With economic growth having slowed, Budget 2009 provides an historic opportunity to invest in initiatives that will stimulate the Canadian economy in the short term while also strengthening it in the long term. With the federal government now considering several areas for potential fiscal stimulus, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) views infrastructure spending as the government's best option. In order to provide much-needed immediate economic stimulus and a responsible, long-term strategy to achieve economic stability, the CMA recommends the federal government invest $2.4 billion in health infrastructure upgrade initiatives to be carried out over the next two years. These initiatives fall into three priority areas:
1) Accelerating existing or "construction-ready" capital projects in health care facilities.
The CMA recommends a federal investment of $1.5 billion over two years to accelerate existing hospital and health facility construction projects. While investments in physical infrastructure are required across the continuum of care, a focus on hospital construction - specifically on construction-ready projects already approved at the provincial level - will allow funds to flow more quickly and thus provide a more immediate economic stimulus. Federal investment in hospital and health facility construction will create 16,500 jobs over two years and 11,000 jobs in 2009 alone. These projects may be financed through existing public-private partnerships (P3s). With targeted and strategic federal investment, health facility capital projects would also stimulate further investment in the form of private-sector financing of these capital projects.
2) Accelerating implementation of electronic medical records.
Health system information technology is an area where infrastructure investments are needed and would provide significant return on investment through immediate economic stimulus and improved health system efficiency in the medium and long term. CMA recommends that the federal government make a strategic "strings attached" $225-million investment in an Electronic Medical Record Patient Transition Fund that could be managed by the Canada Health Infoway.
3) Modernizing information systems in small- and medium-sized health care facilities.
A federal investment of $700 million over two years to upgrade information system hardware and software in small- and medium-sized hospitals could be implemented within the next eight quarters and begin to create 7,700 jobs and rapidly improve health care efficiency.
These health infrastructure investments would create 27,000 new jobs over the next two years:
1. 16,500 jobs for existing hospital building projects that are "construction ready";
2. 4,950 jobs for electronic medical records (EMR) implementation for community-based health care offices;
3. 7,700 jobs for hospital information systems in small- and medium-sized hospitals.
In these challenging economic times, the federal government is to be commended for casting a wide net in search of effective and immediate measures to stimulate Canada's economy. Of course, Canadians must also be assured that we will not be mortgaging our future by doing so.
In order to both provide much-needed immediate economic stimulus and a responsible, long-term strategy to achieve economic stability, the CMA recommends that the federal government invest $2.4 billion in health infrastructure upgrade initiatives to be carried out over the next two years. These investments would stimulate further provincial/territorial and private-sector investment. To be clear: these recommendations are in the context of a fiscal stimulus plan and do not encompass CMA's entire long-term vision for high-quality and patient-focused health care.
The CMA initiatives fall into three priority areas:
1) Accelerating existing or "construction-ready" capital projects in health care facilities;
2) Accelerating implementation of electronic medical records;
3) Modernizing information systems in small- and medium-sized health care facilities.
A critical factor in these recommendations is the fact that the federal government already has in place funding mechanisms to deliver stimulus funds rapidly in all three areas. Canada Health Infoway is such an established vehicle for the EMR initiative and the upgrading of hospital information systems. The Canada Foundation for Innovation or an expanded "Building Canada" program are initiatives that have organizations in place to administer the investments in hospital construction projects. Additionally, these initiatives are flexible in both size and duration.
Most economists agree that increasing infrastructure spending generally will boost the economy by creating jobs. In no sector is this more true than health care. Infrastructure investments, will lead to higher employment and more spending on products and services, and generate higher overall demand.i (See Appendix A for investment and job creation quarterly forecasts 2009/2010ii). The Business Register of Statistics Canada reports there were 75,615 establishments in the health service delivery (HSD) industry in 2003, employing 1.3 million people. That year, they accounted for 3.3% of all Canadian business establishments and 7.6% of total employment. In 2003, the GDP of the HSD industry was larger than wholesale trade, retail trade, and the upstream oil and gas mining industry, and almost as large as the construction sector. Physicians' offices (30,120 establishments) accounted for almost 39% of all HSD establishments and employed 142,000 people, or almost 11% of all HSD employees. By targeting investment in the three areas outlined above, the government will respond to Canadians' desire for a strengthened health care system, support Canada's competitive advantage and create 27,000 jobs in the next two years (Figure 1).
1. Accelerating Health Facility Construction Projects
The CMA recommends that the federal government invest $1.5 billion over two years to accelerate hospital and/or health facility projects that are "construction ready".
In 2001 the CMA identified inadequate investment in buildings, machinery and equipment and in scientific, professional and medical devices as major hurdles to timely access to health care services. While spending has increased in health care since then, governments have placed a lower priority on capital investment when allocating financial resources for health care.
The CMA recommends a federal investment of $1.5 billion over two years to accelerate existing hospital and health facility construction projects. This does not capture all the capital requirements in the health system in the medium- and long-term. While investments in physical infrastructure are required across the continuum of care, a focus on hospital construction - specifically on construction-ready projects - will allow funds to flow more quickly and thus provide a more immediate stimulus to the economy. Federal investment in hospital and health facility construction will create 16,500 jobs over a two-year period and 11,000 jobs in 2009 alone. These projects may be financed through existing public-private partnerships (P3s).
With targeted and strategic federal investment, health facility capital projects can also stimulate further investment in the form of private-sector financing of capital projects. Across Canada hospitals are seeking to develop innovative approaches to financing capital infrastructure. The CMA agrees with other organizations such as the Canadian Healthcare Association about the need to explore the concept of entering into public-private partnerships to address capital infrastructure needs as an alternative to relying on government funding. Joint ventures and hospital bonds are but two examples of P3 financing.
As these types of partnerships are pursued, the CMA recommends that governments establish uniform requirements and regulations to ensure the transparency of the tendering process and adequate measuring of quality of care and cost-effectiveness in both public and private settings.iii
The federal government has long showed great leadership in partnering to build Canada's health care system - the Hospital Construction Grants Program of 1948 and the Health Resources Fund Act of 1966. Today our country and our health care system need a new vision for replacing aging physical infrastructure.
2. Electronic Medical Records - Accelerating Coverage for 26 Million Patients
CMA recommends that the federal government invest $225 million over two years to accelerate the implementation of an interoperable electronic medical record across Canada.
International studies confirm that Canada lags behind nearly every major industrial country
when it comes to the adoption of health information technology (Figure 8). The Conference Board of Canadaiv, the Organization for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD)v, the World Health Organizationvi, the Commonwealth Fundvii, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy all rate Canada's health care system poorly in terms of value for money and efficiency. The impact of this underinvestment is longer wait times, poorer quality, greater health system costs and a severe lack of financial accountability - especially when it comes to federal dollars.
Health system information technology is an area where infrastructure investments are needed and would provide significant return on investment through immediate economic stimulus and improved health system efficiency in the medium- and long-term. CMA recommends that the federal government make a strategic, "strings attached,"1 $225-million investment in an Electronic Medical Record Patient Transition Fund that could be managed by the Canada Health Infoway.2 The fund would finance EMR capital equipment acquisition and EMR change management and transition support, specifically the conversion of 26 million patient records in 30,000 physician offices.
This federal investment would be matched by provincial-territorial funds and would thus provide a total of $450 million in economic stimulus and create 5000 new jobs over two years. While public funds would kick-start this initiative, they would stimulate considerable private sector activity in the provision of EMR capabilities across Canada. Assuming the current trend prevails, the ongoing management of the data holdings would be outsourced to private sector companies based on application service provider arrangements.
Moreover, these investments are consistent with the Building Canada plan's focus on broadband and connectivity, and with Advantage Canada's goals of creating a knowledge advantage and an infrastructure advantage.
Beyond providing immediate stimulus to the Canadian economy, a fully realized EMR system will improve patient outcomes, system efficiency and accountability and save billions of dollars annually. Technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that the benefits of an interconnected Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Canada could provide annual system-wide savings of $6.1 billion.viii These savings would come from reduced duplicate testing, transcription savings, fewer chart pulls and less filing time, reductions in office supplies and reduced expenditures due to fewer adverse drug reactions. The study also found that the benefits to health care outcomes would equal or surpass these annual savings, thus providing a possible combined annual savings of $12.2 billion.
By reducing wait times, an interoperable EMR will contribute to saving the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year. A study commissioned by the CMA conservatively calculated that excessive wait times involving just four procedures (joint replacements, cataract surgery, coronary artery bypass grafts and MRIs) cost the economy over $14 billion in 2007 due to lost output and government revenues.ix
The Electronic Medical Record Patient Transition Fund focuses on community care and the physician offices where most patient visits occur. Most of the emphasis on connectivity in Canadian health care to date has not focused on the point of care, even though the number of patient interactions with hospitals is greatly exceeded by the number of visits to physicians' offices.x Thus, patient-physician office interactions outnumber patient-hospital interactions by a ratio of 18 to 1. In Ontario (Figure 2), just 3,000 of an average of 247,000 patient visits per day, or 1.2%, are made in hospitals.
Figure 2 Patient visits per day in Ontario (Canada Health Infoway)
3. Modernizing Hospital Information Systems
The federal government should invest $700 million over two years to modernize information systems in small- and medium-sized hospitals.
Aging information systems in small hospitals (fewer than 100 beds) and medium-sized hospitals (100 to 300 beds) create considerable inefficiency in patient care and administration. While larger hospitals have upgraded their information systems, hundreds of smaller facilities have information systems that are at least 10 years old.
This means that patients are often forced to provide their personal and health information many times: when checking in to the emergency department, then when having a diagnostic test performed, and again when being admitted to hospital. Each step creates room for error and needlessly wastes the time of health care staff and patients. In addition, these discrete systems may not be networked, a situation that risks compromising patient care.
A federal investment of $700 million over two years to upgrade information system hardware and software in small- and medium-sized hospitals could be implemented within the next eight quarters and begin to create 7,700 jobs and rapidly improve health care efficiency. The $700 million investment is based on a recent conservative estimate for outfitting hospitals across the country (see Appendix B).
There are at least 70 medium-sized Canadian hospitals requiring major system upgrades immediately at a cost of $15 million per hospital. The distribution of these hospitals would help spread out the fiscal stimulus regionally and mitigate against potential labour shortages.
The $700-million recommendation assumes that the majority of hospital information system investments (64%) would need to be focused on the hardware and professional services related to implementing the new systems, with the rest focused on system software. It is important to note that these investments would help support related Canadian software, hardware and professional services firms over the next 24 months and beyond. More importantly, the hospital information system sector is a multibillion dollar global industry.
A fiscal stimulus investment in this sector now would help Canadian firms to capitalize on a golden opportunity to export these goods and services, which are increasingly in high demand.xi It is also important that patients be involved in evaluating these systems in order to improve care and system efficiencies. As Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business noted: "We can dramatically improve the production of globally competitive health care product and services firms, but only if we work to significantly improve the demand side (patients) of our innovation equation."xii This is in line with the CMA's call for patient-focused funding.
That these are extraordinary economic times is beyond question, but the CMA contends that it is precisely during such times that opportunities often present themselves. We think the federal government must continue to examine and leverage all available policy levers at its disposal, including studying how the tax system could be used to support renewal within the health care sector.
The tax system's level of support for people facing high out-of-pocket expenses remains a particularly pressing question. Currently, the medical expenses tax credit provides limited relief to those whose expenses exceed $1,637, or 3% of net income. The 3% threshold was established before medicare was introduced. Does it still make sense in 2009? Are there ways to enhance this provision to reduce financial disincentives facing many Canadians when they have to pay for health services?
The CMA encourages the federal government to undertake a comprehensive review of these and other tax questions pertaining to health. By itself, tax policy will not solve all the challenges facing Canada's health care system, but the CMA believes that the tax system can play a key role in helping the system adapt to changing circumstances, thereby complementing the other two components of our renewal strategy.
