The major diseases affecting the quality and quantity of life of Canadians, which include obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, depression and cancer, are all linked to physical inactivity. In Canada, 69% of women and 68% of men in Canada are considered physically inactive.(1) The cost of this inactivity and obesity was estimated at $4.3 billion in 2001.(2) A 10% increase in physical activity could potentially reduce direct health care expenditures by $150 million a year. This does not include indirect costs such as lost productivity due to illness, premature death or a range of other factors, including mental illness and poor quality of life.(3)
Thus far, efforts to increase physical activity by changing the behaviour of individuals have had limited success. One reason is that many people have difficulty sustaining behaviours that involve additional time commitments. That is one reason for the increasing emphasis being placed on active transportation, which is any human-powered form of transportation, such as walking and cycling.
Walking and cycling can be efficient alternatives to automobile travel. Cycling is usually the fastest mode of travel door to door for distances under five km, and for up to 10 km in city cores. Walking is simpler and nearly as fast for distances up to two km. When travel times are similar for active and motorized transportation, physical activity is gained with no net time lost, and at much lower cost. The cost of operating a motor vehicle is typically $10,000 per year,(4) while operating costs for a bicycle are much lower.
Communities that have sidewalks, enjoyable scenery, street lights and nearby stores have improved levels of active transportation and physical activity. However, in recent decades communities have often been designed around the automobile. Street design, parking space, sidewalks and distance to retail destinations have all been planned assuming motorized transportation, and this often makes it difficult to move around communities by walking or cycling.
Although individual decision-making remains important in any strategy for increasing active transportation, there is an essential role for communities and governments to play. Major improvements in the health of Canadians in the past 200 years have been due to improved sanitation, access to clean water and injury prevention. The role of individual decision-making in effecting these changes is dwarfed by the impact of the public health measures and infrastructure involved. Just as potable tap water is a health issue, so are decisions about land use, transportation policy and infrastructure.
Community design is a major determinant of whether people use active transportation, whether they are physically active and whether they are obese. Canadians need communities that make it easy to be physically active in their daily living.
Communities can create an environment in which the physically active choice is the easy choice. They can do this via sidewalks, trails, bicycle lanes and bicycle paths, and by providing pedestrian-friendly intersections, parks and green spaces, and safe bicycle parking spaces. They can also arrange zoning so that retail destinations are within walking or cycling distance of residential areas. This process also includes dedicating a sufficient portion of their street maintenance budget (including snow clearing) to maintaining active transportation routes as well as routes for motorized vehicles. It may include redesigning intersections, giving up vehicle lanes or parking spaces, or increasing the price of parking.
Additional benefits to designing communities for pedestrians and cyclists.
* a stronger sense of community with greater civic involvement by citizens
* increased property values and retail activity
* less noise pollution
* lower crime rates
* less smog and other air pollution
* less greenhouse gas production
* decreased risk of injury to pedestrians and cyclists
* decreased costs of roadway and parking construction.
A role for everyone
Other sectors can support communities in making active transportation choices easy choices:
* Businesses can create a work environment friendly to active transportation, including a corporate culture friendly to physical activity. They can incorporate active transportation planning into building design and create an environment friendly to physical activity. These steps could include making bicycle parking, showers and lockers available, and providing stairs that are pleasant and easier to access than elevators. They can also incorporate a culture of physical activity in decisions about where and how to hold meetings, and what people are allowed to wear to work.
* School boards can develop policies to promote active transportation to and from school. These include building and maintaining secure bicycle parking, ensuring safe walking routes within communities, and assisting parents in walking their children to school.
* Citizens can use active transportation themselves and treat with respect those who are already making active transportation choices. They can also lobby governments to make their community safer and easier places for cycling and walking.
* Physicians can encourage patients to use active transportation as a way to boost their physical activity levels and improving their health. They can also lead by example and use active transportation themselves.
The CMA recommends that all sectors (government, business and the public) work together, as a matter of priority, to create a culture in their communities that supports and encourages active transportation.
The CMA urges governments to:
* Commit to long-term plans for active transportation networks that are in keeping with these goals and that include specific benchmarks to measure progress.
* Require that active transportation be part of all infrastructure renewal projects, with investment in active transportation vs. motorized transportation in proportion to targeted active transportation use. (Some cities have achieved active transportation rates of up to 15%.)
* Develop an awareness campaign to help Canadians to recognize the value of active transportation in their communities.
* Require public health impact assessments for all land-use and transportation decisions, including the impact on the chemical environment and on physical activity.
* Assess the impact that changes in the "built" environment can have on public health, and which interventions are most safe and effective.
1 Tremblay MS, Katzmarzyk PT, Willms JD. Temporal trends in overweight and obesity in Canada, 1981-1996. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2002;26(4):538-43.
2 Katzmarzyk PT, Janssen I. The economic costs associated with physical inactivity and obesity in Canada: an update. Can J App Phys 2004;29(1):104.
3 Katzmarzyk PT, Gledhill N, Shephard RJ. The economic burden of physical inactivity in Canada. CMAJ 2000;163(11): 1435-40.
4 Canadian Automobile Association. Driving Costs: 2005 Edition. Available: www.carpool.ca/pdf/CAA-driving-costs-05.pdf (accessed 2007 Feb. 2).
Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
TUITION FEE ESCALATION AND DEREGULATION IN UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN MEDICINE (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is very concerned about high and rapidly escalating, undergraduate medical school tuition fees across Canada. Ontario set a precedent for the deregulation of tuition fees in May 1998 and many provinces have since followed. This policy gives universities, including medical schools, the discretion to set fees for training in those areas that lead to professional careers, such as medicine. For the 2008-2009 academic year, first-year tuition fees at most Ontario medical schools were triple the tuition fees in 1997-1998 at an average of $16,550 per year;1 this figure does not include compulsory "other fees" that can be as much as $1,700 per year.2 Irrespective of whether tuition fees have been regulated, some medical schools outside of Ontario have doubled their tuition fees within the same time period. Decreased government funding to universities is increasing the fiscal pressures on institutions and is driving these dramatic tuition fee increases. The CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant and detrimental impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services.
Broad Effects of High Tuition Fees
Lack of Diversity
Medical education in Canada has traditionally been affordable and accessible to individuals from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups who later serve an equally diverse population. Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees may close the door to individuals who either cannot afford the high costs of a medical education or wish to avoid the prospect of significant debt load upon graduation. High tuition fees may therefore create an imbalance in admissions to medical school by favouring those who represent the affluent segment of society and not the variety of groups reflected in the Canadian population. The proportion of medical students from lower income families is already extremely low and decreasing further.3 Paradoxically, funds that should be injected to making tuition fees reasonable - and therefore more accessible by a broader range of society - may soon need to be allocated to creating career promotion and special financial support programs that target those groups that have been alienated by high tuition fees.
Influence on Practice Choice and Practice Location ("Brain Drain")
It is likely that paying off debts as quickly as possible will become a key consideration when determining practice location and specialty. For instance, more students may feel compelled to maximize their earning potential by pursuing those specialties that generate high incomes; others may choose those specialties with short training periods so they can enter the workforce and start to pay off debts sooner.
Debt load may also influence where graduating physicians choose to practise medicine. The increasing willingness of American recruiters to pay off the debts of new graduates provides tremendous incentive to practise in the U.S. and explore research opportunities; unfortunately, it only aggravates the ongoing problem of the "brain drain" of Canadian physicians.4 While we have been enjoying a net gain of physicians from the U.S., we may experience net loss with physician shortages expected in the U.S. More physician retention and recruitment initiatives are needed to encourage physicians to remain in or return to Canada. This is especially true for rural and remote communities. Urban areas are often in a better financial position to offer incentives to new graduates than rural and remote communities where physician shortages are most pronounced.
Effects on Rural and Remote Areas
The CMA believes that governments must be made aware of the potentially negative impact of high tuition fees and student debt on physician workforce supply for the rural and remote areas of Canada. Research shows that medical students from rural and remote areas have a greater likelihood of returning to these communities to practise medicine.5 Research also shows that students of rural origin have higher student debts6 and are underrepresented in Canadian medical schools.7 Students from rural and remote communities face the challenge of not being able to live at home while they attend university. They must assume high relocation expenses and travel costs, as well as separation from their families while they are away at school. Of student respondents to the 2007 National Physician Survey, 53.1% of rural students compared with 67.4% of urban medical students had no debt upon entering medical school. When asked to predict their expected debt upon completion of medical school, 33.2% of rural students compared with 23% of urban students expected their debtload to exceed $100,000.8 Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees might make both the personal and financial costs of pursuing a medical education too significant for students from rural and remote areas to even consider. As a result, this may generate fewer physicians willing to practise in these areas and exacerbate the problem most rural and remote communities already face in attracting and retaining physicians. High tuition fees might also further increase the reliance on international medical graduates in rural and remote communities. While the CMA values the contributions of international medical graduates in alleviating shortages in physician supply, it believes that Canadian governments must adopt the guiding principle of self-sufficiency in the production and retention of physicians to meet population needs.
Effects on New and Potential Medical Students
Medical students affected by high and escalating tuition fees will graduate with unprecedented debt loads. Enormous education costs, already a reality in some provinces, are a growing trend. In 2007, over one third (36%) of students said they expected debtloads of $80,000 or more upon completion of medical school.9
A number of factors, as highlighted below, contribute to students' financial burden and may affect their ability to pay off debts and meet financial obligations. This, in turn, may influence their choice of medical discipline and practice location. Exorbitant education costs may also result in students considering dropping out of, or taking longer to complete, their medical studies because they cannot afford the ongoing costs, or are too overwhelmed with the combined stress of their medical studies and trying to make financial ends meet. The CMA is very concerned that excessive debt loads will exacerbate the stress already experienced by medical students during their training and will have a significant and negative impact on their health and well-being.
Previous Education Debt and Accumulative Debt
Most Canadian medical schools make an undergraduate degree a prerequisite to application. As such, by the time most students are accepted into medical school, they may have already accumulated debt from a previous undergraduate degree. Many students have also completed postgraduate degrees before entering medical school.10 This debt continues to accumulate during the undergraduate years of medical school and into the postgraduate training period, which is anywhere from two years to seven years in duration. This does not include additional time spent doing fellowships. It may be very useful to establish a national clearinghouse of public and private financial assistance programs to help students in their search for financial support.
Limited or No Employment Opportunities during Undergraduate Training
Tuition fees, along with ongoing increases in living expenses, are already making it very difficult for some students to make ends meet. It makes matters worse that there are limited or no opportunities to generate income through employment during the academic year and the summer months. Given the intensity of the medical school program, some schools strongly advise against working part time. To further compound the problem, some schools have very short summer breaks. For those schools that do provide summer holidays, the holidays often start later than other university programs, by which time employment opportunities are scarce or low paying. There is also the common expectation that medical students will undertake unpaid clinical or research elective experiences during the summer to enhance their desirability for postgraduate medical programs.
Limited or No Remuneration for the Clinical Clerkship
During the clerkship years, there are no summertime breaks because students spend these years working in hospitals and other clinical settings. All Canadian medical students (outside of Québec) receive a relatively small stipend during their clerkship varying from $2,808 to $6,000;11 however, the stipend had previously been abolished in medical schools in Ontario and Québec in the early 1990s. Fortunately Ontario reinstated the stipend as the Final Year Medical Student Bursary in 2004.12
In addition to very limited or no opportunities to generate employment income, medical students must bear a number of unique and significant costs. These include very high textbook and instrument costs, as well as a variety of expenses associated with their clerkship, such as travel to and from the clinical setting and the need for professional attire. The introduction of distributed medical education including satellite campuses, co-campuses and rural learning sites has increased the amount of travel required of medical students as well as the associated costs.
Off-site electives also generate many additional expenses, including the cost for travel to the site - which may be in a different province - as well as accommodation and other living expenses. A 1999 survey of graduating medical students revealed that more than half took an off-site elective at a specific institution in order to increase their chances of being matched to that site.13 As postgraduate training becomes even more competitive, the number of students taking off-site electives may increase and so will the number of students who are adding this expense to their overall debt load.
Medical students must also assume considerable costs related to interviews for residency training, including the high costs for travel to various interview sites, accommodation expenses, application fees for the resident matching service and other miscellaneous expenses. There is also a considerable fee for the qualifying examination that is written at the end of medical school.
Insufficient Public Funding and Increasing Reliance on Bank Loans
Government financial support programs (bursaries and loans) are not increasing to meet students' needs due to rising tuition costs and living expenses. As a consequence, the number of students who must rely on interest-bearing bank loans to help support themselves while they are in school may increase. Unlike some government programs, repayment of bank loans often cannot be postponed until after graduation and interest payment is required during the course of study; this further exacerbates students' financial stress.
Upon graduation from medical school, students must pursue two to seven years of postgraduate training to obtain a licence to practise medicine. This training period is marked with fees for examinations as well as an annual tuition and/or registration fee. During 2008-2009, the tuition fee was as much as $3,900 in some provinces.14 Residents are also required to work long hours in hospitals and other clinical settings and have frequent on-call responsibilities. Although residents do receive a salary for this work, the remuneration is relatively modest when these factors and debt servicing payments are considered. In fact, mandatory debt maintenance can consume a very significant proportion of a resident's pay.15 The CMA opposes tuition fees for residents. While the CMA's opposition to residency tuition is based on a number of factors not limited to its financial impact, clearly, tuition fees exacerbate debt.
High Practice Start-up Costs and Decreased Pay Potential
Licensed physicians wanting to establish a clinical practice currently face start-up costs estimated between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on their practice specialty and type (e.g., solo versus group practice).16 Some specialties require capital investment over and above the basic start-up costs. These expenses will add to the significant debt that new physicians will bear in the next few years.
In addition to significantly higher debt load than the previous generation of new physicians, a number of factors may influence the net income of physicians and their ability to pay off debts. These include billing caps, stagnant fees for services, high malpractice insurance fees, overhead expenses and increasing non-remunerative administrative responsibilities.
In summary, the CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services. This impact includes:
* creating socioeconomic barriers to application to medical school and threatening the diversity of future physicians serving the public
* exacerbating the physician brain drain to the U.S. where new physicians can pay off their huge debts more quickly
* generating fewer physicians available or interested in practising in rural and remote areas of Canada
In response to its concerns regarding the deregulation of tuition fees and high tuition fee increases, the CMA recommends that:
1 governments increase funding to medical schools to alleviate the pressures driving tuition increases
2 any tuition increase should be regulated and reasonable
3 financial support systems for students be developed concomitantly or in advance of any tuition increase, be in direct proportion to the tuition fee increase and provided at levels that meet the needs of students.
Glossary of Terms
Undergraduate Program in Medicine, also known as "Medical School"
Medical school is the period of study, usually four years in duration that leads to the doctor of medicine or "MD" degree upon graduation. Most Canadian universities require applicants to the undergraduate medicine program to have at least a three-year degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science degree) before they are eligible to apply. Although the title "Doctor" is conferred upon successful completion of the undergraduate program, an additional two to seven years or more of residency training is required before these individuals can apply for a licence to practise medicine in Canada.
The clerkship is the period during the last one to two years of undergraduate studies in medicine during which medical students work in hospitals, clinics and physicians' offices.
Many students take off-site electives during their clerkship. An "elective" is a course or training that is not mandatory to the curriculum, but may be elected or chosen by the student. An "off-site" elective means that the training is being provided at a location different from the medical school where the student is enrolled; for example, the elective may be in a different city, province, or even a different country.
During the last year of undergraduate training, most graduating medical students participate in a national process that matches them with available residency training positions in Canada.
Residency/Postgraduate Training Period
After earning his/her MD degree and receiving the title "Doctor," additional training is required in a specific area before an individual may practise medicine in Canada. This period of training is referred to as "residency" or "postgraduate training;" the individuals undergoing the training are called "residents." Residents usually work in hospitals (also called "teaching hospitals") under the supervision of a licensed physician. Depending on the field of study, residency training may range from two to seven years or longer if subspecialty training is pursued (e.g., pediatric cardiology). At the end of residency training, individuals must pass a number of examinations to practise medicine in Canada.
A fellowship is training sought by individuals who wish to obtain expertise in a specific area of medicine above and beyond basic residency requirements.
1 Tuition Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine: Session Commencing Fall 2008. Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, November 2008.
3 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
4 "Are We Losing Our Minds? Trends, Determinants and the Role of Taxation in Brain Drain to the United States," The Conference Board of Canada, July 1999.
5 Advisory Panel Report on the Provision of Medical Services in Underserviced Regions. Canadian Medical Association, 1992.
6 2007 National Physician Survey.
7 Dhalla IA, Kwong JC, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE, Johnson IL, et al. Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian medical schools. CMAJ 2002;166(8):1029-35. 
8 2007 National Physician Survey.
9 2007 National Physician Survey.
10 "Educational Attainment at Time of Application of Registered and Not Registered Applicants to Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2006-2007 (Table 105)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p154.
11 "Duration of Clinical Clerkship and Amount of Stipend in Canadian Faculties of Medicine 2008-2009 (Table 7)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p9.
12 Clinical Clerkship Stipends by Faculty of Medicine, 1995-1996 to 1999-2000, Canadian Medical Association Research Directorate, January 2000.
13 Results of the Post-Match Survey of Students Graduating 1999, Canadian Resident Matching Service.
14 "Post-MD Clinical Trainee Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2008-2009 (Table 6)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p8.
15 2007 National Physician Survey.
16 Practice Management, MD Management Ltd.
Authorizing Cannabis for Medical Purposes
The legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes came into effect with the Cannabis Act in October 2018, and patients continue to have access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The Cannabis Regulations have replaced the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. Patients can obtain cannabis for medical purposes when a physician or nurse practitioner provides a “medical document” , authorizing its use, and determining the daily dried cannabis dose in grams.
With the authorization, patients have the choice whether to (a) buy directly from a federally licensed producer; (b) register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for personal consumption; (c) designate someone to produce it for them; or (d) buy cannabis at provincial or territorial authorized retail outlets or online sales platforms, if above the legal age limit.
While acknowledging the unique requirements of patients suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective and for whom cannabis may provide relief, physicians remain concerned about the serious lack of clinical research, guidance and regulatory oversight for cannabis as a medical treatment. There is insufficient clinical information on safety and efficacy for most therapeutic claims. There is little information around therapeutic and toxic dosages and knowledge on interactions with medications. Besides the need for appropriate research, health practitioners would benefit from unbiased, accredited educational modules and decision support tools based on the best available evidence.
The Canadian Medical Association has consistently expressed concern with the role of gatekeeper that physicians have been asked to take as a result of court decisions. Physicians should not feel obligated to authorize cannabis for medical purposes.
Physicians who choose to authorize cannabis for their patients must comply with their provincial or territorial regulatory College's relevant guideline or policy. They should also be familiar with regulations and guidance, particularly:
Health Canada’s Information for Health Care Practitioners – Medical Use of Cannabis (monograph, summary and daily dose fact sheet),
the Canadian Medical Protective Association’s guidance;
the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s preliminary guidance Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety; and
the Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care, published in the Canadian Family Physician.
The CMA recommends that physicians should:
Ensure that there is no conflict of interest, such as direct or indirect economic interest in a licensed cannabis producer or be involved in dispensing cannabis;
Treat the authorization as an insured service, similar to a prescription, and not charge patients or the licensed producer for this service;
Until such time as there is compelling evidence of its efficacy and safety for specific indications, consider authorizing cannabis only after conventional therapies are proven ineffective in treating patients’ conditions;
Have the necessary clinical knowledge to authorize cannabis for medical purposes;
Only authorize in the context of an established patient-physician relationship;
Assess the patient’s medical history, conduct a physical examination and assess for the risk of addiction and diversion, using available clinical support tools and tests;
Engage in a consent discussion with patients which includes information about the known benefits and adverse health effects of cannabis in its various forms (e.g., edibles), including the risk of impairment to activities such as driving and work;
Advise the patient regarding harm reduction strategies and the prevention of accidental exposure for children and other people;
Document all consent discussions in patients' medical records;
Reassess the patient on a regular basis for its effectiveness to address the medical condition for which cannabis was authorized, as well as for addiction and diversion, to support maintenance, adjustment or discontinuation of treatment; and
Record the authorization of cannabis for medical purposes similar to when prescribing a controlled medication.
The Cannabis Regulations provide some consistency with many established provincial and territorial prescription monitoring programs for controlled substances. Licensed producers of cannabis for medical purposes are required to provide information to provincial and territorial medical licensing bodies upon request, including healthcare practitioner information, daily quantity of dried cannabis supported, period of use, date of document and basic patient information. The Minister of Health can also report physicians to their College should there be reasonable grounds that there has been a contravention of the Narcotic Control Regulations or the Cannabis Regulations.
Approved by CMA Board February 2015
Latest update approved by CMA Board in February 2020
Palliative care is an 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, treatment of pain and other symptoms and support of all physical, emotional and spiritual needs. It may coexist with other goals of care, such as prevention, treatment and management of chronic conditions, or it may be the sole focus of care.
1. All Canadian residents should have access to comprehensive, quality palliative care services regardless of age, care setting, diagnosis, ethnicity, language and financial status.1
2. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) declares that its members should adhere to the principles of palliative care whereby relief of suffering and quality of living are valued equally to other goals of medicine.
3. The CMA believes that all health care professionals should have access to referral for palliative care services and expertise.2
4. The CMA supports the integration of the palliative care approach into the management of life-limiting acute and chronic disease.3
5. The CMA advocates for the integration of accessible, quality palliative care services into acute, community and chronic care service delivery models4 that align with patient and family needs.
6. The CMA supports the implementation of a shared care model, emphasizing collaboration and open communication among physicians and other health care professionals.5
7. The CMA recognizes that the practice of assisted dying as defined by the Supreme Court of Canada is distinct from the practice of palliative care.
Access to palliative care services
8. The CMA believes that every person nearing the end of life who wishes to receive palliative care services at home should have access to them.
9. Comprehensive, quality palliative care services must be made available to all Canadians and efforts to broaden the availability of palliative care in Canada should be intensified.6
10. The CMA calls upon the federal government, in cooperation with provincial and territorial governments, to improve access to pediatric palliative care through enhanced funding, training and awareness campaigns.7
11. The CMA will engage in physician human resource planning to develop an appropriate strategy to ensure the delivery of quality palliative care throughout Canada.8
12. All physicians require basic competencies in palliative care and may require enhanced skills appropriate to their practice.
13. The CMA requests that all Canadian faculties of medicine create a training curriculum in palliative care suitable for physicians at all stages of their medical education and relevant to the settings in which they practise.9
Role of governments
14. The CMA calls on governments to work toward a common strategy for palliative care to ensure equitable access to and adequate standards for quality palliative care.10
15. The CMA recommends that all relevant legislation be amended to recognize that any person whose medical condition warrants it is entitled to receive palliative care.11
16. The CMA supports emergency funding for end-of-life care for uninsured people residing in Canada.12
In Canada, the impact of end-of-life care on both individuals and the health care system is "staggering," and the demand for this care will continue to grow as the population ages.13 It is estimated that the number of Canadians dying each year will increase by 40% to 330,000 by 2026. The well-being of an average of five others will be affected by each of those deaths, or more than 1.6 million people.14 Against this backdrop, the availability of and access to palliative care is an urgent policy and practice imperative.
There has been mounting support for, and mounting criticism of the lack of, a national strategy for palliative care.15 The delivery of palliative care varies greatly across Canada due to differences in regional demographics, societal needs, government involvement and funding structures. Similarly, funding and legislation supporting access to palliative care services vary significantly between jurisdictions.
A recent survey of Canadian physicians who provide palliative medicine found that: (1) Canada needs an adequate palliative medicine workforce; (2) primary care providers need more support for palliative care education and training; (3) palliative medicine as a distinct discipline must be further developed to better meet the complex needs of patients; and (4) Canada must ensure minimum palliative medicine standards are met.16
In an effort to address the current challenges in palliative care and improve both the quality of care and access to care, the CMA developed recommendations for a national call to action:
1. All patients should have a primary care provider that can support them with their palliative care needs or else refer these patients earlier to a palliative care team to establish goals of care.
2. Physicians should provide leadership at local, regional, provincial/territorial and federal levels to promote the establishment of integrated models of palliative care.
3. All physicians should obtain essential palliative care skills and knowledge to provide basic palliative care services to their patients.
4. Physicians should advocate for adequate and appropriate home palliative care resources so their patients can stay in their homes as long as possible.
5. Physicians should advocate for an adequate number of palliative and/or hospice care beds to meet their communities' needs.
6. Continuing care facilities and long-term care homes should have in-house palliative care physician support on their palliative care teams.
7. Physicians should support the valuable work of hospice volunteers.
8. Medical students are encouraged to look at palliative care as a rewarding career.
9. Practising palliative care physicians are encouraged, if needed, to obtain additional certified training in palliative care from either the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
10. Physicians acknowledge the value of and support the participation of family and friends in caring for their loved ones at the end of life.
Integrated palliative approach to care
There are four main models of palliative care delivery in Canada: integrated palliative care programs, continuing care and long-term care facilities, residential hospices, and home-based palliative care.
Palliative care was originally developed in cancer care to provide patients dying of cancer with care at the very end of life by a specialized palliative care team.17 This model has evolved significantly in response to the increasing occurrence of, and burden posed by, complex chronic disease18. Palliative care is now also provided to patients with multiple co-occurring morbidities who require multiple interventions. It is now recognized to benefit all those living with life-limiting acute or chronic conditions, including, or perhaps especially, when it is initiated earlier in the disease trajectory.
Evidence shows that integrated and early provision of palliative care leads to: (1) better outcomes than those obtained with treatment alone (e.g., improvements in symptoms, quality of life and patient satisfaction; positive effects on emotional wellness; decreased suffering; and at times increased longevity) and (2) better use of resources (e.g., less burden on caregivers, more appropriate referrals to hospice palliative care, more effective use of palliative care experts, less use of emergency and intensive interventions and decreased cost of care).19-20-21-22 Taken together, these studies validate the benefits of integrating palliative care services with standard treatment and involving palliative care providers early, a collaborative approach that transcends the conventional view that palliative care is care delivered at the very end of life.
At present, there is strong support for the development and implementation of an integrated palliative approach to care. Integration effectively occurs:
* throughout the disease trajectory;
* across care settings (primary care, acute care, long-term and complex continuing care, residential hospices, shelters, home);
* across professions/disciplines and specialties;
* between the health care system and communities; and
* with changing needs from primary palliative care through to specialist palliative care teams.
The integrated palliative approach to care focuses on meeting a person's and family's full range of physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs at all stages of frailty or chronic illness, not just at the end of life.23 It is provided in all health care settings. The palliative approach to care is not delayed until the end stages of an illness but is applied earlier to provide active comfort-focused care and a positive approach to reducing suffering. It also promotes understanding of loss and bereavement (Fig. 1).
Specialized palliative units and hospices are essential for end-of-life care for some individuals but are not appropriate for all persons facing life-limiting chronic conditions. When a palliative approach is offered in multiple settings, people and their families can receive better care through the many transitions of chronic conditions like dementia, lung, kidney and heart diseases, and cancer. This requires that all physicians be competent in initiating a primary palliative approach: they must be able to engage in advance care planning discussions, ask about physical and emotional symptoms and make appropriate, timely referrals to other providers and resources. Primary care physicians may need to develop more expertise in palliative care. A cadre of expert palliative care physicians will be required to provide care in complex cases, engage in education and research, and provide support for health professional colleagues providing palliative care in multiple settings. All health professionals must be able to practise competently in an integrated palliative approach to care.
At the heart of an integrated palliative approach to care are a patient and family surrounded by a team of multidisciplinary professionals and community providers (Fig. 2). While team members vary depending on the needs of the patients and families, the principles of whole-person care and family care do not change. This allows patients and families to have their symptoms managed, receive care in the setting of their choice, engage in ongoing discussions about their preferences for care and experience a sense of autonomy in living their lives well.
A report on The Way Forward, a project of the Quality End-of-Life Coalition of Canada and the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, summarizes the situation as follows: "Only a small proportion of Canadians will need the kind of complex, intensive or tertiary hospice palliative care provided by expert palliative care teams in institutional settings, such as residential hospices and acute care hospitals. However, everyone who is becoming frail or is faced with a chronic illness could benefit from certain key palliative care services. As our population ages, we must ensure that all Canadians have access to palliative services integrated with their other care that will help them manage symptoms, enhance their lives, give them a greater sense of control, and enable them to make informed decisions about the care they want. More equitable access to palliative care integrated with their other care will enable more Canadians to live well with their illness up to the end of life. It will also enable more people to receive care in the setting of their choice and reduce the demand on acute care resources." 24
Access to palliative care services
There are currently no reliable data on the number of specialized or semi-specialized palliative care physicians in Canada. It is difficult to count these physicians because palliative care has not historically existed as a specialty. Physicians practising palliative care have a wide variety of backgrounds and training, and many provide palliative care on a part-time basis. The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians is currently working with partner organizations including the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to better define the different types of palliative care physicians to conduct a meaningful count.
