This paper presents the position of the Canadian Medical Association on what physicians can do, working with others, to ensure that Canadians are prescribed the drugs that will give them the most benefit. It also makes recommendations for future action that physicians, governments and others might take to foster optimal prescribing practices.
CMA believes that optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is:
- The most clinically appropriate for the patient's condition;
- Safe and effective;
- Part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
- The most cost-effective drug available to meet the patient's needs.
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.
The CMA proposes a "prescription for optimal prescribing" that encompasses six elements, and makes the following recommendations:
A National Strategy
1) Governments at all levels should work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
Element 1: Relevant, Objective Information for Physicians
2) The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
- based on the best available scientific evidence;
-relevant to clinical practice;
- easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
3) The CMA encourages all medical educational bodies to support a comprehensive program of education in pharmaceuticals, pharmacology and optimal prescribing, at the undergraduate, residency and continuing medical education levels.
4) The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations call on governments to support and fund impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
5) The CMA calls on appropriate educational bodies to develop policies or guidelines to ensure the objectivity and impartiality of continuing medical education.
6) The CMA recommends that governments, research institutes and other stakeholders fund and conduct ongoing clinical research on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change behaviour, and allocate resources to those interventions that demonstrate the greatest effectiveness.
Element 2: Electronic Prescribing
7) The CMA, provincial/territorial medical associations and affiliates encourage governments to give active support to physicians in their transition to electronic prescribing, through a comprehensive strategy that includes financial support for acquisition of hardware and software, and dissemination of appropriate training and knowledge transfer tools.
8) The CMA calls on governments to incorporate into electronic prescribing the following principles:
- Measures to ensure patients' privacy and confidentiality, as well as confidentiality of physician prescribing information;
- A link with a formulary, to provide physicians with best practice information including drug cost data;
- Guidelines for data sharing among health professionals and others;
- Standards for electronic signature that are not overly restrictive.
Element 3: Programs by Payers
9) The CMA recommends that formularies, in both the public and private sectors, simplify administrative requirements on patients and physicians, reducing paperwork to the minimum necessary to ensure optimal patient care.
Element 4: Collaboration among Health Care Providers
10) The CMA recommends that formalized and clearly articulated collaborative arrangements be in place for practitioners who jointly manage a patient's drug therapy.
Element 5: Impartial, Evidence-based Information for Patients
11) The CMA calls on governments to fund and facilitate the development and provision of unbiased, up-to-date, practical information to consumers about prescription drugs and their appropriate use, and support physicians and pharmacists in disseminating this information to patients.
12) The CMA calls on the Government of Canada to continue to enforce the current ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada, and close the loopholes that currently allow a limited amount of drug promotion.
Element 6: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
13) The CMA calls on those who fund and produce research on drug safety and effectiveness, prescribing guidelines and programs to enhance prescribing practices, to include physicians and medical organizations meaningfully in this activity.
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the drugs that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm, at the most appropriate cost to the patient and the health care system. It is generally agreed that we have not yet achieved that ideal. But the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the physicians of Canada believe it is a goal worth striving to attain.
The CMA has a long-standing commitment to fostering high-quality health care. One of the key elements of the long-term Health Care Transformation project, in which CMA is currently involved, is ensuring that systems are in place to foster health care that is of high quality. One such system would be the active encouragement of optimal prescribing.
This paper presents the CMA's position and recommendations on what physicians can do, working with others, to ensure that Canadians are prescribed the drugs that will give them the most benefit. It looks at prescribing mainly from the perspective of the practicing physician who is seeking the most appropriate treatments for individual patients. However it also comments on the effects of prescribing on the broader health care system, both on Canadians' overall health status and on the costs of delivering health care.
2) Optimal Prescribing: CMA's Definition and Principles
a) What is Optimal Prescribing?
Prescribing is not an exact science; the choice of a particular drug to treat a particular patient depends on that patient's unique circumstances. CMA's proposed definition and principles for optimal prescribing is as follows:
Optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is
- the most clinically appropriate drug for the patient's condition;
- safe and effective;
- part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
- the most cost-effective drug available to best meet the patient's needs.
b) Principles for Optimal Prescribing
CMA believes that in an optimal prescribing environment, the following principles should apply:
Principles for Optimal Prescribing
1) The primary goal of prescribing should be to improve or maintain the health of the patient.
2) Prescribing should take place in the context of overall patient care which involves diagnosis of the condition, other forms of treatment including rehabilitation, counselling and lifestyle adjustments, ongoing monitoring and re-evaluation of the patient's condition and treatment to make sure the patient is responding appropriately, ensuring patient adherence to medication regimen, and discontinuation of drug treatment when it is no longer needed.
3) Patients should be actively involved in decisions regarding their drug treatment; for this, useful and practical patient information is required.
4) Prescribing decisions should be based on the best available scientific evidence, which is continually evaluated and updated as need arises.
5) Physicians should retain clinical autonomy in deciding which drugs to prescribe.
6) Prescribing decisions should take into account the cost to the patient, and strive to achieve cost-effectiveness as long as this does not conflict with the goal of optimal patient care.
7) Physicians should be updated on new developments in pharmacotherapy, through an ongoing process of relevant, objective continuing education.