Similarly, the government must remember that almost five million Canadians do not have a family physician and that Canada needs 26,000 more doctors to meet the OECD average of physicians per population. The federal government wisely recognized the urgency of this situation when it committed to several targeted and affordable measures to begin to address the doctor shortage. It should follow through on its election commitment to take first steps towards addressing the shortage, including contributing $10 million per year over four years to provinces to allow them to fund 50 new residencies per year in Canada's major teaching hospitals, and $5 million per year over four years to help Canadian physicians living abroad who wish to relocate to Canada. These initiatives would begin to increase the supply and retention of physicians in areas of priority need, and could bring back as many as 300 Canadian physicians over four years.
Today, the federal government is focused on instituting specific, strategic and immediate economic stimulus measures, and rightfully so. However, we must not let the urgent crowd out the important in terms of building a sustainable health care system that provides timely access to quality health care services for all Canadians.
Appendix A. Investment and job creation profile estimates 2009-10
B. Projected Costs to Implement / Upgrade Hospital Information Systems3
1. Total number of hospitals in Canada = 734
a. % small hospitals (< 100 beds) = 69%
b. % medium hospitals (< 300 beds) = 18%
2. Components in hospital information systems
a. Finance & Administration
b. Admission, Discharge, Transfer (ADT) System
c. Patient Information System
d. Radiology Information System
e. Laboratory Information System
f. Pharmacy Information System
g. Coding & Abstracting System
3. Cost to implement complete HIS for medium size hospital = $15 million
a. Ratio of software to hardware and professional services - 1:1.8
b. Software = $5,357,143
c. Hardware & Professional Services = $9,642,857
4. Small hospitals (i.e. < 25 beds) would not have the resources to manage a full HIS
a. Cluster implementations among 8 hospitals
b. Number of clusters = 33 (total # of hospitals = 270)
5. Small hospitals would have greater requirement for full implementation of HIS
a. % of hospitals requiring full implementations = 50%
b. Number of hospitals (exclusive of clusters in #4) = 117
c. Total number including clusters in # 4 requiring full implementation = 91
d. Cost to implement full HIS - 60% of medium hospital implementation = $9 million
6. Medium sized hospitals with systems > 10 years old would require full implementation
a. % of hospitals requiring full HIS implementation = 30%
b. Number of hospitals= 40
7. Major system upgrades are estimated at 40% of cost of a full HIS
a. Cost to complete system upgrade = $6 million
b. % small hospitals (# of beds between 25 - 99) requiring upgrade = 30%
c. Number of hospitals = 70
d. % of medium hospitals requiring upgrade = 30%
e. Number of hospitals = 40
1. Investment required for small hospitals - full implementation
$ 9,000,000 x 91 = $ 819,000,000
2. Investment required for small hospitals - system upgrade
$ 6,000,000 x 70 = $ 420,000,000
3. Investment required for medium hospitals - full implementation
$ 15,000,000 x 40 = $ 600,000,000
4. Investment required for medium hospitals - system upgrades
$ 6,000,000 x 40 = $ 240,000,000
5. Total investment for HIS for small and medium size hospitals
1 The conditions of this health information investment should include:
* Fifty-fifty FPT cost sharing;
* Involvement of the clinical community in the input and oversight of the program;
* Use of consistent standards.
2 See Table l in Appendix A for full investment horizon details.
3 Prepared for the Canadian Medical Association by Branham Group December 2008
i Will Stimulus Help Employment in a 21st Century Economy? Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5, 2008.
ii These estimates were derived using the principle of an employment multiplier and adapted using the methodology applied by Informetrica for an infrastructure study they prepared for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (05/08).
iii Improving performance measurement, quality assurance and accountability in the public-private interface - CMA Policy Statement, It's still about access! Medicare Plus, July 2007
iv A Report Card on Canada see: http://sso.conferenceboard.ca/HCP/overview/health-overview.aspx
v Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). OECD Health
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
vi World Health Organization [WHO] (2007). World Health Statistics 2007. see: http://www.who.int.
vii Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care May 15, 2007 (updated May 16, 2007)
Authors: Karen Davis, Ph.D., Cathy Schoen, M.S., Stephen C. Schoenbaum, M.D., M.P.H., Michelle M. Doty, Ph.D., M.P.H., Alyssa L. Holmgren, M.P.A., Jennifer L. Kriss, and Katherine K. Shea
Editor(s):Deborah Lorber see: www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/publications_show.htm?doc_id=482678
viii Booz, Allan, Hamilton. Canada Health Infoway's 10-Year Investment Strategy: pan-Canadian electronic health record, March 2005-09-06.
ix The economic cost of wait times in Canada, January 2008. This study was commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association to analyze the economic costs of wait times in Canada's medical system. The CMA's membership includes more than 67,000 physicians, medical residents and medical students. It plays a key role by representing the interests of these members and their patients on the national stage. Located in Ottawa, the CMA has roots across the country through its close ties to its 12 provincial and territorial divisions.
x Sources: Physician visits - CIHI - Physicians in Canada: Fee-for-Service Utilization 2005-2006. Table 1-21. Hospital contacts - CIHI - Trends in Acute Inpatient Hospitalizations and Day surgery Visits in Canada 1995-1996 to 2005-2006 and CIHI -National Ambulatory Care Reporting System - Visit Disposition by Triage Level for All Emergency Visits - 2005-2006.
xi Canada boasts a sophisticated network of providers, many globally-recognized hospitals, and a number of major centres for health research. We spend aggressively in global terms on health research, which is supported nationally by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). But against this backdrop lies a mystery: why do so few Canadian health care firms sell their products and services in the international market? Only nine sell as much as $100 million of any product or service to customers outside the country, with total sector sales outside Canada of less than $5 billion. This sector total compares unfavourably with the foreign sales of individual firms such as Bombardier at $22 billion, and Magna International at $14 billion; overseas health-care sales are even dominated by the export of sawn logs, at $9 billion. see: http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/rogermartin/Canadianhealthcaremystery.pdf (accessed January 7, 2009)
From: Roger, Martin, The Canadian Health Care Mystery: Where Are the Exports? Rotman magazine (Winter 2006).
The CMA brief contains seven recommendations to address pressing needs in the health care system.
Before I get to those, I'd like to highlight why, from my perspective, our health care system is in need of the federal government's attention.
Yesterday, at the Ottawa Hospital, where I am Chief of Staff:
* Our occupancy was 100 per cent.
* 30 patients who came to the emergency department were admitted to the hospital, but we had beds for only four of them.
* 10 are still waiting on gurneys in examining rooms within the emergency department.
* Six patients were admitted to wards and are receiving care in hallways.
* Three surgeries were cancelled - bringing the number of cancellations this year to 480.
* But while all this was happening, we had 158 patients waiting for a bed in a long-term-care facility.
Equally, a few blocks from here and in communities across the country, the health status of our poorest and most vulnerable populations is comparable to countries that have a fraction of our GDP - despite very significant investments in their health.
This is just my perspective. Health care providers of all types experience the failings of our system on a daily basis.
We as a country can do better and Canadians deserve better value for their money.
Canada's physicians are calling for transformative change to build a health care system based on the principles of accessibility, high quality, cost effectiveness, accountability and sustainability.
Through new efficiencies, better integration and sound stewardship, governments can reposition health care as an economic driver, an agent of productivity and a competitive advantage for Canada in today's global marketplace.
The Health Accord expires in March 2014, and we strongly urge that the federal government begin discussions now with the provinces and territories on how to transform our health care system so that it meets patients' needs and is sustainable into the future.
Canadians themselves also need to be part of the conversation.
To help position the system for this transformative change, the CMA brief identifies a number of issues that the federal government should address in the short term:
First, our system needs investments in health human resources to retain and recruit more doctors and nurses.
Although we welcome measures in the last budget to increase the number of residency positions, we urge the government to fulfill the balance of its election promise by further investing in residencies, and to invest in programs to repatriate Canadian-trained physicians living abroad.
Second, we need to bolster our public health e-infrastructure so that it can provide efficient, quality care that responds more effectively to pandemics.
We recommend increased investment:
* to improve data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices,
* for local health emergency preparedness, and
* for the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy for responding to potential health crises.
Third, issues related to our aging population also call for action.
As continuing care moves from hospitals into the home, the community, or long-term care facilities, the financial burden shifts from governments to individuals.
We recommend that the federal government study options for pre-funding long-term care - including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance - to help Canadians prepare for their future home care and long-term care needs.
And, as much of the burden of continuing care for seniors also falls on informal, unpaid caregivers, the CMA recommends that pilot studies be undertaken to explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work, and to expand programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services in emergency situations.
Finally, the government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
Mr. Chair, a fuller set of recommendations is contained in our report -- Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works. Care that Lasts.
These include universal access to prescription drugs; greater use of health information technology; and the immediate construction of long-term care facilities.
We urge the Committee to consider both our short-term recommendations - and our longer term vision for transforming Canada's health care system.
I look forward to your questions. Thank you.
Good afternoon Madame Chair. The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to address the committee as part of its ongoing study of H1N1 planning and response.
In the broad context of pandemic planning, the CMA has focused on developing information and education tools on cma.ca to ensure Canada's doctors are equipped to provide the best possible care to patients.
We have also engaged in discussions with the Assembly of First Nations to address workforce shortages in First Nations and Inuit communities during a pandemic.
Despite the work of governments and others, there remains much to do.
To provide optimal patient care, individual physicians - primary care providers and specialists alike - require:
* Regular updates on the status of H1N1 in their community;
* Timely and easy access to diagnostic and treatment recommendations with clear messages tailored to their service level;
* Rapid responses to questions; and
* Adequate supplies of key resources such as masks, medications, diagnostic kits and vaccines.
The CMA commends federal, provincial and territorial governments for creating the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan for the Health Care Sector.
The CMA was pleased to provide feedback on elements of the plan and we are participating on the anti-viral and clinical care task groups.
There are three issues that still must be addressed:
First, the communications gap between public health officials and front-line providers; Second, the lack of adequate resources on the front lines;
and finally, variability that exists across the country.
The Communications Gap
Physicians must be involved in the planning stages and must receive consistent, timely and practical plain-language information. They should not have to seek information out from various websites or other sources, or through the media.
This communications gap also includes a gap between information and action.
For example, we are told to keep at least a six-foot distance between an infected patient and other patients and staff. This will not be possible in a doctor's waiting room, nor will disinfecting examining and waiting rooms in-between each patient.
Patient volumes may increase dramatically and there are serious concerns about how to manage supplies if an office is overwhelmed. There is also considerable concern over whether we can keep enough health care professionals healthy to care for patients, and whether we have enough respirators and specialty equipment to treat patients.
Intensive-care units of hospitals can also expect to be severely strained as a second-wave pandemic hits. This speaks to a general lack of surge capacity within the system. Also, pandemic planning for ICUs and other hospital units must include protocols to determine which patients can benefit most when there are not enough respirators and personnel to provide the required care for all who need it.
Beyond the need for more supplies, however, there is also the concern that there are only so many hours in a day. Doctors will always strive to provide care for those who need it, but if treating H1N1 cases takes all of our time, who will be available to care for patients with other conditions?
Variability across the country
CMA has consulted with provincial and territorial medical associations and their level of involvement in government planning as well as the general state of preparedness varies greatly. There is also marked inconsistency province-to-province around immunization schedules. We need a clear statement of recommendation to clear up this variability.
In summary, there remains a great deal of uncertainty among physicians about: the vaccine, the supply of antivirals, the role of assessment centres and mass immunization clinics, delegated acts, and physicians' medico-legal obligations and protections.
The bottom line is that there is still more work to do at all levels before front-line clinicians feel well prepared with information, tools and strategies they need.
The CMA was pleased to meet with Dr. Butler-Jones to discuss our concerns last week and will continue to work closely with Public Health Agency of Canada to identify gaps and to prepare user-friendly information for clinicians.
Thank you and I welcome any questions.
Thank you Madame Chair and Committee members for the opportunity to speak to you today.
As mentioned, I am Briane Scharfstein, Associate Secretary General at the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). I am a family physician by training and a member of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Medical Isotopes.
The working group was created to advise the Minister of Health in 2008 when the first major sustained shutdown of the Chalk River occurred. When I agreed to join the group, I certainly didn't expect it to still be going over two years later. And, while I am a member of the working group, I want to be clear, that today I am speaking on behalf of the CMA and our more than 72,000 physician members across the country.
My comments are a reflection of the Working Group's June 2008 Lessons Learned report and I regret to say that a good portion of our observations are still true today.