On the question of access, studies have found that palliative care services are not aligned with patient preferences. For example, while 70% of hospitalized elderly patients reported wanting comfort measures rather than life-prolonging treatment, more than two-thirds were admitted to intensive care units.25 Most patients and caregivers report wanting to die at home26 and in-home palliative team care is a cost-effective intervention,27 but the value of this form of care is not reflected in many provincial policies. Instead, Canadian families frequently shoulder 25% of the total cost of palliative care because they must pay for home-based services,28 such as nursing and personal care services, that are not provided by governments.
With the goal of improving the congruence between patient treatment preferences for end-of-life care and the services provided, Health Quality Ontario developed an evidentiary platform to inform public policy on strategies to optimize quality end-of-life care in in-patient and outpatient (community) settings. It identified four domains in which access to end-of-life care should be optimized to align with patient preferences: (1) location (determinants of place of death); (2) communication (patient care planning discussions and end-of-life educational interventions); (3) team-based models of care; and (4) services (cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR] and supportive interventions for informal caregivers).29
It is well recognized that education in palliative care is lacking in medical school and residency training. In response, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, conducted the Educating Future Physicians in Palliative and End-of-Life Care Project30 to develop consensus-based competencies for undergraduate medical trainees and a core curriculum that was implemented in all 17 Canadian medical schools. Despite these efforts, a survey conducted by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians found that the competencies are not being consistently taught in medical schools, as evidenced by the fact that 10 medical schools offered less than 10 hours of teaching on palliative care and two offered none.31
Moreover, evidence suggests that Canadian physicians are not consistently or adequately trained in palliative care. There is a general lack of providers trained in palliative care for service provision, teaching, consultative support to other physicians and research. To fill the observed gap in education, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada is developing Palliative Medicine as a subspecialty, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada is developing a Certificate of Added Competence in Palliative Care.
What is more, different levels of palliative care competencies are required for different physicians:
* All physicians require basic skills in palliative care.
* Palliative consultants and physicians who frequently care for patients with chronic illnesses and/or frail seniors require enhanced skills.
* Palliative medicine specialists and palliative medicine educators require expert skills.
More broadly, the undergraduate curricula of all health care disciplines should include instruction in the principles and practices of palliative care, including how to access specialized palliative care consultation and services.
Role of governments
Access to palliative care must be treated with the same consideration as access to all other medical care. Provincial/territorial and federal legislation, however, is vague in this regard and does not recognize access to palliative care as an entitlement. Government funding of community-based hospice palliative care has not increased proportionately to the number of institutionally based palliative care beds that have been cut, leaving a significant gap in the health care system.32 To address this issue, efforts to broaden the availability of and access to palliative care in Canada need to be intensified. It is imperative that governments develop a common palliative care strategy to ensure equitable access to and adequate standards for quality palliative care, including emergency funding for those who are uninsured.
Integrated palliative approach to care: An approach that focuses on quality of life and reduction of suffering as a goal of care. This approach may coexist with other goals of care - prevention, cure, management of chronic illness - or be the sole focus of care. The palliative approach integrates palliative care services throughout the treatment of a person with serious life-limiting illness, not just at the very end of life.
Palliative care services: Generally consists of palliative care provided by a multidisciplinary team. The team may include a primary care physician, a palliative care physician, nurses, allied health professionals (as needed), social workers, providers of pastoral care and counselling, bereavement specialists and volunteers. The team members work together in a shared care model.
Shared care model: An approach to care that uses the skills and knowledge of a range of health professionals who share joint responsibility for an individual's care. This model involves monitoring and exchanging patient data and sharing skills and knowledge among disciplines.33
1 Policy Resolution GC99-87 - Access to end-of-life and palliative care services. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 1999. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
2Policy Resolution GC14-20 - Palliative care services and expertise. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
3Policy Resolution GC13-67 - Palliative Care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
4Policy Resolution GC13-66 - Palliative Care Services. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
5 Policy Resolution GC13-80 - Collaborative palliative care model. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
6Policy Document PD15-02 - Euthanasia And Assisted Death (Update 2014). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assetslibrary/document/en/advocacy/EOL/CMA_Policy_Euthanasia_Assisted%20Death_PD15-02-e.pdf#search=Euthanasia%20and (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
7 Policy Resolution GC06-12 - Access to pediatric palliative care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2006. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
8Policy Resolution GC14-23 - Delivery of quality palliative end-of-life care throughout Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
9Policy Resolution GC13-71 - Training in palliative care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
10Policy Document PD10-02 - Funding the continuum of care.Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2010. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
11Policy Resolution GC13-70 - Palliative Care. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
12Policy Resolution GC14-26 - Emergency funding for end-of-life care for uninsured people residing in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2015 Nov 26).
13 OHTAC End-of-Life Collaborative. Health care for people approaching the end of life: an evidentiary framework. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario; 2014. Available: http://www.hqontario.ca/evidence/publications-and-ohtac-recommendations/ontario-health-technology-assessment-series/eol-evidentiary-framework.
14 Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2012. Ottawa: Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada; 2010. Available: http://www.qelccc.ca/media/3743/blueprint_for_action_2010_to_2020_april_2010.pdf.
15 Fowler R, Hammer M. End-of-life care in Canada. Clin Invest Med. 2013;36(3):E127-E32.
16 Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians. Highlights from the National Palliative Medicine Survey. Surrey (BC): Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, Human Resources Committee; May 2015.
17 Bacon J. The palliative approach: improving care for Canadians with life-limiting illnesses. Ottawa: Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association; 2012. Available: http://www.hpcintegration.ca/media/38753/TWF-palliative-approach-report-English-final2.pdf.
18 Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee OCDM Collaborative. Optimizing chronic disease management in the community (outpatient) setting (OCDM): an evidentiary framework. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario; 2013. Available: www.hqontario.ca/Portals/0/Documents/eds/ohtas/compendium-ocdm-130912-en.pdf.
19 Zimmermann C, Swami N, Krzyzanowska M, Hannon B, et al. Early palliative care for patients with advanced cancer: a cluster-randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2014;383(9930):1721-1730.
20 Klinger CA, Howell D, Marshall D, Zakus D, et al. Resource utilization and cost analyses of home-based palliative care service provision: the Niagara West end-of-life shared-care project. Palliat Med. 2013;27(2):115-122.
21 Temel JS, Greer JA, Muzikansky MA, Gallagher ER, et al. Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. NEJM. 2010;363:733-742.
22 Bakitas M, Lyons KD, Hegel MT, Balan S, et al. Effects of a palliative care intervention on clinical outcomes in patients with advanced cancer: the Project ENABLE II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2009;302:741-749.
23 Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. The Way Forward National Framework: a roadmap for an integrated palliative approach to care. Ottawa: Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada; 2014. Available: http://www.qelccc.ca/media/3743/blueprint_for_action_2010_to_2020_april_2010.pdf
24 Quality End-of-Life Coalition of Canada, Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. The Way Forward National Framework: a roadmap for the integrated palliative approach to care. Quality End-of-Life Coaltion of Canada; 2014. Available: http://www.hpcintegration.ca/media/60044/TWF-framework-doc-Eng-2015-final-April1.pdf.
25 Cook D, Rocker G. End of life care in Canada: a report from the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Forum. Clin Invest Med. 2013;36(3):E112-E113.
26 Brazil, K, Howell D, Bedard M, Krueger P, et al. Preferences for place of care and place of death among informal caregivers of the terminally ill. Palliat Med. 2005;19(6):492-499.
27 Pham B, Krahn M. End-of-life care interventions: an economic analysis. Ontario Health Quality Technology Assessment Series. 2014;14(18):1-70. Available: http://www.qelccc.ca/media/3743/blueprint_for_action_2010_to_2020_april_2010.pdf.
28 Dumont S, Jacobs P, Fassbender K, Anderson D, et al. Costs associated with resource utilization during the palliative phase of care: a Canadian perspective. Palliat Med. 2009;23(8)708-717.
29 OHTAC End-of-Life Collaborative. Health care for people approaching the end of life: an evidentiary framework. Toronto: Health Quality Ontario; 2014. Available: www.hqontario.ca/evidence/publications-and-ohtac-recommendations/ontario-health-technology-assessment-series/eol-evidentiary-framework
30 Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada. Educating future physicians in palliative and end-of-life care. Ottawa: Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada; 2004. Available: http://126.96.36.199/social-educating-physicians-e.php.
31 Daneault S. Undergraduate training in palliative care in Canada in 2011. Montreal: Soins palliatifs, Hôpital Notre-Dame, Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal; 2012.
32 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Fact sheet 2012: hospice palliative care in Canada. Available: http://www.chpca.net/media/330558/Fact_Sheet_HPC_in_Canada%20Spring%202014%20Final.pdf.
33 Moorehead, R. Sharing care between allied health professional and general practitioners. Aust Fam Physician. 1995;24(11).
PHYSICIAN RESOURCE PLANNING
The purpose of this policy statement is to identify the key elements required to properly undertake physician resource planning to support the delivery of appropriate medical care to all Canadians. A sustainable health care system requires effective physician resource planning and training that ensures an appropriate specialty mix that is responsive to population needs. CMA supports the need for the establishment of a coordinated national approach toward physician resource planning and an appropriately responsive undergraduate and postgraduate education system. CMA supports supply- and demand- projection models for health human resources using standardized approaches. National specialty societies should be actively engaged in physician resource planning for their respective discipline. Governments must work cooperatively with the medical profession to meet the needs of the population they serve in an affordable manner including funding the necessary infrastructure to support the appropriate number and mix of physicians.
1. Physician resource planning requires a pan-Canadian supply and needs-based projection model.
2. Infrastructure and resources as well as physician resources need to match the needs-based projection.
3. Strategies should be used throughout the undergraduate and postgraduate training system to address the current challenges matching physician resources to population needs.
4. Changing models of care delivery must be taken into consideration when developing physician resource projection models.
The purpose of this policy statement is to identify the key elements required to properly undertake physician resource planning to support the delivery of appropriate medical care to all Canadians.1
Ensuring an adequate supply of physician human resources is a major tenet of the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Health Care Transformation initiative.2 While the number of students enrolled in Canadian medical schools increased by over 60 percent between 2001-02 and 2011-12, some enrollment reductions are now occurring despite significant physician resource issues remaining, affecting patient care delivery across the country.
Currently, four to five million Canadians do not have a family physician. For older family physicians who may retire soon or wish to reduce their practice workload, there may be no colleagues able to take on new patients. Many new family physicians do not take on as large a roster of patients as those retiring. Even where overall supply has improved, recruiting and retaining physicians in underserved areas remains a challenge. Canada continues to license International Medical Graduates (IMGs) with 25% of practicing physicians receiving their medical degree from outside of the country3-the distribution of this group varies throughout Canada.
Physician disciplines in short supply vary by jurisdiction. Some new physicians (especially those dependent on hospital based resources) are finding it hard to secure employment in their discipline.4 Concern for the future has spread to postgraduate residents and medical students. Completing fellowships, to make physicians more marketable, are now commonplace. A major contributor to underemployment in some specialties is a lack of infrastructure and related human resources (e.g., operating room time, nursing care).
A sustainable health care system requires effective physician resource planning and training that ensures an appropriate specialty mix that is responsive to population needs. At present, there is no pan-Canadian system to monitor or manage the specialty mix. Few jurisdictions engage in formal health human resources planning and little cross-jurisdictional or pan-Canadian planning takes place. Currently, few Canadian jurisdictions have a long-term physician resource plan in place, particularly one that employs a supply and needs-based projection model. It has been almost four decades since the federal government has completed a needs-based projection of physician requirements in Canada.5
Physician resource planning must consider the population's health care needs over a longer term as the length of time to train a physician can be over a decade long depending on the specialty; this also means that practice opportunities can change during the period of training. The consequences of the lack of monitoring and management of the physician specialty mix can be long-lasting. A 2014 comparison of posted physician practice opportunities across Canada versus the number of post-graduate exits suggests a supply and demand mismatch for both family physicians (more positions posted than post-grad exits) and for medical and surgical specialists (more post-grad exits than available positions posted).6
Overall goal and considerations of physician resource planning
The overall goal of physician resource planning is to produce a self-sustaining workforce that will effectively serve the health needs of Canadians by providing an adequate supply of clinicians, teachers, researchers and administrators.
Physician resource planning should recognize the following considerations:
* Physicians in training have a dual role of learner and clinical care provider.7
* Shifts in service delivery can occur with the development of new technologies, the changing prevalence of some disease states, the emergence of new illnesses and shifting public expectations (see Appendix A: The impact of emerging health technologies and models of care on physician resource planning).
* Rural and remote communities possess unique challenges of not only attracting physicians but also in the nature of skills required to provide services.
* Physicians are required for services to patient populations who fall under federal jurisdiction including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, First Nations and Inuit, refugees and refugee claimants, veterans, and prisoners in federal penitentiaries; this includes consideration of how they are attracted and the skills they require.
* The full use of national medical services should be utilized instead of outsourcing to other countries. In instances where outsourcing of medical services occurs, Canadian training and certification standards must be met.
* The emphasis from governments and the public for 24/7 access to a wide scope of physician and health care services must be balanced with the possibility of more fragmented care from multiple physicians involved in the care of a single patient.
* There is a need for more clearly defined scopes of professional activity and optimal interactions among primary care physicians including family physicians who acquire enhanced/advanced skills to meet community needs, general specialists and subspecialists, particularly in the large urban areas where these three broad groups co-exist.
* It is also relevant to define the role and most appropriate interactions of physicians with other healthcare professionals, including but not limited to physician assistants, specially trained nurses, dieticians, therapists and pharmacists.
* The current shift to alternate payment plans and collaborative care models may, increase or decrease the non-clinical portion (e.g., research, teaching) of a physician's workload and thus increase the need for additional physicians.
* The scheduling for the provision of after-hours care can have an effect on the use of physician resources (See CMA's policy statement on Management of Physician Fatigue for more information).
* High tuition fees affect the social demographic mix of those seeking medical degrees while higher debt loads and the opportunity to practice in various models of care can influence specialty choice. 8 Similarly, advice from supervising faculty role models, negative/positive experiences during training, perceived lifestyle of the discipline, personal finances and earning potentials of medical disciplines all influence a medical student's specialty choice and in turn what health services will be available to future populations. Reliable and valid information on the current and future needs of the Canadian population can help trainees to make evidence-based decisions that allow them to select careers that match the needs of their patients.
* Patterns in the transition of retiring physicians' practices need to be identified.
It is essential to project not only the number of physicians but also some measure of their likely level of professional activity. Practice patterns may vary in response to changes in lifestyle among physicians, changing health technologies, group practices, interdisciplinary care models, and increased specialization of many generalist specialists and family physicians.
The academic sector must ensure the provision of high-quality undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education programs, and remain internationally competitive in the recruitment and retention of a first-class teaching and research community.
Structured mentorship programs and formal career counseling should be a required component of all undergraduate and postgraduate curricula in Canada.9 Teaching institutions and postgraduate accreditation authorities need to recognize the risk in requiring students to make critical career choices before exploring all the options and should develop strategies to mitigate those risks, which may include tools for assessing aptitudes. Formal career counseling throughout medical education and training can boost employment success. Results of supply projection models should also be readily available to students and advisors so an informed choice can be made.
There is a need to ensure flexibility at the undergraduate, postgraduate, and re-entry levels of medical education, with the recognition that the requirements for specialist services may change. It also allows room for standardized transfers of residents between programs and locations and for the integration of international medical graduates (IMGs). CMA recommends that a ratio of 120 postgraduate training positions per 100 medical graduates be re-established and maintained. Canadians studying medicine abroad and other IMGs who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada must be explicitly factored into the planning for the capacity of the post-MD training system. CMA supports measures to facilitate the acculturation of IMGs.
The objective of seeking reasonable self-sufficiency for the full range of physician services must be paramount.10 Self-sufficiency is defined as ensuring that the annual output of the undergraduate and postgraduate sectors of Canadian medical schools meets the medical service needs of the Canadian public. This will reduce the need to attract physicians from countries that face a higher burden of disease whose requirements for physician services exceed those of Canada. It is important to facilitate the retention of physicians who train in the Canadian postgraduate system.
There must be adequate human and physical infrastructure to support physician training. An adequate supply of clinical educators is required to prevent training bottlenecks. Strategies that utilize untapped health infrastructure resources within and outside the academic community such as satellite or distributive medical education training sites should be considered for not only training reasons but for retention purposes as well.
Effectively matching supply to societal needs
Residency training positions should reflect current and emerging population needs and if possible, job availability at the national level. Mechanisms should be in place to assist medical training programs to adjust to changing health needs in a timely manner.
Physician resource planning can benefit from enhanced evaluation of community health needs, as established by thorough determinations of health status, epidemiological studies, input from communities and other needs assessments.
In recent years, attention has been given to augmenting the provision of care to properly respond to Canada's growing seniors' population. This will require an assessment of physician resource trends among specialties that focus on seniors' care including the capacity to deliver quality palliative end-of-life care throughout Canada.
To address geographic maldistribution, programs should train physicians in the wide spectrum of practice that is required for underserved communities-both rural and urban-as well as incorporate the involvement of the communities throughout the medical trainee life cycle. Programs to attract and retain physicians, including those from rural and underservice areas, need flexible incentives to address the professional and personal needs of physicians. Financial incentives, locum support, spousal employment, children's education and support from other specialists are key factors that need to be addressed. Also, the attraction and retention of physicians to underserved areas requires the presence of adequate technical equipment and personnel.
Exposure to patterns of community practice-including generalist training-outside large urban tertiary/quaternary centres may help attract individuals into specialties best suited for rural and regional centres. CMA encourages family physicians to maintain their skills in comprehensive family medicine, while supporting their choice to acquire additional skills that will better serve the needs of their community.
It is important to strive and budget for a critical mass of physicians required to deliver basic services to given populations to permit reasonable life-style management and the avoidance of professional isolation. Coercive measures that restrict physicians' choice of location and subsequent geographic mobility are not supported.
Concentrated efforts are needed to assist new graduates of Canadian residency programs and established physicians find optimal employment in their discipline within Canada. The issue of facilitating the mobility of physicians among provinces and territories (including locum work) requires dialogue with and cooperation from individual provincial and territorial licensing authorities.
CMA supports supply- and demand- projection models for health human resources using standardized approaches. Physician human resource plans should be reviewed on an ongoing basis, examining current supply and attrition patterns to determine if new policies are required or changes are needed to the undergraduate and postgraduate complement.
Collaborative approach to physician resource planning
Physician resource planning is complex, requiring the involvement of provincial/territorial medical associations, national specialty societies, the Royal Canadian Medical Service (Canadian Armed Forces), special medical interest groups, the medical education sector, the health care facilities sectors, governments, other health care professionals and other key stakeholders.
CMA is committed to promoting a collaborative and respectful interaction among all the disciplines within the medical profession and recognition of the unique contributions of each to an efficient, high-quality and cost-effective health care delivery system. Governments must work cooperatively with the medical profession to meet the needs of the population they serve in an affordable manner including funding the necessary infrastructure to support the appropriate number and mix of physicians. National specialty societies should be actively engaged in physician resource planning for their respective discipline.
CMA supports the establishment of a coordinated national approach toward physician resource planning and an appropriately responsive undergraduate and postgraduate education system. The recruitment and retention policies available at the provincial level can play a significant role in health human resources distribution and evolution. The federal government in conjunction with the provincial Deputy Ministers and Deans of Medicine, should continue to fund a pan-Canadian supply based planning model as laid out by the Physician Resource Planning Taskforce and extend its support to the second phase which is a comprehensive needs based planning model that will be accessible to governments and the profession.
Given the importance of a planned, open and professional approach to physician resource planning, the CMA encourages all stakeholders to permit researchers, policy planners and other relevant organizations access to their physician resources database at the national and jurisdictional level while protecting the privacy of individual physicians. The CMA will continue to seek input into the design and structure of any such national databases.
The impact of emerging health technologies and models of care on physician resource planning
As in the past, a number of technological developments11 will alter the future demand for medical services and how medicine is practiced. Examples of such technological developments include: health information technologies (HITs); technologies to support distance care and self-monitoring (e.g., telemedicine, implantable or wearable sensors); surgical robotics; advanced diagnostic testing; genomic technologies; integrated care teams; and new funding models. It is important to consider how these developments will affect future supply and training (i.e., skill sets) of physicians as part of physician resource planning.
There is little evidence about whether new technologies increase or reduce working hours.12 However, the adoption of new technologies can lead to new roles and opportunities for physicians as well as for other staff. New technologies can also lead to a greater role for patients in taking responsibility for their own health. There is extensive evidence that new technologies can improve the quality of patient care, especially when used in addition to existing care rather than as a substitution.13
A key factor in assessing the impact of new health technologies on physician resource planning is the rate of adoption and diffusion of new technologies. The rate can vary widely depending on an extensive range of factors including ease of use, safety, cost (both in terms of acquiring the technology and to train the clinician), compatibility and culture/attitudes. Not all new technologies are successfully adopted or lead to positive outcomes. Moreover, unlike other sectors, the adoption of health care technologies does not often lead to lower costs.14 The adoption can also be influenced by broader factors such as changing patient needs and the government's fiscal resources.
One key impact of emerging health technologies is a shift in the location where care is received. For instance, less invasive surgery will lead to greater use of community services for follow up care rather than in-hospital care. Likewise, the technologies can support the provision of more specialized services in small and remote communities by family physicians with the appropriate training and support.
Emerging health technologies can also impact the type of care provided. The literature suggests the impact will be felt more in sub-specialty areas with care shifting from one subspecialty to another.15 Advances in non-invasive surgical interventions will continue to drive practice convergence such as seen with cardiac related procedures.16
The accelerated use of HITs specifically could have the greatest overall impact on health human resources due to such factors as: the need for increased training to use HITs; and an increased need for health informatics specialists (both medical and non-medical).15 Automated knowledge work tools will almost certainly extend the powers of many types of workers and help drive top-line improvements with innovations and better decision making.17
The move to more collaborative care models, particularly in primary care, can be expected in the coming years. Common characteristics of these models include comprehensive chronic disease prevention, population-based services and programs, full use of electronic medical records, quality monitoring, dedicated time to team building and collaboration, and a wide range of health care providers functioning to their full scope of practice.18 Multi-disciplinary teams could also involve a wider range of providers such as IT specialists, bio-engineers and genetic counselors. While CMA has previously called for funding models to be in place to allow physicians and other health care providers to practice within the full scope of their professional activities,19 a significant issue will be how such collaborative care models can be funded by governments on a sustained basis.
Physicians and other health care providers need to be trained to effectively adopt any new technology. The literature is clear that physicians must be engaged in any discussions regarding new and current health technologies to ensure their proper assessment and successful implementation.20 Previously, CMA has called for:
* A flexible medical training system based on informed career choice to accommodate changes in medical practice and physician resource needs;
* A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions within the postgraduate training system to enable practicing physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline.21
* Recognition that scopes of practice must reflect these changes in societal needs (including the need of the public for access to services), societal expectations, and preferences of patients and the public for certain types of health care providers to fulfill particular roles and functions, while at the same time reflecting economic realities.22
1 This policy is to be used in conjunction with CMA's policy statements on Management of Physician Fatigue (2014), Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009), Physician Health and Well-Being (1998), Tuition Fee Escalation and Deregulation in Undergraduate Programs in Medicine (Update 2009), and Rural and Remote Practice Issues (1998).
2 Canadian Medical Association. Health Care Transformation in Canada. Change That Works, Care That Lasts. Ottawa: The Association; 2010. Available: http://www.hpclearinghouse.ca/pdf/HCT-2010report_en.pdf (accessed 2015 May 04).
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Physicians in Canada, 2013: Summary Report Ottawa: The Institute; 2013 Sep.
4 College of Family Physicians of Canda, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2013. Backgrounder. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/OFFICIAL-RELEASE_NPS-2013-Backgrounder_EN.pdf
5 The last federally commissioned study, the Report of the Requirements Committee on Physician Manpower to the National Committee on Physician Manpower, was published by the Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1975.
6 Research conducted by the Canadian Medical Association. Fall 2014.
7 National Steering Committee on Resident Duty Hours. Fatigue, risk and excellence: Towards a Pan-Canadian consensus on resident duty hours. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. 2013.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Tuition fee escalation and deregulation in undergraduate programs in medicine (update 2009). Ottawa" The Association; 2003 June. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca
9 The Canadian Association of Internes and Residents. CAIR Position Paper on Mentorship. June 2013. http://residentdoctors.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CAIR-Position-Paper-on-Mentorship_June-2013_en.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 29).
10 Self-sufficiency is a key principle of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources' Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning. Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources. 2009. How Many Are Enough? Redefining Self-Sufficiency for the Health Workforce: A Discussion Paper. The policy is also consistent with the World Medical Association and the World Health Organization (The WHO Global Code of Practice of the International Recruitment of Health Personnel). http://www.who.int/hrh/migration/code/code_en.pdf?ua=1
11 Definition of Health Technologies (World Health Organization): "The application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives."
12 Evidence Centre for Skills for Health, How do technologies impact on workforce organisation? Bristol (UK): The Centre. Available: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=101&cf_id=24 (accessed 2015 Feb 02).
13 Evidence Centre for Skills for Health, How do technologies impact on workforce organisation? Bristol (UK): The Centre. Available: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=101&cf_id=24 (accessed 2015 Feb 2)
14 Skinner J. "The costly paradox of health-care technology". MIT Technology Review. 2013 Sep 5.
15 Anvari M. Impact of information technology on human resources in healthcare. Healthcare Quarterly, 10(4) September 2007:84-88.
16 Social Sector Metrics Inc., Health Intelligence Inc. Physician resource planning: a recommended model and implementation framework. Final report submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. 2002 Jan 31. Available: www.doctorsns.com/site/media/DoctorsNS/PhysicianResourcePlanning-finalreport.pdf (accessed 2015 Feb 2).
17 McKinsey Global Institute, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. McKinsey & Company 2013.
18 Social Sector Metrics Inc., Health Intelligence Inc. Physician resource planning: a recommended model and implementation framework. Final report submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. 2002 Jan 31. Available: www.doctorsns.com/site/media/DoctorsNS/PhysicianResourcePlanning-finalreport.pdf (accessed 2015 Feb 02).
19 Canadian Medical Association. The Evolving Professional Relationship Between Canadian Physicians and Our Health Care System: Where Do We Stand? Ottawa: The Association; 2012
20 Steven A. Olson et al., Healthcare technology: Physician collaboration in reducing the surgical cost. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. (2013) 471:1854-64.
21 Canadian Medical Association. Flexibility in Medical Training (update 2009) Ottawa: The Association; 2009.
22 Canadian Medical Association. Scopes of practice. Ottawa: The Association; 2002.
In 2007, The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) established a partnership to explore wait times in primary medical care - the CFPC-CMA Primary Care Wait Time Partnership (PCWTP). The goal of the Partnership is to advocate for timely access to health care for all Canadians.
The first part of the wait time continuum that can be measured is when the patient schedules his or her first visit ith a family physician. A family physician may then refer the patient to specialty care. Both of these stages in the continuum have not been addressed in wait time discussions thus far. The available evidence suggests that one-half of the total waiting time for family physician referral to treatment is from family physician referral to when the patient is seen by the consulting specialist.
Thus, there are three main issues around our focus on primary care wait times:
Access to primary care for those without a family physician;
Access to primary care for those with a family physician; and
Referral from primary to more highly specialized care.
The CFPC has proposed a target that 95% of Canadians in each community have a family physician by 2012. There are two ways to achieve this goal: 1. increase the number of family physicians practicing in Canada and 2. increase the capacity of existing family physicians. To help address the supply issue, medical schools must find innovative ways to encourage more medical students to choose family medicine. A second approach to increasing the supply of family physicians is to provide more training opportunities so that qualified International Medical Graduates can be integrated into the family physician workforce. In terms of capacity, there are a number of approaches that have been taken to help improve family physicians' ability to take on additional patients. For example, financial incentives geared towards this objective have been included in some physician contracts. However, much more can be done in this regard, such as improving patient flow with more efficient practice management procedures
There are several models for primary care delivery operating in Canada, including various collaborative practice arrangements with different care providers working together. However, thus far there is no conclusive evidence that any one particular model is better than all of the others in terms of providing timely access to care. Many studies have compared various models in a variety of ways; each with different conclusions. While there is no definitive research on best models for primary care delivery, there is a range of innovative approaches to enhancing timely access to quality primary medical care. More research is necessary to help determine which model or models of primary care, if broadly implemented, will make considerable improvements to patient access.
Aside from collaborative care practice models, we must look for solutions that increase patient access to care through enhanced practice efficiency and not by expecting family physicians to work harder and longer. Physicians should be educated on how to run a practice from a patient flow point of view as well as a financial one. To address this, enhanced practice management training should be provided during medical school education and residency levels and Continuing Medical Education programs should be created.