8) Health professionals should take a leadership role in developing and evaluating strategies and tools to enhance best practices in prescribing. Though these principles may also apply to the optimal use of medical devices, prescription drugs are the primary focus of the paper.
3 Why Optimal Prescribing is Important
Prescription drugs are an increasingly important part of patient care in Canada. Fifty years ago, they were used mainly for short periods of time to treat acute conditions, and their contribution to overall health care costs was small. But in 2005, Canadians received 14 prescriptions per capita; that number rose to 74 for people 80 years and over.i Many Canadians now take prescription drugs over the long term to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis or high cholesterol.
Increased drug utilization, and the high prices of many new drug therapies, have increased the cost of prescription drugs to Canadians and to the health care system. In 2008 Canadians spent about $25.4 billion on prescription drugs. This, in constant dollars, is roughly triple what was spent in 1985.ii Together, prescription and over-the-counter drugs consume a larger portion of overall costs than do physicians' services; in fact, only hospitals consume a larger share.
In many cases prescription drugs have reduced reliance on hospitalization and surgical procedures. For example, over the past decades drugs to treat peptic ulcer disease have changed its treatment profile from one based mainly on surgery to a largely medical one. On the other hand, patients may take certain medications or classes of medications for many years, and this long-term use may have health consequences that are currently unknown.
As their role in health care increases, there is increasing public scrutiny over whether the prescription drugs Canadians use are safe and effective, whether they give good value for money, and whether they are being prescribed and taken optimally for maximum patient benefit.
As mentioned before, prescribing is not an exact science; what in some cases might be considered "suboptimal" is in other cases quite appropriate. In most instances, drugs are prescribed appropriately. However, evidence suggests that in some areas there is room for improvement. Prescribers can enhance patient care and improve Canadians' health by adopting strategies such as the following:
- Reducing overprescribing of certain drugs. For example, overuse of antibiotics is a worldwide concerniii since it may hasten the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby reducing the physician's therapeutic arsenal.
- Reducing underprescribing of certain drugs. A study of primary care practices in Ontario found that while 14% of adult patients had dyslipidemia, 63.2 % were untreated and, of those treated, 47.2% were not adequately controlled .iv
- Prescribing drugs according to generally accepted clinical practice guidelines to ensure that first-line drugs are used where indicated. Second-line therapies are frequently newer and less established than first-line ones, and are thus more likely to have unidentified safety risks.
- Ensuring that drugs are prescribed and taken safely, to reduce the harm caused by adverse interactions with other drugs, natural health products, alcohol or other agents in the patient's system.
Activities in support of the above strategies should be included in any program or initiative aimed at improving health care in Canada. CMA believes they will contribute to Canadians' overall health status, and may have the additional benefit of reducing health care costs if the prescribed drugs are the most cost-effective available to appropriately treat patients' conditions.
4) Many Factors Affect Prescribing
Prescribing does not occur in a vacuum, but is the result of a number of factors that influence physicians. It may be questioned whether these factors provide the necessary support to physicians as they seek to prescribe optimally. Some of these influences are discussed below:
a) The Challenge Of Acquiring Information
Our knowledge of prescription drugs and their effects is continually being updated, and physicians are required to absorb new information throughout their careers. But are physicians receiving the information they most need, in such a way that they can easily and painlessly incorporate it into their practices? CMA's answer is: there is room for improvement. The major information sources available to physicians are discussed below:
i) Physician Education
Medical school and residency training - Medical schools vary in how they discuss pharmacological issues, and critics have questioned whether Canada's current medical school curriculum is training future physicians adequately in the art and science of prescribing.v In some cases, pharmacotherapy is taught in the context of each individual body system - cardiac, renal, etc. - rather than as a discrete subject. With this approach, some valuable unifying elements of pharmacology may go untaught.
Continuing medical education (CME) - For physicians, CME is an important source of information on new drugs and new indications for existing drugs. But is it imparting the most necessary or appropriate information? Concerns have been raised as to its impartiality; it is estimated that pharmaceutical industry sponsorship accounts for 65% of the total revenue of CME programs in the U.S. and the figure is assumed to be much the same in Canada.vi
ii) Point-of-care information
With increasingly heavy patient loads, the time at physicians' disposal for research is limited. Often new information is required at the point of care; for example, in the examination room during a patient encounter, when the physician requires an answer quickly. The clinical practice guidelines and point of care reference guides in common use may not be readily accessible in a concise, user-friendly format when needed. In addition, it is of concern that some experts who develop practice guidelines have ties to pharmaceutical manufacturers, which could affect the guidelines' impartiality.
To compound the problem, widely used sources of information may not be giving physicians the material they most need. Physicians often receive new safety information, such as warnings of recently discovered drug risks, in the form of advisories from Health Canada or elsewhere. These advisories may not provide physicians with prescribing advice, or information about other treatment options if the drug is considered too dangerous for use.
iii) Drug promotion and marketing
Much of physicians' information about drugs and prescribing comes from the pharmaceutical industry representatives who visit them in their offices. Drugs promoted in this manner tend to be newer; consequently they are often more expensive than established medications and less is known about their efficacy and possible side effects. Drug promotion might help instil in some physicians' minds the perception that when it comes to medication, "new" equals "better," when this is not always the case.
Industry marketing also comes in more subtle forms, such as:
- Free drug samples provided to physicians; since samples tend to be mainly for new drugs, it has been suggested that they encourage these drugs' use at the expense of possibly cheaper and safer alternatives.
