front-line professionals to respond to the urgent health needs of their patients. This led to a sense of confusion in the media and a loss of trust among the public and health professionals regarding Canada's capacity to respond to pH1N1.
Canada's health system lacks surge capacity and can be sorely tested during a public health emergency, such as the recent experience with pH1N1. The underdeveloped public health infrastructure also means that it is a challenge to handle more than one national crisis at a time. To mount a response to pH1N1, public health units pulled human resources from other programs and many critical ones were delayed, suspended or cancelled altogether.
During the first wave of pH1N1, Manitoba experienced a severe outbreak that stretched the resources of its critical care infrastructure to its limits. Front-line health care providers were inundated with telephone calls from the worried well and an increase in visits from those with flu symptoms. If pH1N1 had been the severe pandemic that was expected and for which Canada had been preparing, our health system would have been brought to its knees.
In 2008, the Canadian Coalition for Public Health in the 21st Century noted that Canada remains vulnerable to the risks presented by epidemics and pandemics. This vulnerability remains today, and a long-range plan to build our public health capacity and workforce and to address the lack of surge capacity in our health system must become a priority if we are to be prepared for the next emergency.
5. That the federal government increase infrastructure funding to provinces/territories to assist local health emergency preparedness planning and response, to reduce variation across the country and to integrate clinical care structures into public health structures at the local level.
6. That the Public Health Agency of Canada review the recommendations of the 2003 report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Naylor report) in light of the pH1N1 experience and develop a national action plan to address the persistent gaps.
Public health/primary care partnership
Family physicians, in particular, understand that primary health care happens at the local level. In fact, so does all public health. During times of public health crisis, it is crucial for public health and primary care to work together, each respecting, supporting and bolstering the efforts of the other. Strengthening local public health and primary care structures and the interface between them would have resulted in improved, shared understanding of each sector's roles and responsibilities during the pH1N1 epidemic, better communications, improved data sharing and, most important, better served populations.
Public health measures are directed toward the mitigation of disease through surveillance, research and outbreak management activities, while physicians provide information, education and clinical treatment to their patients.
A commitment from both sectors at the local and provincial levels - and the professionals within each sector - to work together in the inter-pandemic period to build on processes that allow sharing of perspectives and information is essential. It is crucial that local public health authorities receive financial resources to increase their ability to collaborate effectively with family physicians, specialist physicians and other front-line providers. A number of the challenges faced by front-line public health workers and front-line physicians during the pH1N1 outbreak could have been lessened if there had been stronger links within the health system.
7. That the Public Health Agency of Canada develop a focus on improving the interrelationship between primary care and public health to support collaboration during public health crises.
A key measure to combat pandemic influenza is mass vaccination. On the whole, Canada mounted an effective campaign: 45% of Canadians were vaccinated, and the proportion was even higher in First Nations communities - a first in Canadian history. Canada was one of the first countries with sufficient vaccine for the population and, with one domestic vaccine supplier, Canada avoided the confusion of multiple formulations as seen in the United States. The outcome was positive, but many public health units were stretched as expectations exceeded the pre-existing constrained resources.
Although we recognize that the provinces and territories have quite different approaches to the delivery of their routine immunization programs, there is agreement that the pandemic immunization process did not adequately engage physicians in planning and delivery. A number of difficulties, such as the impact of bulk packaging, manufacturing delays that affected the agreed "sequencing" of patients and the logistics of inventory management, led to friction between front-line public health practitioners and family physicians. These could have been avoided with strengthened interdependence and mutual understanding before this crisis.
The great variation in mass vaccination programs between provinces/territories, and even between local public health units, led to public confusion. Recognition of the diversity of primary care settings in which physicians work and bilateral planning in advance of the event is essential, because it is simply not feasible to tailor responses to myriad settings in the heat of the moment. Television broadcasts of long lines of people waiting to be vaccinated contributed to a loss of confidence in the system at a time when public confidence was sorely needed to encourage vaccination. Nationally promulgated clinical practice guidelines had great potential to create consistent clinical responses across the country. Instead, the variation and lack of coordination in providing important clinical information during this crisis eroded the public's confidence in the federal, provincial and territorial response.
Ensuring future consistency in clinical approaches will require examination of ethical principles for the allocation of resources, such as anti-virals, vaccines and hospital treatment. Public engagement in the discussion of ethical principles is essential and, as much as possible, the consultative process should be transparent and undertaken in advance.
8. That the Public Health Network seek advanced pan-Canadian commitment to a harmonized and singular national response to clinical practice guidelines, including mass vaccination programs, during times of potential public health crisis.
In 2003, in its submission to the National Advisory Committee on SARS, the Canadian Medical Association noted that the uptake of new information is influenced by many qualitative factors, and that research is needed to determine how best to communicate with individual physicians and other health care providers in emergency situations. Communication processes should be based on sound research and build on existing communication networks and relationships. The College of Family Physicians of Canada has recommended that information networks be strengthened to promote the sharing of the most relevant information among family physicians, other primary care providers and public health at the local level.
We believe that PHAC is well positioned to undertake research on how health professionals can best receive information and to catalogue existing communication networks to build them into a well-coordinated national emergency response communication system. We must work together to translate pandemic information into practical messages relevant to front-line providers and employ trusted channels to deliver key messages to our patients and the public. Broad consensus is developing that our experience with the pH1N1 outbreak has shown that one of our greatest needs in preparing for the next public health emergency is for a national communications strategy that involves all levels of government, targets all sectors of our health system and uses the channels with which these targets are most familiar.
An effective response to infectious disease outbreaks depends on effective surveillance, data collection and sharing and tracking of clinical interventions. The absence of a national communicable disease/immunization monitoring system is an ongoing problem. In 2003, the report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended that "the [Public Health] Agency [of Canada] should facilitate the long term development of a comprehensive and national public health surveillance system that will collect, analyze, and disseminate laboratory and health care facility data on infectious diseases... to relevant stakeholders." In 2010, Canada still does not have a comprehensive national surveillance and epidemiological system.
A pan-Canadian electronic health information system is urgently needed and must become a priority during the inter-pandemic phase, with adequate federal funding and provincial/territorial collaboration. Greater adoption of the EMR in primary care and better public health EHRs with the ability to link systems will augment existing surveillance capacity and should be considered essential to a pan-Canadian system.
Many of the challenges front-line health practitioners faced during the pH1N1 were also challenges during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The Naylor report proposed a number of measures to improve Canada's readiness and strengthen public health. Although a great deal of work and effort has gone into building links with and between provinces/territories and the federal government within the public health and the health emergency management system, little has trickled down to the front lines. This is not to devalue the much-improved spirit of FPT cooperation and the important achievements that have been made. Rather it is to suggest that, as the roof is no longer leaking, it is time to focus attention on the foundation - the response at the local level.
Embedding primary care expertise in public health planning within the PHAC and at provincial/territorial and local levels will help circumvent problems and improve the effectiveness of our health system to respond to public health emergencies. A dialogue between primary care and the emergency management structures will help the response team understand and value the capabilities within primary care and build them into their planning and response systems.
At the end of the day, we need to nurture collaborative relations between public health and primary care. Our shared objective is protecting the health of Canadians, recognizing that, in reality, neither system can be successful in isolation. It is essential that we trust each other's professionalism and expertise and work together to ensure that a strong foundation is in place to protect Canadians from future health threats.
We have the will and expertise. We need the resources and a firm commitment to move forward. We have had two "wake-up calls" - SARS and pH1N1. Let's not wait for a third to find that we are not yet prepared.
1. That the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the provinces and territories, evaluate the effectiveness of pH1N1 communications between public health and physicians and other front-line primary health care providers, and use the finding of this evaluation to research options for future response to a public health crisis.
2. That federal, provincial/territorial public health authorities and health care professionals and their associations work together in the inter-pandemic period to develop a pan-Canadian communication strategy to be used during health emergencies.
3. The establishment of a pan-Canadian centre within the Public Health Agency of Canada - similar to the Centre for Effective Practice - to undertake timely knowledge translation of clinical management guidelines for clinicians during public health crises.
4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments provide EMR funding to enable clinical care and public health authorities to build interconnectedness and allow real-time information collection and analysis.
5. That the federal government increase infrastructure funding to provinces/territories to assist local health emergency preparedness planning and response, to reduce variation across the country and to integrate clinical care structures into public health structures at the local level.
6. That the Public Health Agency of Canada review the recommendations of the 2003 report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health (Naylor report) in light of the pH1N1 experience and develop a national action plan to address the persistent gaps.
7. That the Public Health Agency of Canada develop a focus on improving the interrelationship between primary care and public health to support collaboration during public health crises.
8. That the Public Health Network seek advanced pan-Canadian commitment to a harmonized and singular national response to clinical practice guidelines, including mass vaccination programs, during times of potential public health crisis.
CMA Statement on Emerging Therapies
The CMA is keenly aware of the heart-rending suffering experienced by MS patients and the devastating impact it has on families and we recognize how desperately they are seeking treatments to alleviate their symptoms. Physicians and researchers dedicate their lives to finding new treatments to prevent and ease the suffering of patients while supporting those battling disease. Along with the physician's care and compassion, clinical research is a key weapon in the battle to manage and treat disease. The CMA believes that all medical decisions must be based upon scientific evidence. That is at the heart of our commitment to patient-centred care.
The CMA is committed to the principle that, before any new treatment is adopted and applied by the medical profession, it must first be rigorously tested and recognized as evidence-based. This principle is highly relevant in the case of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recent recommendations. The CMA concurs with the CIHR's position on the need for an evidence-based approach to the development of clinical trials of the recently proposed condition called "chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency" (CCSVI). We would hope that the findings of the seven diagnostic studies that are underway will be shared and analyzed as soon as they become available, and that clinical intervention trials would be supported as indicated by the evidence and if researchers come forward with scientifically sound ethical protocols. If additional Canadian funding bodies initiate clinical research in the area, we would encourage CIHR to provide advice if requested.
Patients have a right to privacy and physicians have a duty of confidentiality arising from the patient-physician relationship to protect patient privacy. The right to privacy flows from the principle of respect for patient autonomy, based on the individual's right to conduct and control their lives as they choose.1 When approaching any ethical question around privacy, the principle of respect for patient autonomy must be balanced against other competing principles (e.g. beneficence, non-maleficence).
The protection of privacy and the concomitant duty of confidentiality are essential to foster trust in the patient-physician-relationship, the delivery of good patient care and a positive patient care experience. Privacy protection is an important issue for Canadians,2 and research suggests that patients may withhold critical health information from their health care providers because of privacy concerns.3 Patients will be more willing to share complete and accurate information if they have a relationship of trust with their physician and are confident that their information will be protected.4
In today's ever-evolving technological environment and due to the shift away from the traditional (paternalistic) physician-patient relationship, patients, physicians and other public and private stakeholders are using and sharing personal health information in new and innovative ways. This raises new challenges for clinical practice and, crucially, how to navigate expanded uses of data via the use of new technologies and the requirements of patient privacy.
Institutions, clinics, and physician-group practices may share responsibility with the physician for the protection of patient information. There is thus a tension between physician and institutional responsibilities to protect patient information, challenged by the rapidly changing use and adoption of new technologies. While this will continue to redefine expectations of privacy and confidentiality, there are several foundational principles that remain unchanged.
SCOPE OF POLICY
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information aim to provide guidance on key ethical considerations pertinent to the protection of patient information in a way that takes into account a physician's (including medical learner) ethical, professional, and legal obligations. The Principles are not designed to serve as a tool for legislative compliance in a particular jurisdiction or to provide a standard of care. Physicians should be aware of privacy legislation in the jurisdiction in which they practice, the standards and expectations specified by their respective regulatory authorities (including Privacy Commissioners), publications and risk management education provided by the CMPA as well as policies and procedures of any given setting (e.g., a regional health authority or a hospital).
SUBSTANTIVE PRINCIPLES THAT GUIDE THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE PHYSICIAN TO PROTECT PATIENT PRIVACY
* Trust is the cornerstone of the patient-physician relationship and plays a central role in providing the highest standard of care.
* Physicians and their patients build relationships of trust that enable open and honest dialogue and foster patients' willingness to share deeply personal information (often) in conditions of vulnerability.
* Physicians can cultivate and maintain patient trust by, unless the consent of the patient has been obtained to do otherwise, collecting health information only to benefit the patient, by sharing information only for that purpose, and by keeping patient information confidential; patient trust has been found to be the most powerful determinant of the level of control patients want over their medical records.5
* To maintain trust, physicians must consider the duty to care and the duty not to harm the patient in evaluating privacy requirements.
* The extent to which a patient expects (and may tolerate a loss of) privacy and confidentiality is culturally and individually relative.6
* Physicians owe a duty of confidentiality to their patients; there is both an ethical (respect for autonomy) and a legal basis imposed by privacy legislation) for this duty.
* The duty to maintain patient confidentiality, like trust, is fundamental to the therapeutic nature of the patient-physician relationship; it creates conditions that allow patients to openly and confidently share complete health information, resulting in a stronger physician-patient relationship and better delivery of care.7
* The duty to maintain patient confidentiality means that physicians do not share the health information with anyone outside of the patient's circle of care, unless authorized to do so by the patient.1,8 There are varying interpretations of what constitutes the patient's circle of care; this depends on the facts of the situation and the jurisdiction.9
* Privacy requirements raise complex issues in learning environments and quality improvement initiatives. It is desirable that any of the patient's physicians who will have ongoing care interactions with the patient can remain included in information-sharing about the patient.
* Shared electronic health records present challenges to confidentiality. For example, patients may wish to limit some aspects of their record to only some providers within their circle of care.10
* In practice, respecting privacy and the duty of confidentiality govern the physician's role as data steward, responsible for controlling the extent to which information about the person is protected, used or disclosed.11 A central rule to balancing a patient's right to privacy and the duty of confidentiality is the "minimum necessary" use and disclosure of personal health information, whereby a data steward should use or disclose only the minimum amount of information necessary to fulfil the intended purpose. In some circumstances, de-identifying or aggregating personal health information before use or disclosure can minimize the amount of information disclosed.12
* The duty to maintain patient confidentiality is not absolute and is subject to exceptions in limited circumstances,13 i.e., when required or permitted by law to disclose information (see below in Data Stewardship: Collection, use and disclosure of personal health information).
* Patient consent is an important mechanism for respecting patient autonomy; obtaining voluntary and informed consent to share patient information is fundamental to the protection of privacy and the duty of confidentiality.
* Physicians are generally required to obtain informed consent from the patient before they can disclose the patient's personal health information. Consent is only informed if there is disclosure of matters that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would want to know, including 1) to whom the patient information will be disclosed, 2) whether it could be disclosed to other third parties, and 3) the purpose for which it could be used or disclosed.
* While informed consent is required as a general rule, physicians may infer that they have the patient's implied consent to collect, use, disclose and access personal health information 1) for the purpose of providing or assisting in providing care (i.e., share only the necessary information with those involved within the patient's circle of care); and 2) to store personal health information in a medical record (i.e., paper, electronic, or hospital-based). Physicians will want to consider if it is appropriate in the circumstances to advise the patient when a disclosure has been made.
* When the patient is a minor, the physician must consider whether it is the parent or the child who determines the use and disclosure of the minor's personal health information. A young person who is deemed to understand fully the implications of a decision regarding proposed collection, use or disclosure of personal health information is generally deemed to have control over their personal health information with respect to the decision.
* Where the patient is not capable to provide the required consent (e.g. is deemed to be incompetent), physicians must seek consent from the patient's substitute decision-maker.
4. Physician as data steward
* As data stewards, physicians have the responsibility to understand their role in protecting patient privacy and appropriate access to patient information.
* The information contained in the medical record belongs to the patient who has a general right of access to their personal health information, and the right to control the use and further disclosure and to the continued confidentiality of that information.
* A data steward (e.g., physician, institution or clinic) holds the physical medical record in trust for the care and benefit of the patient.14
* Physicians should provide their patients access to their medical record, if requested.15 (See below in Data Stewardship: Access to personal information).
* Physicians ought to have appropriate access to personal health information and have the ability to provide their patients with access to their medical record. Appropriate access should be interpreted to include access for patient follow up (as part of the duty to care) and review for the purpose of improving patient care.
* Physicians should consider consulting available resources to assist them in fulfilling their duties as data stewards.
PROCEDURAL PRINCIPLES THAT GUIDE THE APPLICATION OF PHYSICIAN OBLIGATIONS
Physicians must manage personal health information in compliance with relevant legislation that establishes rules governing the access, collection, use, disclosure, and retention of personal health information, provincial privacy laws, and professional expectations and regulations specified by their respective regulatory authorities.
1. Data Stewardship: Access to personal information
* Patients have a right of reasonable access to the personal health information in their medical record (i.e., paper, electronic, or hospital-based) under the control or in the custody of a physician, institution, or clinic.
* In exceptional situations, physicians can refuse to release the information in the patient's medical record.
2. Data Stewardship: Collection, use and disclosure of personal health information
* There are circumstances where there are required (e.g., monitoring of claims for payment, subpoenas) and permitted disclosures of personal health information without patient consent (e.g., where the maintenance of confidentiality would result in a significant risk of substantial harm to the patient or to others).
* Security safeguards must be in place to protect personal health information in order to ensure that only authorized collection, use, disclosure or access occurs.
* Physicians play an important role in educating patients about possible consensual and non-consensual uses and disclosures that may be made with their personal health information, including secondary uses of data for, e.g., epidemiological studies, research, education, and quality assurance, that may or may not be used with explicit consent.
3. Data Stewardship: Retention of personal health information
* Personal health information should be retained for the period required by any applicable legislation and as specified by their respective regulatory authorities. It may be necessary to maintain personal health information beyond the applicable period where there is a pending or anticipated legal proceeding related to the care provided to the patient.
* Likewise, physicians should transfer and dispose of personal health information in compliance with any applicable legislation and professional expectations outlined by their respective regulatory authorities.
* Physicians are encouraged to seek technical assistance and advice on the secure transfer, disposal, and/or selling of electronic records.15
4. Data Stewardship: Use of technology
* Physicians should obtain patient consent to use electronic means and/or devices for patient care (e.g., sending digital photographs) and for communicating patient information (e.g., the use of email). To obtain informed consent, physicians should explain to patients that there are necessary benefits and risks in using technologies in clinical contexts. The CMPA has provided a written consent form to that effect that can be included in the patient's medical record.
* As a general practice, physicians are encouraged to make use of technological innovations and must evaluate whether the technology is appropriate for patient care and has reasonable safeguards to protect patient privacy.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors December 2017
See also Background to CMA Policy Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy
1 Martin JF. Privacy and confidentiality. In: ten Have H, Gordijn B (Eds). Handbook of global bioethics. New York: Springer, Dordrecht; 2014. p.119-37.
2 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Canadians and privacy final report. Gatineau: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada; 2009. Available: https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/por-rop/2009/ekos_2009_01_e.asp (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
3 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Privacy and a wired world - Protecting patient health information. Ottawa: CMPA; 2011 Dec. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2011/privacy-and-a-wired-world-protecting-patient-health-information (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
4 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). Duty of confidentiality. Ottawa: RCPSC; 2017. Available: http://www.royalcollege.ca/rcsite/bioethics/cases/section-3/duty-confidentiality-e (accessed 2017 Dec 15).
5 Damschroder LJ, Pritts JL, Neblo MA, Kalarickal RJ, Creswell JW, Hayward RA. Patients, privacy and trust: patients' willingness to allow researchers to access their medical records. Soc Sci Med 2007;64:223-35.
6 Campbell JI, Eyal N, Musiimenta A, Haberer JE. Ethical questions in medical electronic adherence monitoring. J Gen Intern Med 2016;31:338-42. Available: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs11606-015-3502-4.pdf (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
7 Crook MA. The risks of absolute medical confidentiality. Sci Eng Ethics 2013;19:107-22.
8 Cohen I, Hoffman A, Sage W (Eds). The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Health Law. New York: Oxford University Press; 2015.
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). The voice of professionalism within the system of care. Ottawa: CMPA; 2012 Oct. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2012/the-voice-of-professionalism-within-the-system-of-care (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
10 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Did you know? Patients can restrict access to their health information. Ottawa: CMPA; 2017 Nov. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2017/did-you-know-patients-can-restrict-access-to-their-health-information (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
11 Francis JG, Francis LP. Privacy, confidentiality, and justice. J Soc Philos 2014;45:408-31.
12 Burkle CM, Cascino GD. Medicine and the media: balancing the public's right to know with the privacy of the patient. Mayo Clin Proc 2011;86:1192-6.
13 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). When to disclose confidential information. Ottawa: CMPA; 2015 Mar. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2015/when-to-disclose-confidential-information (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
14 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Releasing a patient's personal health information: What are the obligations of the physician? Ottawa: CMPA; 2012 Oct. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2012/releasing-a-patient-s-personal-health-information-what-are-the-obligations-of-the-physician (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
15 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Protecting patient health information in electronic records. Ottawa: CMPA; 2013 Oct. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2013/protecting-patient-health-information-in-electronic-records (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
(c) 2017 Canadian Medical Association. You may, for your non-commercial use, reproduce, in whole or in part and in any form or manner, unlimited copies of CMA Policy Statements provided that credit is given to Canadian Medical Association.