I congratulate the Senate for looking specifically at the AECL proposals and for looking at implications for patients. While the CMA is not taking a specific position on the proposal in
Bill C-9 for Atomic Energy Canada Ltd (AECL), in whole or in part, to be sold off to the private sector, we do believe that it is in the best interests of our patients that Canada remains a leader in the sector.
As well, Canada's doctors strongly believe that the impact on individual patient care must be considered and factored into any decisions that might result in disruptions of the supply of medical isotopes.
The CMA acknowledges that the federal budget did include $48 million over two years for research, development and application of medical isotopes and alternatives. Further, there was another allocation of $300 million on a cash basis for AECL's operations in 2010/11 to cover anticipated commercial losses and support the corporation's operations to ensuring a secure supply of medical isotopes and maintaining safe and reliable operations at the Chalk River Laboratory.
However, the CMA remains preoccupied with Canada's ability to ensure a long-term, stable and predictable supply of medically necessary isotopes. That is why we are uneasy about the federal government's exit strategy from the isotope production sector.
The report of the federal government's Expert Panel on the Production of Medical Isotopes, (December 2009) and the federal government's response to that report, (March 2010) appears to focus on the viability of this specific sector of the nuclear industry and has not alleviated our concerns. The government's response to the Panel Report was disappointing to the medical community. The government's decision to abandon Canada's long-standing international leadership in this sector is disheartening.
Of particular concern is the absence of both immediate and medium-term solutions to address the current and impending challenges facing nuclear medicine. This is simply unacceptable.
The CMA, along with our colleagues in the medical community, continues to assert that ensuring access to safe and reliable medical procedures and the provision of high-quality patient care must be the fundamental consideration of government decisions. While the production cost of isotopes cannot be ignored, particularly in times of global fiscal challenges, the medical application and benefits received are of paramount importance and must be neither discounted nor dismissed.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key factors in successful outcomes in cardiac and cancer cases. Without early diagnosis and treatment, patients have an increased risk of needing greater medical intervention later on. With more intensive treatment comes a corresponding increase in costs to the health care system and, most importantly, poorer outcomes for patients.
Specific concerns identified by the CMA and the medical community include, but are not limited to the following:
* Canada's current dependence on international reactors, without a practical back-up plan should these reactors experience difficulties, or shutdown for routine maintenance.
This is especially worrisome as the international agency, the Association of Imaging Producers & Equipment Suppliers (AIPES) warns of the unprecedented level of shortages, in a large part due to the Canada's Chalk River nuclear reactor remaining off line until August 2010 or beyond. In a recent Supply Crisis Update, AIPES points out that with a number of international reactors off-line for scheduled maintenance, the remaining reactors -the OPAL (Australia), Maria (Poland) and REZ (Czech Republic) reactors-are producing Mo99, but their combined output is limited to 15 - 20 % of the world requirements.
* The abandonment of Canada's international responsibilities and world leadership in this sector is counter to the government's own innovation and productivity agenda.
* A growing reliance on emerging technology, cyclotrons and liner accelerators that have yet to be proven as a suitable secure alternative source of radiopharmaceutical.
* A projected future supply chain that is reliant on external sources, rather than domestic production, in times of domestic supply shortages. As well, we are concerned that the federal government is leaving it to the marketplace, solely relying on current distributors to identify external sources supply, rather than searching to identify alternative safe sources of supply.
* Basing Canada's supply strategy on relicensing of the Chalk River reactor five years past its current license with no current guarantees that the plant will return and remain in production, let alone meet relicensing standards.
* The apparent lack of a federal contingency plan if, in 2016, alternative sources of supply and alternative emerging technology does not meet clinical needs.
* An analysis of the overall costs to the health care system as a result of the increased costs incurred during the prolonged period of shortages of isotopes supply and the rising costs as the demand for the alternative diagnostic and treatment models is not apparent.
* Initiatives to help mitigate increased costs for governments and particularly for nuclear medicine facilities do not exist.
The just released survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that two-thirds of nuclear medicine facilities reported that they experienced an increase in the cost of isotopes and that they were managing but exceeding their budget due to vendor surcharges. Only 2% reported that the isotope supply disruptions had no economic impact.
Canada's medical community therefore strongly urges that consideration be given to:
* investing in a mixed-use reactor for research and isotope production, as per the recommendation of the Expert Panel on Isotopes Production report of December, 2009;
* putting in place appropriate strategies and contingency plans to meet the health needs of Canadians; in particular consider a national deployment of PET technology for cancer detection and follow up.
* enhancing transparency by the government that provides more information on the short and medium-tern detailed plans to address isotope shortages;
* increasing the direct consultation with the official representatives of the nuclear medicine and medical community;
* making a public commitment to keep the Chalk River NRU reactor operational beyond the arbitrary date of 2016, as long as necessary and until secure alternative supplies of isotopes or alternative radiopharmaceuticals are proven and are in place; and,
* ensuring that the CNSC resurrects the external medical advisory council to facilitate communication between the medical community and the commission. Prior to 2001, members of the council provided CNSC staff with insight into how operational and policy decisions would affect patient care across the country.
Canada's doctors believe that the federal government must maintain a leadership role in this sector and must not compromise the medical needs of Canadians.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wishes to commend the multi-party group of Members of Parliament who have come together to form the Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care.
The challenge we face today in caring for our aging population is only going to get greater. Statistics Canada has projected a rapid increase in the proportion of seniors in the population. The first wave of the baby boom generation turns 65 next year. By 2031, seniors will account for roughly one-quarter of the population, nearly double the 13.9% observed in 2009.1
Canadians are clearly concerned about their ability to cope with future health care expenses, either their own or those of their parents. Respondents to the CMA's 2010 Annual National Report Card on Health Care survey anticipate a range of implications associated with our aging population:
* 29% reported that they will likely alter their retirement plans (e.g., work longer) to help pay for their own future costs or those of their parents;
* Almost one in five (19%) anticipates moving their parents into their own home and supporting them financially; and
* One in six (16%) anticipates paying for their parents to live in a nursing home.2
The CMA believes that the federal government could play a key role in allaying Canadians' concerns about the future by leading negotiations with the provinces and territories and taking direct action on extending access along the continuum of care. These actions should focus on three priority areas:
* Increasing access by all Canadians to affordable prescription drugs;
* Supporting informal caregivers; and
* Increasing access to palliative care at the end of life.
If nothing is done to extend Medicare to cover more of the continuum of care, it will erode over time as a national program. When the Canada Health Act (CHA) was passed in 1984, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this had declined to 42% as of 2009.3 While there is significant public spending beyond CHA-covered services (more than 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care, these programs are not subject to the CHA principles and coverage across the provinces and territories varies significantly.
Access to Prescription Drugs
The federal government missed an excellent opportunity to modernize Medicare in July 2004 when Premiers called on it to upload responsibility for drug programs. The Premiers stated that "a national pharmaceutical program should immediately be established. The federal government should assume full financial responsibility for a comprehensive drug plan for all Canadians, and be accountable for the outcomes."4
The federal government did not give this offer even fleeting consideration. Instead, the September 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care contained a watered-down version of the First Ministers' 2003 commitment to ensure that all Canadians would have reasonable access to catastrophic drug coverage by the end of 2005/06.
The 2004 Accord reduced this commitment to the development of costing options for pharmaceutical coverage, as part of a nine-point National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS).5 Costing options were included in the 2006 progress report of the NPS but they included estimates of the cost of catastrophic coverage wildly exceeding those of Romanow and Kirby, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion.6 Nothing further has been heard about the NPS since stakeholder consultations were held in fall 2007.
As recently as September 2008, the provinces and territories (PTs) were still interested in federal participation in pharmaceuticals. In the communiqué from their annual meeting, the PT health Ministers called for a three-point funding formula to support a national standard of pharmacare coverage, including:
* PT flexibility and autonomy in program design;
* Prescription drug costs not to exceed 5% of net income; and
* Federal and PT governments to cost share 50/50, estimated at $2.52 billion each in 2006.7
Again there was no reaction from the federal government. Since then the PT governments have appeared to be giving up hope of federal participation in access to pharmaceuticals. At their June 2009 meeting, the western Premiers announced they would develop a joint western purchasing plan for pharmaceuticals,8 and more recently at the August 2010 meeting of the Council of the Federation, Premiers agreed to establish a pan-Canadian purchasing alliance for common drugs, medical supplies and equipment.9 Health Ministers reaffirmed this commitment at their September 2010 meeting.10 One can speculate that had the federal government taken up the Premiers' offer in 2004, many aspects of the NPS would be in place by now.
Meanwhile, access to prescription drugs presents a hardship for many Canadians. In the CMA's 2009 National Report Card survey, nearly one in six (14%) reported they had either delayed or stopped buying some prescription drugs. This ranged from more than one in five (22%) with annual incomes of less than $30,000 to just over one in 20 (7%) of those with incomes greater than $90,000.11
The wide geographic disparity in out-of-pocket drug expenditures is shown in the table below, which is compiled from Statistics Canada's 2009 Survey of Household Spending. Table 1 shows the percentage of households spending more than 3% and 5% of after-tax income on prescription drugs, by province, in the year prior to the survey.
[Note - see PDF for correct display of table information]
% of Households Spending Greater than 3% and 5% of After-tax Income
on Prescription Drugs, Canada and Provinces, 2008
Geography >3% >5%
Canada 7.6 3.0
Newfoundland and Labrador 11.6 5.4E
Prince Edward Island 13.3 5.8E
Nova Scotia 8.9 3.8
New Brunswick 9.1 4.1E
Quebec 11.6 3.3
Ontario 4.7 2.2E
Manitoba 12.0 5.2
Saskatchewan 11.5 5.9
Alberta 4.6E 2.2E
British Columbia 7.5 3.6
E - Use with caution - high coefficient of variation
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 109-5012
Under both thresholds there is a more than two-fold variation across provinces in the incidence of catastrophic drug expenditures. At the 5% threshold the range is from 2.2% of households in Ontario and Alberta to 5.8% in PEI and 5.9% in Saskatchewan. With the growing availability of more expensive drugs, this variation is only likely to be exacerbated in the years ahead.
The federal government should negotiate a cost-shared program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage with the provincial/territorial governments.
This program should be administered through provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies. Such a program should include the following elements:
* A mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs;
* Uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income);
* Federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both;
* Group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size; 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).
In negotiating this plan, consideration should be given to the following:
* Establishing a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective;
* Assessing the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies;
* Provision of adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans; and
* Provision of comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada.
Supporting Informal Caregivers
As the population ages, the incidence of diseases associated with dementia is projected to increase dramatically. A 2010 study commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada has reported that the 2008 level of an estimated 103,728 new dementia cases is expected to more than double to 257,811 per year by 2038. Over this period, the demand for informal caregiving will skyrocket. In 2008, the Alzheimer Society reports, the opportunity cost of unpaid care giving was estimated at almost $5 billion. By 2038 this cost is expected to increase by 11-fold, to reach $56 billion, as the overall prevalence of dementia will have risen to 1.1 million people, representing 2.8% of the Canadian population.12
The burden of informal care giving extends beyond the costs related to dementia. Statistics Canada's 2007 General Social Survey has documented the extent to which Canadians are providing unpaid assistance to family, friends or other persons with a long-term health condition or physical limitation.
Nationwide, 1.4 million adults aged 45 or over living in the community were receiving care in 2007. Of this number almost one in two (46.9%) were receiving both paid and unpaid care, almost three in 10 (27.4%) were receiving unpaid care only, and just under one in five (18.8%) were receiving paid care only. This underscores the importance of the informal sector.
In terms of who was providing this care, an estimated four million Canadians were providing care, of whom one million were aged 65 or over, while almost two million (1.8) were in the prime working age range of 45 to 54. The provision of unpaid care represents a significant time commitment.
The caregivers who reported helping with at least one activity spent an average 11.6 hours in a typical week doing so. Those providing care reported significant personal consequences. One in three reported spending less time on social activities (33.7%) or incurring extra expenses (32.7%), almost one in five cancelled holiday plans (18.7%) or spent less time with their spouse (18.7%), and more than one in 10 (13.7%) reported that their health had suffered.