- Collection, by commercial data management companies, of information on physicians' prescribing patterns , which is then sold to pharmaceutical companies to help tailor sales messages to individual physicians.
- Manipulation of the medical publication process, through: design of clinical trials so as to get the most positive results; selective publication of clinical trial results; or "ghostwriting" of scholarly research articles by pharmaceutical industry contractors.vii
b) Patient education and participation
When considering a patient's drug therapy, the physician must consider the possible effect of the patient's behaviour on treatment. A patient may require counselling on the impact of natural health products, alcohol and other substances when mixed with their prescribed medications; on the importance of adherence to the prescribed treatment; or on the need for changes in behaviour (improved diet, increased physical activity) to augment the medication's benefits. This requires open and honest dialogue between patient and physician.
Patient knowledge and preferences can influence both over- and under-prescribing. Some patients may not feel that they have been "treated" unless they leave the doctor's office with a prescription. A physician may prescribe a drug if a patient requests it, despite feeling ambivalent about the choice of treatment.viii On the other hand, a physician may not prescribe a needed medication because a patient insists he or she does not want to be "on drugs."
The pharmaceutical industry directs promotional activities at patients as well as physicians. Though direct-to consumer advertising (DTCA) or prescription drugs is technically illegal in Canada, loopholes in the law permit a limited amount of Canadian-based drug promotion, and drug ads are often beamed across the border from the United States, one of only two countries (the other being New Zealand) where DTCA is legal. DTCA has a strong influence on patient behaviour; according to one survey by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, 27% of people who saw prescription drug advertisements, requested and received these drugs from their physicians.ix DTCA has been widely criticized for overstating drugs' benefits, playing down their risks, and contributing to a "pill for every ill" mindset and the "medicalization" of conditions that could be more appropriately managed by lifestyle changes or other non-drug therapies.
In addition, the pharmaceutical industry can exert indirect influence on patient attitudes through funding of patient advocacy groups and disease-specific web sites.
A patient's social context may also motivate a physician to prescribe a drug that may not be clinically indicated. For example, an antipsychotic may be prescribed to calm a patient with dementia, not so much for the patient's benefit as for that of tired and stressed-out caregivers, despite growing evidence of the drugs' health and safety risks and lack of efficacyx. Ideally, prescribing recommendations and guidelines should take into account the broader context in which a drug is prescribed.
c) Drug cost and coverage
The physician's prescribing of a drug and the patient's purchase of it are separate and unconnected acts. As a result, physicians may not have access to reliable, convenient information on drug costs; or if they do, they may have little reason to use this information if the patient has insurance coverage. However, rising drug prices, and the increased use of drug therapy, may require them to take cost into consideration more often.
Provincial and territorial governments, and increasingly, private insurers as well, can influence physician and patient choice of drugs by restricting what medications are covered on their formularies. In addition, many payers have programs to encourage the prescribing of certain drugs such as generics. If, as not infrequently happens, a patient's condition requires a drug not on the formulary, obtaining coverage for this drug requires time-consuming paperwork. The administrative burden this imposes can be a barrier to optimal prescribing.
d) The policy context
Canadian decision makers have already recognized that action on prescribing is needed. One of the original nine elements of the federal/provincial/territorial National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), announced in 2004, was "Enhance action to influence the prescribing behaviour of health care professionals so that drugs are used only when needed and the right drug is used for the right problem." However, this was not considered a priority, and the entire NPS is now dormant.
In 2009, the Health Council of Canada recommended that optimal prescribing be a priority element in a revived pharmaceutical strategy, noting the need for easily accessible, evidence-based information on the proper use and risks of each medication, and for national co-ordination of efforts toward improved prescribing.xi
5. The CMA's Prescription
The previous sections have described the problems that currently exist with prescribing in Canada, and factors that contribute to these problems. In this section the CMA discusses what can be done to make prescribing optimal. Even as a variety of factors influence prescribing, so a variety of elements can contribute to optimizing it.
What should be done to encourage optimal prescribing in Canada? The CMA believes that optimal prescribing should be addressed through the development and implementation of a national strategy comprising the six elements discussed in the following pages:
Governments at all levels should work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
Element 1: Relevant, Objective Information for Prescribers
As our knowledge base on prescription drugs expands, it is communicated to physicians by many different means. The CMA believes it is possible to improve these communications and make them more relevant and useful to prescribing physicians.
The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
o based on the best available scientific evidence
o relevant to clinical practice
o easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
a) Undergraduate medical education and residency training
A basic grounding in pharmacology is a vital part of undergraduate medical education. Appendix 1, which was taken from a 2009 report prepared by Britain's Royal College of Physicians, contains a specific proposal for a core undergraduate curriculum in therapeutics.
Basic education in pharmacology should, among other things, help prepare future physicians for the challenge of maintaining their knowledge base in practice. The academic community has a role to play, during undergraduate training and residency, in providing impartial advice on pharmaceutical matters, and ensuring that students and residents can appraise drug research and prescribing guidance critically.