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
PRINCIPLES FOR THE PROTECTION OF PATIENT PRIVACY
See also CMA Policy on Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy
The advent of Electronic Medical Records, the rapid spread of mobile health apps, and the increasing use of social media within the health care community, have each created new challenges to maintaining a duty of confidentiality within the physician-patient relationship. These technologies present both opportunities and challenges with respect to medical professionalism.1 The permeation of these types of interactions into everyday life now places physicians in new situations that some find difficult to navigate.2 These challenges will only increase in the coming years, as the use of online technologies in health care is continuously growing.3 Canada is only in the early stages of managing the emerging issues of technology-induced errors that compromise privacy in the health care setting.4 Therefore, this paper will briefly discuss the importance of protecting privacy, followed by an overview of the main challenges to maintaining privacy as the physician-patient relationship evolves at the backdrop of emerging technologies.
Privacy and Confidentiality
The overlapping, but not identical, principles of the protection of privacy and the duty of confidentiality are essential to the physician-patient relationship. These principles not only foster trust, but also the delivery of effective and lasting care. Rooted in the Hippocratic Oath, the modern-day right to privacy flows from the principle of autonomy, which attributes to individuals the right to conduct and control their lives as they choose.5 Privacy protection is an important issue to Canadians,6 with research suggesting that patients may even withhold critical health information because of privacy concerns.7 Health care professionals are bound by legal and ethical standards to maintain privacy and confidentiality of patient information.8 Physicians must therefore be aware of the implications of privacy legislation specific to their jurisdiction.7 The duty to protect patient privacy is important to uphold, as health information can potentially be identifiable and sensitive; the confidentiality of this information must therefore be protected to ensure that patient privacy is not breached. 9 While the traditional, and largely obsolete, models of the physician-patient relationship involve a unidirectional flow of information, the ease at which patients can now access medical information through the Internet, and the use of social media within the health care community, have reinterpreted how information is communicated from physician to patient, and vice versa.10 We must therefore re-define expectations of privacy and confidentiality, first by distinguishing one from the other.
The terms "privacy" and "confidentiality" are often used interchangeably by both researchers and clinicians. Several bioethics discussions on the distinction between these terms places confidentiality under the umbrella of privacy.11 While confidentiality involves the information itself, which is disclosed or not, privacy is about the impact of that disclosure on the person.9 Privacy seems to be more intimately linked to the individual, focusing on the circumstances under which the information is used.12-13 Confidentiality, on the other hand, is a duty that health professionals have towards their patients to not share the information exchanged during their encounter, unless authorized by the patient.5,12 In practice, the duty of confidentiality governs the physician's role as data stewards, responsible for controlling the extent to which information about the person is protected, used or disclosed.14 As one paper describes, "privacy is invaded, confidentiality is breached."13
From a patient perspective, it is important to respect and protect privacy because it allows individuals time and space to share their concerns without feeling judged or misunderstood,11 resulting in a stronger physician-patient relationship and better delivery of care. However, from a research perspective, a fine balance must be struck between using accurate information while still upholding the privacy rights of individuals.11 As such, the argument for absolute confidentiality puts a near impossible burden on research clinicians.11 Moreover, from a public safety perspective, a physician may be morally and legally required to break confidentiality in order to protect both the patient and others who may be involved. The challenge is to balance the traditional goal of confidentiality - to protect patient privacy and interest - with that of third parties and public health.5 Therefore, a central rule to balancing confidentiality with a patients' right to privacy is the "minimum necessary" use and disclosure of personal health information, whereby a data steward should use or disclose only the minimum amount of information necessary to fulfil the intended purpose.8 It is equally important to recognize that the extent to which a patient may tolerate a loss of privacy is culturally and individually relative.15 Health care providers have a legal and ethical obligation to keep patient health information private, sharing it only with the authorization of the patient.16 Informed consent, therefore, appears to be a fundamental requirement to upholding confidentiality and patient privacy rights.
While emerging privacy issues touch many areas of practice, this section will emphasize three of the most prominent issues in recent literature: access and use of information, electronic medical and health records and, online communication and social media.
1. Technological change and institutional data stewardship
In today's ever-evolving technological environment, including the emergence of shared electronic health records, online communication, social media, mobile applications, and big data, physicians, patients and other public and private stakeholders are using and sharing personal health information in new and innovative ways. The traditional (paternalistic) model of the physician-patient relationship involved a bidirectional flow of information. However, the ease at which patients can now access medical information from alternative sources via the Internet, and the use of social media within the health care community, has redefined how information is communicated from physician to patient, and vice versa.10 This raises new challenges for clinical practice, specifically how to navigate expanded access of data via the use of new technologies and the requirements of patient privacy by effectively managing security concerns.
In many situations, the physician may not be the sole or primary custodian of (i.e., control access to) the patient's records once the health information is collected. Institutions, clinics, and physician-group practices may also have responsibility for patient information and therefore play an important role in ensuring it is protected. There is thus a grey area between physician and institutional responsibilities to protect patient information, challenged by the rapidly changing use and adoption of new technologies, such as electronic health and medical records. While this will continue to redefine expectations of privacy and confidentiality, there are several foundational principles that remain unchanged.
2. Electronic medical and health records
Medical records are compiled primarily to assist physicians and other health care providers in treating patients.16 Yet, they are particularly vulnerable to privacy breaches when this information is exposed to secondary uses, including epidemiological studies, research, education and quality assurance. As contemporary information management and stewardship have had to evolve in response to emerging technology, the parameters of the "medical record" have grown increasingly ambiguous.17 With the proliferation of a wide variety of new health information technology (including electronic health and medical records), concerns about quality and safety have been raised.4 There is evidence that if such technology is not designed, implemented and maintained effectively, it may result in unintended consequences, including technology-induced errors and breaches of patient privacy.4 Reports involving Canada Health Infoway have even pointed to health information technology as a tool that may sometimes reduce rather than enhance patient safety, most often due to human factors. 4 As a result, recommendations have been made to develop a reporting system that would allow health professionals to anonymously report human errors resulting from the use of health information technology - a challenge in itself, as the distinction between human and technological error is often blurred.4 In Canada, a number of efforts have been undertaken by several organizations, including Health Canada and Canada's Health Informatics Organization.4 Yet, services aimed at improving health information technology safety, from a national level, remain poor.4 As a result, organizations like Canada Health Infoway have promoted the need for collaborative efforts to improve health information technology safety standards in Canada, 4 so to ensure that the current and future uses of "medical record" data are accurate and respectful of patient privacy.
3. Access and use of personal health information for research
The courts have long established that health information belongs to the patient.18 As a result, privacy ownership refers to the belief that patients own their private information as well as the right to control access to this information.19 As in other jurisdictions, the overarching challenge in Canada is to strike a balance between enabling access to health and health-related data for research while still respecting Canadians' right to privacy and control over the confidentiality of their information.20 The integrity of healthcare information is fundamental, given that it is the basis on which treatment decisions are made both in research and in clinic. 9 There are three principles upon which information security is based: 9 1) only authorized people have access to confidential information; 2) information must be accurate and consistent, may only be modified by authorized people in ways that are appropriate; 3) information must be accessible by authorized users when needed. Canadian research ethics have demonstrated that beneficial work can be done while maintaining confidentiality to sensitive personal health information.21 Yet, the challenge remains to create a uniform system for accessing data and performing data-based research due to 1) the lack of consistency and clarity in Canada's ethical and legal framework and, 2) varied interpretations of key terms and issues across the country.21 For example, the term "non-identifiable data" remains ambiguous across provinces and is subject to interpretation by data custodians, who may consider their legal duty to protect privacy as precluding access to data.21 This lack of legal clarity has contributed to varied cautious and conservative interpretations of data access legislation.21 National uniform guidelines on the appropriate access, disclosure and use of personal health data would allow data stewards to advance their research while respecting their patients' right to privacy.
4. Online communication with patients and social media
Social media and online communication is pervasive in Canadian society; from Facebook to Twitter, social media has changed the way people interact and disseminate information.21 There is currently widespread discussion among health care professionals and academics regarding the role that social media and online communication should play in the physician-patient relationship.22 A growing number of physicians have embraced the opportunities of interconnectivity that social media affords, implementing their own privacy procedures to reflect this new type of data collection, use and storage.7 While evidence has been lacking on whether the use of social media does improve patient outcomes,22 there is no denying that patients are seeking health care information from online platforms, including social media.22 This type of communication poses a unique set of opportunities and challenges for physicians: while the use of social media could increase physician reach and patient engagement, it can also blur boundaries between one's personal and professional life.22 Although patient-physician online communication is currently limited, physicians still feel that they are encountering an ethical dilemma, especially when they find themselves in boundary crossing situations, like a friend request from a patient.2 Physicians are particularly concerned that, through online communication, they may be exposed to medico-legal and disciplinary issues, especially with respect to patient privacy.2 Given different studies have suggested that unprofessional uses of social media are not uncommon,23 physicians who choose to communicate with patients online or through social media must remember that they are still governed by the same ethical and professional standards that remain paramount.22
As technology continues to evolve, so too will the traditional parameters of the patient-physician relationship. The physician's ethical and professional obligation to protect patient privacy, however, must remain paramount at the backdrop of technology use. Simply banning social media and online communication would neither eliminate risk, nor benefit patient care outcomes. 24 Instead, institutions should establish stringent policies that outline how to prevent or minimize the effects of privacy breaches associated with social media and online communication.25 This should also include a tracking mechanism to help balance the obligation to privacy with evolving technology.25
See also CMA Policy on Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy
1 Farnan JM, Snyder Sulmasy L, Worster BK, Chaudhry HJ, Rhyne JA, Arora VM. Online medical professionalism: patient and public relationships: policy statement from the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards. Ann Intern Med 2013;158(8):620-627.
2 Brown J, Ryan C. How doctors view and use social media: a national survey. J Med Internet Res 2014;16:e267. Available: https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.3589 (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
3 Lambert KM, Barry P, Stokes G. Risk management and legal issues with the use of social media in the healthcare setting. J Healthc Risk Manag 2012;31(4):41-47.
4 Kushniruk AW, Bates DW, Bainbridge M, Househ MS, Borycki EM. National efforts to improve health information system safety in Canada, the United States of America and England. Int J Med Inform 2013;82(5):e149-160.
5 Martin JF. Privacy and confidentiality. In: ten Have H, Gordijn B (Eds). Handbook of global bioethics. New York: Springer, Dordrecht; 2014. p.120-1.
6 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Canadians and privacy final report. Gatineau: Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada; 2009. Available: https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/por-rop/2009/ekos_2009_01_e.asp (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
7 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Privacy and a wired world - Protecting patient health information. Ottawa: CMPA; 2011 Dec. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2011/privacy-and-a-wired-world-protecting-patient-health-information (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
8 Burkle CM, Cascino GD. Medicine and the media: balancing the public's right to know with the privacy of the patient. Mayo Clin Proc 2011;86:1192-6.
9 Williams PA. Information security governance: a risk assessment approach to health information systems protection. Stud Health Techol Inform 2013;193:186-206.
10 Borza LR, Gavrilovici C, Stockman R. Ethical models of physician-patient relationship revisited with regard to patient autonomy, values and patient education. Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi 2015;119(2):496-501.
11 Crook MA. The risks of absolute medical confidentiality. Sci Eng Ethics 2013;19(1):107-122.
12 Cohen I, Hoffman A, Sage W (Eds). The Oxford handbook of U.S. health law. New York: Oxford University Press; 2015.
13 Francis L. Privacy and confidentiality: the importance of context. The Monist; 91(1);2008:52-67.
14 Francis JG, Francis LP. Privacy, confidentiality, and justice. J Soc Philos 2014;45:408-31.
15 Campbell JI, Eyal N, Musiimenta A, Haberer JE. Ethical questions in medical electronic adherence monitoring. J Gen Intern Med 2016;31:338-42. Available: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs11606-015-3502-4.pdf (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
16 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Medical record confidentiality, access and disclosure. Ottawa: CMA; 2000. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_The_medical_record_confidentiality_access_and_disclosure_Update_2000_PD00-06-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
17 Fenton SH, Manion F, Hsieh K, Harris M. Informed Consent: Does anyone really understand what is contained in the medical record? Appl Clin Inform 2015;6(3):466-477.
18 Canada. Supreme Court. McInerney v MacDonald. Dom Law Rep. 1992 Jun 11;93:415-31.
19 Petronio S, Dicorcia MJ, Duggan A. Navigating ethics of physician-patient confidentiality: a communication privacy management analysis. Perm J 2012;16(4):41-45.
20 Council of Canadian Academies (CCA). Accessing health and health-related data in Canada. Ottawa: The Expert Panel on Timely Access to Health and Social Data for Health Research and Health System Innovation, Council of Canadian Academies; 2015. Available: http://www.scienceadvice.ca/uploads/eng/assessments%20and%20publications%20and%20news%20releases/Health-data/HealthDataFullReportEn.pdf (accessed 2017 Nov 17).
21 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Social media and Canadian physician: Issues and rules of engagement. Ottawa: CMA; 2011. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/CMA_Policy_Social_Media_Canadian_Physicians_Rules_Engagement_PD12-03-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
22 Eysenbach G. Medicine 2.0: Social networking, collaboration, participation, apomediation, and openness
J Med Internet Res 2008;10(3):e22.
23 Mayer MA, Leis A, Mayer A, Rodriguez-Gonzalez A. How medical doctors and students should use social media: A review of the main guidelines for proposing practical recommendations. Stud Health Technol Info 2012;180:853-857.
24 Moses RE, McNeese LG, Feld LD, Feld AD. Social media in the health-care setting: Benefits but also a minefield of compliance and other legal issues. Am J Gastroenterol 2014;109(8):1128-1132.
25 Yang YT, Silverman RD. Mobile health applications: The patchwork of legal and liability issues suggests strategies to improve oversight. Health Aff (Millwood) 2014;33(2):222-227.
What is it?
The CMA Charter of Shared Values aims to identify shared values and commitments to each other and to the profession to which physicians and learners can commit to promote trust and respect within the profession and for each other, and identify opportunities for engagement and leadership to promote civility and confront incivility within the profession.
Why does it matter?
The Charter is intended to further strengthen professional responsibilities in support of a unified and aligned profession. We achieve the highest degree of both individual and collective success when we work together, commit together and believe together; when we share a clearly articulated set of common values, virtues and principles; and when we subscribe to the same explicit and implicit understandings.
Commitments to Each Other:
Our most important shared values
As a physician, I will strive to be respectful; I will recognize that everyone has inherent worth, is worthy of dignity, and has the right to be valued and respected, and to be treated ethically; I will respect others and their personal and professional dignity; and I will aim to promote and model respect through collaborative training and practice.
As a physician, I will strive to act with integrity; I will act in an honest and truthful manner, with consistency of intentions and actions; and I will act with moral concern to promote and model effective leadership and to achieve a good outcome for patients.
As a physician, I will strive to cultivate reciprocal relationships; I will be kind with my physician colleagues, and expect them to respond similarly; I will share and exchange my knowledge and experience with them; and I will be generous with them in spirit and in time.
As a physician, I will strive to be civil; I will respect myself and others, regardless of their role, even those with whom I may not agree; I will enter into communication with my physician colleagues with an attitude of active and open listening, whether it be in person, in writing, or virtually; and I will accept personal accountability.
Commitments to the Profession
1. Commitment to promoting a culture of respect and collegiality
As a physician, I will strive to build a culture based on mutual respect and collegiality where physicians treat each other as people in a shared endeavor, and promote civility. I will strive to:
Cultivate respectful, open, and transparent dialogue and relationships
Take responsibility for promoting civility and confronting incivility within the profession
Recognize the relative value among family medicine and specialties and across the educational spectrum, and of the profession’s shared contributions within health systems
Model healthy and supportive training and practice environments
2. Commitment to promoting a culture of self-care and support
As a physician, I will strive to build a culture of self-care and support where physicians are empowered to ask for help and are supported to care for their own physical, mental, and social well-being. I will strive to:
Value physician health and wellness and promote a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to your needs and colleagues in-need
Cultivate an environment of physical and psychological safety, conducive to challenging the status quo, as well as encouraging help-seeking behaviours, without fear of negative reprisal
Recognize that both individual and system-level barriers contribute to health and wellness-related issues and advocate for cultural and systemic change to remove barriers
3. Commitment to promoting a culture of leadership and mentorship
As a physician, I will strive to foster a culture of leadership and mentorship across the career life cycle. I will strive to:
Encourage and enable opportunities and participation in leadership roles across all levels of training, practice, and health system delivery
Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship opportunities and leadership training across all levels of training and practice
Value the exchange of knowledge and experience and encourage reflective relationships (bi-directional) across all levels of training and practice
4. Commitment to promoting a culture of inquiry and reflection
As a physician, I will strive to foster a culture of inquiry and reflection that values and enables reflective practice, individually and collectively. I will strive to:
Value and enable collective inquiry and self-reflection to effect meaningful change
Foster curiosity and exploration to identify strengths and capabilities of teams and health systems to generate new possibilities for action
Cultivate strong connections and relationships between, and meaningful interactions with, colleagues
5. Commitment to promoting a culture of quality
As a physician, I will strive to foster a culture of quality and quality improvement. I will strive to:
Foster intra- and inter-professional collaborations and promote collaborative models of care
Provide high quality patient care and have a view to continuous improvement at the practice and system level, and commit to developing and applying the skills and techniques of quality improvement
Understand that quality improvement is a critical and life-long part of education and practice; participate in maintaining professional standards in myself and my colleagues
Engage patients, families, and caregivers in the process of improvement
6. Commitment to valuing a culture of diversity
As a physician, I will strive to foster a community of practitioners that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. I will strive to:
Promote diversity within the profession to be receptive and responsive to the evolving (physical, emotional, cultural, socioeconomic) needs of our patient populations
Foster a training and practice environment where diverse and unique perspectives, across generations, cultures and abilities, are heard and appreciated
Foster diversity in leadership across the full spectrum of leadership roles within the profession and health systems
Value the importance of these perspectives within the medical profession, even when they may not be my own patients, families, and caregivers in the process of improvement
The term physician health encompasses the prevention and treatment of acute or chronic issues of individual physicians, as well as the optimization of interconnected physical, mental and social factors to support health and wellness.1 Attributable to a range of personal, occupational and system-level factors, physicians and learners alike are increasingly voicing distress and calling for resources and support.
As a central issue for Canadian physicians, and a growing concern within the medical profession, physician ill-health is being increasingly understood as a set of risk-management practices,2 including the use of strategies rooted in organizational psychology and occupational medicine, as well as intensified oversight by professional bodies, and the integration of maintaining personal health as a core medical competency.3
Physician health, is important to the long-term sustainability of the physician workforce and health systems.4 As a quality indicator5-6 addressing the complex array of related issues is a shared responsibility of individual physicians and the systems in which they work.2,4,5 This involves efforts from individuals as well as system-level influencers, such as stakeholder groups from areas including academic medicine, medical education, practice environments, accrediting and regulatory bodies, provincial and territorial medical associations, regional and local health authorities, national medical associations and their affiliates, governments and other decision-making bodies.
Meaningful, system-wide change can only occur via deliberate and concerted efforts on a national scale5 to address personal, workplace, and cultural barriers and normalize the promotion of opportunities and conditions for optimizing health and wellness. Although considerable progress has been made, it is necessary to continue working towards a more coordinated and sustained system of health promotion, illness prevention and tertiary care to build on these successes.4-5
This policy aims to provide broad, aspirational recommendations to help guide stakeholders at all levels of the health system to promote a healthy, vibrant, and engaged profession - including a healthy practice and training culture, and work environment.
The CMA recommends that physicians and learners:
* demonstrate a commitment to physician health and well-being as part of their responsibilities under the CanMEDS Professional Role, including: Exhibiting self-awareness and managing influences on personal well-being (e.g., self-regulation and assessment, mindfulness, resilience); managing personal and professional demands for a sustainable practice throughout the career life cycle; and promoting a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to colleagues in need;3
* actively engage in fostering supportive work and training environments;
* assume responsibility for individual actions and behaviours that may contribute to negative culture and stigma;5
* foster relationships with family and friends, as well as interests outside of medicine, and ensure sufficient rest (including time-off); and
* have a family physician and visit him or her regularly for comprehensive and objective care.