The 2.5 million informal caregivers who were in the paid labour force were likely to report that caregiving had had a significant impact on their jobs. Almost one in four (24.3%) reported missing full days of work and one in six (15.5%) reported reducing hours of work.
Compared to the total population, informal caregivers were more likely to report stress in their lives. Almost three in 10 (27.9%) reported their level of stress on most days to be either quite a bit or extremely stressful compared to fewer than one in four (23.2%) of the total population.13
As the demand for informal care grows, it seems unlikely that the burden of informal caregiving will be sustainable without additional support.
The federal government took the positive step in 2004/05 of introducing Employment Insurance (EI) Compassionate Care Benefits for people who are away from work temporarily to provide care or support to a family member who is gravely ill and at risk of dying within 26 weeks.14 So far, however, this program has had limited uptake. In 2007/08, 5,706 new claims were paid.15 This pales in comparison to the 235,217 deaths that year (although not all of these would be candidates for this type of care).16
The federal government should implement measures within its jurisdiction, such as the use of tax credits, to support informal caregivers.
Increasing Access to Palliative Care at the End of Life
The Senate of Canada, and Senator Sharon Carstairs in particular, have provided exemplary leadership over the last 15 years in highlighting both the progress and the persistent variability across Canada in access to quality end-of-life care. The Senator's 2005 report Still Not There noted that only an estimated 15% of Canadians have access to hospice palliative care and that for children the figure drops even further to just over 3%.17 The 2005 report repeated the 1995 call for a national strategy for palliative and end-of-life care. 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. There will be an estimated 40% more deaths a year by 2020. While the proportion of Canadians dying in hospital has been decreasing over the past decade, many more Canadians would undoubtedly prefer to have the option of hospice palliative care at the end of their lives than current capacity will permit.
In the 2004 Health Accord, First Ministers built on their 2003 Accord by agreeing to provide first dollar coverage for certain home care services by 2006, including end-of-life care for case management, nursing, palliative-specific pharmaceuticals and personal care at the end of life. Seven years later we have no comprehensive picture of the availability of end-of-life care across Canada.
The Health Council of Canada's last detailed reporting on the implementation of the 2003 Accord was in 2006. At that time, the only province to report comprehensive end-of-life care was British Columbia.18 For most other jurisdictions, end-of-life care was discussed under "next steps." Since then, the Health Council has ceased comprehensive reporting on the Accord.
In the 2007 National Physician Survey, doctors across Canada were asked to rate the accessibility of the range of services for their patients. Just one in three (32%) rated access to palliative care services as either excellent or very good.19
In 2006, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and the Canadian Home Care Association jointly issued a 35-point "gold standard" for palliative home care, covering the areas of case management, nursing care, pharmaceuticals and personal care, which they commended to governments.20
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.21
In 2010, the Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada (QELCC), of which the CMA is a member, released its Blueprint for Action 2010 to 2020. The four priorities are:
* Ensure all Canadians have access to high-quality hospice palliative end-of-life care;
* Provide more support for family caregivers;
* Improve the quality and consistency of hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada; and
* Encourage Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life.22
This blueprint embodies the sound ideas that have emerged over the past decade.
In June 2010, Senator Carstairs released her latest report Raising the Bar, which, while acknowledging some of the achievements that have been made in palliative care, repeats her previous calls for a national role and active engagement of the federal government.23
A wide range of stakeholders either have, or should have, a significant stake in the issue of palliative care. They include patients and the organizations that advocate on their behalf, caregivers (both formal and informal), the institutional and community health sectors, and the employer/business community.
The CMA urges the federal government to collaborate with the provincial and territorial governments to convene a national conference in 2011 to assess the state of palliative care in Canada.
1 Statistics Canada. Population projections for Canada, provinces and territories 2009 to 2036. Catalogue no. 91-520-X. Ottawa. Minister of Industry, 2010.
2 Canadian Medical Association. 10th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, August, 2010. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2010/report_card/2010-National-Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2009. Ottawa, 2009.
4 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers' action plan for better health care: resolving issues in the spirit of true federation. July 30, 2004. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/850098004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
5 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
6 Health Canada. 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 09/28/10.
7 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Annual Conference of Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health. September 4, 2008. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
8 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Premiers taking action on pharmaceuticals. June 18, 2009. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo09/850114004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
9 Council of the Federation. Premiers protecting Canada's health care systems. http://www.councilofthefederation.ca/pdfs/PremiersProtectingCanadasHealthCareSystem.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
10 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. P/T health Ministers work together to advance common issues. September 13, 2010. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo10/860578004_e.html. Accessed 09/28/10.
11 Canadian Medical Association. 9th Annual National Report Card on Health Care. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2009/report_card/Report-Card_en.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
12Alzheimer Society of Canada. Rising tide: the impact of dementia on Canadian society. http://www.alzheimer.ca/docs/RisingTide/Rising%20Tide_Full%20Report_Eng_FINAL_Secured%20version.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
13 Statistics Canada. 2007 General Social Survey: Care tables. Catalogue no. 89-633-X. Ottawa, Minister of Industry, 2009.
14Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Information for health care professionals: EI Compassionate Care. http://www.rhdcc-hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/publications_resources/health_care/ei_ccb.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
15 Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Table 2.12 Compassionate care benefits. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/employment/ei/reports/eimar_2009/annex/annex2_12.shtml. Accessed 09/28/10.
16 Statistics Canada. Deaths 2007. The Daily, Tuesday, February 23, 2010.
17 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.
18 Health Council of Canada. Jursdictional tables on health care renewal. Companion document to Health care renewal in Canada Measuring up? Annual report to Canadians 2006. Toronto, ON, 2007
19 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Canadian Medical Association. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2007. Q25a. Please rate the accessibility of the following for your patients. http://www.nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/nps/2007_Survey/Results/ENG/National/pdf/Q25/Q25aALL.only_NON.CORE.only.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
20 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Canadian Home Care Association. The pan-Canadian gold standard for palliative home care. http://www.chpca.net/resource_doc_library/pan-cdn_gold_standards/Gold_Standards_Palliative_Home_Care.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
21 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Final report: Canada's aging population: Seizing the opportunity. April 2009. http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/agei-e/rep-e/AgingFinalReport-e.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
22 Quality End -of-life Coalition of Canada. Blueprint for action 2010 to 2020. http://www.chpca.net/qelccc/information_and_resources/Blueprint_for_Action_2010_to_2020_April_2010.pdf. Accessed 09/28/10.
23Carstairs S. Raising the bar: a roadmap for the future of palliative care in Canada. June 2010. http://sen.parl.gc.ca/scarstairs/PalliativeCare/Raising%20the%20Bar%20June%202010%20(2).pdf. Accessed 09/29/10.
The method a country chooses to fund and deliver health care demonstrates the values of its citizens and the type of nation that they wish to live in. Canadians, through their elected representatives, have placed a high value on a single-payer, tax-financed health care system with a delivery system that is essentially private and not-for-profit. The principles providing the underpinnings of the system are embodied in the Canada Health Act (CHA) and include the following: universality, comprehensiveness, access, portability and public administration.
Since the passing of the CHA, Canadians have grown increasingly passionate about these principles and have demonstrated time and again that these principles are in close alignment with their values.
Canadians have chosen tax-based financing for their health care system as it relates to hospital and physician services. The provincial and federal governments, through federal government transfers such as equalization payments and the Canada Health and Social Transfer and through provincial taxation, fund the various organizations and health care providers that deliver health care. Therefore the financing of the health care system has been socialized and publicly administered as opposed to privatized through compulsory private insurance. This indicates that Canadians view health care as not just an ordinary good, such as an automobile or a house that they pay for based on their own financial resources, but as a good whose cost should be shared by the community on the basis of the ability to pay of individuals. For those two components that are most likely to create true financial hardship for families and individuals, hospital services and physician services, the overwhelming majority of the funding is from public sources as opposed to private sources.
When it comes to the health services that are subject to the provisions of the CHA, namely hospital services and physicians' services, Canada has chosen a predominantly private delivery approach. Physicians are largely self-employed and operate within a private sector solo or group practice while community and teaching hospitals are largely private not-for-profit organizations. Most Canadian hospitals are governed by voluntary boards of trustees and are owned by voluntary organizations, municipal or provincial authorities or religious orders.
2.0 CANADIAN VALUES
The evolution of Canada's health care system has been profoundly influenced by Canadian values and as a result so will its future. The Prime Minister's National Forum on Health produced a series of documents on Canada's health care system including analyses that delved into Canadian values regarding health care and Canada's health care system in particular.
The following quotes are from Graves, Frank L. Beauchamp, Patrick, Herle, David, "Research on Canadian Values in Relation to Health and the Health Care System" Canada Health Action: Building on the Legacy, Papers Commissioned by the National Forum on Health, "Volume 5 - Making Decisions, Evidence and Information". These quotes exemplify the importance of health and the health care system in the hearts and minds of Canadians.
"There is a broad consensus that the Canadian health care system is a collective accomplishment, a source of pride, and a symbol of core Canadian values. The values of equality, access, and compassion are salient to perceptions of the system and often held in contradistinction to perceptions of the American system. Moreover, the system is seen as relatively effective and sound. It may be the only area of current public endeavour which is seen as a clear success story." p. 352
"The public perceptions of problems in the health care system reflect many of the themes evident in broader concerns about government. One of these themes is a growing wariness of "expert" prescriptions for the health care system." p. 353
"This finding reconfirms a consistent conclusion of other research in this area - the gap between expert rationality and public values. It would be prudent to acknowledge the public's entrenched resistance to a purely economic mode on health care." p. 354
"A number of key conclusions are evident. First, people were generally loath to trade-off elements of the current system against the promise of better or fairer future performance." p. 355
"The public will be resistant to a rational discourse on these cost issues because they are more likely to see these issues in terms of higher-order values. The evidence suggests that further dialogue will tilt the debate more to values than economics. The public will insist on inclusion and influence in this crucial debate and they will reject elite and expert authority." p. 356
"In response to a question on how health care was different from other commodities and services sold in the marketplace, participants agreed that its main difference lies in the fact that it was directly related to "life and death"." p. 370
"Most simply did not want efficiency to be the driving force in health policy." p. 378
"The focus group discussions augmented the belief that health care is more about values than economics." p. 389
"Although other competing priorities emerged over the period of the discussion, it is equality of access that serves as the primary source of this pride. The "Canadian" values are wrapped up in equality of access - everybody gets relatively equal care when they are sick and nobody has to lose their house to pay their hospital or doctor bill. It is this feature of the system which is seen to most distinguish it from the American model (which is the point of comparison)." p. 393
"Many people readily acknowledge that their belief in egalitarianism is restricted to health care and that they are not troubled by wide discrepancies based on ability to pay or status in other areas of society. They have no trouble isolating health care in this way because they see health care as something of a completely different character than housing or automobiles or vacations." p. 393
"There is an overwhelming consensus among Canadians about the importance of equality of access as the defining characteristic of our system. That consensus is premised upon the assumption that quality is a given, as they have perceived it to be in the past." p. 395
"It is also true that, since Canadians recognize that a truly private system like the U.S. version might provide even greater levels or quality of freedom of choice to at least some citizens, they are choosing to sacrifice some of that from the system in order to provide equality of access to a universal system." p. 396
Clearly, Canadians value their health care system and the principles that it is based on.
3.0 IMPLICATIONS FOR TRADE LIBERALIZATION
The core values that Canadians have expressed in relation to the health care system raise certain issues as to the impact of trade liberalization on those core values. Following is an analysis based on an examination of the various modes of trade.
3.1 Modes of Trade in Services
The Uruguay Round of trade negotiations leading to the World Trade Organization's creation in 1995 classified services into 160 sectors. Health services are classified as a sector. In addition, trade in insurance services may affect health services where a market for health insurance exists.
The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) distinguishes among four modes of trade in services. Each is briefly described below, together with examples, (involving the mythic countries 'A' and 'B') from the health sector.