The CMA encourages all medical educational bodies to support a comprehensive program of education in pharmaceuticals, pharmacology and optimal prescribing, at the undergraduate, residency and continuing medical education levels.
b) Continuing medical education (CME)
Traditionally, CME meant face-to-face seminars or conferences; however, studies are demonstrating that Internet-based learning is as effective as face-to-face CME.xii Developers and practitioners are increasingly looking at delivering CME online. Of particular promise are formats that deliver information electronically in short, summary bullet points, presenting the most pertinent information on a single screen where feasible.
As mentioned before, a large proportion of CME is sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Like pharmaceutical detailing, industry-sponsored CME might steer physicians toward newer drugs which may not be first-line therapies, and which are often less thoroughly evaluated and more expensive than established treatments. Therefore, in order that physicians can be assured of receiving objective information, there is an urgent need for objective funding sources for CME, that are as distant as possible from potential sources of bias.
The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations call on governments to support and fund objective and impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
The CMA calls on appropriate educational bodies to develop policies or guidelines to ensure the objectivity of continuing medical education.
CMA's Guidelines for Physicians in Interaction with Industry (2007) proposes ways in which physicians, medical associations and medical educational bodies can minimize bias when collaborating with industry on CME and continuing professional development programs.
c) New Forms of Education
Besides formal CME, there are many ways of conveying information to physicians with the intent of influencing prescribing behaviour. One promising intervention is academic detailing, in which trained physicians or pharmacists use the personalized, one-on-one techniques employed by pharmaceutical detailers to encourage adoption of a desired behaviour (e.g., prescribing of a particular drug or treatment regimen) rather than specific drugs, to counterbalance marketing by pharmaceutical representatives. Academic detailing has demonstrated some success. Because it is expensive and labour intensive, it has often been difficult to persuade governments to invest in it. However, a growing number of provinces have developed, or are considering, academic detailing programs.
Another promising intervention is physician self-directed learning. In Alberta two medical schools are preparing to perform an analysis of physicians' perceived and unperceived learning needs with the intention of developing individualized learning programs to address the needs of physicians in their practices.
The effectiveness of various learning programs in changing behaviour is being studied on an ongoing basisxiii, through means such as the Rx for Change database, a collaborative effort between two Cochrane Collaboration groups and the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. This database summarizes current research evidence, regularly updated, about the effects of strategies to improve drug prescribing practice and drug use.
Because different physicians have different needs, goals and styles of learning, multiple formats are required to address them. Though one intervention in and of itself may not produce widespread, immediate or dramatic changes in behaviour, the cumulative effect of multiple messages over time can be very strong.
The CMA recommends that governments, research institutes and other stakeholders fund and conduct ongoing research on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change clinical behaviour, and allocate resources to those interventions that demonstrate the greatest effectiveness.
d) Point-of-care information
In addition to formal education programs, information on pharmaceuticals and prescribing is also available to physicians at the point of care. Physicians' preference is for brief summaries of key points, which can be absorbed quickly and be accessed at point of care through hand-held personal digital assistants (PDA's) or, increasingly, through electronic health and prescription records.
Drug information compendia are available in electronic and print format. For example, cma.ca provides information about prescription drugs through a program called Lexi-Drugs Online. e-Therapeutics+, developed by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, is another online resource for prescribing and managing drug therapy at the point of care.
Online programs are also available that monitor physicians' prescribing habits and compare them to those of their peers. Such programs are to be encouraged if their purpose is to educate rather than to enforce a certain behaviour. However, they will require additional investment, particularly in information technology and software development.
Element 2: Electronic Prescribing
Electronic prescribing has the potential to dramatically improve drug therapy. For example an effective e-prescribing system has the potential to:
- list all the drugs a patient is taking. It could also identify duplicate prescriptions for the same drug from different providers, thus helping to reduce prescription fraud and prescription drug abuse;
- provide decision-support tools; for example, a warning could appear on the screen if the physician proposes to prescribe a drug that interacts harmfully with another the patient is already taking. This decision support should ideally be updated in real time so the physician has access to the most current information.
- Enable the improvement of patient adherence to drug therapy, perhaps by generating reminders to patients to refill and take prescriptions.
- Transmit prescriptions to pharmacies electronically, increasing convenience for the patient and eliminating a major cause of medication errors, illegible handwriting.
- Automatically link to a formulary to enable the prescriber to see whether the patient's insurer has approved the medication, or to find the lowest-cost drug in a class. Two-way electronic communication with formulary managers may also help reduce some of the administrative paperwork which is a barrier to optimal prescribing.
- Automatically notify physicians of drug shortages, recalls or other urgent situations.
In the U.S., e-prescribing is being actively encouraged. Since January 2009, the American Medicare system provides financial incentives for its physicians who adopt e-prescribing. In Canada adoption has been slow;xiv it is estimated that fewer than 10% of physicians e-prescribe. This may be due partly to the expense, and partly because of issues which remain to be addressed, such as:
- How do we assure that the confidentiality of patients' health information, and of physicians' prescribing information, is protected?
- What information should be shared with other health professionals?
- What legally constitutes a "signature," or other means of authenticating a prescription?
- Can we ensure that pharmacies as well as physicians' offices are equipped to receive electronic prescriptions?
- Can we ensure that e-prescribing software is designed so as to be practical and user-friendly for physicians; for example, that pop-up warnings contain the most important and relevant information?
- Can we ensure that e-prescribing protocols simplify a physician's workload rather than adding to it - for example, that they eliminate duplication of prescription writing?
