On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), I am pleased to present you with our pre-budget submission for your government's consideration. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide input into this government's first budget and to identify strategic investment opportunities for the long term health of Canadians.
While Canada's health system faces many challenges, we believe that immediate action by the federal government in four key areas will offer both short term and long term benefits. They are:
(1) the establishment of a Canada Health Access Strategy to support a patient wait-times guarantee; (2) a proposed Visa position buyback program and a repatriation program to immediately address shortfalls in health human resources; (3) a strengthening of Canada's public health infrastructure; and (4) a remedy for GST-induced distortions in the health care system.We believe these proposals fit well with the government's stated priorities. While information on each of these recommendations is attached for your information and consideration, I would like to provide you with an overview of each.
1. CANADA HEALTH ACCESS STRATEGY
The CMA has been advocating for the implementation of maximum wait time thresholds or care guarantees for a number of years and is pleased that the government has included this as one of its top five priorities. As a first step, the CMA worked with six other specialty societies as part of the Wait Times Alliance (WTA) to develop a set of pan-Canadian wait-time benchmarks or performance goals released last August. We believe this work served as a catalyst for the provincial and territorial governments to move some way toward meeting their commitment in announcing pan-Canadian wait-time benchmarks last December. We must continue to work with governments and the academic community to improve access to medical care beyond the five priority health issues identified in the First Ministers' 2004 10-year health care plan.
The second step in implementing patient wait-time guarantees is the issue of honouring the commitment and providing for patient recourse. As a member of the WTA, the CMA strongly supports accelerating the timetable to reduce wait times nationwide. However, the federal government needs to do its part to assist provinces in advancing the timetable by stepping up the flow of funds earmarked for the last four years of the accord. Our proposed Canada Health Access Strategy is comprised of three components directed at making this happen: supporting provinces to expand capacity and to handle surges in demand; supporting the creation of regional and/or national referral networks; and establishing a Canada Health Access Fund for a "safety valve" to help Canadians access care elsewhere when necessary. Details on how this Strategy would work are attached. The point is that this Strategy is necessary to assure Canadians that they get the care they need when they need it.
1. The federal government advance the remaining $1 billion from the 2004 First Ministers Accord that was originally intended to augment the Wait Times Reduction Fund (2010-2014) to support a Canada Health Access Strategy by:
(a) expanding provincial surge capacity : $500 million to be flowed immediately to provinces on a per capita basis in return for agreement to accelerate the timetable for bringing down wait times, as was promised in the recent federal election campaign;
(b) improving national coordination of wait time management: $250 million to support creation of regional and/or national referral networks, a more coordinated approach to health human resource planning, expansion of information technology solutions to wait time management and facilitation of out-of-country referrals; and
(c) establishing a Canada Health Access Fund: $250 million initial investment in an alternative patient recourse system or "safety valve" when and if clinically-indicated maximum wait time benchmarks as agreed to by provinces/territories last December are exceeded.
Addressing Shortfalls in Health Human Resources
As identified by Minister Clement in a recent speech at the "Taming of the Queue III" wait-time conference, addressing shortages in health human resources is a key element of any strategy for reducing lengthy wait-times. Unfortunately, we face serious physician shortages, starting with family physicians. The bad news is that it can take several years to educate and train the necessary professionals. The good news is that there are some strategies that can be undertaken to address the situation in the short term.
2. VISA POSITION BUYBACK FUND
One such strategy is our Visa Position Buyback proposal that would eliminate the backlog of 1,200 qualified international medical graduates (IMGs) over the next five to seven years. Currently, these qualified IMGs, who are either Canadian citizens or landed immigrants, are unable to access the necessary residency training. One existing source for training capacity exists with the positions purchased by foreign governments for visa trainees. We estimate that there are over 900 current visa trainees at all rank levels. By implementing the Visa Position Buyback program, the government is able to take an immediate step that will produce tangible results as soon as a two to four years from now. This initiative would be part of a longer term plan to fully address the shortages in health human resources and help the government meet its commitment to implement a properly functioning patient wait-time guarantee.
2a. The federal government allocate $381.6 million toward the training of up to 1,200 IMGs through to practice over the 2007/08 to 2015/16 period. Funding would be made available in two installments: an immediate investment of $240 million and the remaining $140 million subject to a satisfactory progress report at the end of five years.
Repatriate Health Professionals Working in the United States
Fortunately, another short-term source of health professionals exists that Canada should pursue. Thousands of health care professionals are currently working in the United States 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 do come back 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.