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- provision of diagnosis or treatment planning services in country A by suppliers in country B, via telecommunications ('telemedicine')
- movement of patients from country A to country B for treatment
- establishment of hospitals in country A whose owners are from country B, i.e. foreign direct investment
Presence of natural persons1
- service provision in country A by health professionals who have emigrated from country B
To date, Canada has made no commitments in the health services sector. Commitments in general have been shallow in the health sector in comparison to the most liberalized sectors, telecommunications and financial services, reflecting in part the substantial uncertainty about how such commitments will affect health care systems. Many of the countries that have undertaken health sector commitments have opted for enshrining the status quo, or even the status quo with commitments that include language proficiency requirements for health care professionals.
Some WTO Members, however, have made more extensive commitments, driven in part by the hope that this will facilitate development of export opportunities and importation of foreign capital and know-how. Where developing countries have made such commitments, the general lack of resources appears to be a far more potent barrier to trade than the presence or absence of such commitments.
3.2 GATS and the Health System: Role of Insurance and Health System Structure
To understand trade implications for the health sector, it may be helpful to distinguish between three functions that undergird all health systems: regulation/stewardship, financing, and service provision. Since the inception of Medicare, Canadians have received their health care through a system of private providers regulated under statutes. This links them closely to a financing system comprised largely of public funds in the form of general taxation revenues disbursed to health care providers by provincial and territorial governments and drawn from provincial and federal revenues through the progressive income tax system.
The regulatory/stewardship established by the Canada Health Act and provincial regulation is pivotal to the system's structure. For example, building private hospitals need not be explicitly banned because funding levers make this a difficult business proposition as services provided there would not be automatically covered by provincially managed insurance schemes. A further useful distinction arises between input goods and services (drugs, devices, health care personnel, cleaning, laundry etc.) and the output of health care services. It is difficult to argue that the cleaning of hospitals is fundamentally part of the output of health services, rather it is similar to cleaning of other facilities and is increasingly performed by commercial entities in contractual relationships with health care facilities. These commercial entities include firms with foreign ownership or shareholders. Similarly many of the drugs and devices used in Canadian health care facilities are traded goods, moving in international trade from foreign-based suppliers and being accompanied by Canadian goods exported to other health care systems.
Another input into the health care system is medical education. Physicians have to be trained so that Canadians have access to appropriate physician resources. There is some concern about the effects of GATS on the medical education enterprise and the quality of medical education currently delivered in Canada. As well, there is international recognition of Canada's expertise in medical education and evaluation and that this is a part of the health care system that Canada should be exporting.
4.0 RESPONDING TO GATS: POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS
In responding to GATS, it is helpful to consider each of the four modes of trade in health services, current levels of trade, and how GATS liberalization, (i.e. commitments by the government of Canada) could impact Canada's health care system.
Mode 1 - Cross-border supply
Cross border supply of health services, where the provider (health care professional) and consumer (patient) are in different jurisdictions has recently moved from the realm of science fiction to reality with advances in telemedicine. However, certain services, particularly those involving direct patient contact (nursing, rehabilitation professionals) are unlikely to be provided, regardless of advances in telemedicine. Cross-border supply appears most relevant to services involving diagnosis and treatment planning.
For example, a physician in Canada may digitize radiology films and send them for interpretation to a radiologist in the Caribbean or South Asia. Similarly, several experiments within Canada have attempted to use telediagnosis to spare families long trips from remote communities to consult with highly specialized paediatricians. If this were to occur across national borders with exchange of payment for services, it would constitute a form of international services trade.
Current limits on telemedicine's growth are essentially no longer technological but rather the regulatory/stewardship issues of professional certification and payment systems for services rendered. A commitment under mode 1 would do nothing to address either of these questions, particularly the first as governments retain full authority to establish licensing and certification regimes for professionals. Within Canada, payment has been hampered by provincial insurance plan insistence that the doctor-patient encounter must occur in such a way that both are in the same physical space.
At present, efforts have been directed to establishing cross-border recognition of professional accounting certification, fueled in large part by the concentration of accounting services work within a handful of multinational firms on behalf of their increasingly globalized clients. By contrast, similar efforts directed to social sector professions are unlikely given the atomistic nature of the professionals and the institutions and organizations where they work. The absence of a concerted desire for such cross-border recognition, coupled with the powerful role of governments in regulating not only certification but also numbers of health care professionals, suggests cross-border recognition will remain unlikely for the foreseeable future.
That having been said, a commitment by Canada and other countries to mode 1 liberalization could increase pressure on licensing authorities to develop programs of cross-border recognition. If this were to happen the export of telemedicine services outside of Canada would represent physician resources that would not be available to Canadians. Given the physician workforce issues that Canada is presently facing such a commitment could exacerbate an already difficult position. In addition, there are other implications that would have to be determined through stakeholder consultation, for example: provider legal liability and malpractice insurance, patient privacy and confidentiality of medical records to name a few.
Mode 2 - Consumption abroad
Individual Canadians have long sought care in other jurisdictions, most notably the United States. This is typically paid for from private health insurance or out of pocket funds. Changes to provincial insurance reimbursement for out-of-country care have dramatically limited publicly funded consumption abroad by Canadians. Two exceptions to this are treatment for specific rare conditions and, in several provinces, contracting for radiation therapy services with American institutions. Liberalization under mode 2 would do little for Canada in affecting the outward flow of Canadian patients to the US given the ease with which Canadians can cross the Canada-US border to purchase medical care. Similarly, opportunities for Canadian professionals and facilities to attract additional foreign patients are unlikely to grow substantially should a mode 2 commitment be made.
The obvious growth potential for Canadian physicians and facilities lies in the USA but has been substantially limited by two synergistic factors. First is the non-portability of insurance coverage, both publicly financed Medicare/Medicaid benefits and most market-purchased insurance. Exclusion from health maintenance organizations' (HMOs) networks of providers are a further impediment for Canadian providers seeking to attract American consumers. Should the United States be willing to commit to the generalized portability of Medicare benefits, Canada would be a logical destination for American consumers seeking care, but that would be contingent on a commitment from the United States or other action regarding portability, rather than a specific mode 2 commitment by Canada. Commitments in this direction may, however, only be made if similar commitments are made by potential trading partners for health services, notably Canada and Mexico.
A commitment by Canada and other countries, especially the United States, to mode 2 liberalization could change the business plans or strategies to attract foreign patients by some physicians especially certain niche subspecialists. Such a change could result in access difficulties for Canadian patients as providers substitute higher-paying foreign patients for Canadian ones for which payment is fixed by provincial insurance plans.
Mode 3 - Commercial presence
Commercial presence, usually through foreign direct investment (FDI), is often necessary for providing services such as banking or supply chain management. FDI in Canada's health service sector is relatively insignificant and that would appear unlikely to change with a mode 3 commitment. As with several of the other modes of trade, the regulatory and stewardship environment creates structural impediments to FDI, specifically concerning which services will be paid for in which facilities, that a mode 3 commitment is unlikely to remove.
A related area for the health system is that of consulting services, where multinational, foreign-origin firms already play a substantial role in providing various forms of management consulting services. While some hospital boards are reported to have been approached regarding the outsourcing of their management to foreign management services firms, the extent of implementation to date has been minimal. Should hospital management be outsourced in this way or hospital facilities networked through supra-facility organizations, American based firms are logical candidates for such work and can be expected to bring with them substantial experience in shaping and constraining physician decision-making, particularly around access to expensive procedures.
Mode 3 commitments are arguably neither necessary nor sufficient for such a change in hospital governance and management when compared to the power of provincial government regulation and financing mechanisms. If Canada made a mode 3 commitment, provincial governments would still have substantial latitude to regulate financing and provision of services, so long as these regulations applied to all potential suppliers, regardless of country of origin, thus ensuring national treatment.
However, the full ramifications of such a commitment remain largely unknown and there appears little to be gained by Canada in making such commitments.
Mode 4 - Presence of natural persons
Presence of natural persons, specifically physicians and other health professionals, is one of the most pressing issues in health systems around the world. For countries like South Africa, emigration of physicians hamstrings efforts to deliver health services. For parts of Canada, immigration of those physicians has been essential to providing Canadians with health care, particularly in rural and remote areas.
Nevertheless, mode 4 commitments are unlikely to be particularly useful for health human resource planning. For destination countries like Canada, a mode 4 commitment to liberalize immigration of natural persons, specifically health sector professionals, does not bind that country to forego national systems of certification and licensure. Moreover, existing systems of visas and work authorizations offer far more effective control over inflows than would a mode 4 commitment. Similarly, Canadian physicians who wish to emigrate, typically to the US, do so in the absence of a Mode 4 commitment by either country. Of concern to Canadians is the increased recognition of physician shortages as demonstrated by the fact that several provinces have increased medical school enrolment. Therefore any measures that would make it easier for physicians and other health care professionals to leave Canada and to practice elsewhere, especially the United States, could exacerbate an already tight supply of human health resources in several provinces.
After a decade of efforts to reduce the number of physicians in Canada, assessments of Canadian physician supply are increasingly identifying shortages or, at the very least, chronic undersupply, in rural areas. Substantial numbers of foreign-trained physicians already reside in Canada but are unable to practice due to some combination of limited language skills, insufficient training, or 'queuing' for the various transition requirements imposed on international medical graduates (IMGs) by provincial licensing authorities.
Commitments by Canada in this area however could result in pressure on licensing authorities to modify their requirements with potential implications on quality of care. Again, there is little to be gained for Canada to pursue commitments in this area until the ramifications are fully explored.
Two areas that are to be explored are: 1) cross-sectoral horse trading, and 2) equity perceptions.
'Cross-sectional horse trading' refers to countries offering commitments in one sector in return for commitments in other, unrelated sectors. As an example, Canada may wish to increase its access to foreign markets for financial or telecommunications services and face the choice of putting the health services sector 'into play' as part of negotiating on matters unrelated to health services. This would be potentially disastrous if Canada were to undertake specific health services commitments in the rush to secure benefits in other sectors without attention to the federal-provincial cooperation and coordination to ensure that such commitments did not undermine the foundations of Canada's health system.
Such cooperation and coordination appears to be becoming increasingly difficult and the pressure of a GATS commitment perceived to be negotiated by persons outside the health sector and health ministry would seem a surefire way to increase that difficulty.
The second issue, equity perceptions, arises from the confluence of increasing concern among Canadians about access to their health care system and the likely additional concern that would arise if Canadian physicians were perceived to be favouring foreign patients over Canadian patients. The clearest example of access concerns to date is likely that of ophthalmology services where the opportunities for these specialists to provide non-insured laser treatment to American citizens may have reduced the services available to provincially insured Canadians. Non-insured care, whether for Canadians or foreign patients is a growing part of physician revenues, but pushing for its expansion through a mode 2 commitment under GATS appears unlikely to generate benefits sufficient to offset the potential negatives when compared with other methods of expanding revenue from non-insured services.
The Government of Canada's bargaining position regarding health services in relation to the ongoing liberalization of trade in health services through the GATS will evolve from an assessment of the opportunities and costs associated with various levels of commitment. A major factor in the equation are the values of Canadians and their affinity for the publicly funded health care system.
"The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recognizes that trade liberalization can have positive economic impacts on the Canadian economy, however the type of healthcare system that Canadians and health care providers want is of primary concern whereas the goals of trade liberalization in health services is of a secondary nature. Recognizing that the GATS process is an on-going and long-term approach to trade liberalization, the CMA recommends that the Federal government undertake extensive consultative sessions with the Canadian public and healthcare providers. Such a consultation process would help answer questions as to the implications of trade liberalization and would provide feedback as to what level of trade liberalization in health care services is consistent with Canadian values."
1 Mode 4: "Presence of 1Natural Persons" - this covers the conditions under which a service supplier can travel in person to a country in order to supply a service. Source: http://gats-info.eu.int/gats-info/gatscomm.pl?MENU=hhh
The Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) pre-budget submission is based on the premise that healthier Canadians are more productive Canadians. It also recognizes that the delivery of quality health care, in a timely manner, is paramount and is not mutually exclusive of any productivity agenda. With the recent release of its Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change That Works. Care That Lasts. policy document, the CMA declared its readiness to take a leadership position in confronting the hard choices required to make health care work better for Canadians. Physicians are reaching out to the Canadian public, opinion and business leaders, governments, interested parties and stakeholders to find ways to improve our health care system and to make sure that the upcoming reforms will focus on better serving patients.