E-prescribing is in its early stages, and knowledge and policy in this area are developing rapidly. CMA will continue to study the issue in the coming years.
Several provinces maintain electronic prescription databases and others are in development. For example, BC PharmNet provides drug-to-drug interaction checking and patient medication profiles to pharmacists, emergency rooms and physicians with controlled access. In most provinces and territories, medical associations are working with governments on standards to implement e-prescribing.
The CMA, provincial/territorial medical associations and affiliates encourage governments to give active support to physicians in their transition to electronic prescribing, through a comprehensive strategy that includes financial support for acquisition of hardware and software, and dissemination of appropriate training and knowledge transfer tools.
The CMA calls on governments to incorporate into electronic prescribing the following principles:
- measures to ensure patients' privacy and confidentiality, as well as confidentiality of physician prescribing information
- a link with a formulary, to provide physicians with best practice information including drug cost data
- guidelines for data sharing among health professionals and others
- standards for electronic signature that are not overly restrictive.
Element 3: Programs by Payers
Government drug plans and, increasingly, private insurance companies, have instituted programs to encourage prescription of certain drugs. Such programs, which are often motivated by the desire to control rising drug costs, can include the following:
There are 18 public drug formularies in Canada managed by federal or provincial/territorial governments. These formularies often use various means to help control drug costs. For example, if a generic drug is available to treat a given condition, a payer may reimburse patients only for the generic rather than for brand-name equivalents. Or if several related drugs exist in the same class, a formulary could reimburse only for the lowest-priced drug in that class, as British Columbia's reference-based drug pricing (RDP) program does for five drug categories that contain several drugs with equal efficacy; if patients want to purchase a higher-priced drug they must pay the difference out of pocket. Such programs are not confined to Canada; Britain's National Health Services funds specific treatments only if recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) which assesses new drugs for efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Under New Zealand's PHARMAC system the government reimburses only for one drug in each class.
A formulary's cost-control objectives can sometimes conflict with the goal of physician and patient to obtain the care they believe will be most optimal. For example, formulary rules limiting the length of chronic prescriptions can make it difficult for physicians to prescribe over the long term to patients who manage their conditions well. It is important that formulary rules be based on the best available scientific evidence. The ideal formulary will be designed to improve clinical care, optimize patients' health outcomes, promote patient safety, and reduce the administrative burden on the physician.
The CMA recommends that formularies, in both the public and private sectors, simplify administrative requirements on patients and physicians, reducing paperwork to the minimum necessary to ensure optimal patient care.
b) Prescribing incentives
Sometimes, payers may provide incentives such as reward payments for physicians who prescribe in a desired way (for example, who prescribe more than a certain percentage of a given drug class as generics), or impose a financial penalty for physicians who do not exhibit the desired behaviour. Financial incentives to physicians to provide preventive care services have been used effectively but their effect on prescribing practices is only beginning to be evaluated. A study of U.K. prescribing incentive schemes concluded that reward payments may have contributed to cost control, but their effect on prescribing quality remained uncertain. xv
CMA's ongoing Health Care Transformation initiative will provide decision makers with blueprint for a high-performing, patient-centered health care system. Among its other activities over the next few years, this initiative will be examining in greater detail the effect of pay-for-performance schemes on the quality of care in Canada.
Element 4: Collaboration Among Health Care Providers
No health professional is an island. Increasingly health care providers are working in collaborative teams to manage drug therapy and other forms of patient care. In such teams, for example, pharmacists may perform a variety of functions, such as reviewing patients' medication profiles to catch medication related problems such as inappropriate dosing, duplicate or unnecessary therapies; or managing long-term drug therapy for patients with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
At their most effective, such collaborative arrangements could greatly improve drug therapy, and patient care in general, by allowing the team to draw on a common pool of expertise. However, if improperly implemented, they could lead to breakdown of communication and fragmentation of care.
To ensure that collaborative management of a patient's drug therapy functions smoothly, it is important that clearly articulated arrangements be in place. CMA's position statement Achieving Patient-Centered Collaborative Care (2007), includes the following principles:
- Patient-centered care. Patient care (including drug therapy) must be aligned around the values and needs of the patient.
- Clear communication. Effective communication is essential to ensure safe and coordinated drug therapy and to ensure that the patient is receiving timely, clear and consistent messaging. For example, if a physician and pharmacist are both managing and monitoring a patient with asthma, it is essential that they notify each other if a change is made to a prescription, such as a new drug or a new dosage. Electronic health records have the potential to greatly improve communication among providers.
- Clinical leader. CMA's position statement defines a clinical leader as "the individual who, based on his or her training, competency and experience, is best able to synthesize and interpret the evidence and data provided by the patient and the team, make a differential diagnosis and deliver comprehensive care for the patient." In most cases the physician, by virtue of training, knowledge, background and patient relationship, is best positioned to assume this role.
The CMA recommends that formalized and clearly articulated collaborative arrangements be in place for practitioners who jointly manage a patient's drug therapy.
The CMA, recognizing the need for and value of collaboration in the management of drug therapy, will continue to explore and encourage the most effective models for collaborative practice among health professionals.
Element 5: Impartial, Evidence-based Information for Patients
Canadians have the right to accurate, reliable information on prescription drugs and their uses, so that they can become knowledgeable partners in their care.
