Health care professionals, including physicians, play an essential role in promoting health and preventing disease among all Canadians. A significant proportion of death, illness and injury in Canada is preventable. These preventable health problems place a substantial burden of suffering on individuals, families and communities as well as a heavy burden on society because they draw on scarce health care resources.
The World Health Organization defines health promotion as "the process of enabling people to increase control over and improve their health." Health promotion activities generally seek to influence either a person’s individual behaviours such as smoking and sedentary lifestyle. Effective health promotion also addresses the broader social determinants of health, for example, income, access to services and physical environment.
The CMA views prevention and health promotion as a responsibility to be shared among all health care providers, rather than the sole responsibility of any one group or specialty.
At a collective level, medical and other health organizations can be involved in prevention and health-promotion activities such as organizing public education campaigns, advocating for legislation that promotes health, such as laws to control pollution and tobacco products, and disseminating clinical practice guidelines to enhance standards of preventive care.
At an individual level, the role of physicians in the continuum of patient care is an important one, with the potential for further enhancement, and can include:
Health enhancement: As part of daily practice, physicians routinely offer information to support the prevention of disease. These activities include appropriate discussions with patients about nutrition, physical activity and access to social supports. In providing these services, physicians consider the social, economic and environmental conditions in which their patients live.
Risk avoidance: Physicians ensure that people take measures that will prevent specific risks of disease. Examples include providing immunizations, promoting breast-feeding, physical activity and the use of bicycle helmets.
Risk reduction: Physicians screen, counsel and work with individuals or segments of the population at higher risk of disease or injury to reduce their risk. Examples include screening for risk factors for the development of heart disease or diabetes, such as nutrition, smoking and alcohol use.
Early identification: Physicians screen people to detect diseases at an asymptomatic stage, when intervention can improve the outcome. Papanicolaou smears to detect cancer of the cervix and breast exams to detect breast cancer are two types of tests being used in early detection. With the increase in public awareness and interest in prevention, physicians often spend time with their patients discussing the pros and cons of tests such as mammographic screening of women and the prostate-specific antigen screening test for men.
Complication reduction: Physicians can prescribe therapy to prevent complications in patients with diagnosed conditions or diseases. For example, the use of medication to reduce the incidence of stroke or myocardial infarction in high risk patients.
1) Physicians should continue to incorporate all levels of health promotion and disease prevention into their practices, emphasizing activities for which there is sufficient scientific evidence.
2) Education in prevention and health promotion both at an individual and at a collective level, should be given high priority in undergraduate medical programs, in residency training and in continuing medical education.
3) Physicians should be encouraged to work with other health care professionals in the office setting and the community to enhance delivery of care that incorporates prevention and health promotion.
4) Remuneration systems should support a multidisciplinary approach to the delivery of these services; they should also support the provision of these services by individual physicians.
5) Patients should have access to a family physician who can provide care that includes prevention and health promotion. Family physicians should continue to develop professional relationships with their patients that encourage the long-term promotion and maintenance of good health.
6) Clear, simple and current guidelines for prevention and health promotion services should be widely distributed to physicians. The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care regularly develops and updates guidelines in this area.
7) Simple, easy-to-understand patient guidelines for prevention and health promotion should be developed and made available to the public. Physicians should continue to develop, improve and promote patient-counselling programs and office-management systems that encourage effective delivery of preventive care and health promotion.
8) Governments should give high priority to public policies that take account of the broad range of determinants of health, and proposed legislation should be routinely reviewed for any impact on the health of individuals and the community. CMA, in collaboration with other health professions and governments, will continue to explore means to ensure that public policies are developed with due attention paid to their potential health consequences.
Approved by the CMA Board in 2001.
Last reviewed and approved by the CMA Board in March 2019.
FIREARMS CONTROL (UPDATE 2001)
Firearms are a major cause of death and injury in Canada and account for nearly 1,400 deaths annually. The CMA has made several recommendations to governments and other bodies undertaking legislative review and public policy change. These recommendations relate to the regulation of firearms, education for the safe handling of firearms, broad-based violence prevention programs, and research and information provision. In addition, the CMA has produced guidelines to assist physicians in identifying and counselling patients at risk of violent behaviour and in reporting patients at risk.
Firearms are a major cause of death and injury in Canada.. The cost to society of firearm-related injury, particularly spinal cord and head injuries, is considerable.