The CMA recommends that:
* national-level advocacy be undertaken to address issues related to physician and learner health;
* efforts to address physician health incorporate individually targeted initiatives and optimize learning and practice environments, including cultivating a healthy culture,6-7 and that stakeholders collaborate (including input from physicians and learners) to develop and promote initiatives that strengthen physician health at both the individual and system levels;
* health systems adopt an understanding of their obligation to the health of physicians that is similar to the obligation of other Canadian employers to their workers (e.g., psychological safety, work hours, employee resources, standards and expectations);
* policies aiming to cultivate a healthy culture be modelled, and behaviours not conducive to supporting and enabling a healthy culture dealt with in an effective manner;
* physician and health system leaders acknowledge and demonstrate that physician health is a priority, and continually assess whether actions and policies align with desired values and culture;4
* physician and health system leaders be better equipped to identify and address behaviours that are symptomatic of distress (e.g., psychological) and receive more comprehensive training to address with colleagues, including within teams;
* mechanisms and opportunities for physicians and learners to access existing services and programs (e.g., provincial, institutional) are maximized, and that these resources are regularly promoted and barriers to access addressed in a timely manner;5,8
* standards, processes and strategies be developed to address occupational barriers to positive health8 (at a minimum, these should address the meaningful integration of occupational and personal life, provision of resources to enhance self-care skills,4 and prioritization of opportunities for adequate rest, exercise, healthy diet and leisure;8
* wellness (including enhancement of meaning, enjoyment and engagement) be promoted, instead of an exclusive focus on reduction of harm;5
* physicians and learners be encouraged to have a family physician, and that barriers to access such care be identified and addressed;
* physicians, particularly those providing primary care to other physicians, have access to training in treating physician colleagues;
* physicians and learners be given reasonable access to confidential assistance in dealing with personal and professional difficulties, provided in a climate free of stigmatization;
* programs and services be accessible to physicians and learners at every stage of their diagnosis and treatment, and that seeking treatment should not feel punitive or result in punitive consequences;
* physicians and learners have supportive learning and work environments free of discrimination, and for processes which provide reasonable accommodations to physicians and learners with existing disabilities, while allowing for safe patient care, to be bolstered; and
* practices which enable safe and effective patient care, and support workflow and efficient capture of information (e.g., electronic medical records), do not create excessive work and time burdens on physicians.
Physician organizations, professional associations and health authorities
The CMA recommends that:
* all physicians and learners have access to a robust and effective provincial physician health program (PHP), and for long-term, sustained efforts to be made to maintain and enhance physician health, including a commitment to resourcing PHPs5 via the provision of stable funding through provincial and territorial medical associations, or the negotiation of such funding from provincial governments;
* training programs, hospitals, and other workplaces ensure appropriate programs, services, and policies are developed, in-place, and enforced for physicians and learners to get help to manage health and behavioural issues, support the need for treatment, and facilitate return to work or training while protecting individual confidentiality, privacy, as well helping the institution manage risk;
* the range of continuing medical education offerings aimed at personal health be expanded (content should develop individual skills and extend to training for leaders and administrators that targets improved training and practice environments and culture);
* continuing education credits for physicians' efforts to enhance their personal wellness or that of colleagues be established and promoted, free of conditions requiring links to patient care;
* emerging champions from learner and early-career segments be identified and supported; and
* the unique health and wellness challenges faced by physicians and learners in rural, remote, or otherwise under-serviced regions (including the Canadian territories) be recognized, and for access to services and other resources to be enhanced.
Medical schools, residency training programs, and accreditation bodies
The CMA calls for:
* accreditation standards for health and wellness programs and initiatives for medical faculties and training programs, and health authorities to be raised, reviewed in an ongoing manner and that standards and competencies be enforced;
* action to bring meaningful change to the 'hidden curriculum' by aligning formal and 'hidden' curriculums that promote and reinforce positive conduct, and for accreditation bodies to consider this in their review and enforcement of standards for training programs; and
* formal health and wellness curricula to be integrated and prioritized at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including but not limited to training around how to recognize and respond to distress or illness in oneself and colleagues, as well as self-management strategies (e.g., resilience and mindfulness).
Medical regulatory authorities
The CMA calls for medical regulatory authorities to:
* work with provincial and territorial medical associations, PHPs, governments and other key stakeholders to; (a) create a regulatory environment that protects the public (their explicit duty) while limiting barriers for physicians seeking diagnosis and treatment,5 and (b) promote resources for early self-identification of potential health issues; and
* while maintaining their duty to protect the public, review their approach to mental health challenges to ensure that focus is placed on the existence of impairment (illness interferes with ability to engage safely in professional activities,9 and not the mere presence of a diagnostic label or act of seeking of care5 (in order to ensure that physicians and learners who are appropriately caring for their health not be impacted in their ability to work).
The CMA calls for:
* governments to acknowledge the adverse impact their policies and processes can have on the health of physicians, and to adopt and enforce health and wellness standards through a lens of occupational health for physicians that are similar to those afforded to other Canadian workers;
* governments to work with employers and key stakeholders to create more effective systems that provide better practice and training conditions;5 and
* enhanced support for provincial PHPs, institutions (e.g., medical schools, training programs), and other providers of physician health services.5
The CMA recommends that:
* national and regional data for major health and wellness indicators be assessed at regular intervals to establish and compare norms and to better target and assess initiatives;
* a national research strategy be developed through collaboration among relevant stakeholders to identify priorities, coordinate efforts, and promote innovation (consider the specific recommendations from a 2016 research summit to improve wellness and reduce burnout,10 including: Estimating economic impacts; using common metrics; developing a comprehensive framework for interventions with individual and organizational components; and sharing the best available evidence); and
* further research in a range of areas including, but not limited to: efficacy of programs, strategies, and systems for promoting and managing health and wellness; examination of the factors exerting the greatest influence on physician health; and system-level interventions.5
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors October 2017
See also Background to CMA Policy on Physician Health
1 World Medical Association (WMA). WMA Statement on physicians well-being. France: WMA; 2015 Oct. Available: https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-statement-on-physicians-well-being/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
2 Albuquerque J, Deshauer D. Physician health: beyond work-life balance. CMAJ 2014;186:E502-503. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140708 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
3 Frank JR, Snell L, Sherbino J, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). CanMEDS 2015 physician competency framework. Ottawa: RCPSC; 2015. Available: http://canmeds.royalcollege.ca/uploads/en/framework/CanMEDS%202015%20Framework_EN_Reduced.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
4 Shanafelt TD, Noseworthy JH. Executive leadership and physician well-being: Nine organizational strategies to promote engagement and reduce burnout. Mayo Clin Proc 2017;92:129-6. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.10.004 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Physician health matters: A mental health strategy for physicians in Canada. Ottawa: CMA; 2010. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/practice-management-and-wellness/Mentalhealthstrat_final-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
6 Wallace JE, Lemaire JB, Ghali WA. Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator. Lancet 2009;374:1714-21. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61424-0 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
7 Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, Lewith G, Kontopantelis E, Chew-Graham C, et al. Controlled interventions to reduce burnout in physicians: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2017;177:195-205. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7674 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
8 Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, Mariné A, Serra C, Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, et al. Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers. Sao Paulo Medical Journal 2016;134:92-92. Available: https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-3180.20161341T1 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
9 Rondinelli RD, Genovese E, Brigham CR, American Medical Association (AMA). Guides to the evaluation of permanent impairment. Chicago: AMA; 2008. Available: https://commerce.ama-assn.org/store/catalog/productDetail.jsp?product_id=prod1160002 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
10 Dyrbye LN, Trockel M, Frank E, Olson K, Linzer M, Lemaire J, et al. Development of a research agenda to identify evidence-based strategies to improve physician wellness and reduce burnout. Ann Intern Med 2017;166:743-4. Available: https://doi.org/10.7326/M16-2956 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
See also CMA Policy on Physician Health
In recent decades there has been growing recognition of the impact of physician health on systemic outcomes and patient-care.1,2 Physician health encompasses the prevention and treatment of acute or chronic issues of individual physicians, as well as the optimization of of interconnected physical, mental and social factors to support health and wellness.3 It is also being increasingly understood as a set of risk-management practices aimed at shifting perceptions of health from being an individual (private) matter to more of a shared resource.4 In Canada evidence for this includes the use of strategies adapted from organizational psychology and occupational medicine to change physician behaviour, as well as intensified oversight by professional bodies, and the inclusion of maintaining personal health as a core competency for physicians.4,5 Despite concerted efforts to promote and protect the health and wellness of physicians, the collective state of physician health remains a significant threat to the viability of Canada's health system.1 Physician distress is emerging as an important quality indicator in medical practice,4,6 and both individual- and system-level factors are well-established contributors to compromised physician health.2,7 As such, the advancement of a model of shared responsibility - targeting the relative roles of individual physicians and system-level influencers8 - represents a robust response to this reality.
1. The state of learner and physician health
Poor health may develop before or during training and persist into medical practice. Medical school and residency training are particularly challenging times, when a myriad of competing personal and professional demands threaten learner health. In Canada, it has been reported that most students suffer from at least one form of distress over the course of their training9,10 and recent national data point to higher rates compared to their age and education-matched peers. With respect to burnout, characterized by a high level of emotional exhaustion and/or high level of depersonalization (at least weekly), overall rates are reportedly 37%.11,12 Similarly higher levels of depression, anxiety and burnout are reported among American medical students than in the general population.13
While both residents and physicians are reported to be physically healthier than the general population, their mental and social health are cause for concern.1,14 Compared with the general population, physicians are at a higher risk of experiencing adverse outcomes such as depression and burnout15,16 - the latter of which is nearly twice as common among physicians compared with workers in other fields, even after adjusting for age, sex, education level, relationship status, and work hours.17 Results from the 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey18 showed that 49% of residents and 33% of physicians screened positive for depression, and high burnout rates were reported in 38% of residents 29% of physicians. Furthermore, although the mental health, addiction and substance-use problems, including alcohol, among physicians are not dissimilar to those in the general population, the abuse of prescription drugs (e.g., opioids) is reportedly higher.1,19 Although most physicians referred to monitoring programs have been diagnosed with substance use disorders, an increasing number are being referred for recurrent mood disorders, often stemming from workplace concerns.20,21
1.1 Contributing factors
Adverse health outcomes among learners and physicians are linked to a range of contributing factors, including intrinsic ones (e.g., personality characteristics22 and other personal vulnerabilities) and extrinsic ones (e.g., excessive workloads, excessive standards of training and practice, excessive duty hours, lack of autonomy, disruptive behaviour, poor work-life integration, increasing demands with diminishing resources, systemic failures, financial issues, and the practice and training environment).2,15,23
Moreover, the management of risk that many physicians are involved with as it relates to the treatment and management of their patients can be challenging and impacts their health4. A dearth of recent data on the health status of physicians in Canada represents a critical gap in knowledge and limits future efforts to refine, select and assess initiatives.
2.1. Impact on learners and physicians
Compromised physician health can result in decreased personal and professional satisfaction, dysfunctional personal and professional relationships, increased attrition and increased rates of suicide and suicidal ideation.6,24,25 Perhaps most troubling, completed suicide rates among physicians are 1.4-2.3 times higher than in the general population - between 300 and 400 physicians annually in the United States.26 In Canada, suicidal ideation among physicians (including residents) has been recently reported at 19% (lifetime) and 9% (in the last year)18, while Canadian medical student data report 14% (lifetime) and 6% (in the last year).11 Overall, ideation rates are higher among both physicians and learners than in the general population.27
2.2. Impact on patient care
The impact of the mental and physical health of physicians extends to the quality of care provided to patients.16,28,29 For instance, physicians suffering from burnout are reportedly two to three times more likely to report their conduct with their patients as sub-optimal.24 Indeed, physicians remain a primary source of health information for patients, and they act as both role models and health advocates.15 Characteristics of burnout (e.g., poor communication and reduced empathy) run counter to the core principles of patient-centred care,30 and physicians who maintain healthy lifestyles are more likely to focus on preventive strategies with their patients.31,32 Although deficits in physician health can negatively affect patient care, it is notable that evidence linking the health of physicians to medical errors is incomplete, if not difficult to establish. Nevertheless, studies have reported a relationship between medical error and specific adverse outcomes such as burnout.17,33
2.3 Impact on health system
Issues that are associated with compromised physician health, such as reduced productivity, increased turnover, absenteeism and the likelihood of early retirement,25,34 contribute to the strained state of the health system. Given that physicians represent a significant proportion of the Canadian medical workforce, more attention must be paid to physician health if the health system is to be sustainable.2 Encouragingly, studies have shown that resources and services such as workplace wellness programs produce investment returns,35,36 such as decreases in medical leave and absenteeism2,36,37 Implementing strategies from occupational medicine are also being increasingly employed to ensure patient safety when doctors return to work after illness.4 This contributes to helping balance the need of institutions and medical regulatory agencies to minimize the risk while maximizing quality of patient care, with the desire of individual physicians to help their patients while leading healthy, fulfilling lives.4
Although there are moral grounds for addressing physician and learner ill-health, an economic case can also be made to support and guide initial and ongoing investment to address the problem.7,18 In navigating the many external challenges facing the Canadian the health system, it is critical that system-level leaders not neglect internal threats, including physician distress and dissatisfaction6,7, and challenges in navigating complex work environments.24 To this end, although there are many positive and supportive elements within medical culture, it is also important to acknowledge aspects that contribute to poor health.
2.4 Impact on the culture of medical practice and training and on the workplace
Enduring norms within the culture of medicine are directly contributing to the deterioration of the health of Canadian learners and physicians.2 Culturally rooted impediments, such as the reluctance to share personal issues or admit vulnerability, discourage the medical profession from acknowledging, identifying and addressing physician health issues.7 Physicians and learners alike face pressure not to be ill, to care for patients regardless of their personal health and even to attempt to control their own illness and treatment by self-medicating.1,38 Indeed, physicians are often portrayed as being invincible professionals who put patient needs above all else, including their own needs.39,40
Although the CMA Code of Ethics encourages physicians to seek help from colleagues and qualified professionals when personal or workplace challenges compromise patient care41 physicians tend to delay or avoid seeking treatment, especially for psychosocial or psychiatric concerns. Moreover, nearly 33% of Canadian physicians are not registered with a family physician.42 which means they are among the lowest users of health services.43 Providing care to physician colleagues is both complex and challenging, yet this is an area where formal training has not been explicitly or systematically provided on a national scale.1 There is a need to identify physicians willing to treat colleagues, to develop or adapt existing approaches that encourage help-seeking and to help physicians to navigate the treatment of colleagues.
Stigma around mental health within medical practice and training acts as a significant barrier to early intervention.1,44 In a localized study of Canadian physicians, 18% reported distress, but only 25% considered getting help and only 2% actually did.39 Similarly, national CMA data reported that 'feeling ashamed to seek help' was identified (76%) as a major reason for physicians not wanting to contact a physician health program.18 Indeed, common concerns include not wanting to let colleagues or patients down, believing seeking help is acknowledging weakness, being apprehensive about confidentiality, and fearing negative reprisals (e.g., from colleagues, supervisors, regulatory bodies, other licence-granting bodies, insurers)1,45 Fear of retribution is also a frequent reason why physicians may feel hesitant to report impaired colleagues, even if supportive of the concept.46
From the outset of training, medical learners are introduced to system-wide cultural aspects and values of the medical profession, which they then internalize and pass on to others.2 Extensive literature on the "hidden curriculum" points to a performance culture that includes norms such as the view that adversity is character building and the valorization of emotional repression (e.g., mental toughness).2,47 Culture-related issues are being increasingly addressed as a function of medical professionalism. For instance, commitment to physician health, collegiality and support have been established as key competencies within the Professional Role of the CanMEDS Framework,5 the most widely accepted and applied physician competency framework in the world.48 This involves a commitment to exhibiting self-awareness and managing influences on personal well-being and professional performance; managing personal and professional demands for a sustainable practice throughout the physician life cycle, and promoting a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to colleagues in need. In support of these commitments to personal care, physicians must develop their capacity for self-assessment and monitoring, mindfulness and reflection, and resilience for sustainable practice.5
Intra-professionalism, characterized by effective clinical and personal communication among physicians,49 significantly influence job satisfaction, which in turn has been shown to predict physician health outcomes.50 Furthermore, peer support can buffer the negative effects of work demands;39 collegial, professional environments are known to be healthier for both providers and patients.51 Conversely, unprofessional behaviour is associated with physician dissatisfaction,50 and dysfunctional workplaces and poor collegiality are linked to burnout.52 Unprofessional workplace behaviour is tolerated, and in fact is often customary, within medical training and practice environments.53
Of particular concern, such behaviour carried out by more senior physicians has been shown to encourage similar conduct among learners,54 highlighting the importance of promoting effective professional role modelling.55 Unfortunately, poor supervisory behaviour, and even mistreatment of learners, is common within the medical training environment.56 Although expectations for professional behaviour are increasingly being incorporated into both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, issues related to a lack of professionalism persist in both training and practice.51 System-wide efforts are needed to counter what is perceived to be an eroding sense of collegiality and to promote professionalism as a way to address physician burnout and enhance engagement.7,39
3. Treatment and preventive approaches
3.1 Physician health services
The scope of physician health services has expanded from focusing primary focus on identifying treating and monitoring physicians with substance abuse issues to more recent efforts to de-stigmatize poor physician health and integrate proactive resources to complement tertiary approaches.1 In Canada, there are multiple services to support the health needs of learners and physicians. These can be conceptualized along a continuum of approaches,1 including the following: health-promoting environments (e.g., efforts to ensure balanced workloads, provide more support staff, and encourage physicians to make sure they get adequate exercise, nutrition and sleep in training and practice); primary prevention (e.g., resilience training, stress-reduction groups, fatigue management programs, strategies to enhance teamwork and collaborative care); secondary prevention (e.g., access to assessment and counselling; services and workshops on coping with adverse events, litigation and career transitions and on managing difficult behaviour); and tertiary prevention (e.g., more intensive outpatient counselling, inpatient treatment). Many of these approaches, including those at the system level, focus on assisting the individual physician rather than addressing more contextual issues.
Most jurisdictions in Canada have consolidated a number of services under the banner of a provincial physician health program (PHP).These range from counselling, treatment and/or peer support to fitness-to-practice and return-to-work assessments, workplace behaviour management and relationship management. The services available to physicians in a given area vary greatly.1,15 More established and resourced programs often offer services across the continuum, while less established programs tend to focus on secondary and tertiary services.2 Provincial PHPs have been shown to produce positive outcomes1,20,21,48 and are generally considered to be effective in addressing user issues,57 however but many physicians remain reluctant to access them.58 In addition to provincial programs, many learners and physicians in Canada can access support and treatment from other sources, including medical school and faculty wellness programs, employee assistance or workplace programs, and more individual-led options such as physician coaches.1 There has been a steady accumulation of evidence on the positive returns of workplace health and wellness programs,35 as well as indications that even modest investments in physician health can make a difference.17
In response to challenges posed by the considerable diversity in the organizational structure of provincial PHPs, the ways in which PHPs classify information, the range of services they offer, the mechanisms of accountability to stakeholders and the manner in which they pursue non-tertiary activities (e.g., education and prevention work)59 a consortium of PHPs released a preliminary Descriptive Framework for Physician Health Services in Canada in 2016. Through this framework a series of core services (and modes of activity within each) were defined.59 Potential users of the framework include PHPs, academic institutions, medical regulators, national associations, hospitals and health authorities, as well as other local groups. The framework may serve a range of purposes, including program reviews and planning, quality improvement, resource allocation, advocacy, stakeholder consultation and standards development.59 Initiatives such as this framework help address a persistent gap in Canada around equity of and access to services. Overall, fulfilling the needs of all learners and physicians through enhanced service quality and functional equivalence is an ongoing challenge for provincial PHPs and other service providers, and it must be a priority moving forward.
3.2 Individual primary prevention
Prevention and promotion activities can help mitigate the severity and decrease the incidence of adverse outcomes associated with physician health issues among learners and physicians.3 Although secondary and tertiary services are critical components of any health strategy, complementary, proactive, preventive initiatives promote a more comprehensive approach. Some of the best-documented strategies include attuning to physical health (e.g., diet, exercise, rest), psychosocial and mental health (e.g., mindfulness and self-awareness, resilience training, protecting and maintaining cultural and recreational interests outside of medicine, and protecting time and relationships with family and friends).60 For instance, resilience has been identified as an indicator of physician wellness61 and as a critical skill for individuals working in health care environments.39 Innovative, coordinated approaches such as resilience and mindfulness training are instrumental in helping physicians overcome both anticipated and unexpected difficulties, to position them for a sustainable career in medicine.
Many internal (e.g., personal) and external (e.g., occupational) factors can interfere with a physician's capacity to consistently maintain healthy lifestyle behaviours and objectively attend to personal health needs. Although the emergence of individually targeted proactive and preventive activities is encouraging, a greater focus on system-level initiatives to complement both proactive and tertiary approaches is needed. This also aligns with recent CMA member data indicating that medical students (61%), residents (55%), physicians (43%) and retired physicians (41%) want more access to resources to ensure their emotional, social and psychological well-being.62 Such an approach is increasingly important in light of physicians' professional responsibility to demonstrate a commitment to personal health.5
4. Physician health as a shared responsibility
Although physicians are a critical component of Canadian health systems, those systems do not necessarily promote health in the physician community. It cannot be overstated that many health challenges facing learners and physicians are increasingly systemic in nature.1 Despite increasing challenges to the cultural norm that health-related issues are an individual-physician problem,2 system-level factors are often ignored.1,7 Although solutions targeted at the individual level (e.g., mindfulness and resilience training) are important proactive approaches and are a common focus, they often do not address occupational and organizational factors.7 Intervention exclusively at the individual level is unlikely to have meaningful and sustainable impacts. Interventions targeting individual physicians are likely most effective when paired with efforts to address more systemic (e.g., structural and occupational) issues.63 Moreover, organization-directed interventions have been shown to be more effective in reducing physician burnout than individual-directed interventions, and meaningful reductions in negative outcomes have been linked to system-level interventions.22,34
Concerted efforts at the system level will ultimately drive substantive, meaningful and sustainable change. This includes coordination among leaders from national, provincial and local stakeholders as well as individual physicians.16,22,64 Potential influencers include medical schools and other training programs, regulatory bodies, researchers (and funding bodies), professional associations and other health care organizations, as well as insurers.1 Indeed, addressing the complex array of issues related to physician health is a shared responsibility. A clear mandate exists to guide individuals and leaders in promoting and protecting the health of learners and physicians.1,7
Physician health is a growing priority for the medical profession. Medical practice and training present complex occupational environments34, in which leaders play a central role in shaping training, practice and organizational culture through the implicit and explicit ways in which they communicate core values.2 When promoting physician health across the career lifecycle it is also important to consider the unique challenges and experiences of physicians who are not actively practicing (e.g., on leave; have non-clinical roles) as well as those who are retired.