A good deal of information is already available to patients, and there are ways in which it could be improved and made more accessible and relevant. One way would be to improve its clarity and readability, to address the needs of the estimated 6 in 10 Canadians who lack the health literacy necessary to properly manage their health and engage in preventive practices.xvi
Another way would be to provide more information from impartial sources, to reduce the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising. The CMA believes that in general, brand specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing drug information, and that the laws currently banning direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada should remain in effect, and tightened to eliminate existing loopholes.
Physicians and other health care providers can also play an important role in providing patients with guidance and with accurate information on the medications they take. CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association have collaborated with Canada's Research-based Drug Companies (Rx&D) to produce a pamphlet called "Knowledge is the Best Medicine" which provides consumers with advice on safe medication use, and guidance on how to interact effectively with their physician or pharmacist.
The CMA calls on governments to fund and facilitate the development and provision of unbiased, up-to-date, practical information to consumers on prescription drugs and their appropriate use, and support physicians and pharmacists in disseminating this information to their patients.
The CMA calls on the Government of Canada to continue to enforce the current ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada, and close the loopholes that currently allow a limited amount of drug promotion.
Element 6: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
Drug development is an ongoing process, and the evaluation of drugs and their prescribing should be ongoing as well.
Canada already supports a certain amount of research activity in this area. For example, Health Canada funds the Canadian Optimal Medication Prescribing and Utilization Service (COMPUS), a collaborative, pan-Canadian service to identify and promote optimal drug therapy.
COMPUS collects and evaluates relevant existing evidence, and provides advice, tools, and strategies to implement and support the adoption of optimal drug therapy. COMPUS has produced, or is producing, evidence-based recommendations for prescribing proton pump inhibitors and drugs for diabetes management. COMPUS has established links to university-based providers of CME, and with academic detailing groups, who help to disseminate its recommendations and materials. It also manages the Rx for Change database previously mentioned.
The federal government has recently established and funded a national Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network. This network will link researchers to help coordinate and fund independent research on the risks and benefits of drugs that are on the market. We hope that this signifies a long-term commitment on the country's part to optimal drug therapy.
CMA believes Canada should build on this activity by encouraging research on an ongoing basis on:
- prescribing guidelines and what drugs work best for which conditions
- dissemination of prescribing information - what interventions most effectively influence practice?
- effect of changes in prescribing on patient health outcomes, and on utilization of health services;
- the safety and effectiveness of drugs, building on what currently exists (such as Health Canada's system for reporting adverse drug reactions and communicating drug safety advisories), so that information derived from post-market surveillance quickly reaches health care providers and patients and becomes part of our body of knowledge.
Since the great majority of prescriptions in Canada are written by physicians, it is essential that the medical community participate actively in evaluation of prescribing practices, and disseminating and implementing the results of research.
The CMA calls on those who fund and produce research on drug safety and effectiveness, prescribing guidelines and programs to enhance prescribing practices, to include physicians and medical organizations meaningfully in this activity.
It is likely that drug therapy will continue to increase in importance as a component of patient care and that it will continue to become more complex and, in many cases, more costly. As a result, we expect that health professionals and the Canadian public will continue to need readily available and up-to-date information on prescription drugs: the availability of new products; the results of safety and effectiveness studies; and advice on how to prescribe and take these medications for the best health outcome. It is also likely that electronic prescribing systems, formularies and other monitoring methods will continue to be developed, and that these will influence physicians' prescribing habits.
To deliver evidence-based prescribing information effectively, and encourage its smooth incorporation into clinical practice, Canada needs a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary strategy in which physicians and other health care providers, governments, patients, industry and other stakeholders work together to encourage and support optimal prescribing, in the interest of achieving the best possible health for Canadians with the most effective use of resources.
The CMA is ready to join with others in developing and implementing such a strategy, in the hope that eventually, all patients will receive the prescription drugs they need, when they need them.
A core undergraduate curriculum for prescribers in therapeutics
Core knowledge and understanding
Monitoring drug therapy
Adverse drug reactions
Prescribing for patients with special requirements (e.g., the elderly, children, women of childbearing potential, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and patients with renal or liver disease)
Legal aspects of prescribing drugs
Developing new drugs
Ethics of prescribing
Commonly used drugs
Common therapeutic problems
Complementary and alternative medicine
Integration of therapeutics into understanding of disease management.
Taking a drug history
Prescribing drugs in special groups
Prescribing drugs to relieve pain and distress
Adverse drug reactions and interactions
Monitoring drug therapy
Analysing new evidence
Obtaining accurate objective information to support safe and effective prescribing
Obtaining informed consent to treatment
A rational approach to prescribing and therapeutics
Recognizing the responsibilities of a physician as part of the prescribing community
Recognizing personal limitations in knowledge
Responding to the future
SOURCE: Maxwell S, Walley T. Teaching safe and effective prescribing in UK medical schools: a core curriculum for tomorrow's doctors. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2003;55:496-503.100. Cited in Innovating For Health: Patients, physicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS. A report from the Royal College of Physicians (UK) February 2009
i Metge C, Sketris I. "Pharmaceutical Policy." In MacKinnon NJ, ed. Safe and Effective: the Eight Essential Elements of an Optimal Medication Use System. Canadian Pharmacists Association, 2007.