Over the short term, policy should focus on firearms and the user. Applying stringent controls on firearms, however, may have little effect on the rates of death and injury if the underlying problems of violence in society are not addressed.
In an effort to accommodate both short-term and long-term solutions the CMA recommends the following to governments and bodies undertaking legislative review and public policy change.
The object of regulation should be to deter people at risk for violent or self-destructive behaviour from having easy access to firearms. A regulatory policy should address (a) the acquisition of firearms (e.g., licensing of firearms and/or users, processes to screen would-be purchasers who are at risk), b) secure firearm and ammunition storage methods and modifications to firearms that would render them less accessible to children or those acting on violent impulses and (c) severe penalties for offenses such as the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime or an act of violence, including family violence.
Training in safe handling of firearms is strongly recommended, particularly for all first-time firearm users. Broader-based education programs aimed at the prevention of violence (e.g., in schools) may also be efficacious and should be evaluated for their impact in reducing violence.
Research and information provision
CMA encourages research in a number of areas, including the following.
Firearm surveillance: the types of firearms or classes of ammunition disproportionately involved in intentional deaths and injuries, the circumstances surrounding a firearm incident (e.g., argument between friends, alcohol involvement) and data on injuries and deaths.
Determination of behavioural or environmental risk factors for violent behaviour: the relative risk or benefit of keeping a firearm at home for protection i.e.. the scientific assessment of the deterrence effect):
The effects of factors such as alcohol, drug use and family history of violence on the risk of violent death; and how accurately experts can identify people at risk.
Case-control and cohort studies on gun control, crime and the antecedents of violent behaviour.
Evaluation of education programs that discourage firearm-related violence or promote safe handling of firearms.
Role of physicians
The CMA recommends that physicians consider the following guidelines.
Management of patients at risk
It is not always possible to identify people at risk of violent or self-destructive behaviour; however, the CMA recommends that physicians be alert to warning signs that a patient may be at risk and manage that patient accordingly. For example, always ask depressed patients about suicidal and homicidal thoughts and plans (asking will not plant ideas); admit suicidal patients to hospital, even against their will, particularly if they do not have supportive families who can monitor them at home; have the family remove all firearms from the home of a patient at risk; and monitor the patient frequently, writing small prescriptions if medication is required.
Good clinical judgement and close follow-up are perhaps the most effective ways of managing a self-destructive or violent patient.
Reporting of patients at risk
No specific guidelines exist for the reporting of patients at risk of violent behaviour. The physician should consider whether the risk of harm to society (or a third party) posed by a patient outweighs that patient's right to confidentiality.
Counselling and public advocacy
A physician may be asked for a reference for an applicant of a firearms acquisition certificate. Before providing the reference the physician should consider the applicant carefully for risk factors, recommend appropriate firearms training and caution against the concomitant use of firearms, alcohol and other drugs.
A physician should become an advocate for nonviolent conflict resolution. As research accumulates about the most effective interventions for nonviolent conflict resolution the health sector may be able to draw on this research to work to reduce violence in society.
Like motor vehicle and bicycle safety, firearm safety is a public health issue. The CMA holds that physicians, as advocates for the health of Canadians, can help reduce firearm-related damage and address the concomitant underlying problem of violence in society.
The CMA recommends to the appropriate government authorities that all boxing be banned in Canada. Until such time, strategies to prevent injury should be pursued.
The CMA considers boxing a dangerous sport. While most sports involve risk of injury, boxing is distinct in that the basic intent of the boxer is to harm and incapacitate his or her opponent.
Boxers are at significant risk of injuries resulting in brain damage. Boxers are susceptible not only to acute life-threatening brain trauma, but also to the chronic and debilitating effects of gradual cerebral atrophy. Studies demonstrate a correlation between the number of bouts fought and the presence of cerebral abnormalities in boxers. There is also a risk of eye injury including long-term damage such as retinal tears and detachments.
- CMA supports a ban on professional and amateur boxing in Canada.
- Until boxing is banned in this country, the following preventive strategies should be pursued to reduce brain and eye injuries in boxers:
- Head blows should be prohibited. CMA encourages universal use of protective garb such as headgear and thumbless, impact-absorbing gloves
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce objective brain injury risk assessment tools to exclude individual boxers from sparring or fighting.
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce standard criteria for referees, ringside officials and ringside physicians to halt sparring or boxing bouts when a boxer has experienced blows that place him or her at imminent risk of serious injury.