Notwithstanding the impact on patient care or health systems, promoting the health of individual physicians and learners is in and of itself worthy of attention. Indeed, leaders in the health system have a vested interest in helping physicians to meet the personal and professional challenges inherent in medical training and practice as well as in promoting positive concepts such as wellness and engagement.7 The increasingly blurred lines between physician health, professionalism and the functioning of health systems40 suggest that leaders at all levels must promote a unified and progressive vision of a healthy, vibrant and engaged physician workforce. This involves championing health across the career life cycle through advocacy as well as promoting solutions and outcomes through a lens of shared responsibility at both individual and system levels. Broad solutions skewed towards one level, without requisite attention given to the other level, are unikely to result in meaningful change. Moving from rhetoric to action, this next frontier integrates the promotion of self-care among individuals, support for healthy and supportive training and practice environments - both physical and cultural - as well as continued innovation and development of (and support for) physician health services. This constellation of efforts will ultimately contribute to the success of these actions.
See also CMA Policy on Physician Health
1 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Physician health matters: A mental health strategy for physicians in Canada. Ottawa: CMA; 2010. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/practice-management-and-wellness/Mentalhealthstrat_final-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
2 Montgomery AJ. The relationship between leadership and physician well-being; A scoping review. Journal of Healthcare Leadership 2016;55:71-80. Available: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/doaj/11793201/2016/00000055/00000001/art00010 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
3 World Medical Association (WMA). WMA Statement on physicians well-being. France: WMA; 2015 Oct. Available: https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-statement-on-physicians-well-being/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
4 Albuquerque J, Deshauer D. Physician health: beyond work-life balance. CMAJ 2014;186:E502-503. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140708 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
5 Frank JR, Snell L, Sherbino J, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). CanMEDS 2015 physician competency framework. Ottawa: RCPSC; 2015. Available: http://canmeds.royalcollege.ca/uploads/en/framework/CanMEDS%202015%20Framework_EN_Reduced.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
6 Wallace JE, Lemaire JB, Ghali WA. Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator. Lancet 2009;374:1714-21. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61424-0 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
7 Shanafelt TD, Noseworthy JH. Executive leadership and physician well-being: Nine organizational strategies to promote engagement and reduce burnout. Mayo Clin Proc 2017;92:129-6. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.10.004 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
8 Lemaire JB, Wallace JE. Burnout among doctors. BMJ 2017;358:j3360.
9 Tepper J, Champion C, Johnston T, Rodin D, White A, Bastrash M, et al. Medical student health and wellbeing. Ottawa: Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS); 2015.
10 Dyrbye LN, Harper W, Durning SJ, Moutier C, Thomas MR, Massie FS, et al. Patterns of distress in US medical students. Med Teach 2011;33:834-9. Available: https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2010.531158 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
11 Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS). CFMS-FMEQ national health and wellbeing survey - Student research position. International Conference on Physician Health; 2016 Sep 18-20; Boston. Ottawa: CFMS; 2016.
12 Maser B, Houlton R. CFMS-FMEQ national health and wellbeing survey: Prevalence and predictors of mental health in Canadian medical students. Canadian Conference on Physician Health; 2017 Sep 7-9; Ottawa. Ottawa: CFMS; 2017.
13 Dyrbye LN, Thomas MR, Massie FS, Power DV, Eacker A, Harper W, et al. Burnout and suicidal ideation among US medical students. Ann of Intern Med 2008;149:334-41. Available: https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-149-5-200809020-00008 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
14 George S, Hanson J, Jackson JL. Physician, heal thyself: a qualitative study of physician health behaviors. Acad Psychiatry 2014;38:19-25. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-013-0014-6 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
15 Roman S, Prévost C. Physician health: state of knowledge and preventive approaches. Montreal: Programme d'aide aux médecins du Québec (PAMQ); 2015. Available: http://catalogue.cssslaval.qc.ca/GEIDEFile/Doc_224290_ang.pdf?Archive=102463592064&File=Doc_224290_Ang_pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
16 West CP, Dyrbye LN, Erwin PJ, Shanafelt TD. Interventions to prevent and reduce physician burnout: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 2016;388:2272-81. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31279-X (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
17 Shanafelt T, Goh J, Sinsky C. The business case for investing in physician well-being. JAMA Intern Med 2017 Sep 25 [epub ahead of print]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.4340 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
18 Simon C, McFadden T, Canadian Medical Association (CMA). National Physician Health Survey: The Process, Preliminary Data, and Future Directions 2017. Canadian Conference on Physician Health; 2017 Sep 7-9; Ottawa. Ottawa: CMA; 2017.
19 Lefebvre LG, Kaufmann IM. The identification and management of substance use disorders in anesthesiologists. Can J Anaesth 2017;64:211-8. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12630-016-0775-y (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
20 Albuquerque J, Deshauer D, Fergusson D, Doucette S, MacWilliam C, Kaufmann IM. Recurrence rates in Ontario physicians monitored for major depression and bipolar disorder. Can J Psychiatry 2009;54:777-82. Available: https://doi.org/10.1177/070674370905401108 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
21 Brewster JM, Kaufmann IM, Hutchison S, MacWilliam C. Characteristics and outcomes of doctors in a substance dependence monitoring programme in Canada: prospective descriptive study. BMJ 2008;337:a2098.
22 Lemaire JB, Wallace JE, Sargious PM, Bacchus M, Zarnke K, Ward DR, et al. How attending physician preceptors negotiate their complex work environment: A collective ethnography. Acad Med 2017 Jun 20 [epub ahead of print]. Available: http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Abstract/publishahead/How_Attending_Physician_Preceptors_Negotiate_Their.98194.aspx (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
23 Lemaire JB, Wallace JE. How physicians identify with predetermined personalities and links to perceived performance and wellness outcomes: a cross-sectional study. BMC Health Serv Res 2014;14:616. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-014-0616-z (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
24 Shanafelt TD, Sloan JA, Habermann TM. The well-being of physicians. Am J Med 2003;114:513-9.
25 Dewa CS, Jacobs P, Thanh NX, Loong D. An estimate of the cost of burnout on early retirement and reduction in clinical hours of practicing physicians in Canada. BMC Health Serv Res 2014;14:254. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-14-254 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
26 Andrew LB. Physician suicide: Overview, depression in physicians, problems with treating physician depression. New York: Medscape; 2017 Jun 12. Available: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/806779-overview#a3 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
27 Dyrbye LN, West CP, Satele D, Boone S, Tan L, Sloan J, et al. Burnout among U.S. medical students, residents, and early career physicians relative to the general U.S. population. Acad Med 2014;89:443-51. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000134 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
28 de Oliveira GS, Chang R, Fitzgerald PC, Almeida MD, Castro-Alves LS, Ahmad S, et al. The prevalence of burnout and depression and their association with adherence to safety and practice standards: a survey of United States anesthesiology trainees. Anesth Analg 2013;117:182-93. Available: https://doi.org/10.1213/ANE.0b013e3182917da9 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
29 Shanafelt TD, Mungo M, Schmitgen J, Storz KA, Reeves D, Hayes SN, et al. Longitudinal study evaluating the association between physician burnout and changes in professional work effort. Mayo Clin Proc 2016;91:422-31. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.02.001 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
30 Kitson A, Marshall A, Bassett K, Zeitz K. What are the core elements of patient-centred care? A narrative review and synthesis of the literature from health policy, medicine and nursing. J Adv Nurs 2013;69:4-15. Available: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06064.x (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
31 Cameron D, Katch E, Anderson P, Furlong MA. Healthy doctors, healthy communities. J Ambul Care Manage 2004;27:328-38.
32 Lobelo F, de Quevedo IG. The evidence in support of physicians and health care providers as physical activity role models. Am J Lifestyle Med 2016;10:36-52.
33 Shanafelt TD, Balch CM, Bechamps G, Russell T, Dyrbye L, Satele D, et al. Burnout and medical errors among American surgeons. Ann Surg 2010;251:995-1000. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0b013e3181bfdab3 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
34 Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, Lewith G, Kontopantelis E, Chew-Graham C, et al. Controlled interventions to reduce burnout in physicians: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2017;177:195-205. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7674 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
35 Chenevert D, Tremblay MC. Analyse de l'efficacité des programmes d'aide aux employés : Le cas du PAMQ. Montreal: HEC Montreal; 2016. Available: http://www.professionsante.ca/files/2016/07/Rapport-Chenevert-VF.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
36 Morneau Shepell Ltd. Workplace mental health priorities report 2015. Toronto: Morneau Shepell Ltd.; 2015. Available: https://www.morneaushepell.com/ca-en/insights/workplace-mental-health-priorities-report (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
37 Baicker K, Cutler D, Song Z. Workplace wellness programs can generate savings. Health Aff (Millwood) 2010;29:304-11. Available: https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0626 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
38 Harrison J. Doctors' health and fitness to practise: The need for a bespoke model of assessment. Occup Med (Lond) 2008;58:323-7. Available: https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqn079 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
39 Wallace JE, Lemaire J. On physician well being-you'll get by with a little help from your friends. Soc Sci Med 2007;64:2565-77. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.03.016 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
40 Lesser CS, Lucey CR, Egener B, Braddock CH, Linas SL, Levinson W. A behavioral and systems view of professionalism. JAMA 2010;304:2732-7. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.1864 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
41 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA code of ethics. Ottawa: CMA; 2004. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/PD04-06-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
42 ePhysician Health. Primary care: Physician patient module. Ottawa: ePhysician Health; 2017. Available: http://ephysicianhealth.com/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
43 Sibbald B, Bojke C, Gravelle H. National survey of job satisfaction and retirement intentions among general practitioners in England. BMJ 2003;326:22.
44 Thompson WT, Cupples ME, Sibbett CH, Skan DI, Bradley T. Challenge of culture, conscience, and contract to general practitioners' care of their own health: qualitative study. BMJ 2001;323:728-31.
45 Schwenk TL, Davis L, Wimsatt LA. Depression, stigma, and suicidal ideation in medical students. JAMA 2010;304:1181-90. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.1300 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
46 DesRoches CM, Rao SR, Fromson JA, Birnbaum RJ, Iezzoni L, Vogeli C, et al. Physicians' perceptions, preparedness for reporting, and experiences related to impaired and incompetent colleagues. JAMA 2010;304:187-93. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2010.921 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
47 Gaufberg EH, Batalden M, Sands R, Bell SK. The hidden curriculum: what can we learn from third-year medical student narrative reflections? Acad Med 2010;85:1709-16. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181f57899 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
48 Dupont RL, Skipper GE. Six lessons from state physician health programs to promote long-term recovery. J Psychoactive Drugs 2012;44:72-8. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2012.660106 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
49 Beaulieu M-D, Samson L, Rocher G, Rioux M, Boucher L, Del Grande C. Investigating the barriers to teaching family physicians' and specialists' collaboration in the training environment: a qualitative study. BMC Med Educ 2009;9:31. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-9-31 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
50 Van Ham I, Verhoeven AAH, Groenier KH, Groothoff JW, De Haan J. Job satisfaction among general practitioners: a systematic literature review. Eur J Gen Pract 2006;12:174-80. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/13814780600994376 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
51 Bahaziq W, Crosby E. Physician professional behaviour affects outcomes: a framework for teaching professionalism during anesthesia residency. Can J Anaesth 2011;58:1039-50. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12630-011-9579-2 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
52 Cydulka RK, Korte R. Career satisfaction in emergency medicine: the ABEM Longitudinal Study of Emergency Physicians. Ann Emerg Med 2008;51:714-722.e1. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annemergmed.2008.01.005 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
53 Doja A, Bould MD, Clarkin C, Eady K, Sutherland S, Writer H. The hidden and informal curriculum across the continuum of training: A cross-sectional qualitative study. Med Teach 2016;38:410-8. Available: https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2015.1073241 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
54 Case GA. Performance and the hidden curriculum in Medicine. Performance Research 2014;19:6-13. Available: https://doi.org/10.1080/13528165.2014.947120 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
55 Schneider B, Barbera KM. The Oxford handbook of organizational climate and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2014.
56 Cook AF, Arora VM, Rasinski KA, Curlin FA, Yoon JD. The prevalence of medical student mistreatment and its association with burnout. Acad Med 2014;89:749-54. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0000000000000204 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
57 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Physician health: Putting yourself first. Ottawa: CMPA; 2015 Sep. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2015/physician-health-putting-yourself-first (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
58 Givens JL, Tjia J. Depressed medical students' use of mental health services and barriers to use. Acad Med 2002;77:918-21.
59 Canadian Medical Foundation (CMF). A descriptive framework for physician health services in Canada: A report prepared by the tricoastal consortium for the Canadian Medical Foundation. Ottawa, CMF, 2016 May. Available: http://medicalfoundation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/7.b-TCC-Descriptive-Framework-Survey-Companion-FINAL-May-24-2016.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
60 Epstein RM, Krasner MS. Physician resilience: what it means, why it matters, and how to promote it. Acad Med 2013;88:301-3. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e318280cff0 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
61 Zwack J, Schweitzer J. If every fifth physician is affected by burnout, what about the other four? Resilience strategies of experienced physicians. Acad Med 2013;88:382-9. Available: https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e318281696b (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
62 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA Baseline 2014: Overall findings report. Ottawa: CMA; 2014.
63 Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, Mariné A, Serra C, et al. Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers. Sao Paulo Medical Journal 2016;134:92-92. Available: https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-3180.20161341T1 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
64 Shanafelt TD, Dyrbye LN, West CP. Addressing physician burnout: The way forward. JAMA 2017;317:901-2. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2017.0076 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
A physician's assessment and signature on a third-party form have a value that reflects the physician's formal education and training as well as his/her professional experience. Similar to the signatures of other professionals, a physician's signature carries certain responsibilities and a commitment that the information provided is accurate and based on objective data and the patient's medical history. This value needs to be formally recognized and appropriately used. Most third parties have historically relied on the goodwill of physicians to complete their forms free of charge. However, the steady rise of third-party form requests (see Appendix A) and the cumulative time that form completion takes away from direct patient care necessitates a more reasonable approach to form requests and fair remuneration for the physicians' time and expertise.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This document provides guidance for physicians, patients and organizations that request third-party forms1 subject to federal/provincial/territorial legislation and regulations. Several strategies aimed at reducing the administrative burden of third-party forms are recommended to allow more time for direct patient care.2
The physician's role
* The physician has a well-defined and limited role in form completion - to only provide objective information on physical and/or psychological impairments and abilities, limitations and restrictions, time frames and prognosis from the medical record directly required by the third party for the purpose of administering particular programs or benefits. Questions on forms directed to physicians should be restricted to seeking such information.
* A physician has a duty to ensure that he/she has properly completed the form (i.e., he/she has filled out the form completely, accurately and objectively in accordance with the requirements of the physician's provincial or territorial regulatory college).
* When asked to provide an opinion on functional abilities to employers or insurers, the focus should be on abilities; information on restrictions should be objective and specific, and restrictions should be listed only when absolutely medically indicated.3
* A physician must not state that a patient has been under his/her care unless that is the case. The duration of the care should be indicated. If a physician does not have sufficient knowledge of an illness to provide information or an opinion upon it, the physician should state this on the certificate. The certification of absence should be based only on patient history if the patient was seen after the illness and should be clearly documented as "patient reports." In instances where a physician is being requested to complete a form by a transient patient (i.e., not the physician's patient), the physician should only comment on observations based on their own medical assessment.
* A physician must have a patient's consent to disclose information to any third party, such as the patient's employer or insurer. Unless prevented by law, the physician should ensure the patient is aware that the report he/she provides to the third party is outside the physician-patient relationship and that in completing the form, the physician has a professional obligation to accurately and objectively report upon the patient's condition. A physician must not disclose more information than is covered by the patient's consent - this includes only providing information relevant to the nature of the request and that is reasonably necessary. If a patient limits his/her consent, the physician must consider whether such limitation is relevant to his/her report and if it is, report the limitation to the third party.
* An accurate and relevant narrative summary of a patient's clinical files by the physician should be sufficient information for third parties. The requesting of complete copies of clinical files is unwarranted in the significant majority of cases unless mandated by legislation.
* Physicians should consult with the Canadian Medical Protective Association and their provincial regulatory college for guidance and clarification on third-party form requests (see Appendix B).
The patient's role
* To the greatest extent possible, patients should review the third-party form and be aware of the information being requested.
* Most forms request information on patients' subjective complaints and self-reported function. In such instances, it would be more appropriate to have this information reported directly by the patient to the requesting party.
* Patients must be aware of the following:
o Receipt of their consent authorizes the attending physician to accurately, completely and objectively explain the patient's medical condition as part of the physician's professional responsibility.
o Physicians have a professional and ethical obligation to only document that which is true and medically defensible. The physician does not act as the decision-maker for absences or claims adjudication.
o In some instances (e.g., fitness to drive), physicians also have legislated requirements to complete third-party forms regarding their patient.
The role of the third party
* Third parties should only request medical forms when there is a need for medical information about a patient (i.e., information that could not be provided by a non-physician) to be used for employment/education purposes or the evaluation of a medically related benefit for the patient.
o It is the role of the third party to adjudicate on a patient's eligibility for a benefit, not the physician.
o A request for a patient's non-medical information (i.e., unrelated to the patient's medical condition/history) or a request to certify identity (e.g., asking a physician to certify the principal parent for the purpose of determining eligibility to receive child benefits) is an inappropriate use of medical resources and it is at the discretion of the physician whether to comply with such requests.
o Requests for updates should be reasonable and respect the physician's prognosis.
o Wherever possible, third-party forms should be standardized (e.g., program eligibility, tombstone data, wording of questions) to save time and reduce administrative errors.
o Program eligibility should be made clear to patients and providers to reduce inappropriate form requests (e.g., educating tax advisors on government program eligibility to prevent inappropriate requests for the disability tax credit).
* To make the process of completing a medical form effective and efficient, third parties must involve and inform physicians early and on an ongoing basis, beginning by asking physicians to help to determine whether there is a need for a medical form to be completed in the first place. Medical input is also necessary in the design of the form and to determine how often the form needs to be completed. Physicians should be involved in periodic reviews of existing medical forms with third parties (e.g., governments, insurance companies, associations) for several reasons: to determine whether the forms remain relevant and as a simple as possible; to determine appropriate remuneration for completing the forms; and to ensure that physicians are notified of any changes to requests for medical certification in writing rather than having changes communicated to the physician informally through the patient.4
* In some cases, other health professionals (e.g., occupational therapists) are in a better position to objectively assess patients' abilities and could be designated as qualified practitioners for the purpose of completing the forms, with physicians providing information pertaining to medical assessments and prognoses.
* Confirmation of a short-term absence from work because of minor illness is a matter to be addressed between an employer and an employee directly. Such an absence does not require physician confirmation of illness and represents an inefficient use of scarce health care resources. It is the employer's responsibility -not the physician's - to oversee employee absenteeism. It may be that for many cases, the need for a medical certificate can be replaced by a more effective alternative that does not involve physicians and is agreed to by all parties concerned (e.g., employer and employees).
* If an employer, educational institution or other third party requests an illness confirmation certificate for a short-term, minor illness that would otherwise not have required medical attention, said party should recognize that completion of the certificate is an uninsured service for which physicians are entitled to compensation, preferably from the third party requesting the information, rather than burdening the patient.
* The third party requesting the information should be responsible for compensating the physician for their medical information and expertise. At a provincial/territorial government level, this could mean making the completion of provincial/territorial forms an insured service under the provincial/territorial health insurance plan.
* Physician reimbursement should cover the time and resources devoted to the provision of medical information to third parties (submitted in writing, electronically and/or by phone). This includes compensation for any uninsured medical assessment necessary to complete the form, for the provision of copies of medical information, and for the time and resources needed to respond to any follow-up requests. Wherever possible, the compensation rates should be consistent and should reflect the time and effort necessary to complete the form(s).
* Physicians should be compensated for completing forms related to return to work by provincial/territorial worker's compensation plans; they should be compensated for completing return-to-work forms for non-occupational conditions by provincial/territorial insurance plans, given the important health implications of return-to-work management.