ii Canadian Institute for Health Information. Drug Expenditure in Canada, 1985 to 2009. Released April 2010. Accessed at https://secure.cihi.ca/estore/productFamily.htm?locale=en&pf=PFC1428&lang=en&media=0.
iii Wang E, Einarson T, Kellner J, Conly. Antibiotic prescribing for Canadian preschool children: evidence of overprescribing for viral respiratory infections. Clin Infect Dis. 1999; 29(1):155-60.
iv Petrella R, Merikle E, Jones J. Prevalence and treatment of dyslipidemia in Canadian primary care: a retrospective cohort analysis. Clin Ther. 2007; 29(4):742-50.
v Dr. Jean Gray, speaking at the Health Council of Canada symposium, "Safe and Sound: Optimizing Prescribing Behaviours"; Montreal, June 2007
vi Steinman MA, Baron RB. Is continuing medical education a drug promotion tool? Yes. Can Fam Phys 2007: 53(10); 1650-53.
vii Angell M. Industry-sponsored clinical research: a broken system. JAMA 2008: 300 (Sept. 3); 1069-1071.
viii Mintzes B, Barer ML, Kravitz RL et al. Influence of direct to consumer pharmaceutical advertising and patients' requests on prescribing decisions: a two-site cross-sectional survey. BMJ 2002; 324 (2 February): 278-279.
ix "Should Canada allow direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs?" (Debate) Can Fam PhysicianVol. 55, No. 2, February 2009, pp.130 - 133.
x Valiyeva E, Herrmann M, Rochon PA. Effect of regulatory warnings on antipsychotic prescription rates among elderly patients with dementia: a population-based time series analysis. Can Med Assoc J 2008; 179(5) doi 10.1503.
xi Health Council of Canada. "A commentary on The National Pharmaceuticals Strategy: a Prescription Unfilled." (January 2009)
xii Cook DA, Levinson AJ, Garside S et al. Internet-based learning in the health professions: a meta-analysis. JAMA 2008; 300 (10): 1181-1196.
xiii Rx for Change database; accessed at http://www.acmts.ca/index.php/en/compus/optimal-ther-resources/interventions.
xiv Canadian Medical Association. "Information technology and health care in Canada: 2008 status report."
xv Ashworth M, Lee R, Gray H et al. How are primary care organizations using financial incentives to influence prescribing? J Public Health 2004: 26(1); doi: 10.1093.
xvi Canadian Council on Learning. Health literacy in Canada: initial results from the International Adult Literacy and Health Skills Survey (September 2007). Accessed at http://www.ccl-cca.ca/ccl/Reports/HealthLiteracy/HealthLiteracy2007.html.
The Role of Physicians in Recognizing and Supporting
Treatment of Gambling Addiction
(Update November 2005)
Gambling is a common activity in our society. For a small percentage, this behaviour can become pathological, affecting the well-being of gamblers as well as their families and workplaces. This disorder has been described in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" Fourth Edition, (DSM IV) and is recognized as an illness by physicians.
Physicians have a role in identifying pathological gambling behaviour and being aware of the resources that exist to treat and support addicted individuals and their families. To assist them in performing this role, the CMA makes the following recommendations:
* The CMA supports the development of core curricula in gambling disorders to be offered at undergraduate and post-graduate levels and through CME programs. These could include inter-professional or interdisciplinary curricula developed in partnership with other health professionals.
* The CMA supports the development and dissemination of resources to help practising physicians screen patients to identify those with gambling addiction and to provide appropriate treatment.
* Governments should ensure the timely availability of quality treatment services appropriate to the age, culture and background of client groups.
* The CMA encourages research into gambling addiction, which could include:
identifying the biological basis for gambling;
identifying best-practice interventions to reduce the prevalence of problem gambling;
measuring the social and economic impacts of gambling on individuals and communities; and
dispelling the myths surrounding gambling addiction.
* Governments and others should work together to implement educational and policy strategies to reduce the prevalence of problem gambling. These could include:
elementary school programs to help prevent pathological gambling disorders;
limiting the number of gambling establishments, particularly video lottery terminals (VLTs) and casinos;
placing age limits on accessibility to VLTs so that children and adolescents are restricted from their use; and
promoting lower risk gambling approaches for primary prevention and harm reduction such as gambling only with a predetermined loss limit and not gambling alone.
FETAL ALCOHOL SPECTRUM DISORDER (UPDATE 2009)
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a leading cause of environment-related birth defects and developmental disabilities in North America. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the prudent choice for women who are or may become pregnant is to abstain from alcohol, and encourages their partners to support them in this endeavour. The CMA urges Canadian governments to enact legislation that requires alcoholic beverages sold in Canada to be labelled with warnings of the hazards of consuming alcohol during pregnancy. The CMA also calls upon the federal government to examine the role that advertising plays in promoting the consumption of alcoholic beverages and to review existing policies and regulations in this area.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term used to describe the range of disabilities and diagnoses that result from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. It is estimated that more than 3,000 babies in Canada are born with FASD every year.
Those who live with FASD may have mild to very severe problems with their health. They may have delays in their development, intellectual problems and problems in their social lives. Examples of these include:
* skeletal abnormalities such as facial deformities
* physical disabilities such as kidney and internal organ problems
* depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder
* difficulty understanding the consequences of their actions
These disabilities are lifelong and those affected may need lifelong support.