One method of improving practice efficiency is through a process known as Clinical Practice Redesign (CPR). The main objective CPR is to improve patient flow through a medical practice. This involves the use of effective scheduling management techniques that allow appropriate prioritizing of patient visits. This undertaking requires commitment from physicians as well as effective information management and measurement tools, additional practice support and assistance from change management experts. These efforts can go a long way to help improve patient access and increase capacity to accommodate patient appointments.
One of the key challenges of primary care wait times is to establish guidelines for timely access to specialty care. This is potentially an enormous undertaking given that there are some 60 recognized specialties and sub-specialties in Canada and each of them is responsible for treating a number of conditions presenting to the family physician. Due to the varying degree of complexity of a patient's medical problem, an appropriate wait time would be difficult to define by a particular disease or illness.
Given the wide spectrum of illnesses that are assessed in a primary care setting, any approach to developing wait time targets must be done in consultation with family physicians and with clinical guidelines in mind.
When a patient is referred to more highly specialized care, a concerted effort must be made to keep the lines of communication as open as is feasible between family physicians and consulting specialists, in both directions. Improved communication between providers is essential to improving the wait time at this point in the continuum.
While timely access to family physicians and the referral time to other specialists is a nationwide concern, access to health care can be a greater challenge in rural locations. Any guidelines regarding wait times to specialty care must also account for the geographic factors that affect access.
When considering the concept of target-setting, a significant investment in information infrastructure is required to facilitate the measurement and monitoring of access to primary care physicians and referrals to other specialists. Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that regardless of how targets are determined, even if they are met, not everyone will receive care within the most appropriate period of time for their particular situation.
In 2007, The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) established a partnership to explore wait times in primary medical care - the CFPC-CMAPrimary Care Wait Time Partnership (PCWTP). The goal of the Partnership is to advocate for timely access to primary care for Canadians.
The Partnership released its interim report, ... And Still Waiting: Exploring Primary Care Wait Times in Canada, in April 2008 to stimulate discussion and
agreement about ways to improve timely access to primary care and from primary to more highly specialized care. It reviewed a broad range of issues faced by family doctors in a health system that has largely ignored the wait time challenges their patients face and was very well received by members of the CMA, CFPC and other stakeholders. This final report is a focused approach to some of the recommendations and solutions, especially of relevance in primary medical care.
The difficulty in measuring primary care wait times for myriad illnesses and conditions was identified in the first report as one that may impede progress in finding solutions to the wait time challenges that family doctors experience. The PCWTP believes that the initial requirement is the ability to measure and track wait times along the continuum of the patient's care but that this capacity in primary as well as more highly specialized levels of care is still very limited. There is also the need to prioritize which benchmarks or targets should be attained along the patient's wait time continuum: 1) to find a family physician; 2) to be seen by a family physician; and 3) to have a diagnostic intervention or to be seen by a consulting specialist.
The difficulty in measuring primary care wait times for myriad illnesses and conditions...may impede progress in finding solutions to the wait time challenges that family doctors experience.
Methodology and Scope of Report
This paper is an opportunity to draw attention to issues of relevance to family physicians and their patients waiting for care - either to find a family doctor, or to be seen by their family doctor or to be seen by another specialist. The paper is a reflection of several data sources, including:
Expert opinion from family physician leaders in practice and research
The National Physician Survey (NPS) results from 2004 and 2007
Given the available expertise within the PCWTP representing two national medical organizations that advocate for patients in primary care and for the resources that support high quality care, the authors of this paper are in a unique position to use their knowledge and understanding to contribute to the proposed solutions and recommendations.
It is easier to define what is in than what is out of scope for this paper. There is a variety of important influences coming to bear on primary care wait times. Some are beyond the scope of this discussion. For example, the health system is promoting more collaborative care and while this is an increasingly important part of practice, its influence on primary care wait times has yet to be determined.
There are also enablers and impediments to improved access to care, some of these still poorly defined. For example, where a physician practices and the influence of location, e.g. suburban in contrast to rural communities, makes a difference to access. The location of resources based on criteria such as cost-effectiveness and skill maintenance requires more attention. Likewise, new models of primary care are encouraging incentives to practice differently. But it is still uncertain how these new models of care are affecting access to timely care.
Finally, there are many personal factors that affect patient choice and physician decision in determining when access is acceptable or when it is intolerable. Risk plays an important part in these decisions but not all risk is measurable. Some experts have also suggested not every waiting list is a bad list. These issues require much more analysis than this paper allows.
In short, recommendations for further research will be reinforced as much by what we know as by what we still do not know.
What Does It Mean?
In the first report by the PCWTP, primary care was defined as first-contact medical care and services provided by family physicians and general practitioners. In contrast, primary health care was defined as the broader determinants of health, including health services delivered by other professional providers. Likewise, in that report it was acknowledged that "primary care is the foundation and family physicians are the backbone of the health system as the first points of contact for most patients." Patients have access to a continuum of medical services by first presenting to their family physician at the primary care level.
Individuals may require specialty care at various points in their lives. Patients may see several specialists for a variety of problems; however, patients' family physicians play an important role during interaction with specialty care throughout the continuum of lifelong care.
(Figure 1) [SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY]
What does it mean to have a family physician? As set out in the CFPC's Four Principles of Family Medicine, a person may be said to have a family physician when they have established a patient-physician relationship that provides for continuing care through repeated contacts across the life cycle and in which the physician becomes an advocate for the patient by referring to other specialists and other health care resources as appropriate. While in the past this relationship has often been established through an unwritten contract, in some of the new practice models patients are formally "rostered", that is to say they sign a commitment to seek all of their non-emergent care from the particular physician or clinic.
Patients may see several specialists for a variety of problems; however, patients' family physicians play an important role during interaction with specialty care throughout the continuum of lifelong care.
What does it mean to not have a family physician? Persons without a family physician are those without an established relationship with a primary care physician who maintains a continuous medical record for them.
The largest population-based surveys that collect data on health care use among the general population have been conducted by Statistics Canada. They have not asked specifically about "family physicians" but rather about "regular doctors" or "regular medical doctor". In its 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Statistics Canada asked the simple question, Do you have a regular medical doctor?1 Nationally, 85% of the population aged 12 or older reported that they did. In 2008, the CFPC commissioned a Harris/Decima survey and found that 86% of respondents had a family physician. 2 The CFPC proposed a target that 95% of Canadians in each community have a family physician by 2012. Some regions of the country may be close to attaining this target while others have far to go.
Persons with a regular doctor are more likely to report greater continuity of care. According to Statistics Canada's 2007 Survey of Experiences with Primary Health Care, among the 86% of the population reported to have a regular medical doctor, 95% said that they would either definitely or probably be taken care of by the same physician or nurse each time they visited their physician's office. In contrast, among the 10% of the population with no regular doctor but some regular place of care, just 31% said they would definitely or probably see the same physician or nurse with each visit. 3
What does it mean to not have a family physician? Persons without a family physician are those without an established relationship with a primary care physician who maintains a continuous medical record for them. These are referred to as unattached (or orphaned) patients. They obtain episodic care from places like walk-in clinics and hospital emergency rooms (ERs). A recent report by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) found that there are significant excess visits to ERs among people with chronic conditions who do not have a regular family physician. 4 Reducing the number of unattached patients could therefore have a substantial impact on the problem of overcrowded ERs.
Of the estimated 4.1 million Canadians aged 12 and over who indicated that they did not have a regular doctor in the 2007 CCHS, 78% reported that they had some other usual source of care. Among these individuals, the most frequently cited source of care was walk-in clinics (64%), followed by hospital emergency rooms (12%), community health centres (10%) and "other" (14%). 5
The Concept of the Medical Home
For those with a family physician there has been an increase in the literature in the United States on the concept of a "medical home". In 2007 the American Academy of Family Physicians and three other medical associations adopted "joint principles of the patient-centered medical home" that include:
-each patient having a personal physician
-physician directed medical practice
-whole person orientation
-coordinated care across all elements of the health system
-quality and safety (e.g. support for optimal patient-centered outcomes)
-enhanced access to care (e.g. open appointment scheduling); and
-appropriate payment incentives. 6
The Commonwealth Fund attempted to assess the proportion of patients with a medical home in their 2007 International Health Policy Survey. Their definition included patients that have "a regular doctor or place that is very/somewhat easy to contact by phone, always/often knows medical history, and always/often helps coordinate care (yes)." While 84% of Canadian respondents on the survey reported that they had a doctor that they usually see (consistent with all other survey estimates), just under one out of two (48%) were considered to have a medical home according to the Commonwealth Fund definition. Of the seven countries surveyed, respondents in New Zealand and Australia were the most likely to be considered as having a medical home (61% and 59% respectively). 7
Primary Care Models
There are several models for primary care delivery and thus far there is no conclusive evidence that any one particular model is better than all of the others. Many studies have compared various models in a variety of ways; each with different conclusions. For example, a comprehensive comparative study on the productive efficiencies of four models of primary care delivery in Ontario concluded that no one type of model dominates and that further research is required. 8
Furthermore, another study comparing various primary health care models with regard to a number of variables including access and quality came to the same conclusion. It found that the fee-for-service physician practice model ranked highest in terms of patient access and responsiveness, while community health centres ranked highest in effectiveness, productivity, continuity and quality. 9
Finally, another study that compared patient satisfaction in walk-in clinics, ERs and family practices came to the conclusion that in terms of waiting time, patients were most satisfied with family practices. 10
While there is no definitive research on best models for primary care delivery, this report shows there is a range of innovative approaches to enhancing timely access to quality primary medical care.
The issue of wait times has dominated the health policy agenda in Canada, particularly since the First Ministers Accord in 2004. Prior to that however, in their February 2003 Accord, which they considered to be a "covenant", governments agreed to develop and report on common indicators. Among the 40 indicators listed in the 2003 Accord, in addition to access to primary care (measured as a percentage of the population with a regular family doctor and a percentage of doctors accepting new patients), the list included seven wait-time/volume indicators, of which the following were pertinent to primary care:
-referral to specialists for cancers (lung, prostate, breast, colo-rectal), heart and stroke;
-diagnostic tests (MRI, CT); and
-proportion of services/facilities linked to a centralized (provincial/regional) wait list management system for selected cancers and surgeries, referral to specialists, emergency rooms and diagnostic tests. (11)
These commitments were overtaken, however, by the 2004 Accord which called for evidence-based benchmarks for five procedures including cancer, heart, diagnostic imaging, joint replacements and sight restoration. (12) National benchmarks were achieved in December 2005, but they begin from the point where the decision has been reached on treatment between the consulting specialist and patient. (13)
A. To Family Medicine
In discussions regarding the total time patients wait for care, what is often overlooked is the fact that the wait time continuum starts when a patient has a medical problem. However, the first part of the continuum that can be measured is when the patient schedules his or her first visit with a family physician. Figure 2 below illustrates the full wait time continuum.
[figure 2. SEE PDF]
Access to a family physician is a major concern in this country. In a series of focus groups conducted by Ipsos-Reid across Canada in 2007 on behalf of the CMA, the following concerns/issues were raised by some patients:
-people had been searching for a family physician for several years without success;
-people with a family physician were frightened about the prospect of their doctor retiring; and
-people with a family physician reporting waits of three or four weeks to get an appointment.(14)
According to the Commonwealth Fund survey in 2007, Canada had the lowest rate of same-day physician appointments by a wide margin. 22% of respondents said they could see their physician on the same day, versus 30% in the US and 41% and higher for the remaining five countries. Canada also had the highest rate of respondents noting it took six or more days to see their physician, at 30%, as opposed to 20% for Germany and the US and lower for the other four
countries surveyed (7). However, in the 2007 National Physician Survey (NPS), 65% of family physicians stated that their patients with urgent needs are able to see them within one day. For non-urgent cases, 41% are able to see their patients within one week and 66% are able to see their non-urgent patients within four weeks.(15)
In the 2007 Health Council of Canada survey, of the 26% of respondents who stated they require routine or ongoing care, 45% noted that they had to wait too long for an appointment and 29% said it was difficult to get an appointment. 16 Furthermore, according to the 2007 NPS, when other specialists were asked to rate their patients' access to family physicians, only 13% gave it a very good or excellent rating, while over half (55%) gave it a fair or poor rating.
This survey also found that 86% of family physicians stated they had made arrangements for care for their patients outside of their normal office hours. When asked to list the arrangements they have in place, one third (33%) said they extend their office hours, over one third (37%) operate an after-hours clinic that is staffed by members of their practice and 41% included calling a 24/7 telehealth phone line as an option. However, over half (52%) included going to an ER as one of these arrangements.(15)
The aforementioned surveys have shown there is evidence of a disparity between patients' and physicians' perspectives regarding access to primary care. Moreover, Canada lags behind other countries in access to primary care.
B. To Specialty Care
The next stage of the wait time continuum is also often overlooked. This is when a family physician refers the patient to specialty care. The Fraser Institute's research on patient wait times does take this into account, however. According to their most recent survey, the average wait time between referral by a family physician and a consulting specialist fell from 9.2 weeks in 2007 to 8.5 weeks in 2008.(17) It is encouraging to see some movement in the right direction, but there is much more room for improvement. According to the 2007 NPS, only one quarter (24%) of family physicians rated patient access to other specialists as very good or excellent, while over one third (36%) of family physicians rated patient access to other specialists as fair or poor. 15 Some specialists will not take phone calls from family physicians - the only method of communication is by fax, which makes it difficult for the family physician to confirm whether the consulting specialist has received the referral and acted on it.
Efforts must be made to keep the lines of both communication and access as open as is feasible between family physicians and consulting specialists, in both directions. Other specialists have noted having some difficulty scheduling appointments for their patients with their family physicians after consultation and/or treatment.
The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) has identified a specific process for referring physicians to follow and includes the following guidance: When a patient is referred to a consulting specialist, the family physician should provide sufficient clinical information so that the consultant can appropriately prioritize his or her referrals. The consultant should notify the family physician of the patient's scheduled appointment. If the timing of this appointment does not seem reasonable to the family physician, he or she should then attempt to schedule an earlier appointment. If this is not possible, the family physician should consider alternative options to seek specialty care and discuss these with the patient. The patient should also be informed of what to expect if his or her condition changes while waiting for specialty care, and what to do and who to consult if this occurs. 18 The Collaborative Action Committee on Intra-professionalism (CACI) was established in 2006 by the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to discuss enhancing intra-professionalism and exploring ways to encourage desired behaviours that will improve physicians' intra-professional relationships. This work is vital to ensure a seamless continuum of care for patients between family physicians and other specialists. Working groups have been established to focus on improving relations through medical education, training and accreditation and in practice by developing enhancements to the referral-consultation process. (19)
Should a timely referral not be available, the CMPA's latest guidance on wait times in a September 2007 information sheet addresses the issue of liability when health-care resources such as specialty care are limited. The sheet notes that physicians may be requested to provide care outside their area of expertise when resources are scarce. While noting that the courts have yet to address this issue, it suggests the "courts will not evaluate your decisions against a standard of perfection. Rather, your decisions will be evaluated in light of what a reasonable and prudent physician like you would have decided in similar circumstances". 20 Nonetheless, given that the decision to refer implies that a physician has determined that a problem is beyond his or her scope of practice, the issue of support for the physician managing what might be long waits for specialty care will need to be addressed.
An additional barrier to timely patient access to specialty care is the inconsistency in family physicians' abilities to order advanced diagnostic tests. The Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) has guidelines for all physicians to follow when ordering diagnostic tests.
C. Rural Versus Urban Access
While timely access to family physicians and the referral time to other specialists is a nationwide concern, access to health care is often considered a greater challenge in rural locations. The 2007 NPS survey found that this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. There is very little difference in same-day family physician access rates between urban and rural locations and with regard to other specialties, the difference between urban and rural physicians is notable, with 51% of rural physicians stating that urgent appointments can be made on the same day as opposed to only 37% of urban physicians.
However, there is a difference between rural and urban settings with regard to factors that increase demand on a physician's time. For example, the 2007 NPS found a lack of availability of other specialists locally was a more significant factor for rural physicians (65%) than for urban (55%), as was the lack of other health care professionals, which was a concern for 66% of rural physicians in contrast to 54% for urban physicians. This survey shows that health human resources is a concern for all physicians, especially in rural settings. (15)
It should be pointed out that rural and urban physicians' differing perceptions about access for their patients may have an effect on survey findings; the weather and distance to travel to obtain specialty care, for example, affect a rural family physician's view of the quality of access.
The 2007 NPS found that access to Routine andAdvanced Diagnostics was rated very similarly by rural and urban physicians of all specialties, with access to routine services rated higher than access to advanced services in all respects. When the physician's specialty is taken into account, both rural and urban family physicians rated access to routine diagnostics higher than other specialists (very good or excellent - 48% versus 37%). The reverse is true for access to advanced diagnostics, with 15% of family physicians rating it very good or excellent, whereas 21% of other specialists gave it these rankings. (15)
Any guidelines regarding wait times to specialty care must also account for the geographic factors that affect access. The most commonly regarded solution to the problem of access to specialty care in rural regions is to increase the number of specialty services in that area; for many specialties, however, this may not be feasible due to insufficient numbers of patients residing in the area to support an effective workload.
Next Steps - Finding Solutions
For the purposes of this paper, "target" is defined as a time-based standard for accessing care.
A. Measuring Primary Care Wait Times
What primary care wait times should be measured? How can they be measured? While the selection of the five priority areas noted earlier has stimulated progress in the measurement of waiting for treatment once the consulting specialist has been seen, as the Fraser Institute has reported for the past two years, nationally one-half of the total waiting time for family physician referral to treatment is from family physician referral to when the patient is seen by the consulting specialist. In 2008 the Institute estimated the average total wait from referral to treatment at 17.3 weeks; of this the wait from referral to specialty consultation was estimated at 8.5 weeks - 49% of the total (17).
Among the recent provincial/territorial initiatives there has been no systematic effort to capture the time from family physician referral to specialty consultation. For its part, the Wait Time Alliance is launching a project in spring 2009 that will record the actual total waiting time from initial referral to treatment among a sample of consulting specialists and their patients.
B. Setting Targets
For the purposes of this paper, "target" is defined as a time-based standard for accessing care. This may be further graduated by the urgency for which the care is needed, and it may also be qualified by a percentage threshold of attainment. For example, "90% of patients with the least urgent requirement for care will be seen within one month of referral".
When considering the concept of target-setting, two important points must be stressed:
- before any reasonable wait time targets can be established, a significant investment in information infrastructure is required to facilitate the measurement and monitoring of access to primary care physicians, appointments and referral to other specialists; and
- regardless of how the targets are determined, even if the targets are met, not everyone will receive care within the most appropriate period of time for their particular situation.
Targets to Accessing Primary Care
There are two key considerations in this paper with regard to targeting wait times in access to primary care. While other jurisdictions and researchers have considered other approaches, e.g. wait times to access a primary care setting, this paper is focused on ways to improve timely access to primary medical care for those Canadians who have their own family physician and for those who do not - as well as timely access to specialty care services from their family physician.
Finding a Family Physician
What would it take to reach the target of 95% of Canadians in each community having a family physician by 2012? An estimated 4.1 million Canadians aged 12 or older do not have a family physician. Statistics Canada further subdivides the 4.1 million into those who have not looked for a family physician (2.4 million) and those who have looked but cannot find one (1.7 million) (1). A telephone survey conducted by Harris/Decima in October and November 2008 found that of the 14% of respondents who do not have a family physician, 61% were not looking for a family physician for themselves or a family member. 45% of these stated they are not looking for one because they go to a walk-in clinic or an ER instead, whereas the other half were not looking because they presumed no family physicians were available.(2)
It would seem reasonable that the population who has looked for but cannot find a family physician should be a priority target to advancing toward the 2012 goal. As advocated and explored by the CFPC, this may entail establishing registries for unattached patients in communities across Canada. Several provinces and territories have included incentives in their physician contracts for taking on unattached patients and it would be useful to assess their effectiveness.
One way to increase the number of family physicians practicing in Canada is to encourage more medical students to choose family medicine by exposing them to family practices early on and to obtain placements in practices that are keenly interested in demonstrating the benefits of family practice to medical students. Support for family practice preceptors and teachers is also important. Incentives to attract more preceptors are required and facilities should be created to improve medical students' awareness of these opportunities across the country.
Ontario has set a target of finding a family physician for 500,000 unattached patients over the next three years. 21 Ontario already has in place an incentive schedule for patients in its primary care models to take on new patients. The most common of these models (i.e. with the largest number of physicians participating) is the Family Health Group, which provides a payment of $100 each for up to 50 newly enrolled patients without a family physician per year with a premium of 10% for patients aged 65-74 and 20% for those aged 75 and over. There is also a payment of $150 for rostering unattached patients discharged from an inpatient hospital stay. Effective April 1, 2009 a complex/vulnerable new patient fee of $350 will also be introduced, with criteria still under development.
New Brunswick has a pilot project in place that is based on a $150 premium, payable in addition to fee-for-service (FFS) billings in installments of $50 per visit up to the maximum. In the Yukon, family physicians who accept unattached patients are paid $200 over and above the initial visit fee.
95% of Canadians in each community should have their own family physician by 2012
Another option currently being discussed in a number of jurisdictions is to allow faster integration of qualified International Medical Graduates (IMGs) by evaluating the equivalency of family medicine training and qualification programs done in other countries. In order to increase the number of family physicians who are trained to provide high-quality care, the CFPC recently approved the following initiatives:
-Expansion of the Alternative Route to Certification for practicing FPs interested in Certification in Family Medicine (practice eligible) to those who have been practicing for at least five years in Canada.
-Granting Certification to family physicians who hold Certification with the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM), are in good standing with the American Academy of Family Physicians and are moving to Canada.
-Evaluate other postgraduate family medicine training and certification programs in jurisdictions outside Canada in order to consider granting reciprocity for family physicians with training and certification equivalent to family medicine programs in Canada.
Access to Family Physicians
In terms of targeting approaches to the time to get an appointment to see the family physician, it would appear that the "evidence-based" approaches of urgency scoring will be impractical because they require an assessment of the patient. It may be worth investigating the methodology used by the provincial health phone lines to triage patients based on the use of structured algorithms and exploring whether this can be used in a primary care physician office to better gauge the level of each patient's need to see their physician and to organize the physician's patient schedule in a more effective manner. This would require additional resources (both staff and technology) be made available to the family physician's practice.
Want to learn more?
Capital Health in Halifax is exploring "a program of supports for family physicians and family practice nurses working in fee-for-service practices in Nova Scotia: www.cfpc.ca/nursinginfamilypracticeTQVI
When considering approaches to address the issue of increasing access for patients with a family physician, we must look for solutions that do so through enhanced practice efficiency and not by expecting family physicians to work longer.
Improving practice efficiencies can be accomplished through enhanced practice management training during medical school education and residency levels. Continuing Medical Education programs on this topic will also be beneficial. Physicians should be educated on how to run a practice from a patient flow point of view as well as a financial one. To encourage interest in this aspect of running a medical practice it is important that they are made aware of all of the benefits of a well-managed office (e.g. more time spent doing direct patient care, the ability to increase patient load and attain a better work-life balance).
New Approaches to Practice Management
Some progress is being made to enhance Canadians' access to primary care. A variety of projects are underway that have already shown improvements in this area, including a number of successful efforts occurring in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan that include the implementation of a innovative practice management system known as Advanced Access. The term Clinical Practice Redesign (CPR) is becoming a more popular description of the process involved.
"Advanced Access is about reengineering clinic practices so that patients can see a physician or other primary care practitioner at a time and date that is convenient for them. The advanced access model is often considered to be another scheduling system; however, it is in fact a comprehensive approach to effective patient care delivery."(22)
The main objective of CPR is to improve patient flow through a medical practice. This involves the use of effective scheduling management techniques that allow appropriate prioritizing of patient visits. The main premise is that if patient demand for appointments is overall in balance with the physician capacity to schedule appointments, it should be possible to offer patients an appointment on the same day that they telephone for one. The challenge is to work down the backlog and achieve that balance. Once this is accomplished, the wait time to see the physician can be dramatically reduced.
The originators of this concept have identified six steps in implementing CPR:
1. Measure and balance supply and demand
2. Eliminate the accumulated backlog
3. Reduce the number of appointment types
4. Develop contingency plans (e.g., flu season)
5. Reduce and shape demand (e.g., phone and e-mail for answering questions)
6. Increase effective supply by delegating tasks 23
Want to learn more?
Family Physician Dr. Ernst Schuster presents advanced access in family practices through the Alberta Access Improvement Measures (AIM): www.cfpc.ca/advancedaccessTQVI
The sentinel indicator that is used to monitor CPR is what is termed "third next available appointment" and is defined as the average length of time in days between the day a patient makes a request for an appointment with a physician and the third available appointment.
Another common patient scheduling technique, often misinterpreted as Advanced Access, is more accurately referred to as the "carve out" model. It involves keeping a block of time open each day for patients who call that day for an urgent appointment. While it allows patients with an urgent problem to see their family physician the same day, it could potentially make the wait time for non-urgent problems longer as there are fewer appointment times that can be used for those cases. It is nonetheless a step in the right direction and shows that family physicians are making efforts to alleviate the primary care access problem.
CPR is gaining momentum as a popular method of improving practice efficiency. The first group practice to adopt this system in Saskatchewan was able to reduce its average wait time from 17 days to just two. (24) In addition to reducing wait times, many practices in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have been able to increase their patient load due to efficiency improvements. This is therefore also addressing the concern about the large number of Canadians who do not have a family physician.
The United Kingdom Experience
The UK has adopted fixed targets for primary care, irrespective of the patient's presenting condition. The 2004 National Health Service (NHS) Improvement Plan set out a 24/48 hour access target, by which UK patients would be guaranteed the opportunity of seeing a primary care provider within 24 hours and a GP within 48 hours. (25) The UK has since adopted an incentive approach to achieving this target through an Improved Access Scheme. First implemented on a voluntary basis in 2007, some 5 million surveys were sent to GPs' patients across England about their recent experience with access to their GP. The survey results are linked to a reward payment that has four elements:
- 48 hour target reward element;
- advance booking target reward element;
- ease of telephone access target reward element; and
- preferred health care professional target reward element.
The level of payment for each element is linked to the satisfaction level reported by the patients. (26)
The survey has now been successfully administered twice. In 2008, almost two million responses were received - a 41% response rate. Key findings from the 2008 survey include the following:
- 87% of patients reported that they were satisfied with their ability to get through to their doctor's surgery on the phone.
- 87% of patients who tried to get a quick appointment with a GP said they were able to do so within 48 hours.
- 77% of patients who wanted to book ahead for an appointment with a doctor reported that they were able to do so.
- 88% of patients who wanted an appointment with a particular doctor at their GP surgery reported that they could do this. (27)
Any kind of patient-based reporting on access requires an up-to-date electronic roster of patients. The survey tool used in the UK is very simple and can be completed online. It should be noted however that the cost of the 2007 survey was estimated at £11 million although this also includes the patient choice survey. (28)
No doubt less complex approaches could be developed for applying an incentive approach to reach targets in Canada. However, this would involve the types of supports and resources available to general practitioners in the UK. In addition, the views of the public and patients should be sought before adopting any targeting approaches in primary care. This was emphasized by Berta et al in a Canadian public opinion study of the importance of ten measures of primary care performance. They found that the most important factors for patients were related to the family physicians' knowledge and skills, while the access indicators were least important. (29)
Targets to Accessing Specialty Care
One of the key challenges of primary care wait times is to establish guidelines for timely access to specialty care. This is potentially an enormous challenge given that there are some 60 recognized specialties and sub-specialties in Canada and each of them is responsible for treating a number of conditions presenting to the family physician. Due to the varying degree of complexity of a patient's medical problem, an appropriate wait time would be difficult to define by a particular disease or illness. National and international experience would suggest that there have been two broad approaches:
- the development of "condition-specific" approaches to target-setting linked to a clinical assessment of urgency; and
- the adoption of targets that apply to all conditions that are progressively shortened as they are achieved.
Since the early 1990s, the NHS has made remarkable progress in tackling wait times through the adoption of targets that have been gradually shortened. This began with the first UK patient charter that was adopted in 1991. Reflecting the long waiting lists at that time, it included the right, "to be guaranteed admission for treatment by a specific date within two years". (30) In 1995 a second version of the Patient Charter lowered this period to 18 months, and to one year for coronary artery bypass grafts. (31) In the late 1990s the NHS moved from the Charter to a series of national service frameworks for conditions such as heart disease and cancer. These frameworks evolved into shortened targets. For example in 2001 the target was a maximum one month wait from diagnosis to first treatment for breast cancer by the end of 2001, in 2005 this was extended to all cancers by December 2005. 32 The most recent development has been the 2004 commitment that by the end of 2008 no patient will have to wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment.(33) The UK is on track to meet this target, but it must be emphasized that this has been achieved through a combination of a large infusion of resources, plus policy changes such as the shift from block funding to Payment by Results that reimburses hospitals on the basis of the number of patients treated. It should also be emphasized that the NHS is a much more integrated system than Canada's health care system, and it would be more challenging to define accountability for reaching wait time targets.