* In the absence of third-party compensation, physicians may charge the patient for the service they provide. As stated in the CMA's Code of Ethics, physicians should consider the nature of the service provided and the ability of the patient to pay, and they should be prepared to discuss the fee with the patient.5 Patient decisions about payment for uninsured services must not negatively affect the physician-patient relationship or pose a barrier to accessing health care services. The physician may decide to reduce or waive his/her fees if the patient lacks the financial ability to pay. Physicians should consult their provincial/territorial medical association for guidance regarding direct billing of patients.
The increasing administrative burden
Physicians face a multitude of requests on a daily basis to complete medical forms and certificates. Requests come from many sources, including governments, government agencies (e.g., workers' compensation boards) and the private/non-governmental sectors (e.g., employers, insurance companies, schools, sporting organizations).
In a 2016 survey of CMA physician members on third-party forms, physicians identified sick notes as the form that they were most frequently asked to complete (67.0% of respondents reported having to fill this form out more than five times per week). Short-term disability claim forms were the second most frequently requested form, with 42.3% of respondents reporting completing this form more than five times per week. Medical certificates for sickness benefit claims under the federal government's employment insurance program - just one example of a third-party form requiring medical input - had to be completed for 336,800 approved applications in 2013-20146 (the vast majority of these certificates would have been completed by physicians).
Physicians continue to devote considerable time to completing forms. Government disability forms, just one type of third-party form, require considerable amount of time to complete. Over 62% of the physicians in the 2016 survey indicated they spend 21-30 minutes (31% of respondents) or more than 30 minutes (31% of respondents) to complete the Canada Pension Plan disability form. Similarly, 60% indicated they spend 21-30 minutes (33% of respondents) or more than 30 minutes (27% of respondents) to complete the Veterans' Affairs disability benefit form.
The most frequently identified concern that physicians have with completing third-party forms (75% of those who participated in the 2016 survey) was the time it took from direct patient care. The second most frequently identified concern (63.4%) was the number of inappropriate requests from third parties.7
Increasing administrative workload/paperwork has been identified by physicians as one of the biggest contributors increasing the demand for their time at work. 8 In many cases, these requests can be an inappropriate use of a physician's time, such as requests for patient information for administrative purposes. Responding to such requests reduces both timely access to care and the time available for direct patient care.
Policies in the office to better manage third-party form requests
Office policies and strategies can be instituted by physicians to better manage third-party requests. These strategies include:
* having an office policy or standardized method to manage third-party form requests;
* having clear communication and posted signage on patient and physician responsibilities regarding forms and fees;
* using a standard form template (e.g., for sick notes)9; and
* organizing time to complete forms.
Physicians are also encouraged to consult with their provincial/territorial medical association and their regulatory college for guidance related to form requests.
These strategies can be part of an overall effort by organizations to raise the awareness of employers, governments and other third parties of the need for a more appropriate approach to form requests to eliminate time wasted for all parties and reduce the inappropriate use of health care resources.
1 The term third-party form refers to any form, letter, medical certificate, mandatory reporting form, photocopy or other document containing medical information about the patient that a physician has been requested to complete or provide by a third party on behalf of their patient. The term third party refers to an employer, government department or agency, private insurer or other organization that is requesting medical information about the patient with the intention of using it.
2 This policy should be considered in conjunction with CMA's policy statement entitled The Treating Physician's Role in Helping Patients Return to Work after an Illness or Injury.
3 Choosing Wisely Canada. Occupational Medicine Specialists of Canada. Five things physicians and patients should question; 2014 Oct 29. Available: www.choosingwiselycanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Occupational-Medicine.pdf
4 Saskatchewan Medical Association. SMA relative value guide. Saskatoon: The Association; 2004.
5 Canadian Medical Association. Code of Ethics. Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
6 This figure does not include the number of forms completed for individuals who applied but did not qualify for the program. Canada Employment Insurance Commission. Employment insurance monitoring and assessment report 2013/14. Ottawa: Employment and Social Development Canada. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/en/reports/ei/monitoring2014/chapter2_4.page
7 Canadian Medical Association. e-Panel survey summary: third-party forms. Ottawa: The Association; 2017.
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National physician survey 2013. Results by FP/GP or other specialist, sex, age and all physicians [table]. Ottawa: The College; 2013. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2013-National-EN-Q13r.pdf
9 Steven Harrison. OMA sickness certificate template: a practical office resource. Ontario Medical Review 2004 Dec.
With the advent of technology allowing for the extension of life, and as a result of the increasing importance of personal autonomy, decisional capacity, and informed consent and the growing awareness of issues related to quality of life and dying, Canadians have become increasingly interested in expressing their wishes regarding their health care and having more input into decisions about their care should they become incapable. Advance care planning (ACP) can help patients to achieve these goals.
The CMA supports development of a strategy for ACP1 in all provinces and territories. ACP leads to better concordance between patients' wishes and treatments provided,2,3 decreased anxiety for families,4 decreased moral distress for health care providers,5 decreased hospitalization rates of nursing home residents3 and fewer unnecessary medical treatments.3,6,7
ACP is at the intersection of the provision of health care, ethical values and legal rights and duties. In particular, it involves the acknowledgement of essential aspects of autonomy, informed consent, and respect of patients' care wishes now and in the future, and their intentions if they become incapable.8,9
The balancing of the need to obtain informed consent for a treatment option in the present with the need to respect health care preferences that were stated in the past has been addressed using various clinical, legal and institutional approaches across Canadian jurisdictions."
Physicians10 can play a significant role in ACP throughout the course of the patient-physician relationship, including in the pediatric setting. At any time, outcomes of the planning process can be documented and/or the patient can appoint a substitute decision-maker in writing. These documents can be identified as advance directives, personal directives or powers of attorney for personal care11 (hereinafter all will be referred to as advance directives). An advance directive does not remove the need for a physician to obtain consent before providing a treatment to a patient, except in an emergency. As stated in the Canadian Medical Protective Association's consent guide: "[U]nder medical emergency situations, treatments should be limited to those necessary to prevent prolonged suffering or to deal with imminent threats to life, limb or health. Even when unable to communicate in medical emergency situations, the known wishes of the patient must be respected."12
While much of the focus of ACP is on making care decisions and nominating proxy decision-makers in case the patient becomes incapable of making decisions in the future, ACP has much more utility. ACP conversations13 can assist patients in determining treatment trajectories and making decisions about the intensity level of interventions in their current care. Providers can have discussions with patients and their families about proposed treatments in the context of the patient's communicated goals and wishes. The process of ACP also helps patients and their families to become familiar with the language and processes used to make cooperative health care decisions.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This policy aims to provide guidance on key considerations pertinent to ACP in a way that is consistent with a physician's ethical, professional and legal obligations. This is a complex subject: physicians should be aware of the legislation in the jurisdiction in which they practise, the standards and expectations specified by their respective regulatory authority, as well as the policies and procedures of the setting(s) in which they practise (e.g., regional health authority, hospital).
1. ACP is a process of (a) respecting patients' wishes through reflection and communication, (b) planning for when the patient cannot make health care decisions and (c) discussion with friends, family and professionals; (d) it may result in a written document.5 It informs the substitute decision-maker and provides information for the clinician to consider in the provision of care within the bounds of the law.
2. Although often associated with the end of life, ACP represents the expression of a patient's wishes for any future health care when the patient is incapable. It expresses the patient's values and beliefs regarding current care decisions and provides information that can inform any decisions that must be made during an emergency when the patient's consent cannot be obtained. For these reasons, ACP should occur throughout a person's lifetime.
3. Respect for patients' dignity and autonomy is a cornerstone of the therapeutic physician-patient relationship. Patients' right to autonomous decision-making has become embedded in ethical frameworks, consent legislation and case law.14 Respect for the wishes of an incapable patient constitutes a preservation of autonomy and promotes trust between the physician and patient.15
4. The way in which the act of obtaining consent is weighed against the patient's stated wishes as outlined during the ACP process varies according to the jurisdiction in which the patient and physician are located.
1. Given the practical, ethical and legal complexities of ACP, physicians, medical learners should be supported in becoming familiar with ACP and comfortable in engaging in the process with their patients. To this end, CMA supports the development of training in ACP and efforts to make it available to all physicians and medical learners.16 For practising physicians and residents, many resources are available, for example:
a. Advance Care Planning in Canada: A National Framework
b. Facilitating Advance Care Planning: An Interprofessional Educational Program
c. Information from the Health Law Institute of Dalhousie University on the regulatory policies and legislation of individual provinces and territories
d. A comprehensive collection of Canadian resources compiled by the Speak Up campaign of the Advance Care Planning in Canada initiative
e. Pallium Canada's Learning Essential Approaches to Palliative Care module on ACP
In the case of medical students, the CMA supports the position of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students that end-of-life training is an essential facet of undergraduate medical education.
2. The issue of the supervision of medical learners practising ACP should be clarified, as considerable ambiguity currently exists.17 Medical learners would benefit from unified national guidelines concerning the nature of their participation in ACP, especially regarding end-of-life care. In the case of medical students, the CMA agrees with the recommendation of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students that supervision be mandatory during conversations about end-of-life care.
3. The CMA calls for more research on the outcomes associated with the provision of ACP training to physicians and medical learners.
4. The CMA recommends that governments and institutions promote information and education on ACP to patients and their substitute decision-makers.
PROFESSIONAL AND LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY
1. While respecting patients' values, all physicians are expected to encourage their patients to engage in ACP with them. ACP is not a one-time event. The nature of the conversation between the physician and the patient and the regularity with which they discuss the subject will depend on the patient's health status. Family physicians and physicians have ongoing care relationships with chronically ill patients are particularly well placed to have regular discussions with their patients about their beliefs, values and wishes. An effective exchange of information between family physicians (and other physicians who work in the community with outpatients) and acute or tertiary care physicians would assist in ensuring patient's wishes are considered.
2. ACP, in particular advance directives, are at the intersection of medicine and the law. Physicians should recognize this and ask patients whether they have an advance directive or have done any ACP.
3. There is wide variation across jurisdictions in terms of the requirements and procedures for ACP; therefore, physicians should inform themselves about any relevant legislation and the scope of the requirement to obtain consent within that jurisdiction when carrying out ACP.
1. The CMA supports institutional processes that recognize and support ACP. Support for ACP includes developing a consistent process for the exchange of information about patients' wishes and advance directives among health care providers, as patients traverse sectors and locations of care. Patients with a written advance directive must be identified and the advance directive integrated fully within the patient's records18 so that it is available across the institution (and ideally the health care system). The CMA advocates for the inclusion of advance care directive functionality as a conformance and usability requirement for electronic medical record vendors.19 Provinces and territories should be encouraged to establish robust organizational processes and resources for patients in all locations of care and strong province- or territory-wide policy, such as in Alberta.20
2. Institutions and other organizations should encourage health care providers to ask patients to bring their advance directive to appointments at the same time they ask them to bring a list of their medications or other medical information.
3. The CMA supports institutional/organizational audits of structures, processes and outcomes related to ACP as an important step in improving the quality and frequency of ACP activities.
ROLE FOR GOVERNMENTS
1. The CMA supports infrastructures enabling ACP, including funding that will support ACP and other end-of-life discussions.
2. The CMA promotes the incorporation of ACP into future federal and provincial/territorial senior strategies and dementia and/or frailty strategies.
3. The CMA supports the development of ACP metrics and their future inclusion in Accreditation Canada standards.
Advance care planning (ACP)
Advance care planning is a term used to describe a process of reflection, communication, conversation and planning by a capable individual with family, friends and professionals about their beliefs, values and wishes for a time when they no longer have the mental capacity to make decisions about their health care. ACP can also involve the naming of a substitute decision-maker.8
The legislated term "advance directive" has different names, definitions and legal authority across the country. For example, in British Columbia an advance directive is a written legal document that provides a mechanism for capable patients to give directions about their future health care once they are no longer capable. 21 As such, in BC an advance directive may, under certain circumstances, be considered "equivalent to consent to treatment and may be acted upon directly by a health care provider without consultation with an SDM [substitute decision-maker]." 8 In Alberta it is called a personal directive. In Ontario, "advance directive" is a generic non-legal term and refers to communications that may be oral, written or in other forms.8
In Quebec, advance care directives are legally binding, as set out in the Act respecting end-of-life care, which recognizes "the primacy of freely and clearly expressed wishes with respect to care. . ."22
Current legislation does not allow for medical assistance in dying to be requested by an advance directive.23 The CMA acknowledges that considerable public, expert and legal debate exists around the issue.
To obtain informed consent, physicians must provide adequate information to the patient or capable decision-maker about the proposed procedure or treatment; the anticipated outcome; the potential risks, benefits and complications; and reasonable available alternatives, including not having the treatment; and they must answer questions posed by the patient. Consent is only informed if there is disclosure of matters that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would want to know.24 Consent must be given voluntarily, must not be obtained through misrepresentation or fraud, must relate to the treatment and must be informed.
Substitute decision-maker (SDM or agent or proxy)
A substitute decision-maker is a capable person who will make health care decisions on behalf of an incapable individual. In all jurisdictions the health care provider must take reasonable steps to become aware of whether or not there is a substitute decision-maker before providing health treatment to an incapable patient. Legally there are implementation differences across the country. For example, in BC a substitute decision-maker is appointed through a representation agreement, in Alberta through a personal directive and in Ontario through a power of attorney for personal care.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
1 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC14-25 - strategy for advance care planning, palliative and end-of-life care. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 Oct 17)
2 Houben CHM, Spruit MA, Groenen MTJ, et al. Efficacy of advance care planning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2014;15:477-89.
3 Martin RS, Hayes B, Gregorevic K, et al. The effects of advance care planning interventions on nursing home residents: a systematic review. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2016;7:284-93.
4 Mack JW, Weeks JC, Wright AA, et al. End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life: predictors and outcomes of receipt of care consistent with preferences. J Clin Oncol 2010;28(7):1203-8.
5 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Advance care planning in Canada: national framework. Ottawa; The Association; 2010.
6 Teo WSK, Raj AG, Tan WS, et al. Economic impact analysis of an end-of-life programme for nursing home residents. Palliat Med 2014;28(5):430-7.
7 Zhang B, Wright AA, Huskamp HA, et al. Health care costs in the last week of life: associations with end-of-life conversations. Arch Intern Med 2009;169(5):480-8.
8 Wahl J, Dykeman MJ, Gray B. Health care consent and advance care planning in Ontario. Toronto (ON): Law Commission of Ontario; 2014.
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
10 Physician involvement is not mandatory in the process. However, it is important for physicians to engage with their patients in ACP as this can facilitate change in patients' ACP behaviour and understanding.
11 Wahl JA, Dykeman MJ, Walton T. Health care consent, advance care planning, and goals of care practice tools: the challenge to get it right. Improving the last stages of life. Toronto (ON): Law Commission of Ontario; 2016.
13 Frank C, Puxty J. Facilitating effective end-of-life communication - helping people decide. CJS Journal of CME 2016;6(2). Available: http://canadiangeriatrics.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Facilitating-Effective-End-of-Life-Communication---Helping-People-Decide.pdf (accessed 2017 April 25).
14 Fleming v Reid (1991) 82 DLR (4th) 298 (CA ON); Cuthbertson v Rasouli, 2013 SCC 53; Malette v Shulman (1990), 72 OR (2d) 417; Starson v Swayze (2003) 1 SCR 722.
15 Harmon SHE. Consent and conflict in medico-legal decision-making at the end of life: a critical issue in the Canadian context. University of New Brunswick Law Journal 2010;60(1):208-29.
16 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC13-69 - training in advance care planning. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
17 Touchie C, De Champlain A, Pugh D, et al. Supervising incoming first-year residents: faculty expectations versus residents' experiences. Med Educ 2014;48(9):921-9.
18 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC14-19 - advance care plans. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
19 Canadian Medical Association. BD14-05-163 Advance care directive functionality. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
20 Conversations matter. Edmonton (AB): Alberta Health Services. Available: http://goals.conversationsmatter.ca.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/ (accessed 2017 May 19).
21 Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act, RSBC 1996, c 181, s.3
22 Act respecting end-of-life care, S-32.0001. Government of Quebec. Available : http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/ShowDoc/cs/S-32.0001
23 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying) S.C. 2016, c.3. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2016. Available: http://canlii.ca/t/52rs0 (accessed 2016 Oct 17)
24 Riebl v Hughes,  2 SCR 880; Hopp v Lepp,  2 SCR 192.
While genetic testing is typically provided in a clinical setting through the referral of a health care professional (HCP) or a regulated research project, a number of private companies now offer genetic testing services directly to consumers over the Internet. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing is distinguished from clinical genetic testing ordered by a HCP in several ways:
1. DTC genetic tests are not regulated in Canada. The clinical validity and reliability of these tests varies widely, but DTC genetic testing companies make them available to consumers without distinguishing between those that may be useful to the management of one's health, those that have some limited health value, and those that are meant purely for recreational use.
2. Many of the tests advertised and sold via the Internet have not undergone clinical evaluation.
3. Marketing materials for these tests often imply that they have health value, but the terms of reference of some of the companies that offer them state that the tests are to be used for recreational purposes and many vendors do not guarantee the validity or reliability of their results.
4. Resale of personal health information and/or DNA samples is often an important part of the business model of companies that offer DTC genetic testing, raising concerns about patient privacy and insufficient or unclear disclosure of privacy terms.
5. Unlike genetic tests ordered and administered by HCPs, DTC genetic tests are ordered directly by the consumer, who most often has not consulted with a HCP as part of a clinical assessment, and the testing may not be clinically indicated. Some companies only agree to do testing if it has been ordered by a physician, but they will provide a phone conversation with one of their physicians (not based in Canada) if a consumer does not have access to a physician. When the testing is ordered by a physician, it will sometimes be ordered by the patient's personal physician. In such cases, this does not truly represent DTC genetic testing.
6. Without appropriate pre- and post-testing counselling by a HCP, consumers are left to interpret and act upon their results on their own. They might suffer psychological consequences if they overestimate their disease risk as a result of DTC.
7. As access to DTC genetic testing increases, Canadian HCPs (specifically primary care physicians) are faced with the challenge of appropriately counselling patients when they receive their test results. However, few physicians feel they have the necessary
training and knowledge in genomics to provide adequate care in this area. Furthermore, these tests may have no clinical indication, produce uncertain results with ambiguous clinical applicability and have tenuous legal status, but they can potentially influence a patient's sense of well-being.
1. The CMA is concerned with understanding, raising awareness of, and mitigating potential patient and societal harms that may arise from DTC genetic testing.
2. The CMA emphasizes the importance of the principle of protection of patient privacy and supports the right of Canadians to understand how their health information is being used by third parties, including insurance and DTC genetic testing companies.
3. The CMA believes that patients have the right to be fully informed about what a DTC genetic test can and cannot say about their health and that the scientific evidence on which a test is based should be clearly stated and easy to understand.
4. The CMA recommends regulation of both DTC genetic tests and the marketing of these tests through the development of a national framework that would include a combination of government and industry regulation with input from medical experts.
5. The CMA believes that unnecessary genetic testing should be avoided to ensure more appropriate use of health care resources. Even if a consumer pays directly for testing, any test result, even an incidental finding from a DTC genetic testing laboratory without clinical certification, may trigger a cascade of clinical investigations and lead to further unnecessary testing and inappropriate use of resources.
6. The CMA supports educational initiatives on DTC genetic testing for physicians practising in all specialties so that they can respond to patient queries about these tests and, when necessary, their results.
PROTECTION OF PRIVACY
* Privacy and confidentiality of patients' personal health information must be maintained.
* Before a patient submits a sample to a DTC genetic testing company, the company should obtain express informed consent from the patient concerning the way in which their data will be collected and used, who will have access to the data and the interpreted results, what safeguards are in place to protect it, and how it will be disposed of in the event of a company/laboratory closure.
* Patients have the right to a clear understanding of who owns the sample and the generated data, in particular whether their data will be sold or shared with third parties. If resale of personal health information and/or DNA samples is an important part of the business model of DTC-GC companies, this should be stated explicitly in terms understandable by the consumer.
* DTC-GC companies that solicit Canadian consumers should be subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
* The CMA encourages physicians to become familiar with privacy legislation affecting the use of DTC genetic tests by insurance companies and employers.
ROLE OF PHYSICIAN
* Physicians should generally avoid using DTC genetic tests unless they have been clinically and empirically validated.
* Physicians who are presented with a patient's DTC genetic test results should take the following actions:
o They should explain to their patient the limits of the specific test the patient used. If a physician does not know this information he/she should discuss with the patient the fact that DTC genetic test results are not necessarily obtained from an accredited laboratory or interpreted in a standardized way; therefore, the validity and clinical utility of the results may be highly variable for certain tests.
o They should disclose their level of comfort in providing an accurate interpretation of the results.
o They should assess whether the test results are clinically significant in the context of that patient's symptoms, signs, medical history and family history before deciding whether it is appropriate to formally consult a specialty provider such as a medical geneticist.
o If a physician wishes to use the results of a test in their clinical assessment, they should ensure that the laboratory performing the test guarantees analytical reliability and validity.