Canada's health care system cannot continue on its current path, especially as pressure grows from an aging population. The system needs to be massively transformed, a task that demands political courage and leadership, flexibility from within the health care professions and far-sightedness on the part of the public. It is a lot to demand, but one of Canada's most cherished national institutions is at stake. We must work together toward a common vision of what we aspire for our health care system.
The CMA commends the federal government for publicly stating it will honour its previous commitment of a 6% annual increase to the Canada Health Transfer through to 2014. This sustained predictable funding has brought some long-term stability to the publicly financed health care sector. However, the CMA believes that the health care system must be capable of withstanding or accommodating demand surges and fiscal pressure. Capacity and innovation strategies need to be developed and implemented to meet emerging health necessities.
In this brief, the CMA identifies a number of key issues related to health human resources and infrastructure that require immediate attention if the Canadian economy is to retain its competitive position in the global economy. Pressure is mounting on the system and there is a need to move beyond data collection to interdisciplinary collaboration. Including health care providers in the decision-making process would lead to better health public policy decisions, and result in much needed pan-Canadian health human resource planning. By making strategic direct investments in health human resources, public health and retirement savings, the federal government would retain its leadership role and contribute to the sustainability of a patient-centred health care system.
Health care's contribution: A more productive and innovative economy
The health care system in Canada employs over a million people, or 7.5% of the labour force. In 2009, Canada invested $183 billion in health care, representing 11.9% of our GDP. The benefits of health care investments not only contribute to a higher quality of life for all Canadians, but the economic multiplier effect of the initial investment is estimated to create an additional $92 billion in economic activity, such as in the high technology sector, financial services and R&D jobs.i Further federal investments in the health care system contribute to ensuring a more productive and innovative economy.
Better Health, Improved Productivity
The Conference Board of Canadaii, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) iii, the World Health Organizationiv, the Commonwealth Fundv, and the Frontier Centre for Public Policyvi all rate Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" as well as efficiency. In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th of 30 countries (the U.S. was not included in the sample) in terms of value for money spent on health care. Canadians deserve better. We know that investments in quality today will pay off in improved health that will reduce health care demand and expenditures down the road. The resultant improved productivity from the reduction of illness in the population will generate economic dividends for the country.
Our proposals are informed by regular consultations with our 72,000 physician members and reflect what they believe are the most pressing gaps that exist in our health care system today. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians, but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come.
* Please note that the sum of the following recommendations would add less than 0.5% to the current $25 billion Canada Health Transfer that is committed to the provinces.
Recommendations for the 2011 Federal Budget:
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
1. The federal government should fulfill the balance of its 2008 election promisevii of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
2. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
3. The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
4. The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crises.
C. Improving retirement savings options for the self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
5. The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
6. The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
7. The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
A. Investing in Health Human Resources: $53.1 million over 4 years
Every high-performing health system begins with a strong primary care system. Yet roughly 5 million Canadians do not have a regular family physician, and once Canadians do access primary care, they often face long waits to see consulting specialists and further waits for advanced diagnostics and treatment. Part of the reason for these delays is the shortage of health care professionals in Canada and the lack of long-term pan-Canadian planning to ensure needs are met.
Canada ranks 26th of 30 OECD member countries in physician-to-population ratio. The lack of physicians in Canada puts the system under pressure and the impact of this is being felt by patients across the country. A Centre for Spatial Economics studyviiicommissioned by the CMA, found that the Canadian economy is expected to lose $4.7 billion in 2010, as a result of excessive wait times for just four procedures: joint replacements, MRIs, coronary artery bypass surgery and cataract surgery. When people wait too long for care businesses face increased human resource costs to replace lost or affected employees. There is a loss in output and especially productivity. The reduction in output would lower federal and provincial government revenues in 2010 by $1.8 billion. The econometric model in the report used to calculate these costs also estimates that to cut wait times to government recommended benchmarks would require a $586 million investment or just 2% of the current Canada Health Transfer. This investment would boost GDP by $6.2 billion.
The global shortage of health professionals compounds the problem - while Canadian training programs still lack sufficient seats to produce enough new providers to meet current and future demands, Canadian-educated physicians, nurses, technicians, and other health professionals are being lured away by ample opportunities to train and work outside Canada.
The CMA commends the federal government for recently announcing the Northern and Remote Family Medicine Residency Program in Manitoba, which constitutes an investment of just over $6.9 million. The program will provide extensive medical training for 15 additional family medicine residents over the next four years. We urge the government to build on this announcement and honour its full commitment. Thousands of health care professionals are currently working abroad, including approximately 9,000 Canadian-trained physicians. We know that many of the physicians who do come back to Canada are of relatively young age, meaning that they have significant practice life left. While a minority of these physicians return on their own, many more can be repatriated in the short term through a relatively small but focussed effort by the federal government, led by a secretariat within Health Canada.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its 2008 election promiseix of investing $33.1 million over 4 years to fund 35 new residencies per year; and invest $20 million over 4 years in the repatriation of Canadian physicians working abroad.
B. Investing in pandemic preparedness (post H1N1): $500 million over 5 years
The absence of a national communicable disease/immunization monitoring system is an ongoing problem. In 2003, the report of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended that "the Public Health Agency of Canada should facilitate the long term development of a comprehensive and national public health surveillance system that will collect, analyze, and disseminate laboratory and health care facility data on infectious diseases... to relevant stakeholders." Seven years later, Canada still does not have a comprehensive national surveillance and epidemiological system.
Clinicians' practices are highly influenced by illness patterns that develop regionally and locally within their practice populations; thus, surveillance data are useful in determining appropriate treatment. During the H1N1 outbreak, real-time data were not available to most physicians and when data did become available, they were already several weeks old. Greater adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in primary care and better public health electronic health records (EHRs), with the ability to link systems, will augment existing surveillance capacity and are essential to a pan-Canadian system. International strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that the benefits of an interconnected Electronic Health Record (EHR) in Canada could provide annual system-wide savings of $6.1 billion. A pan-Canadian electronic health information system is urgently needed and must become a priority during the inter-pandemic phase, with adequate federal funding and provincial/territorial collaboration.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) to enhance disease surveillance by linking public health databases with real-time clinical information through patient Electronic Medical Records in order to facilitate data collection and analysis between local public health authorities and primary care practices.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should increase funding ($200 million over 5 years) for local health emergency preparedness planning to improve collaboration and coordination of clinical care and public health structures at the local level during public health crises and reduce the variation of capacity across the country.
A key measure to combat pandemic influenza is mass vaccination. On the whole, Canada mounted an effective campaign: 45% of Canadians were vaccinated, and the proportion was even higher in First Nations communities - a first in Canadian history. The outcome was positive, but many public health units were stretched as expectations exceeded their pre-existing constrained resources. Nationally promulgated clinical practice guidelines had great potential to create consistent clinical responses across the country. Instead, the variation and lack of coordination in providing important clinical information during this crises eroded the public's confidence in the federal, provincial and territorial response.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should invest in the creation of a pan-Canadian strategy ($100 million over 5 years) to build a process for a harmonized national clinical response, including vaccine programs in times of potential health crisis.
C. Improved retirement savings options for self-employed: federal taxes to be deferred over time
With the aging Canadian population and the decline in the number of Canadians participating in employer-sponsored pension plans, now is the time to explore strengthening the third pillar of Canada's government-supported retirement income system: tax-assisted savings opportunities and vehicles available to help Canadians save to meet future continuing care needs.
Of keen interest to the medical profession are measures to help self-employed Canadians save for their retirement. Physicians represent an aging demographic - 38% of Canada's physicians are 55 or older. Self-employed physicians, like many other self-employed professionals, are unable to participate in workplace registered pension plans (RPPs). This makes them more reliant on Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) relative to other retirement savings vehiclesx. The recent economic downturn has shown that volatility of global financial markets can have an enormous impact on the value of RRSPs over the short-and medium-term. This variability is felt most acutely when RRSPs reach maturity during a time of declining market returns and RRSP holders are forced to sell at a low price.
The possibility that higher-earning Canadians, such as physicians, may not be saving enough for retirement was raised by Jack Mintz, Research Director for the Research Working Group on Retirement Income Adequacy of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Finance. In his Summary Report, Mr. Mintz wrote that income replacement rates in retirement fall below 60% of after-tax income for about 35% of Canadians in the top income quintile. This is due to the effect of the maximum RPP/RRSP dollar limits and the government should consider raising these limits.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should increase RRSP limits and explore opportunities to provide pension vehicles for self-employed Canadians.
D. Encourage Canadians to save for long-term care needs: federal taxes to be deferred over time
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 2031xi. With Canadians living longer and continuing care falling outside the boundaries of Canada Health Act (CHA) first-dollar coverage, there is a growing need to help Canadians save for their home care and long-term care needs. These needs are an important part of the retirement picture as the federal government considers options for ensuring the ongoing strength of Canada's retirement income system.
Additional information is contained in CMA's submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance during its study on Retirement Income Security of Canadians (May 13, 2010).
Recommendation 6: The federal government should study options for pre-funding long-term care, including private insurance, tax-deferred and tax-prepaid savings approaches, and contribution-based social insurance.
E. Support for informal caregivers
Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers. More than a million employed people aged 45-64 provide informal care to seniors with long-term conditions or disabilities, and 80% of home care to seniors is provided by unpaid informal caregivers. Canada lags behind several countries, including the U.K., Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S. in terms of supporting informal caregivers.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should undertake pilot studies that explore tax credit and/or direct compensation for informal caregivers for their work and expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services for people dealing with emergency situations.
The CMA encourages the federal government to consider the recommendation found in the report entitled; Raising the Bar:A Roadmap for the Future of Palliative Care in Canada supported by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.
The recommendations contained in the CMA's pre-budget submission represent our priority recommendations for federal investments that will contribute to a healthy, more productive and innovative economy. These recommendations will also start the process of fostering transformation of the health care system that not only serves the health needs of Canadians but makes our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for generations to come. As the federal government's commitment to the provinces through the 2004 Health Care Accord expires in 2014, it is imperative that investments are made that not only provide better care but are also sustainable for our country's economy.
Appendix Table 1
i The additional economic activity generated by the health care sector is based on a conservative 1.5 multiplier. The CMA is pursuing precise estimates of the benefits of health care investments in Canada. Please see:
Economic Footprint of Health Care Services in Canada Prepared for: Canadian Medical Association by Carl Sonnen
with Natalie Rylska Informetrica limited January 2007 In economics, the multiplier effect or spending multiplier is the idea that an initial amount of spending (usually by the government) leads to increased consumption spending and so results in an increase in national income greater than the initial amount of spending. The existence of a multiplier effect was initially proposed by Richard Kahn in 1930 and published in 1931. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal_multiplier Snowdon, Brian and Howard R. Vane. Modern macroeconomics: its origins, development and current state. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005. ISBNS 1845422082, 9781845422080. p. 61.
ii How Canada Performs 2008: A Report Card on Canada, The Conference Board of Canada
iii Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2007). OECD Health
Data 2007. Version 07/18/2007. CD-ROM. Paris: OECD.
iv World Health Organization [WHO] (2007). World Health Statistics 2007. see: http://www.who.
v Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: An International Update on the Comparative Performance of American Health Care May 15, 2007 (updated May 16, 2007)
Authors: Davis, Schoen, Schoenbaum, Doty, Holmgren, Kriss, Shea
vi Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2008, Health Consumer Powerhouse, Frontier Centre for Public Policy, FC Policy Series No. 38 see:www.fcpp.org/pdf/ECHCI2008finalJanuary202008.pdf
vii Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
viii The economic cost of wait times in Canada, the Centre for Spatial Economics, July 2010.
ix Health Care Certainty for Canadian Families, the Conservative Party of Canada, backgrounder 10/08/08.
x A more detailed outline of the issues surrounding pension reform can e found in CMA's Submission on Pension Reform Backgrounder for the Standing Committee on Finance, May 13, 2010. www.cma/submissions-to-government
xi Statistics Canada. Populations projections. The Daily, Thursday, December 15, 2005.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) brief submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health makes 12 practical recommendations within the jurisdiction of the federal government for investing in the capacity needed to expand and retain our practising physician population. These recommendations are a clarion call for pan-Canadian planning and innovative thinking to meet an ever-increasing demand for physician services from the Canadian public. CMA's research on Health Care Transformation has shown that a commitment to ensuring an adequate supply of health human resources (HHR) is a common trait shared by high-performing European health systems. The last federal election campaign saw most political parties pledge to urgently address HHR shortages. Now is the time to keep those election commitments.