Past Work on Improving Specialty Care Access
In Canada, the "gold standard" of target-setting is considered to be the work done by Naylor and colleagues in developing the urgency rankings for coronary revascularization procedures that underpin the Cardiac Care Network (CCN) of Ontario. This was done using a modified version of the techniques developed by the RAND Corporation in the 1980s to establish appropriateness guidelines for various procedures. In this work a panel of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons rated 438 fictitious case-histories on a seven-point scale of maximum acceptable waiting time for surgery. A regression model was then used to derive a scoring system based on the regression coefficients attached to the major determinants of urgency. (34) This system was implemented to prioritize waitlists by CCN which now works with 18 cardiac care centres in Ontario.
A group urology practice in Saskatchewan has initiated a process whereby referring family physicians are provided with a standard form listing the necessary tests.
The Diagnostic Imaging Program Standards Committee of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in Manitoba found that when physicians requesting a diagnostic test provided a time frame for the test to be completed as well as information about the patient's condition, the process of prioritizing requests became more manageable for radiologists.
In Alberta and British Columbia, some family physicians have signed service agreements with other specialists. Such an agreement defines the scope of the work of family physicians and other specialists. It formally encourages all specialties to work collaboratively and to this end regular meetings are held to discuss all relevant matters.
Manitoba has recently launched a pilot project called Bridging Generalist and Specialist Care - The Right Door, The First Time that will focus on reducing the wait time between family physician referral and specialty consultation.
In the late 1990s a similar approach was used by the Western Canada Waiting List (WCWL) Project to develop priority scoring tools for cataract surgery, general surgery, hip and knee replacement, MRIs and children's mental health. (35) The tool for hip and knee replacement has been adapted for use by family physicians to determine priority of referral to orthopaedic surgeons,although to date it has only been tested on simulated paper cases.(36) The Saskatchewan Surgical network has applied the WCWL approach to develop scoring tools in 12 procedural areas. (37) Clearly it would be a large undertaking to adopt all these tools for use in primary care and to develop tools for the numerous areas that have yet to be tackled. Thus far, governments have concentrated, for the most part, on their initial five priorities. In the Fall of 2007 the Wait Time Alliance added five new benchmark areas, including emergency care, psychiatric care, plastic surgery, gastroenterology and anesthesiology (pain management) and it has challenged governments to adopt them. (38)
Recent Efforts to Improve Specialty Care Access
How can we work to achieve these targets? There are a variety of initiatives underway to expedite the referral and consultation process. In 2006, the CFPC and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada said that three steps could improve the referral and consultation process:
- a defined single access point within local referral/consultation systems;
- templates for referrals and consultations advice;
- an agreement amoung key players (relevant GP/FP and other specialty organizations) on referral/consultation criteria."(39)
As an example, a group urology practice in Saskatchewan has initiated a process whereby referring family physicians are provided with a standard form listing the necessary tests. This process has been very successful in reducing the need for repeat appointments. This practice also implemented a policy that the patient is referred to the first available urologist rather than to a specific physician. This new pooled referral system has reduced patient wait times remarkably and has been very well received by all parties. (40) In addition, other specialties in that province have shown interest in introducing a similar system in their practices.
As an additional example of simple ways to gain efficiencies, the Diagnostic Imaging Program Standards Committee of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in Manitoba found that when physicians requesting a diagnostic test provided a time frame for the test to be completed as well as information about the patient's condition, the process of prioritizing requests became more manageable for radiologists. (41)
In Alberta and British Columbia, some family physicians have signed service agreements with other specialists. Such an agreement defines the scope of the work of family physicians and other specialists. It formally encourages all specialties to work collaboratively and to this end regular meetings are held to discuss all relevant matters.
Manitoba has recently launched a pilot project called Bridging Generalist and Specialist Care (BGSC) - The Right Door, The First Time that will focus on reducing the wait time between family physician referral and specialty consultation.
This pilot project is intended to address priority areas, including:
- mental health: anxiety and depression
- lower back pain management
- lower gi endoscopy
- orthopaedics: arthroplasty
- plastic surgery: carpal tunnel, breast reconstruction, breast reduction and skin lesions
- lung cancer (42)
One of the objectives of this pilot project is to establish guaranteed time frames from referral to consulting specialist in the specific practice areas and to offer alternative options to patients who may exceed these time lines. The BGSC software includes primary care pathways and an electronic referral process, allowing family physicians to send all necessary referral information, such as primary care workups, treatments and testing results, to the other specialist offices electronically. These specialists can then respond to the referrals electronically, advising family physician offices of referral acceptance, appointment dates and times and any additional information within days of receiving the referral request.
Want to learn more? Ms. Brie DeMone offers an overview of the government of Manitoba's project to improve communication and coordination between family physicians and other specialists. "Bridging General and Specialist Care" and "the Catalogue of Specialized Services". www.cfpc.ca/BGSCTQVI
In January 2009, the web-based Catalogue of Specialized Services (CSS) was launched, which, is, according to provincial director of patient access Dr. Luis Oppenheimer, "like a catalogue order entry system. If you're a GP/FP looking for a service, you will get a catalogue of who provides that service, [...] some idea of the waiting time or capacity for that service [...] and have immediate confirmation of whether [your request] is accepted." By clearly providing family physicians and their offices with information on "who does what", referrals can be accurately directed to the right specialist at the right time, saving time and effort for the family physician, other specialist and patient (42),(43).
A third new initiative currently underway in Manitoba, the Patient Access Registry Tool (PART), will provide other specialists with the clinical information they need to manage patient demand. Patient demographics and provider information as well as a diagnosis and planned interventions will be available through this tool and it will also document several key wait time dates, including when a referral was first received, the date of the first specialist consultation and when a patient is ready for treatment. Once it is fully operational, PART will capture information on all patients needing a medical consultation or surgery in Manitoba. (44)
British Columbia offers a Full Service Family Practice Program with a broad range of incentives
The Nova Scotia agreement includes new Chronic Disease Management Incentives that will be linked to guideline-based care for chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic heart failure and hypertension
Given the wide spectrum of illnesses that are assessed in a primary care setting, any approach to developing wait time targets must be done in consultation with family physicians and with clinical guidelines in mind. Currently there is simply not enough information available to establish reasonable wait time targets. The ability to accurately measure and monitor access at all points along the care continuum will require a significant investment in information infrastructure and this system must be in place and used effectively before targets are developed. More importantly, this cannot be effectively implemented without coordinated support from all governments. The Manitoba Government is a pioneer with this particular effort and their pilot projects will be closely monitored for effectiveness.
C. Remuneration Models
Since the early 1990s there has been a steadily declining trend in fee-forservice (FFS) as the sole mode of payment for family physicians. In 1990, the CMA's Physician Resource Questionnaire (PRQ) survey results showed that 71% of family physicians received 90% or more of their professional income from FFS.45 Subsequent PRQ surveys showed successive decreases and on the 2007 NPS, fewer than one out of two (48%) family physicians reported receiving 90% or more of their income from FFS. 15 While the majority of physicians continue to receive some income from FFS, increasingly it is being blended with other remuneration methods.
A blended payment model known as the Family Health Network is now available in Ontario. In this model, capitation accounts for about 65% of a family physician's remuneration. The remainder consists of fee-for-service and other incentive payments and premiums.
Over the past decade there has been an international trend towards the adoption of "pay-for-performance" (P4P), in which a variety of payment incentives are used to promote certain physician behaviours. To date, these incentives have been used mainly to encourage process improvements in the delivery of care. The earliest forms of P4P focused on prevention screening, but more recently they have expanded to address chronic disease management. P4P generally works by linking a bonus payment to the achievement of a specific performance target in the patient population. In its new primary care models, Ontario provides bonus payments for cancer prevention screening and diabetes management, as well as other incentives for activities including palliative care and care for patients with serious mental illness. (46)
Similarly, British Columbia offers a Full Service Family Practice Program with a broad range of incentives. (47) The recently concluded Nova Scotia agreement includes new Chronic Disease Management Incentives that will be linked to guideline-based care for chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic heart failure and hypertension.(48)
As previously noted, several jurisdictions also provide incentives to acquire new patients. Internationally the UK has gone further by providing a bonus to the attainment of timely access targets as reported by patients. However, the UK also has a long-established rostering system and it has a much less geographically dispersed population than does Canada. Nonetheless it might be interesting to assess the potential for incentives to enhance access to primary and specialty care in Canada.
D. Electronic Medical Records
Regardless of how a wait time management strategy might be implemented (e.g., at the level of the province, health region, hospital) it will be critical to be able to capture and monitor referral data electronically, starting with the family physician. It may be seen in Table 1 below that according to the 2007 National Physician Survey, there remains a large gap in this regard. Nationally almost two out of three family physicians (63%) continue to use paper charts as their method of record keeping. One out of five (19%) uses a combination of electronic and paper charts while just over one out of 10 (12%) report using electronic charts instead of paper charts.Across the country there is more than two-fold variation of those using paper charts ranging from a low of 36% inAlberta to a high of 81% in PEI and Quebec.
[TABLE 1. SEE PDF]
Internationally, the Commonwealth Fund has shown that Canada lags far behind comparator countries in the uptake of electronic medical records (EMRs). On its 2006 survey of primary care physicians in seven countries, fewer than one out of four (23%) Canadian respondents reported that they used EMRs in their offices compared to nine out of ten in the UK, New Zealand and the Netherlands.(49)
Aside from the issues of wait times for those patients with a family physician there is also the challenge of capturing information about access to primary medical care for those without their own family physician.
E. Practice Support
Improvements in access to family physicians can also be accomplished through the addition of staff support, of which there are two types:
1 clinical practice support(ie nurse or MOA for patient care),and
2 change management practice support (those with knowledge of clinical practice redesign to support physicians in making, monitoring and sustaining change).
The Practice Support Program in British Columbia offers training and financial incentives for family physicians working with medical office assistants and in one district health authority in Nova Scotia, a project is underway where family physicians can obtain financial support to employ family practice nurses through enhanced fee-for-service billings. At present, however, widespread deployment of practice support personnel is constrained by rules of fee-for-service payment that require the physician to have direct contact with each patient for whom a service is billed to the provincial or territorial medicare plan.
In terms of change management practice support, thus far CPR has had limited uptake in the rest of the country, primarily due to a lack of awareness. However, stories of the successes with this program are now being heard in the rest of the country and it is increasing in popularity. For example, a new Advanced Access initiative has been recently introduced in Manitoba through their Ministry of Health. In Nova Scotia, one practice that has had great success with Advanced Access is managed by the 2008 recipients of the Health Care Provider of the Year Award in Cape Breton, Elaine Rankin and Steven MacDougall. They worked together on an Advanced Access research project beginning in 2006. Once Dr. MacDougall cleared his patient wait list, he began to operate a same day access practice where his patients can call in the morning for an appointment that day. Now, the number of non-urgent patients from his practice who go to the emergency department has dropped by 28%. 50 By all accounts, those who have implemented CPR indicate they would never return to the traditional model where the appointment schedule is full before the work day starts.
CPR is not a tool to be used exclusively in family practices. The group urology practice in Saskatchewan that introduced the notion of pooled referrals with much success has also been engaged in the process of CPR since early 2007. Their practice is now beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labour through reduced wait times for patients who are referred to their practice. The "champion" of this undertaking, Dr. Visvanathan, noted that Clinical Practice Redesign involves improving practice work flow, the introduction of Electronic Medical Records and getting the right staff to do the right jobs. (40)
The implementation of a more efficient practice management system such as CPR requires commitment from physicians as well as effective information management and measurement tools, additional practice support and assistance from change management experts. Experience to date suggests that these efforts pay off in terms of improved patient access and increased capacity to accommodate patient appointments.
There are three main issues that should concern our focus on primary care wait times:
- Access to primary care for those without a family physician;
- Access to primary care for those with a family physician; and
- Referral from primary to more highly specialized care.
There are general recommendations that would help address these issues and other recommendations that are more specific to each. This paper has provided valuable information that supports the following recommendations.
As noted in the introduction to this paper, it is difficult to measure primary care wait times for myriad illnesses and conditions, and this difficulty may impede progress in finding solutions to the wait time challenges that family doctors experience. The Primary Care Wait Time Partnership (PCWTP) believes that the ability to measure and track wait times along the full continuum of the patient's care is of utmost importance, but that this capacity in primary as well as more highly specialized levels of care is still very limited.
1) Primary care wait time tracking, analysis and improvements should be patient-centred, taking into account the whole wait time continuum that patients experience, starting from the time they first seek medical care.
2) More research and evaluation is needed to analyze primary care wait times so that the inequities and inconsistencies in access to care can be addressed for patients from region to region across Canada.
3) More study on collaborative care is necessary. The PCWTP recognizes that collaboration has the potential to enhance access to primary care. But before we can state with certainty that access to primary care is improved through particular models of care delivery, we need to continue to collect data and analyze results. It makes little sense to invest tremendous resources into any model if patient access to primary care is not improved.
4) Primary care wait time measurement should be a priority for Canadian governments, health authorities and other stakeholders, (e.g. Canadian Institute for Healthcare Information). Reliable data that represents the patient's total wait time experience will need to be collected to support the development of primary care wait time targets in the future. This data must be validated and tracked for the purpose of continuous evaluation.
5) Before reasonable wait time targets can be established and effectively used in primary care, information infrastructures, (e.g. electronic medical records and communication tools) , must be adequately supported and in place. Enhancements in information technology and learning in family practice will be necessary to facilitate the adoption and widespread use of electronic medical records. No measuring or tracking of primary care wait times can be effectively accomplished without financial support from government for electronic communication systems in and between medical practices.
6) There are a number of jurisdictions pursuing important and different ways to improve timely access to care for patients, (e.g. Manitoba's catalogue system and registry tool, Alberta's formal service agreements between referring and consulting physicians). These worthwhile endeavours should be monitored at a national level for opportunities to implement more universal improvements to wait times in our Canadian health care system.
Recommendations for Patients without a Family Physician
The CFPC and CMA have recommended and supported several strategies to increase the supply of family physicians through education and training (e.g. promotion of family medicine to medical students and residents, better support for preceptors and teachers), to address changing patterns of family practice (e.g. supports for inter-professional collaboration), and to develop models of care that would attract and retain family physicians (e.g. blended remuneration methods). While these recommendations will not be repeated here, they should be given full consideration in seeking to achieve an adequate family physician workforce that can support timely access to care for all Canadians.
1) The PCWTP believes that every Canadian should have a family doctor and supports the CFPC position that all stakeholders, (e.g. governments, medical schools and professional organizations), should work together to achieve a target of 95% of the population in every Canadian community with a family doctor by 2012.
2) Patient registries should be developed and maintained to track patients who do not have a family doctor and are actively looking for one.
3) Other strategies should be more fully developed and supported to find family doctors for patients without a family doctor , (e.g. physician incentives to accept new patients and the use of tools for workload management and patient flow in family practice).
4) Efforts currently underway to integrate appropriately trained and certified international medical graduates as family physicians into our health care system are welcome, should be supported and enhanced.
Recommendations for Patients who have a Family Physician
1) Family physicians who see a need to improve timely access to care for their patients could consider Clinical Practice Redesign tools such as Advanced Access . System support should be in place for family physicians who want to adopt these tools. The training and ongoing learning of new and practicing family physicians should include education in practice flow and design. To further assist physicians in the use of these tools, websites should be established with lists of those who have been successful at improving patient flow through their practices and who are willing to assist others attempting to do the same.
2) Practice management education and training should be enhanced in residency in order to teach new family physicians about effective office processes and practice flow efficiencies that improve timely access to care for patients, (e.g. electronic tracking tools).
3) Financial incentives should be available to support the valuable roles of office assistants as well as other health professionals in family practice, (e.g. family practice nurses), for better patient flow and more efficient use of the physician's time. In addition, family physician remuneration should compensate for patient encounters beyond just face-to-face in order to support increasingly important opportunities for electronic encounters with patients and members of the care team.
Recommendations for Referral from Primary to Specialty Care
1) All recommendations to address timely access to more highly specialized care must include the wait time from the first visit with the family physician to referral and specialty consultation.
2) Based on four years' experience with benchmarks for the five procedural areas established in 2004, we do not believe it is possible to develop a broad array of condition-specific, evidence-based benchmarks for access to consultations in the near future. However, where they are or do become available and are supported by sufficient infrastructure, wait time targets should be used as guides to drive improvements in timely access to care. Nonetheless, family physicians must continue to be free to use their clinical judgment in the patient's best interests.
3) Good intra-professional relationships between family physicians and other specialists should be promoted and supported in the health care system to improve communications and the continuity of care for patients. Strategies to support good relationships should consider recommendations that have been developed by the Canadian Medical Protective Association as well as the Collaborative Action Committee on Intra-professionalism that is supported by the CFPC and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada with CMA participation.
4) Tools that will improve the timeliness of the referral-consultation process between physicians should also be enhanced; however, any development of referral-consultation process tools must be undertaken collaboratively with family physicians, (e.g. referral-consultation frameworks that identify and support the availability of appropriate and timely information to and from referring and consulting physicians, electronic communication of patient information between physicians, and better system supports for electronic communication between physicians and patients).
5) Family physicians should have access to routine and advanced diagnostic tests for their patients in all clinical settings, equal to that of other specialists. There should be no difference in the criteria for access to advanced diagnostic testing from region to region. All physicians should be expected to follow appropriate clinical guidelines in the use of diagnostic tests. These guidelines should be readily available and easily understood by physicians and other health care professionals with whom they work.
6) Guidelines or targets for timely access from primary to specialty care must account for differences in geographic settings and proximity to care that are characteristic of rural and remote locations in contrast to urban and suburban locations.
While the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) are proud to represent doctors across Canada, at the centre of everything we do stands the patient. We know that many Canadians are concerned about timely access to see their own family doctor while others continue a sometimes fruitless search for a family doctor of their own.
In this paper we have presented many problems but also a number of solutions to addressing wait times in primary care. We've acknowledged that there are obstacles, but we do not think these obstacles are insurmountable. Canadians exercised considerable political courage, often in the face of adversity, to pioneer a health care system based on the principles of fairness, equality and social justice. Through political will, we are certain we can make the changes necessary to ensure timely access to primary care.
The PCWTP hopes that governments, health care providers and the public will read this report and consider the recommendations. We know that these recommendations do not represent an exhaustive list and indeed we may have inadvertently omitted something you think is critical. We encourage you to let us know what you think and how we can work together to improve access to primary care.
This is not a task merely for the CFPC or the CMA; all of us must work together to offer better access to health care to our patients.
1Statistics Canada. Canadian community health survey: 2007 questionnaire. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 20]. Available from:
2The College of Family Physicians of Canada. CFPC Decima survey results. Toronto: Decima Research; November 2008. 3Statistics Canada. Frequency of whether taken care of by same medical doctor or nurse each visit by source of regular care. Canadian survey of experiences with primary care, 2007. Custom Tabulation.
4Glazier RH, Moineddin R, Agha MM, Zagorski B, Hall R, Manuel DG, et al. The impact of not having a primary care physician among people with chronic conditions. ICES investigative report. Toronto: Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences; 2008 Jul. 5Canadian Community Health Survey, 2007. Statistics Canada The Daily. [Online] [Accessed 2008 Nov 18]. Available from:
6American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Osteopathic Association. Joint principles of the patient-centered medical home: March 2007. [Online] [Accessed 2008 Nov 19]. Available from: http://www.medicalhomeinfo.org/Joint%20Statement.pdf
7Schoen C, Osborn R, Doty MM, Bishop M, Peugh J, Murukutla N. Toward higher-performance health systems: Adults' health care experiences in seven countries, 2007. Health Aff 2007 Oct 31; 26(6):w717-34.
8Milliken O, Devlin RA, Barham V, Hogg W, Dahrouge S, Russell G. Comparative efficiency assessment of primary care models using data envelopment analysis. Ottawa: University of Ottawa; 2008 Mar.
9Lamarche PA, Beaulieu M-D, Pineault R, Contandriopoulos A-P, Denis J-L, Haggerty J. Choices for change: The path for restructuring primary healthcare services in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Health Services Research Foundation; 2003 Nov. 10Hutchison B, Østbye T, Barnsley J, Stewart M, Mathews M, Campbell MK, et al. Patient satisfaction and quality of care in walk-in clinics, family practices and emergency departments: the Ontario walk-in clinic study. Can Med Assoc J 2003 Apr 15:168(8): 977-83.
11Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. 2003 First Ministers' accord on health renewal. [Online] [Accessed Nov 24]. Available from: http://www.scics.gc.ca/pdf/800039004_e.pdf
12Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. [Online] [Accesssed Nov 24]. Available from: http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf
13Ontario Ministry of Health. First ever common benchmarks will allow Canadians to measure progress in reducing wait times. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 25]. Available from:
14Ipsos-Reid. Physicians today: Respect, reputation and role. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2007 Nov. 15The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. National Physician Survey. [Online] [Accessed 2008 Nov 14]. Available from:
Health Council of Canada. Canadian survey of experiences with primary health care in 2007. [Online] [Accessed 2008 Nov 25]. Available from:
Esmail N, Hazel M, Walker M. Waiting your turn: Hospital waiting lists in Canada, 2008 report, 18 edition. Fraser Institute. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 18]. Available from:
18Canadian Medical Protective Association. Wait times: a medical liability perspective. [Online] [Accessed 2008 Nov 24] Available from: http://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/cmpapd04a/pub_index.cfm?LANG=E&URL=cmpa%5Fdocs%2Fenglish%2Fcontent%2Fissues%2Fcommon%2Fcom %5Fwait%5Ftimes%5F2007%2De%2Ehtml
19Borsellino, M. 10 questions with...RCPSC president Dr. William Fitzgerald. The Medical Post. 2009 Jan 13. [Online][Accessed 2009 Feb 11]. Available from:
20Ross M. Limited health-care resources: the difficult balancing act. Information sheet IS0770E. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Protective Association; 2007.
21Ontario Medical Association, Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Memorandum of agreement between: The OMA and the MOHLTC. 2008 Sep.
22Manitoba Health. Advanced access initiative. [Online][Accessed 2009 Jan 16]. Available from:
23Murray N, Berwick D. Advanced access: reducing waiting and delays in primary care. JAMA 2003;289(8):1035-40.
24Bartok B. Experts offer 'CPR' for your practice: Saskatchewan's Advanced Access school revives struggling practices. Nat R Med 2008 Apr. [Online] [Accessed 2008 Nov 25];5(4):[3 screens]. Available from:
25Department of Health. Patients get booking 'guarantee' on NHS GP appointments. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 26]. Available from: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Pressreleases/DH_4118856
26Department of Health. GMS statement of financial entitlements. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 26]. Available from:
27The Information Centre. GP patient survey. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 26]. Available from: http://
28Department of Health. FOI releases: GP patient survey. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 26]. Available from:
29Berta W, Barnsley J, Brown A, Murray M. In the eyes of the beholder: Population perspectives on performance priorities for primary care in Canada. Healthc Policy 2008;4(2):86-100.
30British Medical Journal. Patients first. 1991 Nov 9;303:1153.
31Department of Health. The patient's charter & you. London: DOH; 1996 Nov.
32Department of Health. The NHS cancer plan and the new NHS. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 26]. Available from:
33Department of Health. About the programme - 18 weeks patient pathway. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 25]. Available from:
34Naylor CD, Baigrie RS, Goldman BS, Basinski A. Assessment of priority for coronary bypass revascularization procedures. Lancet 1990 May 5; 335:1070-73.
35Noseworthy TW, McGurran JJ, Hadorn DC, WCWL Steering Committee. Waiting for scheduled services in Canada: development of priority-setting scoring systems. J Eval Clin Pract 2002 Mar 22;9(1): 23-31.
36De Coster C, McMillan S, Brant R, McGurran J, Noseworthy T, WCWL Primary Care Panel. The western Canada wait list project: development of a priority referral score for hip and knee arthroplasty. J Eval Clin Pract 2005 Sep 26;13(2007):192-7. 37Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network. Patient assessment questionnaires, guides & urgency profiles for surgical procedures. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 25]. Available from: http://www.sasksurgery.ca/ayn-tools-scoringguides.htm
38Wait Time Alliance. Time for progress: new benchmarks for achieving meaningful reductions in wait times. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2007.
39The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. MD Lounge. 2008 Sep: 3.
40Canadian Medical Association. Health Policy & Negotiations Conference. Proceedings of the HP&N Conference. 2008 Oct 18-19; Ottawa.
41College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba Newsletter. September 2005. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 24]. Available from: http://www.cpsm-secure.com/newsletter/05-09.php
42DeMone, B. Improving Family Physician and Specialist Communication & Coordination: Bridging General and Specialist Care (BGSC) & the Catalogue of Specialized Services (CSS). Presented at Taming of the Queue VI; 2009 Mar 26; Ottawa. [Online][Accessed 2009 Oct 28]. Available from: http://www.cfpc.ca/BGSCTQVI
43The College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. MD lounge. 2008 Sep: 6-7.
44Borsellino, M. Manitoba developing wait time measurement registry. The Medical Post. 2008 Dec 22. [Online][Accessed 2009 Jan 19]. Available from: http://www.medicalpost.com/news/article.jsp?content=20081222_111206_13308&s=1
45Canadian Medical Association. Physician resource questionnaire. 1990.
46Primary care funding models in Ontario: new comprehensive care model available October 1, 2005. Ontario Medical Review 2005 Jul/Aug: 17-19.
47Ministry of Health Services. Full service practice incentive program. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 27]. Available from:
48Minister of Health, Medical Society of Nova Scotia. Physician services master agreement. 2008 Oct 29.
49Schoen C, Osborn R, Huynh PT, Doty M, Peugh J, Zapert K. On the front lines of care: Primary care doctors' office systems, experiences, and views in seven countries. Health Aff 2006 Nov 2; 25(2006): w555-71.
50King N. Doctor, administrator, advocate recognized for work in health care. The Cape Breton Post. 2008 May 13. [Online][Accessed 2008 Nov 25]. Available from: http://www.capebretonpost.com/index.cfm?sid=134095&sc=145
FUNDING THE CONTINUUM OF CARE
The continuum of care may be defined as the array of health services that spans the range over the life course from primary care (including prevention and health promotion) through institutionally based secondary and tertiary care to community and home-based services that promote health maintenance, rehabilitation and palliation at the end of life. Given the ever-increasing diversity of service offerings and providers, and aging populations, governments worldwide face the ongoing challenge of what to fund for whom.
After a lengthy period of examination that began in the 1930s, Canada arrived at a social consensus on universal, first-dollar coverage provision of hospital (1957)1 and physician (1966)2 services. All provinces bought into "Medicare" by the early 1970s and the 1984 Canada Health Act (CHA)3 was the capstone of the national hospital and medical insurance program, adding the principle of accessibility, which effectively prohibited user charges for insured hospital and physician services.
Notwithstanding the more recent legislation, the foundation of Medicare was set in the health and health care reality of 1957. Hospital and medical services accounted for two-thirds of health spending (65%).4 Prescription drugs accounted for just 6% of spending, less than half of their 14.6% share in 2008. Life expectancy was almost a decade shorter than it is today, hence there was less concern about long-term care. The first knee replacement was not done until a decade later. The 1957 Hospital and Diagnostic Services Act specifically excluded tuberculosis hospitals, sanitaria and psychiatric hospitals as well as nursing homes/homes for the aged. These exclusions carried forward to the CHA.
By all accounts the CHA has taken on an iconic status, but at the same time it is agreed that it is an impediment to modernizing Medicare through its definitions and program criteria and how they are interpreted by the provinces and territories. The CHA narrowly defines insured health services as "hospital services, physician services and surgical dental services provided to insured persons." While the CHA recognizes "extended" health services such as home care and ambulatory health care services, these are not subject to the program criteria.
Over the years, the CHA has been extremely effective in preserving the publicly funded character of physician and hospital services. As of 2008, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has estimated that 98.4% of physician and 90.7% of hospital expenditures are publicly funded.5 The dividing line of the CHA may be seen in virtually all other categories of service. Fewer than one-half of prescription drugs (44.5%) and less than one-tenth (6.9%) of the services of other health professionals (e.g., dentistry and vision care) are publicly covered. Canada is unique among industrialized countries in its approach to Medicare. Countries with social insurance (Bismarck) funded systems tend to provide a similar total level of public expenditure over a wider range of services.