- The World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and other regulatory bodies should encourage implementation of measures advocated by the World Medical Boxing Congress to reduce the incidence of brain and eye injuries.
- CMA believes that the professional responsibility of the physician who serves in a medical capacity in a boxing contest is to protect the health and safety of the contestants. The desire of spectators, promoters of the event, or even injured athletes that they not be removed from the contest should not influence the physician’s medical judgment.
- Further long term outcome data should be obtained from boxers in order to more accurately establish successful preventive interventions. CMA encourages ongoing research into the causes and treatments of boxing-related injuries, and into the effects of preventive strategies.
Health and safety in the workplace continue to be areas of concern to the CMA. The CMA recommends that educational programs on the risks of drug-related impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general. Occupations for which impairment resulting from drug use may constitute a serious hazard should be identified and designated as such. The association recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds to suspect impairment of the worker. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs should be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) being taken to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice. The CMA is opposed to routine pre-employment drug testing. It recommends that random drug testing among employees be restricted to safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable. Drug testing should always be conducted in such a way as to protect confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
The idea of drug testing among workers has developed from society's concern over the relation between drug use and impairment, with resultant risks to the worker, fellow workers and the public.
Education: Since prevention is the principal and ultimate objective the association recommends that educational programs on the risks of impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general.
Illicit drugs are not the only ones that may cause impairment. Certain prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter medications may affect a person's ability to carry out professional functions safely; such effects may vary considerably from one person to another.
Alcohol is by far the most common impairing drug implicated in accidents; in addition, the scientific literature contains a growing body of information on impairment and dangers resulting from the use and misuse of various therapeutic medications. Far less is documented or known about the role of illicit drugs in work-related accidents.
Safety-sensitive occupations: In most workplaces there are occupations for which impairment may constitute a serious hazard. Such occupations should be identified and designated as such. Workers who hold such safety-sensitive jobs must accept the fact that other workers and the public need to be protected from the hazards of impairment, whether from physical or psychologic ill health or from the use of drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illicit).
Performance assessment of safety-sensitive occupations: The CMA recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds (e.g., unsatisfactory performance or observed unusual behaviour) to suspect impairment of the worker. The examining physician may recommend that some tests (including tests for the presence of certain drugs) be carried out under pre-agreed protocols. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs must be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) they may be taking to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice.
Testing: Any discussion of drug testing must take the following into account:
If a quantitative test is to be used to determine impairment a limit must be established beyond which a person is deemed to be impaired. However, since the threshold of impairment varies from one person to another this variation should be taken into account when a worker is being assessed.
The tests must be valid and reliable. They must be performed only in laboratories accredited for drug testing.
The tests must provide results rapidly enough to be useful in deciding whether the person should continue to work.
If different testing procedures are available and the differences between the validity and reliability are not significant the least intrusive alternative should be chosen.
The test should be conducted in such a way as to ensure confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
Pre-employment testing: The CMA opposes routine pre-employment drug testing for the following reasons:
Routine pre-employment drug screening may not objectively identify those people who constitute a risk to society.
The mass, low-cost screening tests may not be reliable or valid.
The circumstances may not justify possible human rights violations.
Random testing: The CMA believes that random drug testing among employees has a limited role, if any, in the workplace. Such testing should be restricted to employees in safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable.
Role of occupational health services: Occupational health physicians must not be involved in a policing or disciplinary role with respect to employee testing.
CMA recommends that employers provide a safe environment for all workers. With the help of experts such as those from national and provincial agencies dedicated to dealing with substance abuse occupational health departments should develop lists of drugs known to cause short-term or long-term impairment, including alcohol. These lists should be posted prominently in the workplace, and workers should be advised that in the event of obvious impairment those involved in safety-sensitive occupations will be asked to undergo medical assessment. If testing for drugs is indicated refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
Alcohol impairment should not be tolerated, and legislation should be considered that would set a legal blood alcohol level for safety-sensitive occupations. Breathalyzers or other detection methods could be used if alcohol impairment is suspected in a person holding safety-sensitive occupation. As stated previously, refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
These measures should be discussed with labour and management. Labour should be expected to recognize drug-related impairment as a serious health and safety issue, and management should demonstrate its concern by ensuring access to treatment, prevention and educational programs such as employee assistance programs.