Cuts to medical school enrolment in the 1990s contributed to Canada's significant shortage of physicians. Growing demand for physician services, the aging of the physician population and changing practice styles among younger physicians are further compounding the problem. Seriously addressing HHR shortages is crucial to transforming Canada's health care system into one that is truly patient focused.
Canada should strive for self-sufficiency in physician supply and do more to repatriate Canadians studying and practising medicine abroad. The CMA supports bringing into practice qualified international medical graduates (IMGs) already in Canada. IMGs should be assessed according to the same evaluation standards as Canadian graduates and more should be done to reduce the backlog in assessing IMGs. With recent increases to medical school enrolment, more support must also be given for the capital infrastructure and faculty required to ensure the highest standard of medical education.
Competition for physicians is an issue with both international and inter-provincial/territorial facets. The revised Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) and bilateral agreements will ease the movement of health professionals across jurisdictions, but may exacerbate retention difficulties in underserviced areas. Canada should be active in retaining and repatriating our health care professionals, particularly since the predicted physician shortage in the United States may result in a return to the physician out-migration seen in the 1990s.
Canada must do more to encourage innovation within our health care system. Collaborative care - including care delivered with the assistance of Physician Assistants (PAs) - and advances in information technology hold the promise of helping create a more efficient health care system that provides higher quality care.
Canada has suffered from a significant physician shortage since the mid-1990s. Nationally, we rank 26th of 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries in physician-to-population ratio. We would need 20,000 new physicians just to meet the OECD average.
Figure 1: Physicians per 1000 population (including residents)
Source: OECD 2008 Health Data; CMA Physician Resources Evaluation Template
During the 2008 federal election campaign, four of the five parties represented in the House of Commons recognized the urgency of this situation and promised measures that would address HHR shortages. Following through on these promises is critical if we are to transform Canada's health care system into one that truly puts the needs of patients first. Research conducted for CMA's Health Care Transformation initiative demonstrates that European countries whose health care systems outperform our own all share a strong commitment to HHR, as demonstrated by their higher physician-to-population rankings.
First-year medical school enrolment was already in decline when health ministers imposed a further 10% cut resulting in a low of 1,577 places in 1997. While there have been substantial increases since then, it took a decade to rebound. In 2007, first-year enrolment stood at 2,569 - 63% higher than a decade earlier. If we had left our domestic production unchanged, we would have almost 1,300 more physicians than we have today.
Canada remains well behind other industrialized countries in the education and training of physicians. In 2005, Canada graduated 5.8 physicians per 100,000 population, 40% below the 9.6 average for the OECD.
Currently, between 4 and 5 million Canadians do not have a family physician. Over one-third of all Canadian physicians are over the age of 55. Many will either retire soon or reduce their practice workload. Most are not accepting new patients.
Ironically, advances in medicine and lifestyle that are helping Canadians live better and longer also mean increased demand for health care professionals. An aging population with high expectations of the health care system is increasing pressure on health care providers to ensure they maintain a high quality of life through their elder years. A growing culture of 'health consumerism,' facilitated by the Internet has resulted in a very knowledgeable patient population that expects top quality care delivered in a timely manner by the appropriate health professional.
Advances in medical diagnostics and technology, new and evolving diseases and increasingly complex protocols and guidelines for medical care all increase the demand for physician services. Declining mortality rates for patients with diseases such as cancer have increased treatment of what have become 'chronic' diseases. In a collaborative care setting, physicians often take responsibility for the most complex patients.
There is evidence of a cultural change among physicians to place greater importance on their home life by working less. This trend may have a positive effect on the health of the profession but it means Canada will need more physicians to provide the same volume of services.
Greater coordination among jurisdictions is needed to facilitate HHR planning on a national scale. Canada's doctors and other health professions are ready to assist policy-makers in their planning and coordination to better meet the health care needs of Canadians.
During the 2008 federal election campaign, most political parties recognized the urgency of addressing HHR shortages. The Conservative Party, specifically, promised to fund 50 new residency positions to increase supply of physicians in areas of priority need.
Recommendation 1: The federal government should fulfill its promise to fund 50 new residency positions at a cost of $10 million per year for four years.
Support for IMGs
The CMA fully supports bringing into practice qualified IMGs already in Canada. Canada has historically benefited from a steady flow of IMGs to our country. In fact, close to one quarter of all physicians in Canada and over 50% of doctors in Saskatchewan are IMGs. Many areas in Canada would have no physicians if not for the contribution of these practitioners.
While IMGs are a boon to Canada, actively recruiting from developing countries is not an acceptable solution to our physician shortage. Canada must strive for greater self-sufficiency in the education and training of physicians. In fact, self-sufficiency is a key principle of the government's Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources' Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning.
CMA supports online assessment tools and websites that provide information to foreign-trained physicians so they know what standards they must meet once they arrive in Canada. In 2006, over 1700 people used the online assessment tool established by the Medical Council of Canada (MCC). CMA also supports applying the same evaluation standards to international graduates as it does to graduates of Canadian medical schools.
Despite a four-fold increase in the number of IMGs in ministry-funded postgraduate training programs over the last decade, there is still a backlog of IMGs awaiting entry into these programs. About 1300 IMGs applied for a postgraduate training position last year but only 350 (27%) were successful. CMA recommends that funding be made available to provinces for use in mentoring IMGs towards licensure. This could lower costs for the IMGs, pay the community preceptors, cover operational costs and defray other expenses.
It is estimated that up to 1500 Canadians are studying medicine abroad. Two-thirds of these IMGs want to come home to complete their postgraduate training. Canada turns away four good applicants for every student accepted into medical school. Increased training opportunities for all groups of IMGs will ensure that Canada fully utilizes the skills and knowledge of its citizens who have studied medicine.
Recommendation 2: The federal government should make $5 million (over five years), available to provinces/territories to address the backlog of IMGs through community preceptorship programs that mentor and assess IMGs for integration into the physician community.
Recommendation 3: The federal government should take concrete steps to ensure Canada becomes self-sufficient when it comes to the supply of health care professionals.
Recommendation 4: The federal government should continue to fund information tools such as the IMG-Canada website to better inform offshore physicians.
Infrastructure and faculty
Canada's teaching centres have had to absorb increases in operational and infrastructure costs to accommodate increased enrolment. This includes instructors, space, overhead and supplies. While it appears that the number of faculty members has kept pace with the increased number of medical students, part-time faculty now make up a much larger proportion of the total than 10 years ago. i
In addition to the traditional academic centres, much of the training of doctors now occurs in a community environment. Mentoring is provided by physicians who may have less experience or resources than do those in the larger centres. Those who teach often experience lost productivity in their practice and receive little or no remuneration. This deficiency must be addressed to achieve a sustainable educational workforce.
Recommendation 5: The federal government should implement a Health Human Resources Infrastructure Fund in the amount of $1 billion over 5 years to expand health professional education and training capacity by providing funding to support the:
* Direct costs of training providers;
* Indirect or infrastructure costs associated with the educational enterprise; and
* Resources that improve Canada's data collection and management capacity in the area of health human resources.
B. Retention of Canadian Physicians
Competition for physicians is both an international and an inter-jurisdictional challenge. The new Agreement on Internal Trade within Canada and numerous bilateral agreements will no doubt ease the movement of health professionals. This may exacerbate the already difficult task of retaining physicians in underserviced areas. On the positive side, it is hoped this will facilitate the movement of physicians who provide short-term relief for physicians needing time off for continued professional development and vacation (i.e., locum tenens).
As the political situation and health care plans evolve south of our border, Canada should remain active in the quest to retain the health professionals we have educated and trained and make it easier for those who have emigrated to return to practice in Canada. The Conservative Party committed in the 2008 election campaign to create a repatriation fund for Canadian physicians practising abroad. The federal government should keep this important commitment.
Migration to the United States peaked in the late 1990s when Canada lost between 600 and 700 physicians per year. While some physicians returned to Canada each year, our net losses for this period were over 400 per year. Today we are enjoying small net gains each year but this may not last given the predicted shortages in the U.S. of between 80,000 and 100,000 physicians in the years ahead. We can expect U.S. recruiters to ramp up activities in Canada in the near future.
Recommendation 6: The federal government should fulfill its election promise to establish a fund of $5 million per year over four years to help Canadian physicians living abroad who wish to relocate to Canada. It is thought this initiative could bring back as many as 300 Canadian physicians over four years.
Recommendation 7: The federal government should establish a Health Professional Repatriation Program in the amount of $30 million over 3 years that would include the following:
* A secretariat within Health Canada that would include a clearinghouse function on issues associated with health care workers returning to practise in Canada.
* An ad campaign in the United States.
* A program of one-time relocation grants for returning health professionals.
Physician Health and Well Being
Ultimately, we hope that healthier physicians will create a more vibrant profession. Hopefully these healthier physicians will in turn create a more healthful professional environment that will support their ability to provide patient care of the highest quality.
Through programs and conferences, the CMA has contributed to growing efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding physician ill-health and to support a new, healthier culture for the profession. Given the myriad other issues that contribute to our doctor shortage, it is clear that Canada cannot afford to lose a single physician to ill health.
Our research shows that the most stressful aspect of the medical profession is being on call after hours. Physicians average 50 hours a week in the usual settings of office, hospital or clinic but then 70% are on call for another 30 hours per week. In small communities, physicians are often on call all the time. A quarter of all physicians face some form of mental health challenge that makes their work difficult. This is higher than the 1 in 5 Canadians that will face a mental illness over their lifetime.ii
The ongoing pressures experienced by overworked physicians can result in stress related disorders and burn-out and are frequently a precursor to more significant physical and mental health problems. If not addressed early, these conditions can lead to physicians taking prolonged periods of time off work, changing their practice patterns or leaving the practice of medicine altogether.
Prevention programs are the key to assisting physicians before they are at significant risk. The CMA visited such a program in Norway which has been shown to significantly reduce burn-out and reduce the subsequent time-off work related to stressiii. A program to enhance physician resiliency and prevent stress related disorders, based on the Norway model, could be expanded to include services for all health professionals. The potential impact would be improved provider health and morale, reduced sick days and fewer long-term leaves.
Recommendation 8: The federal government should invest in research directed at assessing the quality of work life among health workers through an interprofessional survey at a cost of $1.5 million.
Recommendation 9: The federal government should explore the feasibility of developing a 'made in Canada' Resiliency Program for Health Professionals that would include the development of a feasibility study, including a business case, and a pilot curriculum, at a cost of $500,000.
While Canada must do more to increase both our supply and retention of HHR, we must also encourage innovation within our health care system to make better use of our existing health resources. Collaborative models of interprofessional care and advances in information technology hold the promise of helping create a more efficient health care system that provides higher quality care.
Increasingly physicians are working in interprofessional teams that may include professions that are relatively new to Canada's health workforce such as physician assistants (PAs). The CMA accredits PA curricula and has held two conferences to promote the use of PAs in all levels of care.
Recommendation 10: The federal government should fund a study to evaluate the impact of physician assistants on access to health care and to determine their cost effectiveness relative to other providers at cost of $150,000.
Technology to Support Health Care Delivery
Information technology will continue to create a more efficient and effective health care system. It will lead to more patient safety, more Canadians finding a physician, better care, cost avoidance such as eliminating duplicate tests and the establishment of collaborative interprofessional health care teams.
Canada's adoption of electronic medical records lags behind other OECD countries. We only spend a third of the OECD average on information technology in our hospitals. The adoption of EMRs in community settings (primary care, home care and long-term care facilities) also trails most other countries (Figure 2iv). This is not due to any general resistance by providers, but rather a combination of: a lack of evidence on how best to use electronic records to improve care delivery; a need to improve the return on investment for physicians by providing value-added solutions such as greater connectivity to lab results, drug data and colleagues; the time it takes to implement a new electronic record capability and a lack of funds to acquire new technology.