Over time, as health care has moved from institutions to the community, the CHA is diminishing with respect to the share of total health spending it covers. At the time the CHA was passed, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this has declined to 41% as of 2008. It must be emphasized that there is significant public spending beyond CHA-covered services (in excess of 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care; however, those programs are not subject to the CHA's program criteria. In addition, they can be subject to arbitrary cutback. 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 have such benefits. Since the late 1990s, notwithstanding the widely shared concern about the sustainability of Canada's Medicare program, several high profile studies have advocated for its expansion, starting with the 1997 Report of the National Forum on Health6 and latterly with the Kirby7 and Romanow8 reports in 2002, both of which strongly recommended home care and catastrophic drug coverage. There is also growing concern about the availability of so-called "orphan drugs" that treat rare diseases such as Fabry disease, and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient for a single year of treatment.
First Ministers have concluded three health accords in 20009, 200310 and 200411, each of which addresses expanding the boundaries of Medicare. To date there are a series of unfulfilled commitments from these accords, including a national basket of home care services and first-dollar coverage for home care and catastrophic drug coverage. In its 2007 report, the Health Council of Canada summarized progress on catastrophic drug costs as "disappointing."12
There is no appetite among governments in Canada to implement new universal programs with first-dollar coverage. In fact, recently governments have removed services that had previously been publicly insured, as evidenced by recent examples such as physiotherapy and chiropractic services in some jurisdictions.
The CMA puts forward the following principles for funding the continuum of care in a national context, recognizing that there will continue to be a mix of public-private funding.
* Canadians should take personal responsibility to plan ahead for the contingency that they may eventually require support with their activities of daily living;
* home care and long-term care should be delivered in appropriate and cost-effective settings that respect patient and family preferences;
* there should be quality and accreditation standards for both public and private service delivery;
* there should be uniform approaches to needs assessment for home care and long-term care;
* there should be a uniform means of distinguishing the medically necessary component of home care and long-term care from the accommodation component;
* there should be a means of mitigating against open-ended public coverage of pharmaceutical, home care and long-term care coverage;
* there should be recognition and financial support for informal care givers;
* there should be consideration of risk-pooling, risk adjustment and risk sharing1 between public and private funders/providers of pharmaceutical, home care and long-term care coverage;
* there should be a uniform approach to individual/household cost-sharing (e.g., copayments and deductibles); and
* provision should be made for pre-funding long-term care from public and private sources.
Prevention and Health Promotion
The continuum of care begins with prevention and this requires a strong public health foundation that includes the core elements of population health assessment, health surveillance, health promotion, disease and injury prevention and health protection.13 An investment in public health, including health promotion and disease prevention, is critical to the future health of Canadians.
One important component of effective prevention is immunization. The National Immunization Strategy was implemented in 2001 with the goal of reducing vaccine preventable diseases and improving vaccine coverage rates. The 2004 federal budget allocated $400 million to support this strategy and in 2007, $300 million was set aside in the federal budget for a Human Papillomavirus Immunization program. However, permanent funding should be allocated towards immunization programs for all illnesses that are preventable through vaccinations.
The federal government also has a role to play in establishing and promoting partnerships that will enhance prevention and promotion programming down to the local level.
The CMA recommends that:
the federal government continue funding of the national immunization strategy consistent with the original three-year funding program;
governments fund appropriate additions to the vaccination schedule, as new vaccines are developed, within the context of a national immunization strategy; and
the federal government establish a Public Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund ($350 million annually) to build partnerships between all levels of government to build capacity at the local level.
Prescription drugs are the fastest growing item in the health envelope. Over the past two decades, prescription drugs as a proportion of total health spending have doubled from 7% in 1986 to an estimated 14.6% in 2008, and they are now the second largest category of health expenditure. It is estimated that less than one-half (44.5%) of prescription drug costs were paid for publicly in 2008; just over one-third (37.1%) were paid by private insurers and almost one-fifth (18.4%) out-of-pocket.
The studies reported in 2002 by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (Kirby) and by the Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada (Romanow) have forged a consensus on the need for "catastrophic" pharmaceutical coverage, which may be defined as out-of-pocket prescription drug expenditures that exceed a certain threshold of household income.
In the Kirby proposal, in the case of public plans, personal prescription drug expenses for any family would be capped at 3% of total family income. The federal government would then pay 90% of prescription drug expenses in excess of $5,000. In the case of private plans, sponsors would have to agree to limit out-of-pocket costs to $1,500 per year, or 3% of family income (whichever is less). The federal government would then agree to pay 90% of drug costs in excess of $5,000 per year. Both public and private plans would be responsible for the difference between out-of-pocket and $5,000, and private plans would be encouraged to pool their risk. Kirby estimated that this plan would cost approximately $500 million per year. For his part, Romanow recommended a Catastrophic Drug Transfer through which the federal government would reimburse 50% of the costs of provincial and territorial drug insurance plans above a threshold of $1,500 per year. Romanow estimated that this would cost approximately $1 billion.
The National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS) has continued to explore cost projections of catastrophic pharmaceutical coverage, leaning toward a variable percentage threshold linked to income but there has been no public reporting on progress since 2006.14 At their September 2008 meeting, provincial/territorial health ministers called for the federal government to be an equal partner (50/50) to support a national standard of pharmacare coverage so that prescription drug costs will not exceed 5% (on average) of the net income base of provincial/territorial populations. The total estimated cost of such a program for 2006 was estimated at $5.03 billion.15
Data from Statistics Canada indicate that there is wide variation in levels of household spending on prescription drugs in Canada. In 2006 almost one in twenty (3.8%) households in Canada spent more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs; there was almost a five-fold variation across the provinces, ranging from 2.2% in Ontario to 10.1% in Prince Edward Island.16
Canada does not have a nationally coordinated policy in the area of very costly drugs that are used to treat rare diseases. Moreover, there is also an issue of expensive drugs that may be used for common diseases (wide variation has been documented across provinces/territories).
Thus far the term "catastrophic" has been used by First Ministers and the NPS 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.17 From the CMA's perspective, this does not go far enough and what must be strived for is "comprehensive" coverage that covers the whole population and effectively pools risk across individuals and public and private plans in various jurisdictions.
The CMA recommends that:
governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, 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;
* a 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);
* FPT 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 share 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; and,
* 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);
the federal government establish a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective;
the federal government assess the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies;
the federal government provide adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans;
governments provide comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada; and
the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada conduct a detailed study of the socio-economic profile of Canadians who have out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses to assess barriers to access and to design strategies that could be built into a comprehensive prescription drug coverage program.
Home care began in Canada in the late 19th century as a charitable enterprise delivered by non-profit groups such as the Victorian Order of Nurses. In the expansionary period of the 1960s and 1970s, governments moved increasingly into this area. The New Brunswick Extra-Mural Program, arguably Canada's most successful/ambitious home care program, accepted its first clients in 1981. The Established Programs Financing Act of 1977 recognized home care as one of several extended health services and included a fund initially set at $20 per capita to cover such services. These extended services are also recognized in the CHA but are not subject to the five program criteria (principles). The 1997 Report of the National Forum on Health recommended that home care be added to Medicare (along with pharmacare). The $150 million Health Transition Fund supported several demonstration projects in the home care area. Both the Kirby and Romanow reports recommended expanded home care funding. In February 2003, First Ministers concluded an accord in which they committed to determine a basket of home care services by 30 Sept. 2003, covering short-term acute home care, community mental health and end-of-life care. To date this has not happened. The federal government implemented a Compassionate Care Benefit in 2003 to support family caregivers; however, this only applies to those who are in the paid labour force.18
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, there is almost a five-fold variation in the use of home care across provinces/territories.19 The extent of private expenditure on home care services is not presently known. However, Statistics Canada has reported that the proportion of Canadians living in the community who require assistance with their personal activities of eating, bathing and dressing who are receiving government-subsidized home care declined from 46% in 1994-1995 to 35% in 2003; the suggestion is that some of the burden may have shifted to home care agencies or family and friends.20 Statistics Canada has reported that in 2002, over 1.7 million adults aged 45 to 64 provided informal care to almost 2.3 million seniors with long-term disabilities or physical limitations.21
In light of the foregoing, the CMA believes that:
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; and
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.
The CMA recommends that:
governments 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 initiate a national dialogue on the Canada Health Act in relation to the continuum of care;
governments and provincial/territorial medical associations review physician remuneration for home and community-based services; and
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, and
d) promote information on advance directives and representation agreements for patients.
Mental Health Care
In 2000 mental illness was the fourth-ranking contributor to the total economic burden of illness in Canada.22 The exclusion of psychiatric hospitals from the CHA means that they are not subject to the five principles and were not included in the original basis of the federal transfer payments. While a major Senate Committee report has pointed out that the closure of psychiatric facilities means that this exclusion is no longer pertinent, the Committee also noted that many essential services for persons with mental illness such as psychological services or out-of-hospital drug therapies are not covered under provincial health insurance plans.23 Moreover, there remain 53 psychiatric hospitals in Canada.24
The CMA recommends that:
the federal government make the legislative and/or regulatory amendments necessary to ensure that psychiatric hospital services are subject to the five program criteria of the Canada Health Act;
in conjunction with legislative and/or regulatory changes, funding to the provinces/territories through the Canada Health Transfer be adjusted to provide for federal cost sharing in both one-time investment and ongoing cost of these additional insured services; and
Canadian physicians and their organizations advocate for parity of allocation of resources (relative to other diseases) toward the continuum of mental health care and research.
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 2031.25 The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has projected that the share of Gross Domestic Product devoted to long-term care will at least double from its 2005 level of 1.2% to 2.4% by 2050, and could almost triple to (3.2%) depending on the success of efforts to contain cost.26
The potential need for long-term care is not confined to the senior population. Based on the results of its 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey, Statistics Canada estimated that there were 2 million adults aged 15-64 with disabilities, of whom 40% were severely disabled; in addition there were 202,000 children with disabilities, of whom 42% were severely disabled.27
A lack of appropriate long term care is imposing a bottleneck in the acute care system. The term Alternate Level of Care (ALC) is used to describe a situation when a patient is occupying a bed in a hospital and does not require the acute care provided in this setting. According to a 2009 CIHI report, in 2007-08, there were more than 74,000 ALC patients and more than 1.7 million ALC hospital days in Canada (excluding Manitoba and Quebec), accounting for 5% of hospitalizations and 14% of hospital days. In other words, every day almost 5,200 beds in acute care hospitals were occupied by ALC patients28.
This has significant 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 ALC patients may not be as good as it might be in an alternate site that is better equipped to suit their specific needs. Insufficient access to long term care at all ages is an obstacle to improving the health care system. Major investment is required in community and institutionally based care.
Most of the discussion in Canada since the mid-1990s has focused on the sustainability of the current Medicare program and the prospect for enhancements such as pharmacare. There has been little attention since the early 1980s on the future funding of long-term care. Internationally, in contrast, the United Kingdom has had a Royal Commission on long-term care, and Germany has moved to put in place a contributory social insurance fund.
A cursory assessment of the literature would suggest that there is a consensus that long-term care cannot/should not be financed on the same pay-as-you-go basis (i.e., current expenditures funded out of current contributions) as medical/hospital insurance programs.
The federal government has several options available to promote the pre-funding of long-term care:
Long-term care insurance: Policies are offered in Canada and are of fairly recent origin. There has been little take-up of such policies to date. At the end of 2005, about 52,700 Canadians were covered under long-term care insurance. One option could be to make long-term care insurance premiums deductible through a tax credit, similar to what Australia has done for private health insurance.
Tax-deferred savings: The Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) has been a very popular method for Canadians to save for retirement. As of 2007, an estimated 7 out of 10 (68%) of Canadians reported having an RRSP. However, in 2002, just 27% of all tax returns filed in Canada reported deductions for RRSP contributions. In 1998, Segal proposed a Registered Long-term Care Plan that would allow Canadians to save against the possibility of their need for a lengthy period of care. Another option to consider would be to add a provision to RRSPs similar to the Lifelong Learning Plan and the Home Buyer's Plan. This would be referred to as the Long-term Care Plan and would allow tax-free withdrawals from RRSPs to fund long-term care expenses for either the RRSP investor's own care or their family members' care.
Tax-prepaid saving: In Canada, the Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is an example of a plan whereby after-tax earnings are invested and allowed to grow tax-free until they are distributed and included in the recipient's income. In the 2007 federal budget, the government announced the introduction of a Registered Disability Savings Plan. Parents and guardians will be able to contribute to a lifetime maximum of $200,000 and similar to the RESP program there will be a related program of disability grants and bonds, scaled to income. This approach could have more general applicability to long-term care. The 2008 federal budget has introduced a tax-free savings account (TFSA) that, starting in 2009, enables those 18 and over to contribute up to $5,000 per year in after-tax income to a TFSA, whose investment growth will not be taxed; however, funds can be withdrawn at any time for any purpose29.
Payroll deduction (Social Insurance): A compulsory payroll tax that would accumulate in a separate fund along the lines of the Canada Pension Plan has been recommended in provincial reports in Quebec and Alberta.
In summary, whatever vehicle might be chosen, governments need to impress upon younger Canadians the need to exercise personal responsibility in planning for their elder years, given continuing gains in longevity.
The CMA recommends that:
governments study the options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance; and
the federal government review the variability in models of delivery of community and institutionally based long-term care across the provinces and territories as well as the standards against which they are regulated and accredited.
The Senate of Canada, and the Honourable Sharon Carstairs in particular, have provided leadership over the last decade in highlighting both the progress and the persistent variability across Canada in access to quality end-of-life care. In the latest (2005) of three reports issued since 1995, the Senate again calls for the development of and support for a national strategy for palliative and end-of-life care.30 In that report Still Not There it is noted that it is commonly estimated that no more than 15% of Canadians have access to hospice palliative care, and that for children, the figure drops further to just over 3%. To date, palliative care in Canada has primarily centred on services for those dying with cancer. However, cancer accounts for less than one-third (30%) of deaths in Canada. Diseases at the end of life such as dementia and multiple chronic conditions are expected to become much more prevalent in the years ahead. The demand for quality end-of-life care is certain to increase as the baby boom generation ages. By 2020 it is estimated that there will be 40% more deaths per year. While there has been a decreasing proportion of Canadians dying in hospital over the past decade, many more Canadians would prefer to have the option of hospice palliative care at the end of life than current capacity will permit. In its April 2009 report, the Special Senate Committee on Aging recommended a federally funded national partnership with provinces, territories and community organizations to promote integrated quality end-of-life care for all Canadians, the application of gold standards in palliative home care to veterans, First Nations and Inuit and federal inmates, and renewed research funding for palliative care.31
The CMA recommends that:
governments work toward a common end-of-life care strategy that will ensure all Canadians have equitable access to and adequate standards of quality end-of-life care.
1 Risk pooling is defined by the World Health Organization as the practice of bringing several risks together for insurance purposes in order to balance the consequences of the realization of such individual risk. Risk adjustment and risk sharing are means of adjusting or compensating for risk differentials between risk pools.
1 Canada. Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act. Statutes of Canada 1956-57 Chap 28. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1957.
2 Canada. Medical Care Act 1966-67, C. 64, 5.1. Revised Statutes of Canada 1970 Volume V. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1970.
3 Canada. Canada Health Act. Chapter C - 6. Ottawa, 1984.
4 Hall, E. Royal Commission on Health Services, Volume 1. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1964.
5 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Trends 1975-2008. Ottawa, 2008.
6 National Forum on Health. Canada Health Action: Building on the legacy - Volume 1 - the final report. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services, 1997.
7 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians - the federal role Volume six: recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
8 Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Building values: the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa, 2002.
9 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. First Ministers' meeting communiqué on health. September 11, 2000. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo00/800038004_e.html. Accessed 09/24/09.
10 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. 2003 First Ministers' Accord on Health Care Renewal. February 5, 2003. http://www.scics.gc.ca/pdf/800039004_e.pdf. Accessed 08/05/08.
11 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-Year plan to strengthen health care. September 16, 2004. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf. Accessed 08/05/08.
12 Health Council of Canada. Health care renewal in Canada: Measuring up? Toronto, 2007.
13 Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The future of public health in Canada: Developing a public health system for the 21st century. Ottawa, 2003.
14 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministerial Task Force on the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy Progress Report. June 2006. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 08/05/08.
15 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Backgrounder: National Pharmaceutical Strategy Decision Points. September 24, 2009. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 09/24/09.
16 Statistics Canada. Survey of Household Spending 2006. Detailed table 2, 62FPY0032XDB.
17 Xu K, Evans D, Carrin G, Aguilar-Riviera A. Designing health financing systems to reduce catastrophic health expenditure. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2005.
18 Service Canada. Employment insurance (EI) compassionate care benefits. http://188.8.131.52/eng/ei/types/compassionate_care.shtml. Accessed 09/24/09.
19 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Public sector expenditures and utilization of home care services in Canada: exploring the data. Ottawa, 2007.
20 Wilkins K. Government-subsidized home care. Health Reports 2006;17(4):39-42.
21 Pyper W. Balancing career and care. Perspectives on labour and income 2006;18(4): 5-15.
22 Public Health Agency of Canada. Table 2 Summary - Economic burden of illness in Canada by diagnostic category, 2000. Ottawa, 2000.
23 Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Out of the shadows at last: transforming mental health, mental illness and addiction services in Canada. Ottawa, 2006.
24 Canadian Healthcare Association. September 2009.
25 Statistics Canada. Population projections. The Daily, Thursday, December 15, 2005.
26 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Projecting OECD health and long-term care expenditures. What are the main drivers? Paris, 2006.
27 Statistics Canada. Participation and Activity Limitation Survey 2006: Tables. Catalogue no. 89-628-XlE-No. 003. Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2007.
28 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Alternate level of care in Canada. Ottawa, 2009.
29 Canada Revenue Agency. Tax-free savings account (TFSA). http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tg/rc4466/rc4466-e.html#P44_1114. Accessed 09/24/09.
30 Carstairs S. Still not there. Quality end-of-life care: a status report. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Still%20Not%20There%20June%202005.pdf. Accessed 09/24/09.
31 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Final report: Canada's aging population: Seizing the opportunity. Apr 2009.
FETAL ALCOHOL SPECTRUM DISORDER (UPDATE 2009)
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a leading cause of environment-related birth defects and developmental disabilities in North America. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the prudent choice for women who are or may become pregnant is to abstain from alcohol, and encourages their partners to support them in this endeavour. The CMA urges Canadian governments to enact legislation that requires alcoholic beverages sold in Canada to be labelled with warnings of the hazards of consuming alcohol during pregnancy. The CMA also calls upon the federal government to examine the role that advertising plays in promoting the consumption of alcoholic beverages and to review existing policies and regulations in this area.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities and diagnoses that result from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. It is estimated that more than 3,000 babies in Canada are born with FASD every year.
Those who live with FASD may have mild to very severe problems with their health. They may have delays in their development, intellectual problems and problems in their social lives. Examples of these include:
* skeletal abnormalities such as facial deformities
* physical disabilities such as kidney and internal organ problems
* depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder
* difficulty understanding the consequences of their actions
These disabilities are lifelong and those affected may need lifelong support.
The drinking patterns of teenagers and the potential for women of reproductive age to consume alcohol mean that the health care system must actively address the prevention of FASD. Also, alcohol use may play a considerable role in unplanned pregnancy and inadequate prenatal and postnatal care.
The CMA strongly supports all activities that encourage Canadians to moderate their alcohol consumption. The association encourages the public to be aware of the issues related to alcohol consumption, particularly the adverse effects on the fetus.
In a continued effort to support the reduction of alcohol consumption, the CMA urges Canadian governments to enact legislation that requires alcoholic beverages sold in Canada to be labelled with warnings of the hazards of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.1 Appropriate agencies should also adopt regulations and/or policies to ensure that warnings about the adverse interaction between alcohol and both prescription and non-prescription products are prominently displayed or distributed wherever alcohol and drugs are sold or dispensed.2 The CMA also calls upon the federal government to examine the role that advertising plays in promoting the consumption of alcoholic beverages and to review existing policies and regulations in this area.
The adverse effects of alcohol consumption by pregnant women are preventable. The CMA believes that the prudent choice for women who are or may become pregnant is to abstain from alcohol and encourages their partners to support them in this endeavour. Physicians should use appropriate screening methods to identify alcohol use in their patients. Physicians can play a leading role in educating and counselling women, spouses and family members about the dangers of alcohol to the fetus. The CMA also recommends that alcohol and drug addiction treatment services give high priority to the needs of pregnant women seeking help.
1 General Council resolution 89-67: That the Canadian Medical Association urge Governments in Canada to enact legislation requiring that all alcoholic beverages sold in Canada be labelled with warnings on the hazard from the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Note: this motion was rescinded because it was superseded by the Policy on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (2000).
2 General Council resolution 87-31
Health, health care and the environment are linked inextricably. Environmental contaminants have been associated with compromised health status, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular illness, gastrointestinal ailments and death - and an increased demand for a range of health care services.
The health sector is a significant part of Canada's economy, contributing approximately 10% of gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the sector uses considerable energy, consumes large quantities of plastics, paper and other resources, and produces significant solid, liquid and gaseous waste. With the improvement of health care technologies and a growing awareness of environmentally responsible practices, there is an increased opportunity for reducing the health sector's environmental footprint. Although there are important health, financial and ethical reasons for adopting such practices in the health sector, a number of challenges exist, including financial, technical and administrative challenges.
We envision the health sector as a leader in integrating environmentally responsible practices into the delivery of health care. We also see it as an advocate in sharing information on best practices and encouraging Canadians and Canadian organizations to limit their environmental footprint. In a green health sector, minimizing negative impact on the environment would be a priority for all organizations and individuals in their day-to-day practices and at all levels of decision-making.
A collaborative approach
Achieving our vision requires a collaborative approach to delivering environmentally responsible health care. For example:1
Greener health infrastructure
* support investment in renewing physical plant infrastructure that allows for the retrofit of facilities that function more efficiently, use cleaner technologies and meet new environmental standards for energy efficiency, water management and waste management
* educate staff and the public on the link between health and the environment and on the health impact of environmental degradation, and help in the development, dissemination and implementation of knowledge and best practices
* support and encourage research on health and the environment, and on environmentally responsible practices in a variety of health care settings
* implement energy-conserving techniques and products
* request rationalized packaging and other environmentally responsible actions from vendors of health care products
* promote safer substitutes to reduce exposure to toxic substances
* reduce waste by reusing and recycling when possible
* practise safe disposal practices for biomedical and infectious waste, outdated medications, and polyvinyl plastics, mercury and other toxic substances
* establish green teams to support the practice of ecologic stewardship
We recognize that our efforts to achieve a greener health sector must fit into broader societal and global actions to improve the environment. The health sector plays a role in supporting the efforts of all Canadians to find environmentally responsible ways to perform their daily activities by contributing to the management of global environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions and toxic waste disposal.
Calls to Action
We call on governments and policymakers at all levels to understand and address links between health and the environment and to incorporate these links into policy decisions through legislative and budgetary actions.
We call on all health care organizations to pledge to minimize the negative impact of their activity on the environment and to seek solutions to existing barriers.
We call on individuals working in the health sector to both model and advocate for environmentally responsible approaches to delivering health care without compromising patient safety and care.
Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations
Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care
Canadian College of Health Service Executives
Canadian Dental Association
Canadian Healthcare Association
Canadian Medical Association
Canadian Nurses Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Public Health Association
David Suzuki Foundation
Developed by a working group of the above organizations
1 Canadian Nurses Association/Canadian Medical Association. Joint position statement: Environmentally responsible activity in the health care sector. Ottawa. 2009
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIANS RECOMMENDING MOBILE HEALTH APPLICATIONS TO PATIENTS
This document is designed to provide basic information for physicians about how to assess a mobile health application for recommendation to a patient in the management of that patient's health, health care, and health care information.
These guiding principles build on the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients.1
* Mobile health applications, distinct from regulated medical devices, may be defined as an application on a mobile device that is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The functions of these applications may include:
o The ability to store and track information about an individual or group's health or the social determinants thereof;
o Periodic educational information, reminders, or motivational guidance;
o GPS location information to direct or alert patients;
o Standardized checklists or questionnaires.2
* Mobile health applications can enhance health outcomes while mitigating health care costs because of their potential to improve a patient's access to information and care providers.3
* Mobile health applications are most commonly used on a smart phone and/or tablet. Some may also interface with medical devices.
* The use of mobile health applications reflects an emerging trend towards personalized medicine and patient involvement in the management of their health information. By 2016, 142 million health apps will have been downloaded.4 According to some industry estimates, by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded at least one mobile health application.5
* While mobile health application downloads are increasing, there is little information about usage and adherence by patients. It is believed that many patients cease to use a mobile health application soon after downloading it.
* Distributers of mobile health applications do not currently assess content provided by mobile health applications for accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, timeliness, or conformity to clinical practice guidelines.6 However, mobile applications may be subjected to certain standards to ensure critical technical requirements such as accessibility, reachability, adaptability, operational reliability, and universality.
* Increasingly there are independent websites providing reviews of medical apps and checklists for health care professionals. However, the quality criteria used by these sites, potential conflicts of interest, and the scope and number of mobile apps assessed are not always declared by these groups.
To date, randomized controlled trials are not usually employed to assess the effectiveness of mobile health applications. Some believe that the rigorousness of this type of assessment may impede the timeliness of a mobile health application's availability.7
* Some examples of the uses of mobile health applications include tracking fitness activities to supplement a healthy lifestyle; supported self-management of health and health information; post-procedure follow up; viewing of test results; and the virtualization of interaction between patients and providers, such as remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. Some mobile health applications may be linked to a patient profile or patient portal associated with a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization.
* Some mobile health applications may be an extension of an electronic medical records (EMR) platform.
* The objective of recommending a mobile health application to a patient must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or otherwise for the purpose of health promotion.
* A mobile health application is one approach in health service delivery. Mobile health applications should complement, rather than replace, the relationship between a physician and patient.
* No one mobile health application is appropriate for every patient. Physicians may wish to understand a patient's abilities, comfort level, access to technology, and the context of the application of care before recommending a mobile health application.
* Should a physician recommend a mobile health application to a patient, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to legislation and regulation (if existing) and/or professional obligations.
* If the mobile health application will be used to monitor the patient's condition in an ongoing manner, the physician may wish to discuss with the patient what they should watch for and the steps they should take in response to information provided.
* Physicians are encouraged to share information about applications they have found effective with colleagues.
* Physicians who require additional information about the competencies associated with eHealth and the use of health information technologies may wish to consult The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's (RCPSC) framework of medical competencies, CanMEDS.8
* Physicians may wish to enter into and document a consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information or information printed out from electronic management platforms like mobile health applications. This agreement may include a one-time conveyance of information and recommendations to cover the elements common to many mobile health applications, such as the general risk to privacy associated with storing health information on a mobile device.
Characteristics of a safe and effective mobile health application
A mobile health application does not need to have all of the following characteristics to be safe and effective. However, the more of the following characteristics a mobile health application has, the likelier it will be appropriate for recommendation to a patient:
1. Endorsement by a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization
As recommended by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), it is best to select mobile health applications that have been created or endorsed by a professional or recognized association or medical society.9 Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse applications for use in their clinical environments. There may also be mobile health applications associated with an EMR platform used by an organization or practice. Finally, some mobile health applications may have been subject to a peer review process distinct from endorsement by an association or organization.
There are a number of usability factors than can complicate the use of mobile applications, including interface and design deficiencies, technological restrictions, and device and infrastructure malfunction.
Many developers will release periodic updates and software patches to enhance the stability and usability of their applications. Therefore, it would be prudent for the physician recommending the mobile health application to also recommend to the patient that they determine if the application has been updated within the last year.
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application to a patient may wish to ask about the patient's level of comfort with mobile health technologies, their degree of computer literacy, whether or not the patient owns a mobile device capable of running the application, and whether or not the patient is able to bear potential one-time or ongoing costs associated with use of the application.
Physicians may consider testing the application themselves beforehand to understand whether its functionality and interface make it easy to use.
3. Reliability of information
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application may wish to understand how the patient intends to use the information, and/or review the information with the patient to understand whether it is current and appropriate.
Information presented by the mobile health application should be appropriately referenced and time-stamped with the last update by the application developer.
4. Privacy and security
In 2014, the Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta assessed approximately 1200 mobile applications and found nearly one-third of them required access to personal information beyond what should be required relative to their functionality and purpose, and that basic privacy information was not always made available.10
Physicians entering into and documenting a consent discussion with their patients may wish to include the electronic management of health information in the scope of these discussions, and make a notation of the discussion in the patient's health record.
Some mobile health applications may feature additional levels of authentication for use, such as an additional password or encryption protocols. If all other factors between applications are equal, physicians may wish to recommend that patients use mobile health applications adhering to this higher standard of security.
5. Avoids conflict-of-interest
Physicians may wish to recommend that patients learn more about the company or organization responsible for the development of the application and their mandate. There is a risk of secondary gains by mobile health application developers and providers where information about patients and/or usage is gathered and sold to third parties.
A standardized conflict of interest statement may be made available through the mobile health application or on the developer's website. If so, physicians may wish to refer the patient to this resource.