2b. The federal government should establish a secretariat within Health Canada that would provide funding to national professional associations to conduct targeted campaigns to encourage the repatriation of Canadian health professionals working in the United States, and act as a clearinghouse on issues associated with returning to Canada (e.g., citizenship, taxation, etc.).
3. PUBLIC HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE RENEWAL
The CMA remains concerned about the state of Canada's public health system. Public health, including the professionals providing public health services, constitutes our front line against a wide range of threats to the health of Canadians. While there is much talk about the arrival of possible pandemics, Canada's public health system must be ready to take on a broad range of public health issues.
The CMA has been supportive of the Naylor report which provides a blue print for action and reinvestment in the public health system for the 21st century. While this will take several years to achieve, there are some immediate steps that can be taken which will lessen the burden of disease on Canadians and our health care system. These steps include establishing a Public Health Partnership Program with provincial and territorial governments to build capacity at the local level and to advance pandemic planning. In addition, we call on the government to continue its funding of immunization programs under its National Immunization Strategy.
3a. The federal government should establish a Public Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund in the amount of $350 million annually to establish a Public Health Partnership Program with the provincial/territorial governments for the purposes of building capacity at the local level and advancing pandemic planning. In addition, the $100 million per year for immunization programs under the National Immunization Strategy should be continued.
4. A REMEDY FOR GST-RELATED DISTORTIONS IN THE HEALTH SYSTEM
The CMA and many other national health organizations are concerned about the increasing, unintended and negative consequences the GST is having on health care. For example, the 83% rebate originally provided for under the so-called "MUSH" formula is no longer tax neutral and is acting as a deterrent in some cases toward increased use of ambulatory care services such as day surgeries. Over the past 15 years the physicians of Canada have faced a large and growing unfair tax burden due to the GST. Since physicians' services are tax exempt under the law, physicians are unable to either claim input tax credits or pass on the tax because of the prohibition under the Canada Health Act of billing patients directly. This puts physicians in a unique and patently unfair catch 22 that now amounts to over $65 million per year, which further acts as a deterrent to repatriating or retaining Canadian physicians.
4a. That the federal government, in the course of reducing the GST from 7% to 5% further to its campaign commitments, remove the large and growing deterrent effects of the GST on the efficient and effective delivery of health care in Canada.
In summary, the CMA is providing you with recommendations on strategic investments to help your government honour its commitment to timely access to care and to improve the health of Canadians. Our recommendations are financially reasonable, making good use of Canadians' tax dollars.
We look forward to meeting with you on April 19 to discuss our proposals with you.
Ruth L. Collins-Nakai, MD, MBA, FRCPC, MACC
c.c. The Honourable Tony Clement, Health Minister
Review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) : CMA's Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics - December 13, 2006
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to be here today to participate in your review of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA.
The CMA has had a long-standing interest in privacy-related matters, including enhancing measures to protect and promote the privacy of health information. We welcome the opportunity to share our policies and thoughts on these vital matters.
As a pediatric oncologist from Winnipeg and Chair of the CMA's Committee on Ethics, I come here today with one bottom line: Physicians have always- and continue to - take their patients' privacy very seriously. This is the cornerstone of the special bond between patients and their doctor and has been thus since the time of Hippocrates. In recognition of the importance of privacy, the CMA has produced such documents as the CMA Code of Ethics and the CMA Health Information Privacy Code to guide our more than 64,000 members across the country. These documents existed before the federal government introduced PIPEDA.
It is out of our concern for protecting and ensuring the privacy of medical information that we speak to you today.
There are three specific areas which we would like to raise:
1) Recognition in law of the unique nature of health care;
2) Physician information as "work product"; and
3) Emerging Privacy and Health information issues.
1. Recognition in law of the unique nature of health care
I would like to highlight the importance of recognizing in law the special circumstances of protecting health information. In fact, when PIPEDA was first being debated, CMA posed questions about the scope of the Act and was told that the legislation, originally designed for commerce and the private sector, would not capture health information. We were also told that even if it did, PIPEDA wouldn't change how we practiced medicine.
The passing of PIPEDA generated enough concern and uncertainty that government agreed to delay its application to health for 3 years. For example, PIPEDA failed to clarify the issue of implied consent for the sharing of patient information between health professionals providing care.
For example, when the family physicians says to a patient "I'm going to send you to see an oncologist to run some tests" and the patient agrees and follows that course of action, then clearly there is "consent" to the sharing of their health information with others. As an oncologist I assume there is consent to send the test results to other specialists that I may need to consult in order to advance the patient's care in a timely fashion. This, however, needed to be addressed before PIPEDA was applied to health care.