* Physicians should adhere to the following principles related to medically indicated genetic testing:
o Physicians should generally avoid recommending and/or ordering DTC genetic tests if they do not have a clear understanding of the validity and limitations of the tests they select.
o Physicians should follow best practice guidelines and make use of clinically valid tests, accredited laboratories and specialist referral(s), when appropriate.
o Physicians must obtain informed consent from the patient before ordering any genetic test, assist the patient in interpreting the results, support the individual with respect to psychological and biological implications of the results, and refer the patient to appropriate resources.
o Many genetic tests require pre- and post-test counselling, particularly (but not limited to) tests involving children, tests establishing carrier status or tests considered to be predictive. If a provider decides to order such testing, they also accept the responsibility for facilitating access to pre- and post-test counselling.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
* The CMA calls on the government to enact regulations based on Bill S-201 (An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination) that establish clear boundaries for the marketing, distribution, accreditation and third-party use of DTC genetic tests.
* The CMA believes that it is the government's responsibility to ensure that Canadians are only offered reliable, accurate and medically relevant genetic testing services.
* The CMA encourages the development of national standards for the reliability and validity of DTC genetic tests by relevant federal government agencies, in conjunction with interested stakeholders (e.g., geneticists and laboratory scientists, genetic counsellors, physicians, private and public laboratories, industry, and patient groups).
* The CMA encourages the government to enact standards that can keep pace with the rapid development of technological innovation in genetic testing and genetics more generally.
* The CMA encourages the government to enact standards that hold companies accountable for being transparent about their uses of data/DNA and the potential resale of such material.
* The CMA encourages the government to enact standards that mandate that the type of testing (e.g., single-nucleotide polymorphism [SNP] analysis, targeted mutation testing, sequencing) be clearly labelled and that a clear explanation be provided of the type of information that can (or cannot) be obtained from such testing.
* Genetic testing and the interpretation of the results of such testing are highly technical and complex processes. For this reason, the CMA believes that clinical testing laboratories that are used by DTC genetic testing companies must be accredited if the companies are to claim that their testing is valid.
* The CMA believes that scientific evidence describing the validity and utility of a DTC genetic test should be clearly stated in language that is easy to understand. This information should include a clear statement of what a test can or cannot diagnose or infer, and statements about the validity of a specific test should be supported with references. A company that does not guarantee the reliability or validity of its test should not be allowed to make any (implicit or explicit) claims about the potential medical utility of its test and/or its potential to improve health.
EDUCATION AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
* The CMA supports public education initiatives to increase patient awareness of the potential implications and limitations of DTC genetic testing for health purposes.
The CMA supports increased genetics training for physicians to help them to further appreciate the complex issues involved and keep pace with the rapid changes in molecular genetics. Such training would support physicians to counsel patients who seek follow-up for their DTC genetic test results.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
See also Background to CMA Policy on Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER GENETIC TESTING
See also CMA Policy PD17-05 Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing
Some direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, such as "compatibility testing" for online dating, are purely recreational. Other tests, however, are marketed both as being for recreational use and as producing results that are useful to the management of one's health. This document concerns this second category of tests. The characteristics of these tests differ widely, and some of the companies that offer them clearly state that they do not guarantee the validity and reliability of their tests. As of January 2016, 246 companies offered some form of DNA test online.1 Many DTC genetic tests have started to penetrate the Canadian market, especially after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter instructing some companies in the U.S. to cease providing unreliable health information that could potentially lead consumers to make misinformed decisions about their health, which caused some of these companies to seek out alternative markets.2
The increasing availability of DTC genetic tests in Canada presents several challenges, as the predictive value of most of the DTC genetic tests currently on the market is very low. Moreover, there is no standard model for the delivery and interpretation of the results of these tests. Greater regulatory guidance and protection is needed to ensure that individuals who choose to submit samples to DTC genetic testing companies are not adversely affected by information that is not necessarily predictive or even accurate.
Survey research indicates that the general public is overwhelmingly interested in genetic testing technologies.3 Researchers predict that an increasing number of individuals will use DTC genetic testing as testing technologies continue to become more affordable and efficient.3 Since genetic issues tend to cross medical specialties, it often falls on primary care physicians to understand the role of genetics in clinical care.4 In fact, genetic testing companies often direct patients to discuss their results with their primary care physician.5 Patients not only seek out their primary care providers to discuss their genetic test results and obtain appropriate follow-up but also expect them to be able to answer questions about personal genome test results.6 Despite these expectations, health professionals' awareness and knowledge of DTC genetic tests remains low.7
Although DTC genetic tests are marketed under similar names, the genetic tests available in Canada have very different characteristics. Three types of tests are offered: (1) single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) analysis, which assesses an individual's risk for common multifactorial diseases (e.g., diabetes, myocardial infarction), (2) targeted mutation analysis and (3) sequencing. Some are ordered directly by the consumer while others are pre-ordered by the consumer and the order is co-signed by a physician (the patient's physician or a physician who has never met the patient and whose services are provided by the company). SNP testing assesses for a number of genetic variants that are common in the general population and that have been identified in association studies to modify (increase or decrease) the risk of a given disease.
Some DTC genetic testing companies explicitly state in their terms of service that they do not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of the test. This is due in part to deficiencies in the science underlying the tests and their interpretation. For example, the interpretation of SNPs analysis for common multifactorial diseases can only be as good as the science behind it. The scientific community has a long way to go before it will have identified all of the significant genetic risk factors and protective factors for these diseases. Because of this, a given consumer could receive greatly divergent risk interpretations.3 In the case of targeted mutation analysis and sequencing, the specific panels offered by DTC genetic testing companies may not include all of the clinically relevant genes and mutations. This could result in a consumer receiving harmful false reassurance. Test results may include information on genetic changes that are only weakly associated with disease, leading to undue anxiety. As such, the clinical and health value of DTC genetic testing continues to be debated despite consumer uptake of, and enthusiasm for, DTC genetic testing offered online.
Currently, most DTC genetic testing services exist in regulatory limbo, benefiting from laws that tend to lag behind technological innovation. Questions about access to the information yielded by these tests have emerged as a particular concern. For some companies, an important part of the business model is to sell consumers' DNA along with the clinical information that the consumers provide via their interactive websites. Most Canadians are unaware of this: they pay for a test and do not expect that their data will later be sold.
ISSUES ARISING IN CLINICAL CONTEXTS
Studies have shown that physicians see a number of benefits with DTC genetic testing, but they also have concerns. The benefits physicians have identified include convenience, promotion of preventive medicine and the provision of personalized services.5 They are concerned about the reliability of test results, the provision of adequate information/counselling, patient anxiety if the results are misunderstood, inappropriateness of advertising, discrimination with respect to employment and insurance, the possible spread of beliefs such as genetic determinism, and the inappropriate disclosure of patients' genetic information.5
The following sections will address primary concerns identified by research and in practice.
1. Patient privacy
Privacy is one of the top concerns of the general public about genetic testing.8 According to a 2010 report commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, approximately 60% of patients indicated that privacy and discrimination fears would influence their decision to undergo genetic testing.9 The average Canadian consumer is not adequately informed that an important part of the business model of many DTC genetic testing companies is to build and sell their database of phenotypic information and DNA accumulated from their clients to third parties, such as biobanks or pharmaceutical companies.
1.1 Informed consent
The increasing quantity, complexity and diversity of DTC genetic testing services pose challenges for informed consent because both specific and generic models do not meet ethical standards when applied to this type of service.10 Many companies bind their consumers to contracts that are activated once the website is viewed, a practice that challenges the adequacy of consent, as it is common for people to view a website without reading or even seeing its terms of reference.1 Consumers who present to genetic clinics tend not to question the validity of the results they have received from DTC genetic testing,11 which can be interpreted as an indication that consumers give their consent without reading or understanding the disclaimers made by the companies.11 Physicians are concerned that this lack of informed consent could compromise the confidentiality of personal health information, encourage requests for unnecessary medical tests and potentially cause distress to patients.
The insurance industry is of particular concern in the context of privacy and DTC genetic tests. A study of patients' perceptions of DTC genetic tests found that participants were concerned that genetic results could affect their health insurance premiums or lead to denial of coverage.12 Private insurance is fundamentally rooted in the practice of discriminating between clients on the basis of risk. While insurers have generally been entitled to request genetic information in the form of family history, to access medical files and to conduct medical tests,13 consumers have expressed the view that the rules governing access to genetic information should be stricter than for access to other forms of personal information.3
While there are studies that report cases of genetic discrimination, it is often unclear whether such treatment is perceived or actual.14. Thus, the consequences of genetic testing remain uncertain. Of particular concern is the potential for discrimination on the basis of results that may not be accurate and/or reliable. Although there is presently no evidence of widespread use of genetic testing by insurance companies,14experts agree that in the next 10 years public acceptance of the use of information from genetic testing will increase and it will become possible to more accurately interpret data from genetic tests (K. Boycott, J. Davies and K. Morin, CIHR Café Scientifique, unpublished remarks), threatening to alter the currently limited role that genetic testing plays in insurance company decision-making. Before policy-makers tackle the potential issues related to the use of DTC genetic testing, it is imperative that they start at ground level and explore options to regulate insurance companies' access to such tests.
2. Patient response
2.1 Interpretation of results and changes in behaviour
Proponents of DTC genetic testing point to the potential for patients to make positive changes to their health as a result of learning about their genetic susceptibility to certain diseases. Findings of studies in this area, however, are inconsistent to date. While some studies have reported that there are some behaviour changes, it is important to keep in mind that early adopters of these services are likely to also be among those most motivated to make health-related changes.15 Recent evidence suggests the opposite response: the general population has a tendency to decrease healthy practices upon learning about a lower health risk, and they do not increase healthy practices when they learn that they have an increased health risk.15 Indeed, patients may make poorer health decisions if they are under the impression that they are not at risk for developing a certain disease; for example, they may avoid routine screening for breast or prostate cancer, or they may not follow exercise and diet advice. 16
These variations in behaviour can be largely attributed to the fact that there is an overarching risk that patients will misinterpret the data they receive from the testing companies. The problem with susceptibility tests in the context of DTC genetic testing is not only that the test results may cause psychological or physical harm but also that there is a possibility that patients will over-interpret their disease risk.10 Without expert guidance, the patient may not be able to evaluate their test results accurately enough to make informed health decisions.14 There is very little evidence to suggest that receipt of a DTC genetic test result produces sustained behavioural change.17 In fact, studies on psychological theories related to motivation do not consider disease risk information a useful tool for motivating patients to change their behaviour.15 Therefore, while receipt of DTC genetic test results may encourage patients to see their family physician and possibly undergo further consultation, the health care resources invested in interpreting results with limited clinical validity may not produce sustained behavioural changes, good or bad.
3. Resource allocation
One of the stated goals of personalized medicine is to save health care systems money by facilitating the use of fewer but more effective treatments.18 However, greater demand for genetic testing, whether public or private, could produce the opposite effect: consumption of health care resources may increase as patients consult with their regular physician about results they obtained through a DTC company.16 Furthermore, physicians who are presented with DTC genetic test results by their patients have a legal and ethical obligation to do their due diligence and carry out a complete, clinically valid investigation, which may ultimately negate the cost savings that personalized medicine is expected to produce.16
Patients who participate in DTC genetic testing are likely to drive up the utilization of health care providers, as they seek out their primary care provider to discuss their results and they obtain follow-up care from a genetic counsellor.19,5 At least one study has suggested that there is an expectation that physicians will help patients to interpret their DTC genetic test results, and DTC genetic testing companies frequently direct patients to discuss their results with their physicians before acting upon their testing information.5 Consequently, the responsibility falls on primary care providers to discuss this technology with their patients.5
Primary care providers, however, believe that genetic specialists are the most appropriate providers of counselling for DTC genetic tests.14 While they acknowledge the benefits of DTC genetic tests, including the potential for test results to encourage patients to be more involved in their care and take responsibility for their health, they also agree that test results may encourage patients to seek unnecessary and potentially expensive follow-up tests.14 As a result, additional health care resources may be required to cope with the increased demand for medical follow-up.20
4. Physician education
Although DTC genetic testing companies have been around since the early 2000s, levels of awareness among health care professionals vary, and knowledge and understanding of the services generally remain low.21 Research suggests that few physicians feel they have the necessary training and knowledge in genomics to provide adequate care in this area.17 A perceived lack of clinical utility appears to be a barrier to learning more about DTC genetic testing.6 Increased genetics training and awareness may allow physicians to better appreciate the complex issues involved and help them to better counsel patients who seek follow-up for their DTC genetic test results.
4.1 Topics that physicians want to learn about
Most physicians are concerned about the privacy implications of DTC genetic testing, specifically health insurance and employment discrimination, which may affect their patients who present with a DTC genetic test.5 Therefore, important discussion points to include in a physician education program would be information on the risks of insurance and employment discrimination, legislation currently in place to protect against genetic discrimination, and guidelines for managing risk.6 Given the ease with which patients can access DTC genetic testing, it is essential to provide health professionals with appropriate education on the potential benefits and risks of DTC genetic testing and help them develop an approach to interpreting the results of such testing, so that they can protect their patients from harm and arrange follow-up appropriately.19
5. Legislative landscape in Canada
Before May 2017, Canada did not have a law to specifically protect against genetic discrimination. Existing human rights and privacy law could only be ambiguously and tenuously applied to DTC genetic testing issues, including genetic discrimination and information collection, use and disclosure.14 The laws that regulate medical devices, such as the Food and Drugs Act, did not clearly apply in the context of DTC genetic tests either,2 because consumers are not purchasing genetic testing kits but rather they are purchasing testing services, which fall outside the scope of that legislation.22 As a result, there was limited evidence to form the regulations necessary to ensure the validity and utility of these tests.
Fortunately, on May 4, 2017, Bill S-201 (hereinafter termed S-201), An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination,23 received Royal Assent and will soon become law. S-201 provides a basis for the creation of regulations concerning the validity and utility of DTC genetic tests. The bill prohibits the requirement that an individual submit to genetic testing or disclose the results of genetic tests in order to receive goods or services or in order to enter into or continue a contract or agreement, and it prohibits submission to genetic testing or disclosure of test results from being used as the basis of any specific conditions in a contract or agreement. S-201 amends the Canada Labour Code to protect employees from being required to undergo or disclose the results of genetic testing and amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of genetic characteristics.21 Legislation at a provincial level, however, may still be required. Private Member's Bill 127, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code with respect to genetic characteristics,24 was presented to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario in 2013 but did not move past the first reading.
Federal and provincial privacy legislation (such as the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA) also plays a role in protecting against genetic discrimination by requiring an individual to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information.25 Currently, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada does not support amending the Privacy Act or PIPEDA, on the grounds that these laws sufficiently apply to genetic information.23 While this legislative framework might provide some protection against genetic discrimination, there is a lack of clarity as to whether it strikes the appropriate balance between consumers' rights to privacy and the interests of insurers. Furthermore, the courts have yet to provide an opinion regarding the constitutionality of S-201 or to assist in the interpretation of privacy legislation in the context of DTC testing, because of the novelty of the service.
It is uncertain if and how Bill S-201 will inform future regulations placed upon employers and insurers. Significant gaps in the legislative framework remain; in particular, privacy protection in Canada has yet to counterbalance the lack of consumer protection in Canadian insurance laws.22 While existing legislation may offer some protection, the absence of legal precedents creates uncertainty and leaves consumers to engage in DTC testing services at their own risk.
See also CMA Policy PD17-05 Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing
1 Phillips AM. Only a click away - DTC genetics for ancestry, health, love ... and more: a view of the business and regulatory landscape. Appl Transl Genom 2016;8:16-22.
2 US Food and Drug Administration. Warning letter. Silver Spring (MD): The Administration; 22 Nov 2013. Available: www.fda.gov/iceci/enforcementactions/warningletters/2013/ucm376296.htm (accessed 2017 May 19).
3 Caulfield T. Direct-to-consumer testing: if consumers are not anxious, why are policy makers? Hum Genet 2011;130:23-5.
4 Delaney SK, Christman MF. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: perspectives on its value in healthcare. Clin Pharmacol Ther 2016; 99(2):146-8.
5 Powell KP, Cogswell WA, Christianson CA, et al. Primary care physicians' awareness, experience and opinions of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. J Genet Couns 2012;21(1):113-26.
6 Powell KP, Christianson CA, Cogswell WA, et al. Educational needs of primary care physicians regarding direct-to-consumer genetic testing. J Genet Couns 2012;21(3):469-78.
7 Jackson L, Goldsmith L, Skirton H. Guidance for patients considering direct-to-consumer genetic testing and health professionals involved in their care: development of a practical decision tool. Fam Pract 2014;31(3): 341-8.
8 Caulfield T, McGuire AL. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: perception, problems, and policy responses. Annu Rev Med 2012; 63:23-33.
9 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Analysis of privacy policies and practices of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies: private sector databanks and privacy protection norms. Ottawa: The Office; March 2010. p. 6.
10 Bunnik EM, Janssens AC, Schermer MH. Informed consent in direct-to-consumer personal genome testing: the outline of a model between specific and generic consent. Bioethics 2014;28(7):343-51.
11 Brett GR, Metcalfe SA, Amor DJ, et al. An exploration of genetic health professionals' experience with direct-to-consumer genetic testing in their clinical practice. Eur J Hum Genet 2012;20(8):825-30.
12 Wasson K, Sanders TN, Hogan NS, Cherny S, Helzlsouer KJ. Primary care patients' views and decisions about, experience of and reactions to direct-to-consumer genetic testing: a longitudinal study. J Community Genet. 2013;4:495-505
13 Lemmens T, Pullman D, Rodal R. Revisiting genetic discrimination issues in 2010: policy options for Canada [PowerPoint presentation]. Ottawa: Genome Canada; 15 June 2010. Available: www.genomecanada.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/en/gps_speakers_presentation/trudo-lemmens-daryl-pullman.pdf
14 Zinatelli F. Industry Code: Genetic testing information for insurance underwriting [Internet]. Toronto, ON: CLHIA; 2017 Jan 11. Available from https://www.clhia.ca/domino/html/clhia/CLHIA_LP4W_LND_Webstation.nsf/page/E79687482615DFA485257D5D00682400/$file/Industry%20Code%20Genetic%20Testing%20-%20Updated.pdf
15 Adams SD, Evans JP, Aylsworth AS. Direct-to-consumer genomic testing offers little clinical utility but appears to cause minimal harm. N C Med J 2013;74(6): 494-8.
16 Ram S, Russell B, Gubb M, et al. General practitioner attitudes to direct-to-consumer genetic testing in New Zealand. N Z Med J 2012;125(1364):14-26.
17 Caulfield T. Obesity genes, personalized medicine and public health policy. Curr Obes Rep 2015;4(3):319-23.
18 Caulfield T, Zarzeczny A. Defining 'medical necessity' in an age of personalised medicine: a view from Canada. Bioessays 2014;36(9):813-7.
19 Bloss CS, Schork NJ, Topol EJ. Direct-to-consumer pharmacogenomic testing is associated with increased physician utilisation. J Med Genet 2014;51(2):83-9.
20 Daly AK. Direct-to-consumer pharmacogenomic testing assessed in a US-based study. J R Coll Physicans Edinb 2014;44:212-3.
21 Jackson L, Goldsmith L, Skirton H. Guidance for patients considering direct-to-consumer genetic testing and health professionals involved in their care: development of a practical decision tool. Fam Pract 2014;31(3):341-8.
22 Mykitiuk R. Caveat emptor: direct-to-consumer supply and advertising of genetic testing. Clin Invest Med 2004;27(1):23-32.
23Parliament of Canada. Legislative summary of Bill S-201: An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination. Ottawa: Parliament of Canada; 2016
24 Parliament of Canada. Bill 127: An Act to amend the Human Rights Code with respect to genetic characteristics, 2nd Sess, 40th Leg, Ontario, 2013.
25 Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA), S.C. 2000, C.5, para 5(3).
The legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) raises a host of complex ethical and practical challenges that have implications for both policy and practice. The CMA supports maintaining the balance between three equally legitimate considerations: respecting decisional autonomy for those eligible Canadians who are seeking access, protecting vulnerable persons through careful attention to safeguards, and creating an environment in which practitioners are able to adhere to their moral commitments.
Recognizing the educational, legislative, regulatory and practice changes that will result, the CMA recommends that legislative and regulatory processes be coordinated at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to consistently guide health systems, practitioners and patients. To that end, the CMA calls for rigorous information gathering at all levels and for experience with and research on the impacts of this new practice to be reported as it unfolds. The CMA encourages medical schools to incorporate reflective training opportunities at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels that address all aspects of medical practice that might be affected by this new intervention. Further, CMA recognizes the opportunity that exists for all health systems and practitioners to facilitate effective patient access to information about all end-of-life care options.
The CMA acknowledges the importance of understanding that other acts within the realm of end-of-life care are distinct from the practice of medical assistance in dying. Further, the provision of specific assessments for eligibility to access medical assistance in dying is a distinct service unrelated to consultations for general palliative end-of-life care.