Physicians who develop mobile applications for commercial gain or have a stake in those who develop applications for commercial gain may risk a complaint being made to the College on the basis that the physician engaged in unprofessional conduct if they recommend mobile health applications to their patients in the course of patient care.
6. Does not contribute to fragmentation of health information
Some mobile health applications may link directly to an EMR, patient portal, or government data repository. These data resources may be standardized, linked, and cross-referenced.
However, health information entered into an application may also be stored on a mobile device and/or the patient's home computer, or developers of mobile health applications may store information collected by their application separately. While there may be short-term benefits to using a particular mobile health application, the range of applications and developers may contribute to the overall fragmentation of health information.
If all other factors between applications are considered equal, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications which contribute to robust existing data repositories, especially an existing EMR.
7. Demonstrates its impact on patient health outcomes
While not all mobile health applications will have an appropriate scale of use and not all developers will have the capacity to collect and analyze data, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications that have undergone validation testing to demonstrate impact of use on patient health outcomes. If mobile health applications are claiming a direct therapeutic impact on patient populations, physicians may wish to recommend that their patients seek out or request resources to validate this claim.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Physician guidelines for online communication with patients. Ottawa: The Association; 2005. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.pdf?_ga=1.32127742.1313872127.1393248073
2 US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and Food and Drug Administration staff. Rockville (MD): The Administration; 2015. Available:
3 Canada Health Infoway. Mobile health computing between clinicians and patients. White paper. Toronto: The Infoway; 2014 Apr. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/video-gallery/doc_download/2081-mobile-health-computing-between-clinicians-and-patients-white-paper-full-report
4 iHealthBeat. 44M mobile health apps will be downloaded in 2012, report predicts. Available: www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/12/1/44m-mobile-health-apps-will-be-downloaded-in-2012-report-predicts
5 Jahns R-G. 500m people will be using healthcare mobile applications in 2015. Research2guidance. Available: www.research2guidance.com/500m-people-will -be-using-healthcare-mobile-applications-in-2015/
6 Lyver, M. Standards: a call to action. Future Practice. 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
7 Rich P. Medical apps: current status. Future Practice 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The CanMEDS 2015 eHealth Expert Working Group report. Ottawa: The College; 2014. Available: www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/common/documents/canmeds/framework/ehealth_ewg_report_e.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Managing information to delivery safer care. Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/managing-information-to-deliver-safer-care
10 Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. Global privacy sweep rasies concerns about mobile apps [news release]. Available: www.oipc.ab.ca/downloads/documentloader.ashx?id=3482
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the promotion of healthy lifestyles in order to improve individual health and well-being and the overall health status of the population. Healthy lifestyles refer to patterns of individual practices and personal behavioural choices that are associated with optimal health. Two of the most important behaviours to create or maintain optimum health are healthy eating and physical activity.
For many Canadians, their diet and physical activity levels can have a negative rather than positive impact on their overall health. There is a particular concern for children and youth who are growing up in increasingly obesogenic environments that reinforce practices that work against a healthy lifestyle.1 Childhood obesity research tells us that overweight and obese children are more likely to stay the same into adulthood.2 To reverse this trend, determined action is required for children and youth to learn and acquire healthy behaviours that they will maintain throughout their life. Healthy lifestyles are central to successful aging and improving the likelihood of recovery after poor health.3
This policy paper discusses the importance of physical activity and healthy eating, and the role that individuals and families, schools, workplaces, communities, the food industry and all levels of governments can play in promoting healthy lifestyles. We know that collaborative action is required to make it easier for Canadians to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their daily lives - to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
What are the health impacts of unhealthy diets and physical inactivity
Diet is the leading risk factor for death, disability and life-years lost; being estimated to cause over 65,000 deaths and 864,000 life years lost in Canada in 2010.4
Unhealthy diet has been consistently linked with cardiovascular diseases (heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia) and some cancers,5 which constitutes the majority of the disease burden in Canada. An estimated 80% of hypertension, which affects over 7 million Canadians, is directly or indirectly attributed to unhealthy diet.6
An estimated 60% of Canadian adults and close to one-third of children are overweight or obese, largely caused by unhealthy diets.7 Overweight and obesity (and the lifestyle choices associated with them) are contributors to more than 18 chronic conditions.8 This includes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and liver disease, as well as breast, colon and prostate cancer.
Obesity is a public health issue not unique to Canada as the rates are increasing worldwide. Obesity is generally attributed to the fact that, as a society, we are increasing our calorie intake while at the same time burning less energy in physical activity. While it is difficult to determine how many deaths are directly attributable to obesity, we know that obesity often co-exists with other risk factors such as the lack of physical activity.
Exercise is one of the top modifiable risk factor for chronic disease.9 Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, bone and joint diseases, and depression.10 The risk for many of these conditions is reduced by 20 - 40% in adults with the highest levels of physical activity compared to those with the lowest levels of physical activity. Recent research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with higher risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cancer independent of physical activity levels.11
According to the most recent Canadian Health Measures Study physical activity levels for children and youth are low with 6 out of 10 waking hours devoted to sedentary pursuits. Obesity is rising and physical fitness is declining.12
Canadians who do not achieve adequate levels of physical activity or eat unhealthy foods are vulnerable to preventable chronic diseases, premature death, and contribute to high health care costs. For instance, in 1999, $2.1 billion or 2.5% of the total direct health care costs were attributable to physical inactivity.13
To understand why the rates of obesity and overweight are rising, it may be helpful to look at what we already know about healthy eating and physical activity.
What we know about healthy eating
While modern science has allowed us to expand our knowledge of the impact of nutrients and food on human health we continue to be beset with illness and disease caused by the foods we consume. Having the right amount and type of food recommended in Canada's Food Guide is a first step towards healthy eating. But Canadians self-reported dietary intakes do not meet national dietary recommendations despite high reliance on public education concerning healthy eating and healthy diets. Children and adults are under-consuming the recommended servings of vegetables and fruits, an established proxy for healthy eating habits, and exceeding daily recommended intakes of sodium.14,15
As the links between nutrition and disease, and the impact on the health of our society are revealed it is more important than ever to understand what influences healthy eating behaviours. Food choices are structured by a variety of individual determinants of behaviour, ranging from one's physiological state, food preferences, nutritional knowledge, perceptions of healthy eating and psychological factors.
Many processed foods have become popular due to their accessibility and 'convenience factor', but these features have changed the way food and in particular these products are consumed compared to unprocessed foods: increased 'grazing', eating alone or eating while carrying out other activities such as work or driving. In addition, many calories consumed come in liquid form.16
Growth in the production and consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased drastically in the last decades in both higher and lower-income countries.17 A number of studies have shown that because less healthy foods are cheaper than healthier food, individuals from lower socioeconomic classes tend to be more dependent on unhealthy foods for nourishment.18
Other determinants for healthy eating include a wide range of contextual factors, such as the interpersonal environment created by family and peers, the physical environment, which determines food availability and accessibility, the economic environment, in which food is a commodity to be marketed for profit, and the social environment. Within the social environment, social status (income, education and gender) and cultural milieu are determinants of healthy eating that may be working "invisibly" to structure food choice.19
What we know about physical activity
Canada's Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children and youth aged 5 to 17 get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day; and adults get 150 minutes of physical activity per week.20 In fact, about 94% of Canadian children and youth do not meet minimum physical activity guidelines.21 Furthermore, about 85% of Canadian adults do not meet the minimum guidelines. Physical activity includes but is not limited to sports and recreation. Using active transportation to get to work as well as being active at work is an alternative form of MVPA and can also lead to improved health.
For most Canadians, the average day is spent on passive activities such as TV viewing, computer and game-console use, workplace sitting, and time spent in automobiles. Moreover, the sprawling suburban communities, in which many live, do not encourage physical activity.
Emerging research suggests that prolonged sitting time is associated with an increased health risk.22 These findings mean that one can meet the minimum physical activity guidelines and still not engage in a healthy lifestyle. Spending a few hours a week at the gym or otherwise engaged in moderate or vigorous activity doesn't seem to significantly offset the risk. Hence too much sitting is a risk distinct from too little exercise.
While further research is required to identify which methods of exercise promotions work best for individuals,23 it is clear that supportive environments and infrastructures are essential for Canadians to make physical activity part of their daily lives. CMA's policies about the Built Environment and Active Transportation support the role of the environment on our physical activity patterns.
How we can promote physical activity and healthy eating
A sedentary lifestyle is a cue for physician advice.24 Physical activity is a vital sign that may require as much attention as other traditional vital signs25 - weight, blood pressure, or smoking history. Physicians are eager to initiate these conversations, especially with patients living with chronic diseases. A message must be repeated many times in order to effect a change in lifestyle. Physicians can reiterate the medical importance of physical activity and healthy eating by reinforcing this message during each office visit, and writing the recommendation on a prescription pad.26 For instance, in British Columbia, physicians are prescribing exercise on specially-designed pads, distributing free pedometers, and hosting free walking events for their patients and the public. In the Edmonton area, Primary Care Networks are prescribing free access passes or a free month of access at local municipal recreation facilities. And in Nova Scotia, physicians have been running a free provincial running program for over 10 years that benefits thousands of kids in elementary school.
Nonetheless these clinical interventions alone cannot shape healthier food consumption patterns and lifestyle choices. An obvious starting point to develop a comprehensive policy is to understand the interplay between individual and environmental determinants that influence our behaviours. In this regard, CMA has developed policies on Active Transportation and the Built Environment and Health which recognize the role of neighborhood design and alternative modes for transportation for an active lifestyle. This approach is also at the heart of the Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy (PCHLS)27, approved in 2005 by all levels of government. CMA commends the efforts put in the PCHLS to prioritize healthy eating and physical activity.
What we recommend
CMA looks forward to working with others in making options for physical activity and healthy eating more available and accessible to all Canadians. The following recommendations highlight the potential contributions of the following sectors: health professionals, all levels of government, communities, workplaces, schools, the food industry and individuals and families.
CMA encourages physicians to promote healthy eating and physical activity inside and outside their office.
Physicians are lifestyle change agents and remain the preferred source of information about health for many people. Physicians, who are committed to physical activity, are role models whose advice on healthy living is more likely to be adopted.28 CMA encourages physicians to address any work-imposed limitations - such as the lack of time, motivation, or tiredness - that could also influence their own exercise and eating habits.
In clinical practice, physicians can help patients start or maintain a healthy lifestyle by:
* assessing nutrition and physical activity as part of routine assessments;
* determining the factors that influence individual patient's nutrition and physical activity levels;
* assessing patient's readiness to change and tailoring interventions and support to their current situation;
* providing an exercise prescription to encourage physical activity to maintain or improve health status, and
* working in inter-professional teams to provide patient education with other health care providers such as dieticians.
Medical students and residents, while reporting a high level of importance for exercise prescription concede a low level of expertise in this area upon graduation.29,30,31 As knowledge develops, physicians and other health professionals should be kept updated and encouraged to incorporate the most effective interventions into their practices. The CMA encourages the development of continuing medical education courses on issues related to physical activity and healthy eating.
Within the healthy living approach, there are multiple opportunities to extend the role of physicians into the community as observed in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Edmonton area. Physicians can establish strong community norms for a healthy lifestyle by:
* establishing and reinforcing healthy food policies in hospital cafeterias or at health-related meetings and conferences
* using, facilitating and advocating for the use of active transportation in their communities
* working within the community to ensure that recreation centres and other facilities are available and patients can be referred to the services most appropriate to their needs
Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Governments
CMA calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to commit to a long-term, well-funded Canada-wide strategy for healthy living beyond 2015.
In 2005, Canada's federal, provincial, and territorial governments endorsed a 10-year Healthy Living Strategy Framework, whose initial priorities included the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity. The national strategy addressed information and support for Canadians to help them make healthy choices; support for physicians and other health professionals in counselling patients on healthy weight and in treating existing obesity; community infrastructures that make healthy living easier; and public policies that encourage healthy eating and physical activity. The federal and provincial / territorial governments have undertaken a number of activities in the intervening years to promote physical activity and healthy eating but much remains to be done.
CMA believes that all levels of governments have a continuous obligation to provide public guidance on healthy eating and to promulgate policies, standards, regulations and legislations that support the availability and accessibility of healthy and affordable food and beverage choices.
CMA calls on governments to improve access to nutritious food at affordable prices for all Canadians.
The price of milk, fresh produce and other healthy foods can vary greatly across Canada. In many remote areas, they are often more expensive than processed, nutrition-poor foods because of high transportation costs. Governments should implement effective programs to offset the impact of transportation costs on food prices in northern and remote communities. Even in urban areas, nutritious food may be unaffordable for people on low incomes. School meal programs, social assistance rates that take into account the cost of purchasing healthy food, access to urban farmers' markets can help to ensure that all Canadians have access to healthy foods at a reasonable price.
CMA calls on governments to ban marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
The typical Canadian child may be exposed to as many as 40,000 advertisements for food a year.32 This does not include point-of-sale promotions, such as displays of candy bars at convenience-store counters. CMA's policy on marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and youth calls for a ban on marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
CMA calls on governments to set rigorous standards for front of package food labeling and for the advertising of health claims for food.
Brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way to provide health information to consumers, who should be encouraged to seek out objective information sources for answers to their questions about physical activity and healthy eating. To improve the quality of information received through commercial channels, the CMA recommends that health claims made for foods be strictly regulated to ensure that they are based on the best available scientific evidence and that they are accurately communicated to consumers. Food advertisements should be pre-cleared before airing in the media, and the provisions against deceptive advertising in the Food and Drug Act should be strengthened.
CMA recommends that governments at all levels invest in evidence-based research on healthy eating and physical activity and share the results of this research with all Canadians.
CMA encourages all levels of governments to continue to fund and support research for healthy lifestyles. There is a clear need to invest in research to strengthen the evidence base about physical activity and healthy eating, particularly on:
best measures for assessing overweight and obesity;
the effectiveness of weight management and treatment programs; and
the effect of policy interventions on healthy eating and physical activity on rates of obesity and obesity-related disease.
CMA encourages governments to continue to work with the food industry to improve the food environment in Canada.
The partnership and collaboration of food manufacturers is needed to help Canadians make healthier food choices. The food industry can work with governments to:
reduce the salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat and calorie content of processed foods and pre-prepared meals;
provide information about the calorie and nutrition content on restaurant menus;
restrict advertising and in-store promotion of high-sugar, high-salt, high-fat foods, particularly those aimed at children;
provide user-friendly consumer information about their products, including and accurate health and advertising claims;
improve the nutrition fact table to make it more user friendly and increase the amount of information for example, by identifying the amount of free sugars.
CMA calls on municipal governments to create environments that encourage healthy and active living and on federal, provincial and territorial governments to support them in this endeavour.
Communities have an important role to play to promote healthy behaviours for children, youth, and adults. They shape how many Canadians decide to live, work and play in their daily life. Through mixed-use land planning and building design, communities can create walking-friendly environments, and reduce the time people spend in cars. To achieve this, communities should consider:
developing and maintaining a community-wide network of walking and cycling paths;
zoning communities in such a way that amenities are within walking distance of homes; and
revising building codes to make stairs accessible, pleasant and safe, so that people have an alternative to taking the elevator.
Canadians are considerably more physically active in the summer than in the winter and this could have an impact on obesity trends.33 Communities could improve pathways to healthy lifestyles year-round by improving access to indoor sport and recreation facilities, especially during winter. Where possible, communities should consider partnering with schools to share the use of gymnasiums, playgrounds, fields, courts, and tracks with the public after school hours and on weekends. In doing so, communities are ensuring the best use of time and resources, but also sharing liability for the development, operation, and maintenance of the facilities.
Community food security can happen if local residents have equal access to safe, affordable and nutritious food. Communities have a role to play in advocating for healthier food options in schools and workplaces, encouraging community kitchens to teach cooking skills, and supporting local agriculture and farmers markets. This, in turn, would encourage individuals to eat more healthy foods.
CMA encourages employers to actively promote the health of their employees by providing opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food choices in cafeterias.
Prolonged, unbroken time spent sitting in front of a screen is very common in the workplace. In addition, four out of five commuters sit daily in their private vehicles to go to work.34 As Canadians spend most of their adult life at work, it is important to reduce workplace sitting. CMA encourages employers, especially in sedentary occupational groups, to increase opportunities for physical activity. For example, employers can promote healthy behaviours by:
Building on-site fitness facilities or entering into agreements with off-site fitness centres to provide programs for their employees
Providing showers, bike racks and other amenities for employees for those who want to commute to work on foot or by bike.
Healthier food options in cafeteria and vending machines can promote and encourage healthy eating by employees.
Schools, where children spend most of their time outside of home, present an excellent opportunity to instil healthy behaviours at an early age. They could, for example, provide comprehensive nutrition education, serve nutritious food in their cafeterias and promote physical activity by providing formal instruction and informal recreation time. Schools can provide the most effective and efficient way to reach not only the children themselves, but their parents, teachers, and other community members.35
CMA encourages school boards to provide at least 60 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades.
Only 26% of Canadian schools reported that they had implemented daily physical education classes for their students.36 There is some evidence that school-based physical activity can increase physical activity levels and reduce time spent watching television at home. 37 For instance, schools can promote physical activity through unstructured out-of-home play, structured sports, or active transportation (e.g. walking to school). Children who are physically active and spend less time watching television after school are less likely to become overweight before age 12.38
CMA recommends that schools provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices, provide nutrition education, and initiate programs aimed at encouraging healthy food consumption and skills to prepare meals from scratch.
CMA calls for restrictions on the sale of high-calorie, high fats, sugars or salts foods/drinks in recreational facilities frequented by young people.
Fast food restaurants and convenience stores can be an important influence on children's eating habits and food choices.39 Children attending schools within a short distance of fast food restaurants eat fewer fruits and vegetable servings, and drink more soft drinks than others who did not have similar establishments within proximity.40 To encourage effective school-based nutrition interventions, it is therefore important to educate students about the nutrition value of foods, healthy food choices, and provide healthy canteens or cafeterias.
Individuals and families
CMA recommends that all Canadians work toward achieving and maintaining health by:
educating themselves about their dietary needs and about the caloric and nutrition content of foods; and
engaging in physical activity, with the goal of at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day for children and youth, and 150 minutes per week for adults.
Ultimately, healthy eating and physical activity require that individuals take action to make healthy choices in their lives. To inform these choices, Canadians should be supported with appropriate resource materials with consistent information about healthy eating and physical activity. For instance, many young children do not choose what they consume; their parents buy and prepare the food for them. Research suggests that mothers and children appear to have divergent attitudes towards food and mealtimes.41 In this regard, it is important for parents to be well-informed and able to explain the tangible benefits of foods and their nutritional components to their children before they reach adulthood.
What we conclude
Healthy behaviours are easier to maintain through life if acquired in childhood and encouraged by the family. Therefore Canadian families should be supported in efforts to ensure that both children and adults eat nutritiously and exercise daily. We believe there is a role for everyone in promoting healthy behaviours - including health professionals, individuals, families, schools, workplaces, communities, the food industry and all levels of governments.
Popular approaches seek to provide individuals with information and options about healthy lifestyles choices. However, individual choice is not sufficient to ensure healthy behaviours.
Many barriers to the adoption of healthy behaviours and lifestyle choices can be met through a targeted population health approach, and evidence-based policy and regulatory controls. A comprehensive change in culture and mindset, political endorsement and multifaceted strategies are needed to promote and facilitate change to improve the dietary practices and physical activity levels of Canadians.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The Canadian Medical Association encourages physicians to promote healthy eating and physical activity inside and outside their office.
2. The Canadian Medical Association calls on federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to commit to a long-term, well-funded Canada-wide strategy for healthy living beyond 2015.
3. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to improve access to nutritious food at affordable prices for all Canadians.
4. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to ban marketing of foods and beverages high in salt, sugars and trans fats to those 13 years of age and younger.
5. The Canadian Medical Association calls on governments to set rigorous standards for front of package food labeling and for the advertising of health claims for food.
6. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that governments at all levels invest in evidence-based research on healthy eating and physical activity and share the results of this research with all Canadians.
7. The Canadian Medical Association encourages governments to continue to work with the food industry to improve the food environment in Canada.
8. The Canadian Medical Association calls on municipal governments to create environments that encourage healthy and active living and on federal, provincial and territorial governments to support them in this endeavour.
9. The Canadian Medical Association encourages employers to actively promote the health of their employees by providing opportunities for physical activity, and healthy food choices in cafeterias.
10. The Canadian Medical Association encourages school boards to provide at least 60 minutes of active daily physical education for all primary and secondary grades.
11. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that schools provide access to attractive, affordable, healthy food choices, provide nutrition education, and initiate programs aimed at encouraging healthy food consumption and skills to prepare meals from scratch.
12. The Canadian Medical Association calls for restrictions on the sale of high-calorie, high fats, sugars or salts foods/drinks in recreational facilities frequented by young people.
13. The Canadian Medical Association recommends that all Canadians work toward achieving and maintaining health by:
* educating themselves about their dietary needs and about the caloric and nutrition content of foods; and
* engaging in physical activity, with the goal of at least 60 minutes of moderate activity per day for children and youth, and 150 minutes per week for adults.
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2 Waters E, de Silva-Sanigorski A, Hall BJ, et al. Interventions for preventing obesity in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(12): CD001871.
3 Shields M, Martel L. (2006). Healthy living among seniors. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2005. Available: www5.statcan.gc.ca/bsolc/olc-cel/olc-cel?catno=82-003-S20050009086&lang=eng (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
4 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Global burden of disease arrow diagram. Seattle (WA): The Institute; 2013. Available: www.healthmetricsandevaluation.org/gbd/visualizations/gbd-arrow-diagram (accessed 2010 Mar 15)
5Committee on Public Health Priorities to Reduce and Control Hypertension in the U.S. Population, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. A population-based policy and systems change approach to prevent and control hypertension. Report, v-173. Washington (DC): National Academies Press; 2010.
6 Beaglehole R, Bonita R, Horton R, et al. Priority actions for the non-communicable disease crisis. Lancet 2011;377(9775):1438-47.
7 Roberts KC, Shields M, de Groh M, et al. Overweight and obesity in children and adolescents: results from the 2009 to 2011 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Rep. 2012;23(3):37-41.
8 Canadian Institute for Health Information, Public Health Agency of Canada. Obesity in Canada. Ottawa: The Agency; 2011. Available: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/oic-oac/index-eng.php (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
9 Lim SS, Vos T, Flaxman AD, et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study 2010. Lancet. 2012;380:2224-60.
10Colley, R, Garriguet D, Janssen I, et al. Physical activity of Canadian adults: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Study. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-003 XPE. Health Rep. 2011 Mar;22(1).
11 Statistics Canada. Directly measured physical activity of Canadian adults, 2007-2011. Health fact sheets. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013.
12 Colley R, Garriguet D, Janssen I, et al. Physical activity of Canadian children and youth: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Study. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-003 XPE. Health Rep. 2011 Mar;22(1).
13 Katzmarzyk PT, Gledhill N, Shephard RJ. The economic burden of physical inactivity in Canada CMAJ. 2000;163(11):1435-40.
14 Statistics Canada. Fruit and vegetable consumption. Health fact sheets. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-625-XWE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2012. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11837-eng.htm (accessed 2013 Nov 8).
15 Garriguet D. Canadians' eating habits. Statistics Canada Cat. No. 82-003. Health Rep. 2007;18(2):17-32. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006004/article/habit/9609-eng.pdf (accessed 2013 Jul 10).
16 Monteiro CA. Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutr. 2009;12(5):729-31. DOI:10.1017/S1368980009005291.
17 Monteiro CA, Levy RB. A new classification of foods based on the extent and purpose of their processing. Uma nova classifi cação de alimentos baseada na extensão e propósito do seu processamento. Cad Saude Publica. 2010;26(11):2039-49.
18 World Health Organization. Obesity the "new norm": day 1 of nutrition and NCDs conference. 2013. Available: www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-policy/pages/news/news/2013/07/obesity-the-new-norm-day-1-of-nutrition-and-ncds-conference
19 Raine KD. Determinants of healthy eating in Canada: an overview and synthesis. Can J Public Health. 2005;96(Suppl 3):S8-14, s18-15.
20 Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. Canadian physical activity guidelines. Ottawa: The Society; 2011. Available: www.csep.ca/guidelines (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
21 Statistics Canada. Canadian health measures survey: directly measured physical activity of Canadians, 2007 to 2011. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013 May 30. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130530/dq130530d-eng.pdf (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
22 Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, et al. Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38(3):105-13.
23 Foster C, Hillsdon M, Thorogood M, Kaur A, Wedatilake T. Interventions for promoting physical activity. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 (1). Review.
24 Glasgow RE, Eakin EG, Fisher EB, et al. Physician advice and support for physical activity results from a national survey. Am J Prev Med. 2001;21(3):189-96.
25 Salis R. Developing healthcare systems to support exercise: exercise as the fifth vital signs. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(6):473-4.
26 Andersen RE, Blair SN, Cheskin LJ, et al. Encouraging patients to become more physically active: the physician's role. Ann Intern Med. 1997;127(5):395-400.
27 Public Health Agency of Canada. Overview of the Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy. 2010. Available: www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/ipchls-spimmvs-eng.php (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
28 Lobelo F, Duperly J, Frank E. Physical activity habits of doctors and medical students influence their counselling practices. Br J Sports Med. 2009;43(2):89-92.
29 Rogers LQ, Gutin B, Humphries MC, et al. Evaluation of internal medicine residents as exercise role models and associations with self-reported counseling behavior, confidence, and perceived Success. Teach Learn Med. 2006;18(3):215-21.
30 Connaughton AV, Weiler RM, Connaughton DP. (May-June 2001). Graduating medical students' exercise prescription competence as perceived by deans and directors of medical education in the United States: implications for Healthy People 2010. Public Health Rep. 2001;116:226-34.
31 Vallance JK, Wylie M, MacDonald R. Medical students' self-perceived competence and prescription of patient-centered physical activity. Prev Med. 2009;48(2):164-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.12.006
32 The Kaiser Family Foundation. The role of media in childhood obesity. Menlo Park (CA): The Foundation; 2004 Feb. Available: http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-role-of-media-in-childhood-obesity.pdf (accessed 2014 Mar 19).
33 Merchant AT, Dehghan M, Akhtar-Danesh N. Seasonal variation in leisure-time physical activity among Canadians Can J Public Health. 2007;98(3):203-8.
34 Statistics Canada. Commuting to work. National Household Survey. 2011. Available: https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-012-x/99-012-x2011003_1-eng.cfm (accessed 2014 Jan 20).
35 Perez-Rodrigo C. School-based nutrition education: lessons learned and new perspectives. Public Health Nutr. 2001;4(1A):131-9.
36 Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Policies related to physical activities. 2011 opportunities for physical activity at school survey. 2012 Aug 14. Available: http://www.cflri.ca/sites/default/files/node/1054/files/Schools%202011%20Bulletin%2012%20-%20Policy%20EN.pdf
(accessed 2013 Sep 15).
37 Dobbins M, Husson H, DeCorby K, et al. School-based physical activity programs for promoting physical activity and fitness in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;2:CD007651.
38 O'Brien M, Nader PR, Houts RM, et al. The ecology of childhood overweight: a 12-year longitudinal analysis. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007;31(9):1469-78.
39 Howard PH, Fitzpatrick M, Fulfrost B Proximity of food retailers to schools and rates of overweight ninth grade students: an ecological study in California. BMC Public Health. 2011;11(68).
40 Davis B, Carpenter C. Proximity of fast-food restaurants to schools and adolescent obesity. Am J Public Health. 2009;99(3):505-10.
41 Le Bigot Macaux A. Eat to live or live to eat? Do parents and children agree? Public Health Nutr. 2001;4(1A):141-6.
IMPROVING EFFICIENCY IN THE CANADIAN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
Achieving value in health care systems is an important objective for all nations.1 Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. This policy statement puts forth recommendations for system sustainability and improving quality of care. All system stakeholders including providers, funders and patients bear responsibility to ensure the health care system is as efficient as possible. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation.
Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. The concept of efficiency in health care has two applications. The most common is technical efficiency, which is defined as producing maximum output for a given level of inputs, or minimizing input for a given level of output.2 The difference between actual output and the maximum achievable output may be attributed to inefficiency within the system.
The second is called allocative efficiency, which refers to optimizing resource allocation to produce maximum outputs that fulfill societal demands. Canadian research suggests that increasing technical and allocative efficiency rather than increasing spending could solve some of the current challenges regarding health care quality and sustainability. Based on a macro system-level approach to estimating efficiency among its member countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has estimated that all of its member countries could achieve better value from their health care spending-Canada could save 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product in public spending by 2017 if it were to become as efficient as the most efficient OECD countries.3
2. Health care inefficiencies
The various inefficiencies in the Canadian health care system may be categorized and visualized using the conceptual framework developed by Bentley et al in 2008 for the U.S. health care system 4 (see Figure 1). In Canada, no such framework exists.