Recent investments in Canada Health Infoway (CHI) will help address some of these issues but it is estimated that for Canada to have a fully automated health care delivery system we need to invest $ 10 to $12 billionv. An overall investment of $2 billion is required to fully IT enable the community-based health care delivery sector. While Budget 2009 provided $500 million to CHI for EMRs, more is still required.
Recommendation 11: The federal government should provide a further investment of $500 million for new technology to fully enable all points of care in the community settings and an enhanced change management program to speed up EMR adoption.
Recommendation 12: The federal government should create a $10-million fund to establish an applied research program for the next five years that will provide evidence on how best to integrate information technology into the health care delivery system.
Canada's doctors believe that we can build a health care system where all Canadians can get timely access to quality health care services regardless of their ability to pay. Developing a comprehensive HHR strategy that assures an adequate supply of all health care providers, including physicians, is a pillar of achieving timely access to high quality care. Building such a system requires that we shift our attitude and move to implement new strategies, new ideas and new thinking. That new thinking must begin with a commitment to act now to address Canada's physician shortage. A promise made must be a promise fulfilled.
i Canada's Health Care Providers 2007, Ottawa: CIHI, 2007
ii Frank E. Canadian physicians healthy - national survey finds. A report from the 2008 International Conference on Physician Health. London, UK Nov 2008.
iii Isaksson Ro, K et al. Counselling for burnout in Norwegian doctors : One year cohort study. BMJ. November 2008. Vol 337, 1146-9.
iv * Count of 14: EMR, EMR access other doctors, outside office, patient; routine use electronic ordering tests, prescriptions, access test results, access hospital records; computer for reminders, Rx alerts, prompt test results; easy to list diagnosis; medications, patients due for care.
v Vision 2015 - Advancing Canada's Next Generation of Healthcare, Canada Health Infoway, 2008
Good afternoon. As was said in my introduction, my name is Anne Doig and like the chair, I am a family physician. I practice as a "full service" family physician, which means that I provide care in hospital as well as in my office, including obstetrical services. I have practiced in Saskatoon for almost 32 years.
It is my pleasure to be here today. As President of the Canadian Medical Association, I represent all physicians, but today, I am proud to represent women participating in what is now a traditional occupation for them, that is, medicine.
Joining me today is Dr. Mamta Gautam, a specialist and champion of physician health and well-being. For 20 years, she worked as a psychiatrist treating physicians exclusively in her private practice in Ottawa, and has been hailed as "the Doctor's Doctor."
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has reported full-time university enrolment increased by more than 190,000, or 31%, between 2000 and 2006 and now stands at record levels.
Full-time male enrolment has passed 350,000 students and full-time female enrolment has passed 460,000.
Women account for two-thirds of full-time enrolment growth since 1971, a surge driven by the rapid increase in women's participation in the professions, including medicine.
As it stands now, the males outnumber females among practicing physicians by 67%-33%. While there are still more men than women in practice, the percentage of female first-year residents in 2008 was 57%. This is a reversal of the percentage when I graduated, and an increase from 44% fifteen years ago. This means that a significant majority of physicians close to the beginning of their medical careers, are women.
Not surprisingly, given those figures, there are many medical disciplines where the proportion of females is much higher than it was even just a few years ago.
For instance, in general surgery - long held to be a bastion of male physicians - females comprised 18% of the 1993 first year residents compared to 40% in 2008. Just over half of first-year family medicine residents in 1993 were female compared to 64% today.
However, women medical graduates still tend to choose to pursue residency training in family medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology in greater proportions than their male counterparts. As has always been the case, males continue to have a stronger preference for surgery - 23% compared to 11% of females - although that gap is narrowing.
So, the overall numbers of women physicians are increasing as are the percentages of those going into what one might call non-traditional specialties, albeit at a slower rate.
The so-called feminization of medicine brings with it several other issues and I will touch on two major ones.
First, work-life balance.
The rise in the number of women physicians is bringing a positive shift in the way physicians practice and the hours that they keep.
Very few of today's young physicians - male or female - are willing to work the long hours that physicians of previous generations did.
That said, data from the 2007 National Physician Survey, which included responses from over 18,000 physicians across the country, show that, on average, male doctors still work nearly 54 hours per week, while female doctors work 48 - although many work more than that. These figures do not include time on call, nor time spent on child care or other family responsibilities. Many members of the Committee can empathize with this level of commitment.
In contrast, the European Union Work Time Directive has said that the maximum work week must be 48 hours. If Canada were to try to apply that directive to physicians our health care system would grind to a halt.
The number of physicians opting to be paid by a means other than pure fee-for-service has dramatically increased. FFS rewards the doctor financially for seeing more patients. Female physicians typically spend more time in each patient encounter, a trait that is valued by patients but not rewarded by FFS remuneration.
The second issue is stress.
In spite of their increasing numbers, women in medicine still report higher rates of incidents of intimidation, sexual harassment and abuse than their male colleagues.
As well, many female physicians continue to assume primary responsibility for home and family commitments in addition to their practice workload, thus compounding their stress levels.
Female physicians are more likely to work flexible hours; flexibility in work schedules has been the method by which female physicians balance their professional and personal lives. Yet, as they take on more and strive to be more flexible that in itself creates more stress as they battle to be "all things to all people".
The CMA identified the need to address and mitigate the unique demands on women physicians in its 1998 policy on Physician Health and Well-Being. I have brought copies to be shared with you today.
As I mentioned at the start, I am joined today by Dr. Gautam who has considerable expertise in the stressors faced by physicians - and women physicians in particular - and in managing them.
We will be happy to discuss the participation of women in medicine and to answer questions that you may have.
The CMA is pleased to have this opportunity to address the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women. As a professional organization with a leadership role in societal issues affecting health, it is both appropriate and important for the CMA to be actively involved in addressing the problems associated with violence. The extremely high incidence of abuse, the associated severe physical, mental and psychological health problems and the significant role played by physicians in recognizing and caring for victims make this a priority for organized medicine.
The CMA has significant experience and expertise in this field. In 1984, the CMA General Council passed a resolution stating:
"That Health and Welfare Canada and the Provincial Ministries of Health and Education
alert the Canadian public to the existence of family violence, including wife assault, child
abuse, and elder abuse, and to the services available which respond to these problems,
and that organized medicine (through such vehicles as professional journals, newsletters,
conferences and formal medical education) alert the physicians of Canada to the problem
and that all physicians learn to recognize the signs of family violence in their daily contact
with patients and undertake the care and management of victims using available
community resources." (Resolution #84-47)
The CMA calls the Panel's attention to four major areas of concern: Recognition and Treatment, Education and Training, Protocol Development and Research.
1. Recognition and Treatment:
Recognition includes acknowledging the existence and prevalence of abuse and identifying
victims of violence. Violence against women is clearly a health issue and one that should be given a very high priority. Statistics indicate that nearly one in eight Canadian women will be subject to spousal violence in her lifetime and that one in five will be a victim of sexual assault. Violence against women is a major determinant of both short -and long-term health problems including traumatic injury, physical and psychological illnesses, alcohol/drug addiction and death. Furthermore, although it is critically important to recognize that abuse crosses all racial and socio-economic boundaries, there are strong indications that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to abusive acts (e.g., pregnant, disabled and elderly women).
Recognition includes acknowledging and understanding the social context within which violence occurs. Violence is not an isolated phenomenon, but is part of the much broader issue of societal abuse of women.
Physicians are often the first point of contact for patients who have been abused physically, sexually, mentally and/or psychologically. They have a vital role to play in identifying victims and providing treatment and supportive intervention including appropriate referral. Abuse is not always readily apparent, however, and may go undetected for extended periods of time. Numerous studies have shown that both physicians and patients often fail to identify abuse as an underlying cause of symptoms. Such delays can result in devastating and sometimes fatal consequences for patients. Even in those cases where abuse is apparent, both physicians and patients often feel uncomfortable talking openly about the abuse and the circumstances surrounding it. It is the physician's role and responsibility to create a safe and supportive environment for the disclosure and discussion of abuse.
Furthermore, the lack of resources for support services or the lack of awareness of what services are available to provide immediate and follow-up care to patients in need may discourage physicians from acknowledging the existence of abuse and identifying victims. It is clear that improvement in the ability and the degree to which victims of abuse are recognized and given appropriate assistance by physicians and other caring professionals in a non-threatening environment is urgently required.
Individuals who are abused usually approach the health care system through primary contact with emergency departments or other primary care centres. The care available in such settings is acute, fragmented and episodic. Such settings are not appropriate for the victims of violence.
The challenge that we, as physicians, recognize is to be able to provide access in a coordinated way to medical, social, legal and other support services that are essential for the victim of violence. This integration of services is essential at the point of initial recognition and contact. The CMA has been involved with eight other organizations in the Interdisciplinary Project on Domestic Violence (IPVD), the primary goal of which is to promote interdisciplinary co-operation in the recognition and management of domestic violence.
2. Education and Training: The spectrum of abuse is complex; the victims are diverse; expertise in the field is developing. The current system of medical education neither provides health care personnel with the knowledge or skills nor does it foster the attitude to deal adequately with this issue. Some of CMA's divisions have played an active role in this area. For instance, the Ontario Medical Association has developed curriculum guidelines and medical management of wife abuse for undergraduate medical students. It is ,important that there be more involvement by relevant medical groups in developing educational and training programs and more commitment from medical educators to integrate these programs and resources into the curriculum.
Programs must be developed and instituted at all levels of medical education in order that physicians can gain the requisite knowledge and skills and be sensitive to the diversity of victims of violence.
The CMA believes that the educational programs must result in: 1) understanding of the health consequences of violence; 2) development of effective communication skills; and, 3) understanding of the social context in which violence occurs.
Understanding of the social context in which violence occurs will require an examination of the values and attitudes that persist in our society, including a close consideration of the concepts of gender role socialization, sexuality and power. This is required in order to dispel the pervasive societal misconceptions held by physicians and others which act as barriers to an effective and supportive medical response to patients suffering the effects of violence.
3. Development of Protocols: The CMA recognizes the need for more effective management and treatment of the spectrum of problems associated with violence against women. Health care facilities, professional organizations and other relevant groups are challenged to formulate educational and policy protocols for integrated and collaborative approaches to dealing with prevention of abuse and the management of victims of violence.
The CMA and a number of its divisions have been active in this area:
In 1985, the CMA prepared and published Family Violence: Guidelines for Recognition and Management (Ghent, W.R., Da Sylva, N.P., Farren, M.E.), which dealt with the signs and symptoms, assessment and management, referral assistance and medical records with respect to wife battering, child abuse and abuse of the elderly;
The Ontario Medical Association published Repons on Wife Assault in January 1991. This document, endorsed by the CMA, examines the problem of wife assault from a medical perspective and outlines approaches to treatment of the male batterer and his family;
The Medical Society of Nova Scotia has developed a handbook entitled Wife Abuse: A Handbook for Physicians, advising on the identification and management of cases involving the battering of women;
The New Brunswick Medical Society has produced a series of discussion papers on violence and in conjunction with that province's Advisory Council on the Status of Women, has produced a graphic poster depicting physical assault on pregnant women as a way of urging physicians to be alert for signs of violence against women;
The Medical Society of Prince Edward Island has worked cooperatively with the provincial Department of Health and Social Services and the Interministerial Committee on Family Violence to produce a document entitled Domestic Violence: A Handbook for
The CMA encourages continued involvement by the medical profession in the development of initiatives such as these and welcomes the opportunity to work in collaboration with other professionals involved in this area.
4. Research The CMA has identified violence against women as a priority health issue. Like rriany other areas in women's health, there is a need for research focusing on all aspects of violence and the associated problems. More specifically, the CMA maintains that there should be more research on the incidence of abuse (particularly as it relates to particular groups), on ways to facilitate the disclosure by victims of abuse and on the effectiveness of educational and prevention programs.
The CMA recognizes that the medical profession must show a greater commitment to ending abuse of women and providing more appropriate care and support services to those who are victims of violence. The CMA possesses unique skills and expertise in this area and welcomes the opportunity to work with the Panel on this challenging social and health problem.