It is important that physicians be aware of this distinction and the relationship between legal, medical and ethical norms with respect to medical assistance in dying. The judicial and legislative branches of government have made changes to Canadian law in this area. Society has placed assistance in dying within the realm of regulated medical practitioners. Physicians' ethical norms and duties, arising from long-standing traditions that entail moral commitments to preserve and protect life, have not changed. The CMA supports the right of all physicians to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide or otherwise participate in assistance in dying as per the legislation governing medical assistance in dying. The CMA equally supports conscientious participation in and conscientious objection to assistance in dying by physicians.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This policy aims to provide guidance on key considerations in a way that is consistent with a physician's ethical, professional and legal obligations. Physicians should be aware of the federal and provincial laws in the jurisdiction in which they practise, the standards and expectations outlined by their respective regulatory authority, advice from the Canadian Medical Protective Association as well as the policies and procedures of the setting(s) in which they practise (e.g., regional health authority or hospital).
RELEVANT FOUNDATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
The following considerations underpin the CMA's position on what ought to constitute the basis of any evolving legislation, regulation or guideline on the implementation of medical assistance in dying. These considerations are not ranked according to priority or importance. As with any foundational considerations, they provide a starting point for ethical reflection, and their application requires further thought and interpretation when conflicts arise.
1. Respect for autonomy: The CMA upholds the importance of respect for decisional autonomy by competent patients - such persons are free to make informed choices and autonomous decisions about their bodily integrity, their personal aims and their care that are consistent with their personal values and beliefs. CMA also asserts that persons have inherent dignity regardless of their circumstances. Services ought to be delivered, and processes and treatments ought to be applied, in ways that strive to preserve and enhance dignity. End-of-life care strives to maintain the integrity of personhood even as bodily functions deteriorate in advance of death.
2. Respect for vulnerability: In consideration of the importance of a patient's decision regarding medical assistance in dying, and the permanence of death if medical assistance in dying is chosen by a patient, the CMA believes that careful and non-judgmental exploration with patients of the reasons they are seeking assistance in dying is always warranted. Care in this regard assists physicians to fulfill the duty to ensure that conditions of vulnerability have been identified and addressed satisfactorily. Physicians should maintain diligent attention to identifying undue coercive influences on the patient. Legislation and regulations, through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards, should aim to minimize harm to all patients and should also address issues of vulnerability and potential coercion.
3. Respect for freedom of conscience: The CMA believes that physicians must be able to follow their conscience without discrimination when deciding whether or not to provide or participate in assistance in dying. The CMA supports physicians who, for reasons of moral commitments to patients and for any other reasons of conscience, will not participate in decisional guidance about, eligibility assessments for, or provision of medical assistance in dying. To enable physicians to adhere to such moral commitments without causing undue delay for patients pursuing this intervention, health systems will need to implement an easily accessible mechanism to which patients can have direct access. Further, the CMA believes that physicians' general employment or contract opportunities should not be influenced by their decisions to participate in, or not participate in, any or all aspects of medical assistance in dying with patients. The right of patients to seek medical assistance in dying does not compel individual physicians to provide it. Learners should be equally free to follow their conscience without risk to their evaluations and training advancement.
4. Accountability: Physicians providing or otherwise participating in assistance in dying must ensure they have the requisite training and the appropriate competencies, and the ability to assess a patient's decisional capacity or the ability to consult with a colleague to assess capacity in more complex situations. Physicians are expected to use appropriate medical judgment to make a determination of eligibility by (1) assessing the capacity of an adult to consent to the termination of life and (2) determining whether the patient has explored their options (and the putative impacts of any of the options). If the patient wishes to continue seeking medical assistance in dying, physicians are expected to use appropriate medical judgment to determine whether s/he meets the eligibility criteria as per the legislation governing medical assistance in dying. This ought to be a shared decision, and it should be made as part of a deliberative process in the context of the patient-physician relationship. The CMA encourages physicians to participate in accountability processes within their jurisdictions that ensure equitable access to all end-of-life options, including palliative and end-of-life care provided by skilled practitioners, in service of their patients' needs and values. To that end, the CMA believes that a federal oversight body and reporting regime should be established to ensure that all processes are followed.
ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS: PHYSICIAN DUTIES
5. Duty of non-abandonment: Physicians have an obligation to respond to a request for assistance in dying, regardless of how their moral commitment is expressed. Patients should never be abandoned and must always be supported by their physician and other members of their care team. The patient's physician ought to explore the reasons motivating the request and be sensitive to issues of culture and background throughout the dying process, regardless of the decisions the patient makes with respect to assistance in dying. There should be no undue delay in providing access to assistance in dying and all other end-of-life options, either from a clinical, system or facility perspective. For those who choose to provide assistance in dying, the duty of non-abandonment means that physicians have a duty to be available to patients during the act of ending their life. Physicians should be present or immediately available to manage any unexpected complications during the medical procedure, whether the chemical administration is done by the patient or by a regulated practitioner.
6. Duty to support interdisciplinary teams: The CMA advocates that physicians work within, and support other members of, interdisciplinary teams, pay close attention to the impacts of participation and non-participation in medical assistance in dying on their non-physician colleagues, and demonstrate solidarity with their team members as they navigate new legal and ethical territory together.
7. Duty to learners: The CMA recognizes the importance of unique moral considerations within learning environments. Learners are encouraged to reflect on their moral understanding of and views about assistance in dying and to seek a wide range of views and experiences from their patients and from their teachers and colleagues.
ADDRESSING ADHERENCE TO MORAL COMMITMENTS
CMA's position on conscientious participation and conscientious objection aims to harmonize two legitimate considerations: (1) effective patient access to a legally permissible medical service and (2) protection of physicians' freedom of conscience (or moral integrity) in a way that respects differences of conscience.
a. The CMA believes that physicians are not obligated to fulfill a patient's request for assistance in dying but that all physicians are obligated to respond to a patient's request. This means that physicians who choose not to provide or otherwise participate in assistance in dying are:
i. not required to provide it, or to otherwise participate in it, or to refer the patient to a physician or a medical administrator who will provide assistance in dying to the patient; but
ii. are still required to fulfill their duty of non-abandonment by responding to a patient's request for assistance in dying.
There should be no discrimination against a physician who chooses not to provide or otherwise participate in assistance in dying.
b. The CMA believes that physicians are obligated to respond to a patient's request for assistance in dying in a timely fashion. This means that physicians are obligated to, regardless of their beliefs:
i. provide the patient with complete information on all options available, including assistance in dying;
ii. advise the patient on how to access any separate central information, counselling and referral service; and
iii. transfer care of the patient to another physician or another institution, if the patient requests it, for the assessment and treatment of the patient's medical condition and exploration of relevant options. If relevant, such options may include palliative care, mental health care and, if the patient meets the eligibility criteria, provision of assistance in dying. The duty of non-abandonment still applies in all other aspects of the patient's care.
c. Physicians are expected to make available relevant medical records (i.e., diagnosis, pathology, treatment and consults) to the physician accepting care of the patient when authorized by the patient to do so.
d. Physicians are expected to act in good faith. They are expected to never abandon or discriminate against a patient requesting assistance in dying and to not impede or block access to a request for assistance in dying. Physicians should inform their patients of the fact and implications of their conscientious objection. No physician may require a patient to make a commitment not to seek assistance in dying as a condition of acceptance or retention of the patient.
WHAT MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IN DYING (MAID) ENCOMPASSES
1. Medical assistance in dying encompasses the assessment of a patient for eligibility for assistance in dying, deliberation with the patient, accompaniment of the patient through the process of deciding and, if so chosen by the patient, the provision of assistance in dying, which refers to:
a. The administering by a medical practitioner or nurse of a substance to a person, at their request, that causes their death; or
b. The prescribing or providing by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, so that they may self-administer the substance and in doing so cause their death.
2. The Supreme Court of Canada in Carter used the terms physician-assisted dying and physician-assisted death.
These terms refer to both of the following:
a. Voluntary euthanasia, or physician-administered assistance in dying:
The physician takes the final act that will end the individual's life via, usually, the intravenous administration of a lethal substance, at the request and with the consent of a patient
b. Assisted suicide, or physician-prescribed, self-administered assistance in dying:
An individual performs the final act to end their life by, usually, ingesting a lethal substance prescribed or provided by the physician, at the request and with the consent of the patient.
3. Other commonly used terms are hastened death, physician-administered hastened death and physician-prescribed, patient-administered hastened death.
a. These terms are proposed to make a clear distinction between palliative care and other practices that hasten or bring about death, such as through the legitimate removal of life-sustaining interventions or via the provision or administration of chemicals.
4. Medical aid in dying has a distinct technical and legal meaning within Quebec, described in Bill 52, and is limited to physicians administering the lethal substance at the request of the individual.
WHAT IT DOES NOT ENCOMPASS
1. Palliative care is an integrated approach that aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life of those facing life-limiting acute or chronic conditions by means of early identification, assessment and treatment of pain and other symptoms.
2. Continuous palliative sedation therapy1 refers to complete sedation, with the intent of rendering the patient unable to experience the environment, sensation or thoughts, until the patient dies naturally from the underlying illness.
3. Withdrawing or withholding treatment or treatment cessation refers to withdrawing or withholding life-prolonging treatment where it is no longer indicated or desired.
4. Voluntary refusal of hydration and nutrition is the conscious and active choice to refuse and to discontinue food and fluid, orally or parenterally, with the intention of hastening death.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
1 Consensus statement on continuous palliative sedation therapy: www.chpca.net/media/343120/final_cpst_framework.pdf.
This paper presents the position of the Canadian Medical Association on what physicians can do, working with others, to ensure that Canadians are prescribed the drugs that will give them the most benefit. It also makes recommendations for future action that physicians, governments and others might take to foster optimal prescribing practices.
CMA believes that optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is:
- The most clinically appropriate for the patient's condition;
- Safe and effective;
- Part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
- The most cost-effective drug available to meet the patient's needs.
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.
The CMA proposes a "prescription for optimal prescribing" that encompasses six elements, and makes the following recommendations:
A National Strategy
1) Governments at all levels should work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
Element 1: Relevant, Objective Information for Physicians
2) The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
- based on the best available scientific evidence;
-relevant to clinical practice;
- easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
3) The CMA encourages all medical educational bodies to support a comprehensive program of education in pharmaceuticals, pharmacology and optimal prescribing, at the undergraduate, residency and continuing medical education levels.
4) The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations call on governments to support and fund impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
5) The CMA calls on appropriate educational bodies to develop policies or guidelines to ensure the objectivity and impartiality of continuing medical education.
6) The CMA recommends that governments, research institutes and other stakeholders fund and conduct ongoing clinical research on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change behaviour, and allocate resources to those interventions that demonstrate the greatest effectiveness.
Element 2: Electronic Prescribing
7) The CMA, provincial/territorial medical associations and affiliates encourage governments to give active support to physicians in their transition to electronic prescribing, through a comprehensive strategy that includes financial support for acquisition of hardware and software, and dissemination of appropriate training and knowledge transfer tools.
8) The CMA calls on governments to incorporate into electronic prescribing the following principles:
- Measures to ensure patients' privacy and confidentiality, as well as confidentiality of physician prescribing information;
- A link with a formulary, to provide physicians with best practice information including drug cost data;
- Guidelines for data sharing among health professionals and others;
- Standards for electronic signature that are not overly restrictive.
Element 3: Programs by Payers
9) The CMA recommends that formularies, in both the public and private sectors, simplify administrative requirements on patients and physicians, reducing paperwork to the minimum necessary to ensure optimal patient care.
Element 4: Collaboration among Health Care Providers
10) The CMA recommends that formalized and clearly articulated collaborative arrangements be in place for practitioners who jointly manage a patient's drug therapy.
Element 5: Impartial, Evidence-based Information for Patients
11) The CMA calls on governments to fund and facilitate the development and provision of unbiased, up-to-date, practical information to consumers about prescription drugs and their appropriate use, and support physicians and pharmacists in disseminating this information to patients.
12) The CMA calls on the Government of Canada to continue to enforce the current ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada, and close the loopholes that currently allow a limited amount of drug promotion.
Element 6: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
13) The CMA calls on those who fund and produce research on drug safety and effectiveness, prescribing guidelines and programs to enhance prescribing practices, to include physicians and medical organizations meaningfully in this activity.
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the drugs that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm, at the most appropriate cost to the patient and the health care system. It is generally agreed that we have not yet achieved that ideal. But the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the physicians of Canada believe it is a goal worth striving to attain.
The CMA has a long-standing commitment to fostering high-quality health care. One of the key elements of the long-term Health Care Transformation project, in which CMA is currently involved, is ensuring that systems are in place to foster health care that is of high quality. One such system would be the active encouragement of optimal prescribing.
This paper presents the CMA's position and recommendations on what physicians can do, working with others, to ensure that Canadians are prescribed the drugs that will give them the most benefit. It looks at prescribing mainly from the perspective of the practicing physician who is seeking the most appropriate treatments for individual patients. However it also comments on the effects of prescribing on the broader health care system, both on Canadians' overall health status and on the costs of delivering health care.
2) Optimal Prescribing: CMA's Definition and Principles
a) What is Optimal Prescribing?
Prescribing is not an exact science; the choice of a particular drug to treat a particular patient depends on that patient's unique circumstances. CMA's proposed definition and principles for optimal prescribing is as follows:
Optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is
- the most clinically appropriate drug for the patient's condition;
- safe and effective;
- part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
- the most cost-effective drug available to best meet the patient's needs.
b) Principles for Optimal Prescribing
CMA believes that in an optimal prescribing environment, the following principles should apply:
Principles for Optimal Prescribing
1) The primary goal of prescribing should be to improve or maintain the health of the patient.
2) Prescribing should take place in the context of overall patient care which involves diagnosis of the condition, other forms of treatment including rehabilitation, counselling and lifestyle adjustments, ongoing monitoring and re-evaluation of the patient's condition and treatment to make sure the patient is responding appropriately, ensuring patient adherence to medication regimen, and discontinuation of drug treatment when it is no longer needed.
3) Patients should be actively involved in decisions regarding their drug treatment; for this, useful and practical patient information is required.
4) Prescribing decisions should be based on the best available scientific evidence, which is continually evaluated and updated as need arises.
5) Physicians should retain clinical autonomy in deciding which drugs to prescribe.
6) Prescribing decisions should take into account the cost to the patient, and strive to achieve cost-effectiveness as long as this does not conflict with the goal of optimal patient care.
7) Physicians should be updated on new developments in pharmacotherapy, through an ongoing process of relevant, objective continuing education.
8) Health professionals should take a leadership role in developing and evaluating strategies and tools to enhance best practices in prescribing. Though these principles may also apply to the optimal use of medical devices, prescription drugs are the primary focus of the paper.
3 Why Optimal Prescribing is Important
Prescription drugs are an increasingly important part of patient care in Canada. Fifty years ago, they were used mainly for short periods of time to treat acute conditions, and their contribution to overall health care costs was small. But in 2005, Canadians received 14 prescriptions per capita; that number rose to 74 for people 80 years and over.i Many Canadians now take prescription drugs over the long term to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis or high cholesterol.
Increased drug utilization, and the high prices of many new drug therapies, have increased the cost of prescription drugs to Canadians and to the health care system. In 2008 Canadians spent about $25.4 billion on prescription drugs. This, in constant dollars, is roughly triple what was spent in 1985.ii Together, prescription and over-the-counter drugs consume a larger portion of overall costs than do physicians' services; in fact, only hospitals consume a larger share.
In many cases prescription drugs have reduced reliance on hospitalization and surgical procedures. For example, over the past decades drugs to treat peptic ulcer disease have changed its treatment profile from one based mainly on surgery to a largely medical one. On the other hand, patients may take certain medications or classes of medications for many years, and this long-term use may have health consequences that are currently unknown.
As their role in health care increases, there is increasing public scrutiny over whether the prescription drugs Canadians use are safe and effective, whether they give good value for money, and whether they are being prescribed and taken optimally for maximum patient benefit.
As mentioned before, prescribing is not an exact science; what in some cases might be considered "suboptimal" is in other cases quite appropriate. In most instances, drugs are prescribed appropriately. However, evidence suggests that in some areas there is room for improvement. Prescribers can enhance patient care and improve Canadians' health by adopting strategies such as the following:
- Reducing overprescribing of certain drugs. For example, overuse of antibiotics is a worldwide concerniii since it may hasten the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby reducing the physician's therapeutic arsenal.
- Reducing underprescribing of certain drugs. A study of primary care practices in Ontario found that while 14% of adult patients had dyslipidemia, 63.2 % were untreated and, of those treated, 47.2% were not adequately controlled .iv
- Prescribing drugs according to generally accepted clinical practice guidelines to ensure that first-line drugs are used where indicated. Second-line therapies are frequently newer and less established than first-line ones, and are thus more likely to have unidentified safety risks.
- Ensuring that drugs are prescribed and taken safely, to reduce the harm caused by adverse interactions with other drugs, natural health products, alcohol or other agents in the patient's system.
Activities in support of the above strategies should be included in any program or initiative aimed at improving health care in Canada. CMA believes they will contribute to Canadians' overall health status, and may have the additional benefit of reducing health care costs if the prescribed drugs are the most cost-effective available to appropriately treat patients' conditions.
4) Many Factors Affect Prescribing
Prescribing does not occur in a vacuum, but is the result of a number of factors that influence physicians. It may be questioned whether these factors provide the necessary support to physicians as they seek to prescribe optimally. Some of these influences are discussed below:
a) The Challenge Of Acquiring Information
Our knowledge of prescription drugs and their effects is continually being updated, and physicians are required to absorb new information throughout their careers. But are physicians receiving the information they most need, in such a way that they can easily and painlessly incorporate it into their practices? CMA's answer is: there is room for improvement. The major information sources available to physicians are discussed below:
i) Physician Education
Medical school and residency training - Medical schools vary in how they discuss pharmacological issues, and critics have questioned whether Canada's current medical school curriculum is training future physicians adequately in the art and science of prescribing.v In some cases, pharmacotherapy is taught in the context of each individual body system - cardiac, renal, etc. - rather than as a discrete subject. With this approach, some valuable unifying elements of pharmacology may go untaught.
Continuing medical education (CME) - For physicians, CME is an important source of information on new drugs and new indications for existing drugs. But is it imparting the most necessary or appropriate information? Concerns have been raised as to its impartiality; it is estimated that pharmaceutical industry sponsorship accounts for 65% of the total revenue of CME programs in the U.S. and the figure is assumed to be much the same in Canada.vi
ii) Point-of-care information
With increasingly heavy patient loads, the time at physicians' disposal for research is limited. Often new information is required at the point of care; for example, in the examination room during a patient encounter, when the physician requires an answer quickly. The clinical practice guidelines and point of care reference guides in common use may not be readily accessible in a concise, user-friendly format when needed. In addition, it is of concern that some experts who develop practice guidelines have ties to pharmaceutical manufacturers, which could affect the guidelines' impartiality.
To compound the problem, widely used sources of information may not be giving physicians the material they most need. Physicians often receive new safety information, such as warnings of recently discovered drug risks, in the form of advisories from Health Canada or elsewhere. These advisories may not provide physicians with prescribing advice, or information about other treatment options if the drug is considered too dangerous for use.
iii) Drug promotion and marketing
Much of physicians' information about drugs and prescribing comes from the pharmaceutical industry representatives who visit them in their offices. Drugs promoted in this manner tend to be newer; consequently they are often more expensive than established medications and less is known about their efficacy and possible side effects. Drug promotion might help instil in some physicians' minds the perception that when it comes to medication, "new" equals "better," when this is not always the case.
Industry marketing also comes in more subtle forms, such as:
- Free drug samples provided to physicians; since samples tend to be mainly for new drugs, it has been suggested that they encourage these drugs' use at the expense of possibly cheaper and safer alternatives.
- Collection, by commercial data management companies, of information on physicians' prescribing patterns , which is then sold to pharmaceutical companies to help tailor sales messages to individual physicians.
- Manipulation of the medical publication process, through: design of clinical trials so as to get the most positive results; selective publication of clinical trial results; or "ghostwriting" of scholarly research articles by pharmaceutical industry contractors.vii
b) Patient education and participation
When considering a patient's drug therapy, the physician must consider the possible effect of the patient's behaviour on treatment. A patient may require counselling on the impact of natural health products, alcohol and other substances when mixed with their prescribed medications; on the importance of adherence to the prescribed treatment; or on the need for changes in behaviour (improved diet, increased physical activity) to augment the medication's benefits. This requires open and honest dialogue between patient and physician.
Patient knowledge and preferences can influence both over- and under-prescribing. Some patients may not feel that they have been "treated" unless they leave the doctor's office with a prescription. A physician may prescribe a drug if a patient requests it, despite feeling ambivalent about the choice of treatment.viii On the other hand, a physician may not prescribe a needed medication because a patient insists he or she does not want to be "on drugs."