The framework of Bentley et al contains three main categories of inefficiencies - clinical, operational, and administrative. Clinical inefficiencies relate to practice variation challenges including, the provision of inappropriate care. Operational inefficiencies include duplication of health care services, inefficient processes, overly expensive inputs, and errors in data collection and processing. Administrative inefficiencies may be generally thought of as excess transaction costs associated with claims payment and excess costs of administration and management over and above what is required to deliver front-line health care.
Figure 1. Typology of health care inefficiencies
Source: Adapted from Bentley et al, 2008.
2.1 Clinical Inefficiencies
Clinical waste and inefficiencies refer to services that provide marginal or no health benefit compared with less costly alternatives. This may include practice variation and the provision of inappropriate and cost-ineffective care, or the underuse of more appropriate care. There is overlap between clinical inefficiencies (e.g., providing the wrong service) with operational inefficiencies (the inefficient production of services).
The chief contributor to clinical inefficiencies or waste in the health care field is practice variation-the reduction of unwarranted care variation is the foundation of the quality movement. John Wennberg and colleagues have pioneered the main body of work in this area through their studies on small area variation in care delivery.5 Over the last quarter century, technical studies on clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have been developed in increasing numbers to address issues of appropriateness of care and care variation.
CPGs are defined as "systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances".6 CPGs should contribute to better health, enhance the quality of care by reducing practice variation, and contribute to better value and lower costs by encouraging more appropriate use of resources by care providers.7 Although there has been no systematic approach in Canada to developing and disseminating CPGs, or to ensuring the quality of the CPGs produced, various organizations have developed initiatives to tackle this issue.8
Since the early 1990s, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has developed and maintained a CPG Infobase, which contains roughly 1,200 guidelines.9 The uptake of CPGs is a crucial component and insufficient resources are applied to necessary clinical practice change processes. Moreover, CPGs should be distillable to actionable points-of-care recommendations suited to the intended end user (e.g., family physicians).
In January 2012, the Council of the Federation (CoF) established the Health Care Innovation Working Group, which comprises all provincial and territorial health ministers, to determine practical and innovative ways to increase the value and effectiveness of care.10 The group's CPG recommendations focused on cardiovascular disease and diabetes - two of the most prevalent and highest-costing chronic diseases in Canada (see Appendix A for list of CPGs). In accordance with the CoF, the CMA recommends:
1. Developing chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system.
2. Integrating clinical practice guidelines with electronic medical records.
3. Implementing a pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines strategy.
4. Using evidence-informed clinical practice guidelines to evaluate patient outcomes, appropriateness, and cost-effectiveness.
5. Developing deployment strategies to ensure maximum use of clinical practice guidelines by physicians.
Clinical practice guidelines need regular updating as new evidence emerges. Therefore, a Pan-Canadian strategy should include a system of regular review and updating using development methods that would exclude the possibility of industry bias. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada (see below).
There is an increasing trend in health care utilization in areas such as medical procedures, drugs, and physician services.11 Questions remain about whether or not people are receiving care that is appropriate and based on the best available scientific information.12 Inappropriate care, such as the hospitalization of patients who need community-based services or prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory infections that are likely viral in origin, is another source of clinical inefficiency, using scarce resources for marginal or no health benefit.
The CMA recently defined appropriate care as the right care, provided by the right provider, to the right patient, in the right venue, at the right time:
* "right care" is based on evidence for effectiveness and efficacy in the clinical literature, and not only implies appropriateness of use, but inappropriateness of failure to use;
* "right provider" is based on ensuring the provider's scope of practice adequately meets but does not far exceed the skills and knowledge to deliver the care;
* "right patient" acknowledges that care choices must be matched to individual patient characteristics and preferences;
* "right venue" emphasizes that some settings are better suited in terms of safety and efficiency to delivering a specific type of care than others;
* "right time" indicates care is delivered in a timely manner consistent with agreed upon bench marks.
As a corollary to this definition, if all five components are present, high quality care has been delivered with the optimal use of resources, that is, waste has been eliminated and the best value has been obtained.
Appropriateness is primarily determined by analyses of the evidence of clinical effectiveness, safety, and other health system impacts.13 The practical application of appropriateness is made when these analyses are qualified by (a) clinician judgment, particularly in atypical circumstances14 and (b) societal and ethical principles and values, including patient preferences.
There are a number of perverse incentives that can contribute to the delivery of inappropriate care across the system. These exist at the system level (e.g., patients staying in hospitals longer than needed due to the lack of community services), as well as at the individual encounter level (changes in fee codes for insured medical services such as new consult fees to see a patient every six months). Physicians and payers such as governments need to work together to eliminate perverse incentives based on available medical evidence. Physician incentives should align with system needs. The challenge is getting governments, health authorities and provincial and territorial medical associations, and individual providers agreeing on system goals and objectives.
In the U.S., an innovative appropriateness initiative called Choosing Wisely was established in 2011 with the goal of improving care quality and reducing harm to patients by avoiding unnecessary interventions, with the added benefit of possible cost reductions.15 The initiative challenged specialty societies to identify five clinical activities in their field that are generally of little value or are potentially harmful to patients.16
In Canada, CMA's 2013 General Council called for the formation of a collaborative working group to develop specialty-specific lists of clinical tests/interventions and procedures for which benefits have generally not been shown to exceed the risks. Choosing Wisely Canada was launched on April 2, 2014 with the release of eight lists produced by nine specialty societies (one list was released jointly by the CMA's Forum on General and Family Practice Issues (GP Forum) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC)). Twelve additional medical specialty societies released lists in October 2014. The Choosing Wisely Canada campaign is endorsed and supported by over 35 national specialty societies representing a broad spectrum of physicians, as well as by all provincial medical associations, patient organizations, accrediting bodies and others (Website: www.choosingwiselycanada.org). Choosing Wisely Canada aims to promote physician-patient communication about unproductive care and conserve resources by eliminating unneeded activities. This initiative also serves as an example of the role of public education campaigns to help improve appropriate care.
The development of a Canadian version of the Choosing Wisely initiative assists in operationalizing the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim concept of better care, better health, better value. Specific benefits include:
* Improving accountability by providing transparent, evidence-informed care;
* Facilitating patients to make the right care decisions;
* Enhancing physician-patient relationships: improve communication and decision-making between patients and their physician; and
* Reducing clinical inefficiencies.
The ultimate objective and impetus for adopting a Choosing Wisely initiative must be to improve patient outcomes. Cost savings to the system should occur as a byproduct. Physicians are in the best position to identify which medical services are unnecessary.
Both patients and providers need to be aware of the costs associated with each treatment option, recognizing there is a balance to strike between cost and value. To facilitate this process, the CMA recommends:
6. Making available data on the cost and cost-effectiveness of treatment options at the point of care.
7. Collecting information to evaluate cost-effective care.
8. Posting costs generated by requests for diagnostic and laboratory tests in electronic medical records.
Evaluation should take place to ensure the posting of costs is targeted to areas where it will be most effective.
2.2 Operational inefficiencies
Examples of operational waste include: undertaking tests or procedures more frequently than clinically necessary (e.g., duplication of tests); unnecessary time spent waiting for medical services or time wasted from processes that add little value; using brand drugs for patients who get equal benefit from generics; and health and cost consequences of medical errors or the use of defective medical devices.
These system inefficiencies can amount to very significant costs to the health care system, patients and the economy. For instance, lengthy waits can have serious health consequences for patient outcomes and result in the substitution of additional health care services while waiting (e.g., use of pain medication). A 2008 study calculated the economic impact of excessive wait times for five procedures (hip and knee replacement surgery, MRIs, CABG surgery and cataract surgery) in all 10 provinces. It found that, in addition to the obvious emotional, physical and financial toll endured by patients and their families, lengthy waits for these medical treatments cost Canada's economy an estimated $14.8 billion overall in 2007 in reduced economic activity by patients ($16.9 billion in 2014 dollars). This included a $4.4 billion reduction in federal and provincial government revenues.17
Notwithstanding a shortage in health care infrastructure, there is general consensus that not all hospital infrastructure is used to its fullest capacity, contributing to lengthy wait times for many patients. This can include excessive turnover time between cases or limited operating room hours that can result in the last patient of the day being unable to receive their surgery at great cost to the patient and their family. In many instances, urban hospitals must cancel surgeries due to overbooked operating room time when in smaller and rural communities, operating rooms are not fully utilized. Strategies should be explored to enable greater use of health infrastructure resources in smaller community hospitals that will serve to enhance timely access to care for patients. This would also ensure that staff had a level of activity that would maintain their skills.
There has been significant uptake of operations research and quality improvement processes to help eliminate operational waste and address unnecessary waiting by patients. To this end, CMA will continue to work with its partners in the Wait Time Alliance to identify strategies to improve timely access to care for patients across the continuum. The CMA will also study the potential health applications of the Theory of Constraints within the Canadian health care system.18
There can also be system-wide inefficiencies in the various health systems operating in the country and in terms of how health systems interact with other systems such as economic and social support systems (e.g., lack of services to address homelessness). Changes in one component of the health care system can negatively affect the efficiency in another component. For instance, cuts made to home care services can lead to a rise in the number of alternate-level-of care (ALC) patients in hospitals, increased wait times in emergency departments, and elective surgery cancelations. A more recent source of system inefficiency has been occurring due to the piecemeal adoption of electronic medical records and information systems (EMR) throughout the country. The multitude of systems adopted by different segments of the health care system has resulted in problems with system inter-operability that often exacerbate administrative and clinical inefficiencies such as preventing the electronic attachment of test results leading to the reordering of tests.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) developed a model to measure and evaluate "health system efficiency" within Canada. It measures the average efficiency of health systems in Canada's health regions and the factors that help explain variations in estimates of system efficiency (measured as the reduction in potential years of life lost (PYLL) from treatable causes of death). The study found that equitable access to physician care is positively associated with efficiency.19 Unfortunately, over 4 million Canadians still do not have a regular family physician.20
In addition, the CIHI study found that factors related to the social determinants of health can also affect system efficiency (e.g., missed prevention opportunities). Frequently, the health care system is relied on to address preventable health needs that are attributable to the social determinants of health (e.g., injuries or illnesses caused by lack of affordable housing or poverty). Furthermore, these factors can negatively affect the effectiveness of any treatment provided by the health care system.21
Governments and health administrators should focus on improving efficiencies where there is the highest volume of services as new models of efficiency do not always show results in low volume areas.
2.3 Administrative inefficiencies
Health programs can be funded and administered at a variety of levels: local, regional, provincial and federal, as well as through employers. According to CIHI, administration accounted for $6.3 billion, or 3.1%, of health care costs in Canada in 2011-roughly middle of the pack among OECD countries22-but this is only the cost of providing public and private health insurance programs and the costs associated with health departments'operations.11 Generally, differences in the level of health administration can be explained in part by the type of health system and financing used such as whether multiple insurance providers exist or the extent that complex funding and billing procedures are in place.23 1
In terms of other administrative costs, we do not know how Canada has evolved over time in comparison to other sectors of the economy or how we compare internationally with respect to the effectiveness of administration expenditures.1 There have been questions about the expansion and contraction of regional health authorities in Canada over the past two decades. However, Canada does not have a detailed set of health accounts that would permit such analysis. CIHI has recently begun to report the percentage of administrative services expenses (general administration, finances, human resources and communications) as a percentage of total expenses for over 600 hospitals as part of its Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP).24
One source of administrative waste is the cost of duplicate collection and recording of health information. The health sector has been slow in adopting health information technology to help reduce this form of administrative waste.
Another cause of inefficiency is the increase in administrative burden faced by Canadian physicians and their patients. A major contributor is the rise in requests for physicians to complete third party forms from insurance companies and governments (see Appendix B for a list of examples of federal health programs and related medical forms). Different definitions of concepts are frequently used in these forms, but in many instances they are asking for similar information about the same patient. Physicians are also frequently requested to complete sick notes-the CMA believes such an absence does not require physician confirmation of illness and represents an inefficient use of scarce health care resources.25
The cumulative effect of a physician being requested to complete several forms each day can result in significant administrative burden and take away time that physicians can spend providing direct patient care. Standardizing definitions and wording on third-party forms can save time and reduce administrative errors. Physicians fully support any efforts by the private insurance industry and governments to standardize their medical forms. In addition, consideration should be given to instances where other designated providers can be tasked with completing particular forms. Where suitable, electronic medical records (EMRs) can improve the completion and timely submission of third-party forms to the benefit of patients, providers and third-parties.
To address these administrative inefficiencies, the following actions have been recommended by CMA:
9. Federal and provincial auditors general design and implement a protocol for detailed enumeration of administrative costs within their health care systems, including tracking of these costs over time, and issue an annual public report.
10. CIHI conduct a detailed study of administrative costs of Canadian hospitals and regional health authorities and report the findings.
11. Harmonize and centralize, in electronic and written format, all administrative forms that physicians must fill out on behalf of their patients.
3. Innovating for efficiency
Since the late 1990s, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and other granting bodies have provided considerable funding for applied health services research to aid the implementation of pilot projects to improve the quality of care delivered in Canada. However, Canada is frequently criticized for its inability to move beyond pilot projects to full implementation. One often-cited reason is the lack of communication about promising innovations from one jurisdiction to another. Other reasons include regulatory barriers such as funding silos, and pilot project funding for a limited duration to prevent meaningful outcome evaluation. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful and sustained system innovation.26
The CMA supports:
12. Developing and testing innovative structures or programs to demonstrate clear evidence of improvement in health care outcomes and fiscal sustainability before wide-spread adoption into the Canadian health delivery system.
13. Developing policy tools that provide criteria for identifying barriers to quality, efficiency and equity in emerging models of health care delivery.
14. Creating a registry of physician-managed health care transformation projects. This registry should outline the challenges and lessons learned associated with each project for those interested in adopting similar projects.
Addressing efficiency challenges in the Canadian health care system can improve the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care, while making the system more cost-effective and sustainable. Many components of the health care inefficiencies set out by Bentley et al are now being considered by governments. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation. Physicians should practice high quality, evidence-informed health care, and advocate for cost-effective allocation of scarce resources. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada.
Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) recommended by
The Health Care Innovation Working Group of the Council of the Federation
The group recommended each province and territory work with their health authorities to adopt the following CPGs:
* The C-CHANGE guidelines for cardiovascular disease published by the Canadian Cardiovascular Harmonization of National Guidelines Endeavour (C-CHANGE) to reduce guideline variations and confusion among care providers.
* Harmonized guidelines for diagnosis, which include:
o Laboratory testing (e.g., urine analysis, ECGs)
o Risk stratification strategies (e.g., family history, lifestyle choices, and diabetic patients).
* Harmonized guidelines for treatment, which include:
o Establishing treatment targets (e.g., limiting alcohol consumption, healthy body weight, glycemic or glucose targets)
o Health behavior interventions (e.g., balanced heart healthy diet, limiting salt intake, smoking cessation)
o Pharmacological therapy (e.g., assessment of drug and drug interactions, co-morbidities).
Examples of federal health programs and related medical forms
physicians are frequently requested to complete
* Canada Pension Plan Disability
* Disability Tax Credit
* Employment Insurance (Sickness Benefits Claim)
* Non-Insured Health Benefits (for First Nations people and Inuit)
* Veterans Disability Pension
* Compassionate Care Leave
* Exception/Limited Use Drug Request Form (to permit access to drugs not on provincial formularies)
* Interim Federal Health Program
* Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring forms
1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Health care systems: getting more value for money. OECD Economics Department Policy Note No. 2. Paris: The Organisation; 2010.
2 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Developing a model for measuring the efficiency of the health system in Canada. Ottawa: The Institute; 2012. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HS_Efficiency_Tech_Report_EN-web.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 30).
3 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD economic surveys: Canada 2012. Paris: OECD Publishing; 2012. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-can-2012-enOECD
4 Bentley T, Effros R, Palar K, et al. Waste in the U.S. health care system: a conceptual framework. Milbank Q. 2008;86(4):629-59.
5 Wennberg J, Gittelson A. Small area variations in health care delivery. Science. 1973;182:1102-8.
6 Field MJ, Lohr KN. Clinical practice guidelines: directions for a new program. Washington (DC): National Academy Press; 1990. p. 38.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Handbook on clinical practice guidelines. Ottawa: The Association; 2007.
8 The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has launched a Strategy for Patient Oriented Research and one of its core elements is the improvement of guideline development, dissemination and uptake through support for guideline development and dissemination. Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Canada's strategy for patient-oriented research: improving health outcomes through evidence-informed care. Ottawa: The Institutes; 2011. Available: www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/documents/P-O_Research_Strategy-eng.pdf (accessed 2012 Feb 22).
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Infobase: clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Available: www.cma.ca/En/Pages/clinical-practice-guidelines.aspx (accessed 2012 Feb 22).
10 Council of the Federation Working Group. From innovation to action - the first report of the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Available: www.canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/publications/health_innovation_report-e-web.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 25).
11 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2013. Ottawa: The Institute; 2013. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/NHEXTrendsReport_EN.pdf.
12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Health care in Canada 2010. Ottawa: The Institute; 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2010_Web_e.pdf (accessed 2014 Oct 7).
13 Canadian Medical Association. Appropriateness. Ottawa: The Association; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-05.pdf.
14 Goldberger JJ, Buxton AE. Personalized medicine vs guideline-based medicine. JAMA. 2013;309(24):2559-60.
15 Siwek J. Choosing wisely: top interventions to improve health and reduce harm, while lowering costs. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):128-33.
16 The Good Stewardship Working Group. The "top 5" lists in primary care. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(15):1385-90.
17 Centre for Spatial Economics. The economic cost of wait times in Canada. Ottawa: The Centre; 2008. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/EconomicReport-e.pdf (accessed 2014 Apr 14).
18 Knight A. The theory of constraints in health and social care. Aldbury (UK): QFI Consulting; 2011.
19 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Measuring the level and determinants of health system efficiency in Canada. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014 Apr. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HSE_TechnicalReport_EN_web.pdf (accessed 2014 Feb 5).
20 Statistics Canada. Access to a regular medical doctor, 2012. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11832-eng.htm (accessed 2014 Jan 5).
21 Canadian Medical Association. Health care in Canada: What makes us sick? Town hall report. Ottawa: The Association; 2013 Jul. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/fr/advocacy/What-makes-us-sick_en.pdf.
22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Guidelines to improve estimates of expenditure on health administration and health insurance. Paris: The Organisation; 2013 Dec.
23 Himmelstein DU, Jun M, Busse R, et al. A comparison of hospital administrative costs in eight nations: U.S. costs exceed all others by far. Health Aff (Millwood). 2014;33(9):1586-94.
24 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP). Available: www.cihi.ca/CIHI-ext-portal/internet/EN/Home/home/cihi000001 (accessed 2014 Mar 20).
25 Canadian Medical Association. Short-term illness certificate. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-06.pdf
26 Lee TH, Cosgrove T. Engaging doctors in the health care revolution. Harv Bus Rev. 2014;92(6):104-11, 138.
HEALTH IN ALL POLICIES
Despite significant investments in health and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada have not been moving in the right direction. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continue to rise. This negative health status can undermine not only individual health but the productivity and prosperity of the country as well.1 As noted in the Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies, "Good health enhances quality of life, improves workforce productivity, increases the capacity for learning, strengthens families and communities, supports sustainable habitats and environments, and contributes to security, poverty reduction and social inclusion."2
Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.3 Many studies show that people low on the socio-economic scale are likely to carry a higher burden of just about any disease.4 Poverty accounts for 24% of person years of life lost in Canada (second only to 30% for neoplasms).5 These numbers demonstrate a need to rethink the way we work to improve the health of the Canadian population. While a strong health care system is vital, changes to our health system alone will not be sufficient to improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
Using health determinants as a focus means that most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the health and medical care service.6 Canadians must be supported to make the choices that keep them healthy and reduce their risks of injury and disease. However, many face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which make these healthy choices difficult. What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. As noted by the former Minister of Health and Welfare, Jake Epp, "it is not an overstatement to say that public policy has the power to provide people with the opportunities for health, as well as to deny them such opportunities... All policies having a direct bearing on health need to be coordinated."7
Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada. Not only will it help to reduce costs to the health system, it will also increase economic growth as healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.8 As laid out in the principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, "Coordinated investments in health promotion and disease and injury prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system.9"
The utilization of such an approach is not new. Governments from England to Finland to New Zealand have increasingly recognized the importance of the social determinants of health and have developed national strategies accordingly. These strategies, often referred to as 'health in all policies,' call for a whole of government approach where cross-departmental collaboration is established at the highest government level to increase the health of the population and reduce inequalities.10 The World Health Organization defines health in all policies as follows:
Health in all Policies (HiAP) is an approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health and health systems implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts, in order to improve population health and health equity. A HiAP approach is founded on health-related rights and obligations. It emphasizes the consequences of public policies on health determinants, and aims to improve the accountability of policy-makers for health impacts at all levels of policy-making.11
This approach looks at all policies that have a health impact not just those in the health sector. Policies are reviewed for their potential impact on population health and health system utilization.12
There are many ways that a HiAP approach can be implemented. Examples include:
inter-ministerial and inter-departmental committees; community consultations and Citizens' Juries; cross-sector action teams; partnership platforms; integrated budgets and accounting; Health Lens Analyses; cross-cutting information and evaluation systems; impact assessments; joined-up workforce development; and legislative frameworks.13
A Plan for Canada
Role of the Federal Government:
While the provinces and territories have constitutional authority for the majority of health system delivery, the federal government has a significant role in health: through system oversight, Canada Health Act; delivery to certain populations, Canada's Aboriginal peoples; as well as accountability and pan-Canadian initiatives for the various health systems. Additionally, the federal government has significant control over areas such as taxation, food security and agriculture, justice, transportation safety and income security (eg child tax benefits, Old- Age Security). All of these can have a marked impact on both individual and population health.
As a result of these responsibilities the Canadian government needs to adopt a clear mandate to focus on the health of the population. Actions must be taken to provide Canadians with the ability to make healthy choices. All legislation must be subject to a health lens to determine potential health implications so as to minimize or mitigate any negative consequences and maximize opportunities for health benefits. Given the central coordinating function of Cabinet in policy setting and delivery, this would be an ideal place to incorporate a HiAP approach.
1. CMA recommends that the federal government acknowledge the relationship of the social determinants of health on the health of the population as well as the demands of the health care system and that it implement a Health in All Policies approach for all cabinet decision-making.
While Cabinet should serve as the central decision-making body for a HiAP approach, there must be formal and sustainable structures that allow timely analysis of the health consequences of policy decisions, which appropriately engage stakeholders, and which ensure that health impacts are actually considered in policy decision-making.14
Such an approach will require some form of enabling legislation as well as benefits for departments that conduct HiAP analysis. In Quebec, for example, all policies are required to undergo a review of health impacts under Section 54 of the 2002 Quebec Public Health Act.15
In addition, it is likely that a lead agency will need to be appointed to facilitate the necessary data collection/analysis to review policies. In the Netherlands health impact assessments are the responsibility of the Department of Intersectoral Policy at the Netherlands School of Public Health.16 Since 2000, the Swedish National Public Health Institute (SNIPH) has been tasked with developing methodology in strategically important areas and with supporting the application of health assessments on the central, regional and local level.17 In England, the Public Health Observatories play a key role in providing data and analysis for health impact assessments.18
A significant barriers to HiAP in Canada is the existing data infrastructure. Hundreds of major and minor publications speak to the volume of analyses undertaken on health and health systems every year in Canada. Despite this effort, Canadian policy makers and the public do not fully understand how health system vs. non-health factors contribute to the health outcomes observed or the picture of overall health. The available data tends to focus on the health care system, sickness and the measurement of sickness related risks. What is missing is a way of organizing the data which provides greater insight for planners and greater accountability for all Canadians. This capacity will need to be developed in order to properly implement a HiAP approach.
2. CMA recommends that the federal government provide the necessary enabling environment to allow for the application of a health in all policies approach in all new policy development.
As the experiences from other countries demonstrate there is some value in selecting a few Ministries to begin the process. Once selected the Ministries should be responsible for starting the process and screening any new policies. If there is a potential health impact they would then contact the centralized resource to conduct the analysis and produce a report with potential impacts and recommendations for change. This report would go back to the originating Ministry for review and modification of the policy as necessary. Changes should be highlighted and the revised policy should be sent with the health analysis report to Cabinet for final decision-making. This will help to improve the policy and will create greater awareness among all Cabinet members of the potential health implications of various policies.
3. CMA recommends that the Federal Minister of Health work with Cabinet to select appropriate Ministries to begin the implementation of the health in all policies approach.
Role of Health Care Sector:
Government is not the only group with a role in HiAP. The health sector, including Canada's physicians can work to ensure that the policy environment promotes health. By working with governments at all levels, physicians can uses their vast knowledge and expertise to provide evidence regarding potential health implications, and promote the development of evidence-informed decision making. In addition, they can work with partners both within and outside of the health sector to advocate as necessary for policy improvements.19
4. CMA recommends that physicians and other health care providers use their knowledge and expertise to support governments in the development of evidence-informed policy which promotes the health of the population.
Investments in the health system will only go so far in improving the health of the population. Population health approaches must tackle the wider social determinants of health. To do so the government must consider health in all the policies that it develops.
1 Reeves, Richard A Liberal Dose? Health and Wellbeing - the Role of the State: An Independent Report. 2010. Available: www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_111695.pdf
2 World Health Organizatio. Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies: moving toward a shared governance for health and well-being. Geneva:The Organization; 2010. Available: www.who.int/social_determinants/hiap_statement_who_sa_final.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 16).
3 Keon, WJ, Pépin L. (2008) Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. Ottawa: The Senate of Canada; 2008. Available at: www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/392/soci/rep/rep10apr08-e.pdf
4 Dunn JR. The Health Determinants Partnership Making Connections Project: Are Widening Income Inequalities Making Canada Less Healthy? Toronto :The Health Determinants Partnership; 2002 Available: http://en.healthnexus.ca/sites/en.healthnexus.ca/files/resources/widening_income_equalities.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 16)
5 Wilkins R, Berthelot J-M, Ng E. Trends in mortality by neighbourhood income in urban Canada from 1971 to 1996. Statistics Canada.Health Rep. 2002:13(Supplement): 10.
6 Knutsson I, Linell A Health impact assessment developments in Sweden. Scand J Public Health. 2010;38:115-120.
7 Epp, J. Achieving health for all: a framework for health promotion. Ottawa: Health and Welfare Canada; 1986. Available: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/system-regime/1986-frame-plan-promotion/index-eng.php
8 Munro, D Healthy People, Healthy Performance, Healthy Profits: The Case for Business Action on the Socio-Economic Determinants of Health. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; 2008.Available: www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/NETWORK_PUBLIC/dec2008_report_healthypeople.sflb
9 Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursese Association. Principles for Health Care Transformation in Canada. Ottawa: The Associations; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-13.pdf
10 St-Pierre L. Governance Tools And Framework For Health In All Policies. Available: www.rvz.net/uploads/docs/Achtergrondstudie_-_Governance_tools_and_framework1.pdf
11 World Health Organization, Government of South Australia. Adapted from WHO Working Definition prepared for the 8Th Global Conference on Health Promotion, Helsinki, 10-14 June 2013.
12 Ollila E, Baum F, Pe ña S. Introduction to health in all policies and the analytical framework of the book. In Leppo K, Ollila E, Pera S, et al., editors. Health in all policies: seizing opportunities, implementing policies. Chap. 1. Finland: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; 2013. Available: www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/188809/Health-in-All-Policies-final.pdf.
13 World Health Organization, Government of South Australia. Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies: moving towards a shared governance for health and well-being. Geneva: The Organization; 2010. Available: www.who.int/social_determinants/hiap_statement_who_sa_final.pdf (accessed October 18, 2014)
14 Rudolph, L, Caplan J, Mitchell C, et al. Health in All Policies: Improving Health Through Intersectoral Collaboration. Washington(DC): Institute of Medicine. Available: www.phi.org/uploads/application/files/q79jnmxq5krx9qiu5j6gzdnl6g9s41l65co2ir1kz0lvmx67to.pdf (accessed October 21, 2014).
15 National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy. Implementation of Sectin 54 of Quebec's Public Health Act. Quebec: The Centre; 2012. Available at: www.ncchpp.ca/docs/Section54English042008.pdf
16 Wright, J, Parry J, Scully EInstitutionalizing policy-level health impact assessment in Europe: Is coupling health impact assessment with strategic environmental assessment the next step forward? Bull World Health Orga. 2005;83(6):472-7
17 Knutsson I, Linell A Health impact assessment developments in Sweden. Scand J Public Health. 2010;38(2):115-20
18 St-Pierre L. Governance Tools And Framework for health in all policies. Available: www.rvz.net/uploads/docs/Achtergrondstudie_-_Governance_tools_and_framework1.pdf
19 Leppo K, Tangcharoensathien V. The health sector's role in HiAP. In Leppo K, Ollila E, Pera S, et al., editors. Health in all policies: seizing opportunities, implementing policies. Chap. 14. Finland: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; 2013.