The delayed application allowed the federal government and health care community to work together and develop a set of guidelines for how PIPEDA would be applied. The resulting PIPEDA Awareness Raising Tools, known as PARTs, contain a series of questions and answers that make up guidelines for health care providers. They answered many of our concerns, provided necessary definitions and allowed for the implied consent model to continue to be used within the circle of care. The CMA applauds the government for this collaborative effort and the resulting guidelines have been used by health care providers ever since.
However, we remain concerned that the PARTs guidelines have no legal status. This limitation creates a degree of uncertainty that the CMA would like this legislative review to see addressed by ensuring the PARTs series of questions and answers are referenced in PIPEDA.
In addition to participating in the PARTS initiative, since PIPEDA's implementation, the CMA has designed practical tools for physicians and patients:
* adopted the CMA policy Principles Concerning Physician Information to address the importance of protecting the privacy of physician information;
* produced Privacy in Practice: a handbook for Canadian physicians to help physicians maintain best practices in the protection of patient health information; and
* created the PRIVACYWIZARD(tm) designed to help physicians record their current privacy practices, communicate these to patients and identify possible areas for enhancement.
2. Physician Practice Information as "Work Product"
I referred earlier to CMA's Policy document on physician information. The CMA strongly believes that physicians have legitimate privacy concerns about the use by third parties of information - such as prescribing and other practice data for commercial purposes. Currently deemed "work product" this information can be collected, used and disclosed without consent.
We feel PIPEDA inadequately protects this information. We recognize that it is information generated out of the patient-physician relationship. We disagreed with findings of the previous Privacy Commissioner that physician prescribing information is not subject to PIPEDA's privacy protection provisions for "personal information". The CMA has consistently advocated that physician prescribing data and other practice information is personal information and appeared as an intervener in a Federal Court review of this issue that was ultimately settled by the main parties.
Also, insufficient regard for the privacy of prescribing and other physician data could have a negative impact on the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship. Patients confide highly sensitive information to physicians with the expectation this information will be kept in the strictest confidence. This expectation exists because they know that physicians are under ethical and regulatory dictates to safeguard their information and that physicians take this responsibilities very seriously. The perceived and indeed actual loss of control by physicians over information created in the patient encounter, such as prescribing data, could undermine the confidence and faith of our patients that we are able to safeguard their health information. This concern is not hypothetical.
For physicians, so called "work product" information also encompasses practice patterns such as discharge rates, referral rates, billing patterns, hospital length of stays, complaints, peer review results, mortality and re-admittance rates. With the advent of electronic medical records and growth in pay-for-performance and outcome-based incentive programs for physicians, there is an enormous potential for the resulting physician "performance" data or "work product" to be "mined" by other parties and used to influence performance review (traditionally the purview of the medical licensing authorities) as well as decisions around treatment funding and system planning.
The lack of transparency in the sale and compilation of physicians' prescribing and other performance data means that physicians might find themselves to be the unwitting subject and targets of marketing research. We believe practice decisions must be made in the best interest of patients and not the bottom-line interests of businesses and marketers.
CMA therefore recommends a legislative change to include physician information as personal information under PIPEDA. Legislation in Quebec provides an example that is consistent with CMA's approach since it requires regulatory oversight and gives individuals the right to opt out of the collection, use and disclosure of "professional" information.
3. Emerging Privacy and Health information issues
With budgetary and demographic pressures, our health care system is under strain and physicians are striving to deliver timely, quality care to patients, often with competing and multiple demands. Physicians are therefore seeking assurances from law makers that any amendments to PIPEDA will take into account the potential impact on them and their patients. Therefore, we seek assurances that:
* health care is recognized as unique when it comes to the disclosure of personal information before the transfer of a business (one physician transferring his/her practice to another) because it is regulated at the provincial level through the appropriate licensing body. As a general rule, physicians must give notice to the public, whether via a newspaper ad or a notice in the office about the change in practice.
* the federal government will consider the impact of the trans-border flow of personal information on telehealth and Electronic Health Record activities. Communications between patients and physicians via electronic means are likely to increase and to move across geographic boundaries with increasing frequency; and
* the federal government will study the issue of international cross border data flows, particularly among Canadian researchers who receive funding from US drug companies. These arrangements should be governed by Canadian law (PIPEDA) not American (HIPAA or the US Patriot Act).
In closing, the privacy protection of personal health information is a responsibility that my colleagues and I do not take lightly. It is a key pillar of our relationship with Canadians, they not only expect it-they deserve it. I look forward to taking questions from Committee members.
Canadian Medical Association Ottawa, December 13, 2006