The pharmaceutical industry directs promotional activities at patients as well as physicians. Though direct-to consumer advertising (DTCA) or prescription drugs is technically illegal in Canada, loopholes in the law permit a limited amount of Canadian-based drug promotion, and drug ads are often beamed across the border from the United States, one of only two countries (the other being New Zealand) where DTCA is legal. DTCA has a strong influence on patient behaviour; according to one survey by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, 27% of people who saw prescription drug advertisements, requested and received these drugs from their physicians.ix DTCA has been widely criticized for overstating drugs' benefits, playing down their risks, and contributing to a "pill for every ill" mindset and the "medicalization" of conditions that could be more appropriately managed by lifestyle changes or other non-drug therapies.
In addition, the pharmaceutical industry can exert indirect influence on patient attitudes through funding of patient advocacy groups and disease-specific web sites.
A patient's social context may also motivate a physician to prescribe a drug that may not be clinically indicated. For example, an antipsychotic may be prescribed to calm a patient with dementia, not so much for the patient's benefit as for that of tired and stressed-out caregivers, despite growing evidence of the drugs' health and safety risks and lack of efficacyx. Ideally, prescribing recommendations and guidelines should take into account the broader context in which a drug is prescribed.
c) Drug cost and coverage
The physician's prescribing of a drug and the patient's purchase of it are separate and unconnected acts. As a result, physicians may not have access to reliable, convenient information on drug costs; or if they do, they may have little reason to use this information if the patient has insurance coverage. However, rising drug prices, and the increased use of drug therapy, may require them to take cost into consideration more often.
Provincial and territorial governments, and increasingly, private insurers as well, can influence physician and patient choice of drugs by restricting what medications are covered on their formularies. In addition, many payers have programs to encourage the prescribing of certain drugs such as generics. If, as not infrequently happens, a patient's condition requires a drug not on the formulary, obtaining coverage for this drug requires time-consuming paperwork. The administrative burden this imposes can be a barrier to optimal prescribing.
d) The policy context
Canadian decision makers have already recognized that action on prescribing is needed. One of the original nine elements of the federal/provincial/territorial National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), announced in 2004, was "Enhance action to influence the prescribing behaviour of health care professionals so that drugs are used only when needed and the right drug is used for the right problem." However, this was not considered a priority, and the entire NPS is now dormant.
In 2009, the Health Council of Canada recommended that optimal prescribing be a priority element in a revived pharmaceutical strategy, noting the need for easily accessible, evidence-based information on the proper use and risks of each medication, and for national co-ordination of efforts toward improved prescribing.xi
5. The CMA's Prescription
The previous sections have described the problems that currently exist with prescribing in Canada, and factors that contribute to these problems. In this section the CMA discusses what can be done to make prescribing optimal. Even as a variety of factors influence prescribing, so a variety of elements can contribute to optimizing it.
What should be done to encourage optimal prescribing in Canada? The CMA believes that optimal prescribing should be addressed through the development and implementation of a national strategy comprising the six elements discussed in the following pages:
Governments at all levels should work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
Element 1: Relevant, Objective Information for Prescribers
As our knowledge base on prescription drugs expands, it is communicated to physicians by many different means. The CMA believes it is possible to improve these communications and make them more relevant and useful to prescribing physicians.
The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
o based on the best available scientific evidence
o relevant to clinical practice
o easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
a) Undergraduate medical education and residency training
A basic grounding in pharmacology is a vital part of undergraduate medical education. Appendix 1, which was taken from a 2009 report prepared by Britain's Royal College of Physicians, contains a specific proposal for a core undergraduate curriculum in therapeutics.
Basic education in pharmacology should, among other things, help prepare future physicians for the challenge of maintaining their knowledge base in practice. The academic community has a role to play, during undergraduate training and residency, in providing impartial advice on pharmaceutical matters, and ensuring that students and residents can appraise drug research and prescribing guidance critically.
The CMA encourages all medical educational bodies to support a comprehensive program of education in pharmaceuticals, pharmacology and optimal prescribing, at the undergraduate, residency and continuing medical education levels.
b) Continuing medical education (CME)
Traditionally, CME meant face-to-face seminars or conferences; however, studies are demonstrating that Internet-based learning is as effective as face-to-face CME.xii Developers and practitioners are increasingly looking at delivering CME online. Of particular promise are formats that deliver information electronically in short, summary bullet points, presenting the most pertinent information on a single screen where feasible.
As mentioned before, a large proportion of CME is sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Like pharmaceutical detailing, industry-sponsored CME might steer physicians toward newer drugs which may not be first-line therapies, and which are often less thoroughly evaluated and more expensive than established treatments. Therefore, in order that physicians can be assured of receiving objective information, there is an urgent need for objective funding sources for CME, that are as distant as possible from potential sources of bias.
The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations call on governments to support and fund objective and impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
The CMA calls on appropriate educational bodies to develop policies or guidelines to ensure the objectivity of continuing medical education.
CMA's Guidelines for Physicians in Interaction with Industry (2007) proposes ways in which physicians, medical associations and medical educational bodies can minimize bias when collaborating with industry on CME and continuing professional development programs.
c) New Forms of Education
Besides formal CME, there are many ways of conveying information to physicians with the intent of influencing prescribing behaviour. One promising intervention is academic detailing, in which trained physicians or pharmacists use the personalized, one-on-one techniques employed by pharmaceutical detailers to encourage adoption of a desired behaviour (e.g., prescribing of a particular drug or treatment regimen) rather than specific drugs, to counterbalance marketing by pharmaceutical representatives. Academic detailing has demonstrated some success. Because it is expensive and labour intensive, it has often been difficult to persuade governments to invest in it. However, a growing number of provinces have developed, or are considering, academic detailing programs.
Another promising intervention is physician self-directed learning. In Alberta two medical schools are preparing to perform an analysis of physicians' perceived and unperceived learning needs with the intention of developing individualized learning programs to address the needs of physicians in their practices.
The effectiveness of various learning programs in changing behaviour is being studied on an ongoing basisxiii, through means such as the Rx for Change database, a collaborative effort between two Cochrane Collaboration groups and the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. This database summarizes current research evidence, regularly updated, about the effects of strategies to improve drug prescribing practice and drug use.
Because different physicians have different needs, goals and styles of learning, multiple formats are required to address them. Though one intervention in and of itself may not produce widespread, immediate or dramatic changes in behaviour, the cumulative effect of multiple messages over time can be very strong.
The CMA recommends that governments, research institutes and other stakeholders fund and conduct ongoing research on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change clinical behaviour, and allocate resources to those interventions that demonstrate the greatest effectiveness.
d) Point-of-care information
In addition to formal education programs, information on pharmaceuticals and prescribing is also available to physicians at the point of care. Physicians' preference is for brief summaries of key points, which can be absorbed quickly and be accessed at point of care through hand-held personal digital assistants (PDA's) or, increasingly, through electronic health and prescription records.
Drug information compendia are available in electronic and print format. For example, cma.ca provides information about prescription drugs through a program called Lexi-Drugs Online. e-Therapeutics+, developed by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, is another online resource for prescribing and managing drug therapy at the point of care.
Online programs are also available that monitor physicians' prescribing habits and compare them to those of their peers. Such programs are to be encouraged if their purpose is to educate rather than to enforce a certain behaviour. However, they will require additional investment, particularly in information technology and software development.
Element 2: Electronic Prescribing
Electronic prescribing has the potential to dramatically improve drug therapy. For example an effective e-prescribing system has the potential to:
- list all the drugs a patient is taking. It could also identify duplicate prescriptions for the same drug from different providers, thus helping to reduce prescription fraud and prescription drug abuse;
- provide decision-support tools; for example, a warning could appear on the screen if the physician proposes to prescribe a drug that interacts harmfully with another the patient is already taking. This decision support should ideally be updated in real time so the physician has access to the most current information.
- Enable the improvement of patient adherence to drug therapy, perhaps by generating reminders to patients to refill and take prescriptions.
- Transmit prescriptions to pharmacies electronically, increasing convenience for the patient and eliminating a major cause of medication errors, illegible handwriting.
- Automatically link to a formulary to enable the prescriber to see whether the patient's insurer has approved the medication, or to find the lowest-cost drug in a class. Two-way electronic communication with formulary managers may also help reduce some of the administrative paperwork which is a barrier to optimal prescribing.
- Automatically notify physicians of drug shortages, recalls or other urgent situations.
In the U.S., e-prescribing is being actively encouraged. Since January 2009, the American Medicare system provides financial incentives for its physicians who adopt e-prescribing. In Canada adoption has been slow;xiv it is estimated that fewer than 10% of physicians e-prescribe. This may be due partly to the expense, and partly because of issues which remain to be addressed, such as:
- How do we assure that the confidentiality of patients' health information, and of physicians' prescribing information, is protected?
- What information should be shared with other health professionals?
- What legally constitutes a "signature," or other means of authenticating a prescription?
- Can we ensure that pharmacies as well as physicians' offices are equipped to receive electronic prescriptions?
- Can we ensure that e-prescribing software is designed so as to be practical and user-friendly for physicians; for example, that pop-up warnings contain the most important and relevant information?
- Can we ensure that e-prescribing protocols simplify a physician's workload rather than adding to it - for example, that they eliminate duplication of prescription writing?
E-prescribing is in its early stages, and knowledge and policy in this area are developing rapidly. CMA will continue to study the issue in the coming years.
Several provinces maintain electronic prescription databases and others are in development. For example, BC PharmNet provides drug-to-drug interaction checking and patient medication profiles to pharmacists, emergency rooms and physicians with controlled access. In most provinces and territories, medical associations are working with governments on standards to implement e-prescribing.
The CMA, provincial/territorial medical associations and affiliates encourage governments to give active support to physicians in their transition to electronic prescribing, through a comprehensive strategy that includes financial support for acquisition of hardware and software, and dissemination of appropriate training and knowledge transfer tools.
The CMA calls on governments to incorporate into electronic prescribing the following principles:
- measures to ensure patients' privacy and confidentiality, as well as confidentiality of physician prescribing information
- a link with a formulary, to provide physicians with best practice information including drug cost data
- guidelines for data sharing among health professionals and others
- standards for electronic signature that are not overly restrictive.
Element 3: Programs by Payers
Government drug plans and, increasingly, private insurance companies, have instituted programs to encourage prescription of certain drugs. Such programs, which are often motivated by the desire to control rising drug costs, can include the following:
There are 18 public drug formularies in Canada managed by federal or provincial/territorial governments. These formularies often use various means to help control drug costs. For example, if a generic drug is available to treat a given condition, a payer may reimburse patients only for the generic rather than for brand-name equivalents. Or if several related drugs exist in the same class, a formulary could reimburse only for the lowest-priced drug in that class, as British Columbia's reference-based drug pricing (RDP) program does for five drug categories that contain several drugs with equal efficacy; if patients want to purchase a higher-priced drug they must pay the difference out of pocket. Such programs are not confined to Canada; Britain's National Health Services funds specific treatments only if recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) which assesses new drugs for efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Under New Zealand's PHARMAC system the government reimburses only for one drug in each class.
A formulary's cost-control objectives can sometimes conflict with the goal of physician and patient to obtain the care they believe will be most optimal. For example, formulary rules limiting the length of chronic prescriptions can make it difficult for physicians to prescribe over the long term to patients who manage their conditions well. It is important that formulary rules be based on the best available scientific evidence. The ideal formulary will be designed to improve clinical care, optimize patients' health outcomes, promote patient safety, and reduce the administrative burden on the physician.
The CMA recommends that formularies, in both the public and private sectors, simplify administrative requirements on patients and physicians, reducing paperwork to the minimum necessary to ensure optimal patient care.
b) Prescribing incentives
Sometimes, payers may provide incentives such as reward payments for physicians who prescribe in a desired way (for example, who prescribe more than a certain percentage of a given drug class as generics), or impose a financial penalty for physicians who do not exhibit the desired behaviour. Financial incentives to physicians to provide preventive care services have been used effectively but their effect on prescribing practices is only beginning to be evaluated. A study of U.K. prescribing incentive schemes concluded that reward payments may have contributed to cost control, but their effect on prescribing quality remained uncertain. xv
CMA's ongoing Health Care Transformation initiative will provide decision makers with blueprint for a high-performing, patient-centered health care system. Among its other activities over the next few years, this initiative will be examining in greater detail the effect of pay-for-performance schemes on the quality of care in Canada.
Element 4: Collaboration Among Health Care Providers
No health professional is an island. Increasingly health care providers are working in collaborative teams to manage drug therapy and other forms of patient care. In such teams, for example, pharmacists may perform a variety of functions, such as reviewing patients' medication profiles to catch medication related problems such as inappropriate dosing, duplicate or unnecessary therapies; or managing long-term drug therapy for patients with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
At their most effective, such collaborative arrangements could greatly improve drug therapy, and patient care in general, by allowing the team to draw on a common pool of expertise. However, if improperly implemented, they could lead to breakdown of communication and fragmentation of care.
To ensure that collaborative management of a patient's drug therapy functions smoothly, it is important that clearly articulated arrangements be in place. CMA's position statement Achieving Patient-Centered Collaborative Care (2007), includes the following principles:
- Patient-centered care. Patient care (including drug therapy) must be aligned around the values and needs of the patient.
- Clear communication. Effective communication is essential to ensure safe and coordinated drug therapy and to ensure that the patient is receiving timely, clear and consistent messaging. For example, if a physician and pharmacist are both managing and monitoring a patient with asthma, it is essential that they notify each other if a change is made to a prescription, such as a new drug or a new dosage. Electronic health records have the potential to greatly improve communication among providers.
- Clinical leader. CMA's position statement defines a clinical leader as "the individual who, based on his or her training, competency and experience, is best able to synthesize and interpret the evidence and data provided by the patient and the team, make a differential diagnosis and deliver comprehensive care for the patient." In most cases the physician, by virtue of training, knowledge, background and patient relationship, is best positioned to assume this role.
The CMA recommends that formalized and clearly articulated collaborative arrangements be in place for practitioners who jointly manage a patient's drug therapy.
The CMA, recognizing the need for and value of collaboration in the management of drug therapy, will continue to explore and encourage the most effective models for collaborative practice among health professionals.
Element 5: Impartial, Evidence-based Information for Patients
Canadians have the right to accurate, reliable information on prescription drugs and their uses, so that they can become knowledgeable partners in their care.
A good deal of information is already available to patients, and there are ways in which it could be improved and made more accessible and relevant. One way would be to improve its clarity and readability, to address the needs of the estimated 6 in 10 Canadians who lack the health literacy necessary to properly manage their health and engage in preventive practices.xvi
Another way would be to provide more information from impartial sources, to reduce the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising. The CMA believes that in general, brand specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing drug information, and that the laws currently banning direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada should remain in effect, and tightened to eliminate existing loopholes.
Physicians and other health care providers can also play an important role in providing patients with guidance and with accurate information on the medications they take. CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association have collaborated with Canada's Research-based Drug Companies (Rx&D) to produce a pamphlet called "Knowledge is the Best Medicine" which provides consumers with advice on safe medication use, and guidance on how to interact effectively with their physician or pharmacist.
The CMA calls on governments to fund and facilitate the development and provision of unbiased, up-to-date, practical information to consumers on prescription drugs and their appropriate use, and support physicians and pharmacists in disseminating this information to their patients.
The CMA calls on the Government of Canada to continue to enforce the current ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada, and close the loopholes that currently allow a limited amount of drug promotion.
Element 6: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
Drug development is an ongoing process, and the evaluation of drugs and their prescribing should be ongoing as well.
Canada already supports a certain amount of research activity in this area. For example, Health Canada funds the Canadian Optimal Medication Prescribing and Utilization Service (COMPUS), a collaborative, pan-Canadian service to identify and promote optimal drug therapy.
COMPUS collects and evaluates relevant existing evidence, and provides advice, tools, and strategies to implement and support the adoption of optimal drug therapy. COMPUS has produced, or is producing, evidence-based recommendations for prescribing proton pump inhibitors and drugs for diabetes management. COMPUS has established links to university-based providers of CME, and with academic detailing groups, who help to disseminate its recommendations and materials. It also manages the Rx for Change database previously mentioned.
The federal government has recently established and funded a national Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network. This network will link researchers to help coordinate and fund independent research on the risks and benefits of drugs that are on the market. We hope that this signifies a long-term commitment on the country's part to optimal drug therapy.
CMA believes Canada should build on this activity by encouraging research on an ongoing basis on:
- prescribing guidelines and what drugs work best for which conditions
- dissemination of prescribing information - what interventions most effectively influence practice?
- effect of changes in prescribing on patient health outcomes, and on utilization of health services;
- the safety and effectiveness of drugs, building on what currently exists (such as Health Canada's system for reporting adverse drug reactions and communicating drug safety advisories), so that information derived from post-market surveillance quickly reaches health care providers and patients and becomes part of our body of knowledge.
Since the great majority of prescriptions in Canada are written by physicians, it is essential that the medical community participate actively in evaluation of prescribing practices, and disseminating and implementing the results of research.
The CMA calls on those who fund and produce research on drug safety and effectiveness, prescribing guidelines and programs to enhance prescribing practices, to include physicians and medical organizations meaningfully in this activity.
It is likely that drug therapy will continue to increase in importance as a component of patient care and that it will continue to become more complex and, in many cases, more costly. As a result, we expect that health professionals and the Canadian public will continue to need readily available and up-to-date information on prescription drugs: the availability of new products; the results of safety and effectiveness studies; and advice on how to prescribe and take these medications for the best health outcome. It is also likely that electronic prescribing systems, formularies and other monitoring methods will continue to be developed, and that these will influence physicians' prescribing habits.
To deliver evidence-based prescribing information effectively, and encourage its smooth incorporation into clinical practice, Canada needs a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary strategy in which physicians and other health care providers, governments, patients, industry and other stakeholders work together to encourage and support optimal prescribing, in the interest of achieving the best possible health for Canadians with the most effective use of resources.
The CMA is ready to join with others in developing and implementing such a strategy, in the hope that eventually, all patients will receive the prescription drugs they need, when they need them.
A core undergraduate curriculum for prescribers in therapeutics
Core knowledge and understanding
Monitoring drug therapy
Adverse drug reactions
Prescribing for patients with special requirements (e.g., the elderly, children, women of childbearing potential, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and patients with renal or liver disease)
Legal aspects of prescribing drugs
Developing new drugs
Ethics of prescribing
Commonly used drugs
Common therapeutic problems
Complementary and alternative medicine
Integration of therapeutics into understanding of disease management.
Taking a drug history
Prescribing drugs in special groups
Prescribing drugs to relieve pain and distress
Adverse drug reactions and interactions
Monitoring drug therapy
Analysing new evidence
Obtaining accurate objective information to support safe and effective prescribing
Obtaining informed consent to treatment
A rational approach to prescribing and therapeutics
Recognizing the responsibilities of a physician as part of the prescribing community
Recognizing personal limitations in knowledge
Responding to the future
SOURCE: Maxwell S, Walley T. Teaching safe and effective prescribing in UK medical schools: a core curriculum for tomorrow's doctors. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2003;55:496-503.100. Cited in Innovating For Health: Patients, physicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS. A report from the Royal College of Physicians (UK) February 2009
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ii Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug Expenditure in Canada, 1985 to 2009. Released April 2010. Accessed at https://secure.cihi.ca/estore/productFamily.htm?locale=en&pf=PFC1428&lang=en&media=0.
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v Dr. Jean Gray, speaking at the Health Council of Canada symposium, "Safe and Sound: Optimizing Prescribing Behaviours"; Montreal, June 2007
vi Steinman MA, Baron RB. Is continuing medical education a drug promotion tool? Yes. Can Fam Phys 2007: 53(10); 1650-53.
vii Angell M. Industry-sponsored clinical research: a broken system. JAMA 2008: 300 (Sept. 3); 1069-1071.
viii Mintzes B, Barer ML, Kravitz RL et al. Influence of direct to consumer pharmaceutical advertising and patients' requests on prescribing decisions: a two-site cross-sectional survey. BMJ 2002; 324 (2 February): 278-279.
ix "Should Canada allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs?" (Debate) Can Fam PhysicianVol. 55, No. 2, February 2009, pp.130 - 133.
x Valiyeva E, Herrmann M, Rochon PA. Effect of regulatory warnings on antipsychotic prescription rates among elderly patients with dementia: a population-based time series analysis. Can Med Assoc J 2008; 179(5) doi 10.1503.
xi Health Council of Canada. "A commentary on The National Pharmaceuticals Strategy: a Prescription Unfilled." (January 2009)
xii Cook DA, Levinson AJ, Garside S et al. Internet-based learning in the health professions: a meta-analysis. JAMA 2008; 300 (10): 1181-1196.
xiii Rx for Change database; accessed at http://www.acmts.ca/index.php/en/compus/optimal-ther-resources/interventions.
xiv Canadian Medical Association. "Information technology and health care in Canada: 2008 status report."
xv Ashworth M, Lee R, Gray H et al. How are primary care organizations using financial incentives to influence prescribing? J Public Health 2004: 26(1); doi: 10.1093.
xvi Canadian Council on Learning. Health literacy in Canada: initial results from the International Adult Literacy and Health Skills Survey (September 2007). Accessed at http://www.ccl-cca.ca/ccl/Reports/HealthLiteracy/HealthLiteracy2007.html.