Available: www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/188809/Health-in-All-Policies-final.pdf. (accessed October 18, 2014)
COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
This statement discusses the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) position on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM, widely used in Canada, is increasingly being subject to regulation. The CMA's position is based on the fundamental premise that decisions about health care interventions used in Canada should be based on sound scientific evidence as to their safety, efficacy and effectiveness - the same standard by which physicians and all other elements of the health care system should be assessed. Patients deserve the highest standard of treatment available, and physicians, other health practitioners, manufacturers, regulators and researchers should all work toward this end. All elements of the health care system should "consider first the well-being of the patient."1 The ethical principle of non-maleficence obliges physicians to reduce their patient's risks of harm. Physicians must constantly strive to balance the potential benefits of an intervention against its potential side effects, harms or burdens. To help physicians meet this obligation, patients should inform their physician if the patient uses CAM.
CAM in Canada
CAM has been defined as "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine."i This definition comprises a great many different, otherwise unrelated products, therapies and devices, with varying origins and levels of supporting scientific evidence. For the purpose of this analysis, the CMA divides CAM into four general categories:
* Diagnostic Tests: Provided by CAM practitioners. Unknown are the toxicity levels or the source of test material, e.g., purity. Clinical sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value should be evidence-based.
* Products: Herbal and other remedies are widely available over-the-counter at pharmacies and health food stores. In Canada these are regulated at the federal level under the term Natural Health Products.
* Interventions: Treatments such as spinal manipulation and electromagnetic field therapy may be offered by a variety of providers, regulated or otherwise.
* Practitioners: There are a large variety of practitioners whose fields include chiropractic, naturopathy, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and many others. Many are unregulated or regulated only in some provinces/territories of Canada.
Many Canadians have used, or are currently using, at least one CAM modality. A variety of reasons has been cited for CAM use, including: tradition; curiosity; distrust of mainstream medicine; and belief in the "holistic" concept of health which CAM practitioners and users believe they provide. For most Canadians the use is complementary (in addition to conventional medicine) rather than alternative (as a replacement). Many patients do not tell their physicians that they are using CAM.
Toward Evidence-Informed Health Care
Use of CAM carries risks, of which its users may be unaware. Indiscriminate use and undiscriminating acceptance of CAM could lead to misinformation, false expectations, and diversion from more appropriate care, as well as adverse health effects, some of them serious.
The CMA recommends that federal, provincial and territorial governments respond to the health care needs of Canadians by ensuring the provision of clinical care that continually incorporates evidence-informed technological advances in information, prevention, and diagnostic and therapeutic services.2 Physicians take seriously their duty to advocate for quality health care and help their patients choose the most beneficial interventions. Physicians strongly support the right of patients to make informed decisions about their medical care. However, the CMA's Code of Ethics requires physicians to recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that they consider to be beneficial to the patient or to others.3 Until CAM interventions are supported by scientifically-valid evidence, physicians should not recommend them. Unless proven beneficial, CAM services should not be publicly funded. To help ensure that Canadians receive the highest-quality health care, the CMA recommends that CAM be subject to rigorous research on its effects, that it be strictly regulated, and that health professionals and the public have access to reliable, accurate, evidence-informed information on CAM products and therapies. Specific recommendations are provided below:
a) Research: Building an Evidence Base
To date, much of the public's information on CAM has been anecdotal, or founded on exaggerated claims of benefit based on few or low-quality studies. 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-informed.4 Increasingly, good-quality, well-controlled studies are being conducted on CAM products and therapies. The CMA supports this development. Research into promising therapies is always welcome and should be encouraged, provided that it is subject to the same standards for proof and efficacy as those for conventional medical and pharmaceutical treatments. The knowledge thus obtained should be widely disseminated to health professionals and the public.
b) An Appropriate Regulatory Framework
Regulatory frameworks governing CAM, like those governing any health intervention, should enshrine the concept that therapies should have a proven benefit before being represented to Canadians as effective health treatments.
i) Natural Health Products. Natural health products are regulated at the federal level through the Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada.
The CMA believes that the principle of fairness must be applied to the regulatory process so that natural health products are treated fairly in comparison with other health products.5 The same regulatory standards should apply to both natural health products and pharmaceutical health products. These standards should be applied to natural health products regardless of whether a health claim is made for the product. This framework must facilitate the entry of products onto the market that are known to be safe and effective, and impede the entry of products that are not known to be safe and effective until they are better understood. It should also ensure high manufacturing standards to assure consumers of the products' safety, quality and purity. The CMA also recommends that a series of standards be developed for each natural health product. These standards should include:
* manufacturing processes that ensure the purity, safety and quality of the product;
* labelling standards that include standards for consumer advice, cautions and claims, and explanations for the safe use of the product to the consumer.6
The CMA recommends that safety and efficacy claims for natural health products be evaluated by an arm's length scientific panel, and claims for the therapeutic value of natural health products should be prohibited when the supportive evidence does not meet the evidentiary standard required of medications regulated by Health Canada.7 Claims of medical benefit should only be permitted when compelling scientific evidence of their safety and efficacy exists.8
The Canadian Medical Association advocates that foods fortified with "natural health" ingredients should be regulated as food products and not as natural health products
The CMA recommends that the regulatory system for natural health products be applied to post-marketing surveillance as well as pre-marketing regulatory review. Health Canada's MedEffect adverse reaction reporting system now collects safety reports on Natural Health Products. Consumers, health professionals and manufacturers are encouraged to report adverse reactions to Health Canada.
ii) CAM Practitioners. Regulation of CAM practitioners is at different stages. The CMA believes that this regulation should: ensure that the services CAM practitioners offer are truly efficacious; establish quality control mechanisms and appropriate standards of practice; and work to develop an evidence-informed body of competence that develops with evolving knowledge.
Just as the CMA believes that natural health products should be treated fairly in comparison with other health products, it recommends that CAM practitioners be held to the same standards as other health professionals. All CAM practitioners should develop Codes of Ethics that insure practitioners consider first the best interests of their patients.
Among other things, associations representing CAM practitioners should develop and adhere to conflict of interest guidelines that require their members to:
* Resist any influence or interference that could undermine their professional integrity;9
* Recognize and disclose conflicts of interest that arise in the course of their professional duties and activities, and resolve them in the best interests of patients;10
* Refrain, for the most part, from dispensing the products they prescribe. Engaging in both prescribing and dispensing , whether for financial benefit or not, constitutes a conflict of interest where the provider's own interests conflict with their duty to act in the best interests of the patient.
c) Information and Promotion
Canadians have the right to reliable, accurate information on CAM products and therapies to help ensure that the treatment choices they make are informed. The CMA recommends that governments, manufacturers, health care providers and other stakeholders work together to ensure that Canadians have access to this information. The CMA believes that all natural health products should be labeled so as to include a qualitative list of all ingredients. 11 Information on CAM should be user-friendly and easy to access, and should include:
* Instructions for use;
* Indications that the product or therapy has been convincingly proven to treat;
* Contraindications, side effects and interactions with other medications;
* Should advise the consumer to inform their health care provider during any encounter that they are using this product.12
This information should be provided in such a way as to minimize the impact of vested commercial interests on its content.
In general, brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing information about any health product or therapy. In view of our limited knowledge of their effectiveness and the risks they may contain risks, the advertising of health claims for natural health products should be severely restricted. The CMA recommends that health claims be promoted only if they have been established with sound scientific evidence. This restriction should apply not only to advertising, but also to all statements made in product or company Web sites and communications to distributors and the public. Advertisements should be pre-cleared to ensure that they contain no deceptive messages. Sanctions against deceptive advertising must be rigidly enforced, with Health Canada devoting adequate resources to monitor and correct misleading claims.
The CMA recommends that product labels include approved health claims, cautions and contraindications, instructions for the safe use of the product, and a recommendation that patients tell physicians that they are using the products. If no health claims are approved for a particular natural health product, the label should include a prominent notice that there is no evidence the product contributes to health or alleviates disease.
The Role of Health Professionals
Whether or not physicians and other health professionals support the use of CAM, it is important that they have access to reliable information on CAM products and therapies, so that they can discuss them with their patients.
Patients should be encouraged to report use of all health products, including natural health products, to health care providers during consultations. The CMA encourages Canadians to become educated about their own health and health care, and to appraise all health information critically.
The CMA will continue to advocate for evidence-informed assessment of all methods of health care in Canada, and for the provision of accurate, timely and reliable health information to Canadian health care providers and patients.
i Working definition used by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC00-196 - Clinical care to incorporate evidence-based technological advances. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2000. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
3 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
4 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
5 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
6 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 1998.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC08-86 - Natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2008.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC10-100 - Foods fortified with "natural health" ingredients. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available:
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 7. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
10 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 11. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
11 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
12 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
The harms associated with psychoactive prescription medicinesi including sedatives and tranquilizers1, stimulants2, and analgesics, particularly opioids3, such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl, are a significant public health and patient safety issue.
Canada has one of the highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world.4 Dispensing of medications has substantially increased in Canada, although patterns vary considerably between provinces.5 In 2011, while opioid consumption for medical purposes in morphine equivalence (ME)ii was 62mg per person globally, Canada's ME was 812mg per person.6 When comparing to other developed countries, Australia's ME was 427 and Denmark's 483. In North America, about 5% of the adult population, and substantially higher rates for teens and young adults, reported non-medical opioid use in the previous year. This rate is higher than all other illegal drugs, with the exception of marijuana.7
Psychoactive medications pose significant health and safety risks. The harms include overdoses, suicides, motor vehicle accidents, relationship and employment problems, workplace accidents and exposure to blood borne pathogens and other infections when used by injection, besides addiction.
Data are not collected systematically in Canada, making it difficult to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes. However, practitioners have seen the significant impact of these prescription drugs on their patients and to public health. Studies in Ontario show that the number of people enrolled in methadone maintenance treatment rose from about 7,800 in 2001 to over 35,000 in 2011, where opioids have surpassed heroin as the drug used.8 Opioid-related deaths nearly tripled from 2002 to 2010, according to the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario.9 Another study showed that other non-opioid depressants (sedatives), such as benzodiazepines, were involved in 92% of the opioid-related deaths.10
The impact is felt particularly among vulnerable populations, such as youth, seniors, First Nations and those living in poverty. In 2013, opioids were reported as the third most common drug used by students in Ontario (after alcohol and marijuana).11 Opioid addiction rates anywhere from 43% to 85% have been reported in some Indigenous communities.12 13 While accurate data on the harms of prescription medication among seniors is lacking, it is well known that the prevalence of pain is higher among older adults and that they account for a significant proportion of prescriptions.
The "high" they produce also leads to these medications being sought after for recreational purposes and, as they are legal products, they are often more easily accessible than street drugs. Surveys with youth have shown that as much as 70% of opioids have been obtained from legitimate prescriptions to family and friends (55% were shared at no cost).14 As well, because opioids have high abuse liability and addiction potential, people have resorted to illegal behaviour to obtain them, such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers.
Of great concern, opioid dispensing levels are strongly correlated with increased mortality, morbidity and treatment admissions for substance use.15 16 Studies in Ontario and British Columbia have replicated similar findings in the US. Many patients were prescribed these medications and developed dependence.17
Psychoactive medications are important therapeutic tools and serve legitimate purposes, when prescribed in an appropriate manner with proper assessment, and as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy and monitoring. Medications, such as opioids, have been essential in areas such as palliative and cancer care and have contributed to the alleviation of suffering.
Since the 1990s, opioids have been recommended for longer-term treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, and have become widely used due in part to aggressive promotion and marketing for this indication.18 19 However, there is evidence for significant pain relief in the short term but a need for more evidence regarding maintenance of pain relief over longer periods of time, or for improved physical function.20 21 22
Important contributing factors for the increase in prescriptions are also the lack of supports and incentives for the treatment of complex cases, including availability and funding for treatment options for pain and addictions. Alternate approaches to pain management require more time with the patient. In addition, there are new highly potent opioid drugs available.23 24
Canada's physicians are deeply concerned about the harms of opioids and other psychoactive prescription medications. As prescribers, they have a fundamental role in helping to ensure safe and effective use of these drugs, and the deterrence of abuse. 25 26 27 Physicians assess patients and consider whether a prescription is clinically indicated according to best practices, as well as consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks, while screening for risk factors for substance dependence and diversion. This area can be a source of tension with patients who might seek to obtain drugs through fraudulent means.28 It is also an area which causes concern to many physicians, and this could be affecting access to adequate pain management where it is needed.29
The challenge for physicians and public policymakers is how to mitigate the harms of psychoactive prescription drug use, while ensuring that patients have access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
Comprehensive National Strategy
Canada's physicians believe that this challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further such a solution, the CMA recommends that Canada have a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant.
The federal government has created the National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse, co-chaired by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Coalition on Prescription Drug Misuse (Alberta) and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, in partnership with Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch's Prescription Drug Abuse Coordinating Committee. In its 2013 report First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada's Prescription Drug Crisis30, there are nearly 60 recommendations toward the development of a strategy to combat the harms associated with psychoactive prescription medications. However, there is much still to be done.
The CMA supports collaborative efforts by the federal and provincial/territorial governments, and by health professionals and other stakeholders, to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy. Such a strategy should include the following:
1. Improvement of Drug Safety
Health Canada, as the agency that approves prescription drugs for use and monitors their safety once on the market, has several levers by which it can control Canadians' access to drugs. One of these is the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and its regulations, which govern access to illegal products and recently has included psychoactive prescription drugs.
Because of their health and safety risks, it is important that Health Canada ensures that the CDSA subjects psychoactive substances to high levels of regulatory scrutiny during both the approval process and post-approval surveillance. The Act should require manufacturers to:
* Meet stringent pre-approval requirements. For example, Health Canada could require intensive review of pre-approval clinical trial results and of product monographs by an expert impartial review committee (including addiction, pain and public health expertise); or require that the manufacturer fulfill special conditions, such as formal post-market studies, as a condition of the drugs' approval; or even require larger sample sizes or longer study periods to assess harms;
* Adhere to restrictions on the marketing of controlled medications to health professionals and the general public. The adequacy of regulations needs to be assessed in this regard.
* Develop and cover tamper-resistant formulations of psychoactive drugs of concern. Although not a standalone solution, tamper-resistant formulations can reduce the potential for manipulation to be able to use through snorting, chewing or intravenously.
2. Enhancement of Optimal Prescribing through Evidence-Based Guidance, Education and Support for Prescribers
CMA recommends that appropriate prescribing of psychoactive medications should be addressed through evidence-based guidance and education. A strategy to support optimal therapy might include:
* Support for models of care that allow a physician to spend time with complex patients.
* Ongoing development and dissemination of clinical guidance. The Canadian Guideline for Use of Opioids to Treat Chronic Non-Cancer Pain was published in the CMAJ in 2010. CMA has co-sponsored an online CME module based on this guideline. There is interest in similar guidelines for sedatives and stimulants.
* Evaluative research to support the critical review of guidelines periodically. It is essential to review data on chronic conditions for which risks might outweigh benefits.
* Relevant, unbiased and easily accessible information for prescribers, which can readily be incorporated into everyday practice. This should include clinical decision-support tools for use at the point of care, inclusive of dosing guidelines and guidance on when to seek consultation with experts. Physicians also require tools, including those that facilitate: monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; tapering of problematic or ineffective doses; among others.
* Educational programs in optimal prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions, as part of the curriculum in medical school, and residency training as well as in continuing education. Particular support is needed for those in primary care.
* Guidance for prescribers about how to deal with conflict in their practice. This would include guidance for patient-centred educational discussions on safe opiate prescribing and use and management of addictions.
* Access to expert advice if required through such means as:
o Policies or standards of practice developed by provincial regulatory colleges of physicians, which can include limitations on prescription volume, treatment period and indications.
o Communities of practice, knowledge hubs and clinical support networks that link practitioners with experts in the field, facilitating triage and supporting front line generalists. Experts can not only provide clinical information, but can provide mentorship and personal advice about best practices.
o Feedback to practitioners about their prescribing practices, particularly if potentially concerning patterns are identified. This initiative should be facilitated by collaborative work between health care professionals and their respective provincial regulatory colleges.
o Academic detailing programs, which use personalized, one-on-one techniques to deliver impartial prescribing information to practitioners.
3. Enhancement of Optimal Prescribing through Physician Regulation and Prescription Monitoring Programs
Medicine is a regulated profession, and the provincial colleges of physicians have ultimate authority and responsibility for the oversight of physician practice. The colleges have taken a leading role in educating their members about appropriate prescribing, in monitoring prescribing practices to ensure their appropriateness and taking disciplinary action when required, and through collaborating with law enforcement agencies to detect and halt criminal diversion.
The CMA recommends that federal and provincial regulations regarding controlled substances recognize the established authority of physician regulatory colleges for the oversight of the medical profession.
While prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) exist in most provinces, they vary considerably in terms of quality, the nature of the information they require, whether health care practitioners have real-time access, and the purpose for which the data are collected. Standardization of monitoring systems across Canada according to best practices can contribute to addressing the harms associated with psychoactive prescription medication by:
* Allowing health care practitioners to identify previous or concomitant prescriptions of controlled medications with more than one practitioner at the time the prescription is requested or filled;
* Deterring interprovincial or jurisdictional fraud, by allowing health care practitioners to identify other prescriptions at the time the prescription is requested or filled; and
* Improving professional regulatory bodies' capacity for oversight and intervention by establishing a mechanism for real-time monitoring.
The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
PMPs should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary.
CMA also recommends that Health Canada ensure that its legislative framework be used to facilitate and support the advancement of e-health, specifically e-prescribing. Electronic health records can help individual physicians or pharmacists identify potential diversion and double prescriptions, at the point where a prescription is written or filled. The electronic health record also facilitates the sharing of information among health professionals, and could minimize the potential administrative burden.
PMPs should conform to privacy laws, protecting patient confidentiality while enabling the sharing of necessary information. The CMA strongly recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the regulatory framework for controlled prescription drugs, and share the results with stakeholders.
4. Increase in Access to Treatment for Pain
Chronic pain affects many aspects of a person's life including their ability to work, their emotional, mental and physical health, and their quality of life. Pain costs Canada an estimated $60 Billion dollars per year; more than the cost of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.31 CMA has endorsed a national strategy for pain, developed and proposed by the Canadian Pain Coalition and Canadian Pain Society,32 which addresses four target areas: awareness and education; access; research; and ongoing monitoring.
Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include:
* Care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals;
* Recommendation of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies;
* Appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and
* A focus on patient participation and empowerment.
However, specialized pain treatment programs are in short supply. Wait times are greater than one year at more than one third of publicly funded inter-professional treatment programs.33 In many parts of Canada, particularly rural and remote areas, such programs are not available. In addition, while physician visits are covered by the public health care system, services provided by other health professionals are more likely to be either covered by private health benefits or paid out of pocket, and are therefore beyond the means of many Canadians. These factors may result in heavier reliance on prescription medication as treatment for chronic pain.
The CMA recommends that all partners work to improve and promote access to specialized treatment programs for pain management, and that investments be made in research about options for treatment.
5. Increase in Access to Treatment for Addiction
Access to addiction treatment is very limited and, when available, is primarily comprised of detox or the substitution treatments with methadone or Suboxone(r) (buprenorphine and naloxone). As addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry by definition, which manifests along biological, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions, treatment must address all those areas rather than just one or another.34
The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for addiction treatment that address different needs. Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that addiction programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
Treatment programs must also be integrated within the health care system and be adequately funded to meet evidence based, best-practice guidelines.
CMA also supports the development and dissemination of practice tools and guidelines to help physicians assess the addiction potential of a patient receiving psychoactive medications, and to assist in managing patients who have addiction and related problems and complications.
6. Increase in Information through Epidemiological Surveillance
One of the challenges in dealing with prescription drug abuse, which can reflect hazardous (episodic) use, harmful (regular) use or addiction, is the incompleteness of our knowledge of the extent of the problem. Countries, such as the US and France, are able to monitor psychoactive drug use, while in Canada we still rely on unsystematically collected or locally limited data. The creation of a national surveillance system that supports the collection of systematic, standardized information would:
* Permit the thorough assessment of the problem, with the development and monitoring of indicators;
* Support the early detection of diversion or inappropriate prescribing behaviour;
* Support the establishment of best practices to address crucial issues;
* Identify research priorities; and
* Evaluate the impact of the implementation of strategies.
Sources of information should include PMPs, coroner's investigations, emergency room admissions, and poison control data, among others.
7. Prevention of Deaths due to Overdose
Overdose deaths have increased dramatically over the past ten years. The risk of harm from overdose may be compounded if recreational users are afraid to call for emergency assistance for fear of facing criminal charges. Opioid death and complications overdoses can be prevented with appropriate medication and prompt emergency response. The CMA recommends the:
* Creation and scaling up of community-based programs that offer access to naloxone and other opioid overdose prevention tools and services. Training should be made available to health workers, first responders, as well as opioid users, families and peers about the prevention of overdose fatalities.35
* Improvement of access to naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses. This should include the prescription of naloxone to high risk individuals and third parties who can assist a victim experiencing an opiate-related overdose.
* Enactment of Good Samaritan laws by all levels of government in order to protect callers from criminal charges if they call emergency services to report an overdose. 36 37
8. Provision of Information for Patients and the Public
Awareness programs that provide accurate information to patients and the general public are important, and could include:
* Information on the benefits and harms of psychoactive prescription medication use, and signs of dependence and overdose. This should include the risk of dependence and addiction associated with the use of opiates for the treatment of acute and chronic pain.
* Messages aimed at the prevention of problematic drug use among young people and other populations at risk.
* Information regarding safe medication storage and disposal, and reducing access to medications from family and friends. CMA supports national prescription drug "drop off" days, and recommends that patients be educated about the importance of routinely returning unused prescription drugs to the pharmacy.
The CMA recommends that Canada have a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based. This strategy should include:
* That Health Canada require that manufacturers meet stringent pre-approval requirements, adhere to restrictions on the marketing of controlled medications to health professionals and the general public, and develop formulations of psychoactive drugs of concern that are tamper-resistant.
* Support for optimal prescribing through evidence-based guidance, education and supports, such as clinical guidance, clinical decision-support tools, educational programs, expert advice, and supportive models of care.
* The enhancement of optimal prescribing through physician regulation and the development of a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring programs, compatible with electronic medical and pharmacy record systems, based on national standards.
* Increased access to specialized pain management and treatment, according to best practices, with investments in research.
* The enhancement of access to options for addiction treatment that address different needs, and the support for the development and dissemination of practice tools and guidelines.
* The creation of a national surveillance system that supports the collection of systematic, standardized information to better inform and track policy changes.
* The creation and scaling up of community-based programs that
* Offer access to opioid overdose prevention tools and services, including the improvement of access to medication to reverse opioid overdoses (naloxone) and the enactment of Good Samaritan laws by all levels of government.
* The provision of accurate information to patients and the general public, including safe medication storage and disposal.
i Psychoactive drugs are substances that, when taken, have the ability to change an individual's consciousness, mood or thinking processes (WHO, 2004). Psychoactive prescription drugs include sedatives (such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates), stimulants (such as amphetamines), and opioids (such as oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl). [World Health Organization (2004) Neuroscience of psychoactive substance use and dependence. Available at: http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/en/Neuroscience.pdf]
ii Comprises six main opioids: fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone and pethidine.
1 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers. Canadian drug summary. Ottawa: The Centre; 2013. Available: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Sedatives-and-Tranquilizers-2013-en.pdf
2 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Prescription stimulants. Canadian drug summary. Ottawa: The Centre; 2013. Available: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Stimulants-2013-en.pdf
3 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Prescription opioids. Canadian drug summary. Ottawa: The Centre; 2013. Available: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Canadian-Drug-Summary-Prescription-Opioids-2013-en.pdf
4 International Narcotics Control Board. Narcotics drugs: estimated world requirements for 2013; statistics for 2011. New York: United Nations; 2013.
5 Fischer B, Jones W, Murray K, et al. Differences and over-time changes in levels of prescription opioid analgesic dispensing from retail pharmacies in Canada, 2005-2010. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2011;20:1269-77.
6 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. World drug report 2014. New York: The Office; 2014. Available: www.unodc.org/documents/wdr2014/World_Drug_Report_2014_web.pdf
7 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction. 2013;109:177-81.
8 Fischer B, Argento E. Prescription opioid related misuse, harms, diversion and interventions in Canada: a review. Pain Physician. 2012;15:ES191-ES203.
9 National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse. First do no harm: responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013.
10 Dhalla IA, Mamdani MM, Sivilotti MLA, et al. Prescribing of opioid analgesics and related mortality before and after the introduction of long-acting oxycodone CMAJ. 2009;181(12): 891-6.
11 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Drug use among Ontario students, 1977-2013: results of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. Toronto: The Centre; 2013. Available: www.camh.ca/en/research/news_and_publications/ontario-student-drug-use-and-health-survey/Documents/2013%20OSDUHS%20Docs/2013OSDUHS_Highlights_DrugUseReport.pdf
12 Chiefs of Ontario. Prescription drug abuse strategy: 'Take a stand.' Final report. Toronto: Chiefs of Ontario; 2010. Available: www.chiefs-of-ontario.org/sites/default/files/files/Final%20Draft%20Prescription%20Drug%20Abuse%20Strategy.pdf
13 Health Canada. Honouring our strengths: a renewed framework to address substance use issues among First Nations people in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2011. Available: http://nnadaprenewal.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Honouring-Our-Strengths-2011_Eng1.pdf
14 US Department of Health and Human Services Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Rockville (MD): The Department; 2011. p. 25. Available: www.oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k10NSDUH/2k10Results.pdf
15 Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Moineddin R, et al. Geographical variation in opioid prescribing and opioid-related mortality in Ontario. Healthc Q. 2011;14(1):22-4.
16 Fischer B, Jones W, Rehm J. High correlations between levels of consumption and mortality related to strong prescription opioid analgesics in British Columbia and Ontario, 2005-2009. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2013;22(4):438-42.
17 Brands B, Blake J, Sproule B, et al. Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2004;73(2):199-207.
18 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ. 2011;343:d5142 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d5142.
19 Manchikanti L, Atluri S, Hansen H, et al. Opioids in chronic noncancer pain: have we reached a boiling point yet? Pain Physician. 2014;17(1):E1-10.
20 Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain. A position paper of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2014;83:1277-84. Available: www.neurology.org/content/83/14/1277.full.pdf+html
21 Chou R, Ballantyne JC, Fanciullo GJ, et al. Research gaps on use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: findings from a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Pain. 2009;10:147-59.
22 Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(1):CD006605.
23 Fischer B, Goldman B, Rehm J, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and public health in Canada. Can J Public Health. 2008;99(3): 182-4.
24 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction. 2013;109:177-81.
25 Silversides A. Opioid prescribing challenges doctors. CMAJ. 2009;181(8):E143-E144.
26 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ. 2011;343:d5142.
27 Kirschner N, Ginsburg J, Sulmasy LS. Prescription drug abuse: a policy position paper from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:198-213.
28 Saveland C, Hawker L, Miedema B, et al. Abuse of family physicians by patients seeking controlled substances. Can Fam Physician. 2014;60:e131-6.
29 Wenghofer EF, Wilson L, Kahan M, et al. Survey of Ontario primary care physicians' experiences with opioid prescribing. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(3):324-32.
30 National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse. First do no harm: responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013. Available: www.ccsa.ca/resource%20library/canada-strategy-prescription-drug-misuse-report-en.pdf
31 Canadian Pain Strategy Initiative. Rise up against pain: the Canadian Pain Strategy. Available: http://canadianpainstrategy.ca/en/home.aspx
32 Canadian Pain Coalition, Canadian Pain Society. Call to action: the need for a national pain strategy for Canada. 2011. Available: http://canadianpainstrategy.ca/media/11445/final%20nat%20pain%20strategy%20for%20can%20121511%20eng.pdf
33 Canadian Pain Coalition, Canadian Pain Society. Call to action: the need for a national pain strategy for Canada. 2011. Available: http://canadianpainstrategy.ca/media/11445/final%20nat%20pain%20strategy%20for%20can%20121511%20eng.pdf
34 American Society of Addiction Medicine. Public policy statement: definition of addiction. 2011. Available: www.asam.org/for-the-public/definition-of-addiction
35 Carter CI, Graham B. Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada. Policy brief series. Vancouver: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; 2013. Available: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/
36 Follett KM, Piscitelli A, Parkinson M, et al. Barriers to calling 9-1-1 during overdose emergencies in a Canadian context. Crit Social Work. 2014;15(1):18-28. Available: http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/system/files/Follett_Piscitelli_Parkinson_Munger_2014.pdf
37 Carter CI, Graham B. Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada. Policy brief series. Vancouver: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; 2013. Available: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/