The drinking patterns of teenagers and the potential for women of reproductive age to consume alcohol mean that the health care system must actively address the prevention of FASD. Also, alcohol use may play a considerable role in unplanned pregnancy and inadequate prenatal and postnatal care.
The CMA strongly supports all activities that encourage Canadians to moderate their alcohol consumption. The association encourages the public to be aware of the issues related to alcohol consumption, particularly the adverse effects on the fetus.
In a continued effort to support the reduction of alcohol consumption, the CMA urges Canadian governments to enact legislation that requires alcoholic beverages sold in Canada to be labelled with warnings of the hazards of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.1 Appropriate agencies should also adopt regulations and/or policies to ensure that warnings about the adverse interaction between alcohol and both prescription and non-prescription products are prominently displayed or distributed wherever alcohol and drugs are sold or dispensed.2 The CMA also calls upon the federal government to examine the role that advertising plays in promoting the consumption of alcoholic beverages and to review existing policies and regulations in this area.
The adverse effects of alcohol consumption by pregnant women are preventable. The CMA believes that the prudent choice for women who are or may become pregnant is to abstain from alcohol and encourages their partners to support them in this endeavour. Physicians should use appropriate screening methods to identify alcohol use in their patients. Physicians can play a leading role in educating and counselling women, spouses and family members about the dangers of alcohol to the fetus. The CMA also recommends that alcohol and drug addiction treatment services give high priority to the needs of pregnant women seeking help.
1 General Council resolution 89-67: That the Canadian Medical Association urge Governments in Canada to enact legislation requiring that all alcoholic beverages sold in Canada be labelled with warnings on the hazard from the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. Note: this motion was rescinded because it was superseded by the Policy on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (2000).
2 General Council resolution 87-31
Health, health care and the environment are linked inextricably. Environmental contaminants have been associated with compromised health status, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular illness, gastrointestinal ailments and death - and an increased demand for a range of health care services.
The health sector is a significant part of Canada's economy, contributing approximately 10% of gross domestic product (GDP). Thus, the sector uses considerable energy, consumes large quantities of plastics, paper and other resources, and produces significant solid, liquid and gaseous waste. With the improvement of health care technologies and a growing awareness of environmentally responsible practices, there is an increased opportunity for reducing the health sector's environmental footprint. Although there are important health, financial and ethical reasons for adopting such practices in the health sector, a number of challenges exist, including financial, technical and administrative challenges.
We envision the health sector as a leader in integrating environmentally responsible practices into the delivery of health care. We also see it as an advocate in sharing information on best practices and encouraging Canadians and Canadian organizations to limit their environmental footprint. In a green health sector, minimizing negative impact on the environment would be a priority for all organizations and individuals in their day-to-day practices and at all levels of decision-making.
A collaborative approach
Achieving our vision requires a collaborative approach to delivering environmentally responsible health care. For example:1
Greener health infrastructure
* support investment in renewing physical plant infrastructure that allows for the retrofit of facilities that function more efficiently, use cleaner technologies and meet new environmental standards for energy efficiency, water management and waste management
* educate staff and the public on the link between health and the environment and on the health impact of environmental degradation, and help in the development, dissemination and implementation of knowledge and best practices
* support and encourage research on health and the environment, and on environmentally responsible practices in a variety of health care settings
* implement energy-conserving techniques and products
* request rationalized packaging and other environmentally responsible actions from vendors of health care products
* promote safer substitutes to reduce exposure to toxic substances
* reduce waste by reusing and recycling when possible
* practise safe disposal practices for biomedical and infectious waste, outdated medications, and polyvinyl plastics, mercury and other toxic substances
* establish green teams to support the practice of ecologic stewardship
We recognize that our efforts to achieve a greener health sector must fit into broader societal and global actions to improve the environment. The health sector plays a role in supporting the efforts of all Canadians to find environmentally responsible ways to perform their daily activities by contributing to the management of global environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions and toxic waste disposal.
Calls to Action
We call on governments and policymakers at all levels to understand and address links between health and the environment and to incorporate these links into policy decisions through legislative and budgetary actions.
We call on all health care organizations to pledge to minimize the negative impact of their activity on the environment and to seek solutions to existing barriers.
We call on individuals working in the health sector to both model and advocate for environmentally responsible approaches to delivering health care without compromising patient safety and care.
Association of Canadian Academic Healthcare Organizations
Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care
Canadian College of Health Service Executives
Canadian Dental Association
Canadian Healthcare Association
Canadian Medical Association
Canadian Nurses Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Public Health Association
David Suzuki Foundation
Developed by a working group of the above organizations
1 Canadian Nurses Association/Canadian Medical Association. Joint position statement: Environmentally responsible activity in the health care sector. Ottawa. 2009
A physician's assessment and signature on a third-party form have a value that reflects the physician's formal education and training as well as his/her professional experience. Similar to the signatures of other professionals, a physician's signature carries certain responsibilities and a commitment that the information provided is accurate and based on objective data and the patient's medical history. This value needs to be formally recognized and appropriately used. Most third parties have historically relied on the goodwill of physicians to complete their forms free of charge. However, the steady rise of third-party form requests (see Appendix A) and the cumulative time that form completion takes away from direct patient care necessitates a more reasonable approach to form requests and fair remuneration for the physicians' time and expertise.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This document provides guidance for physicians, patients and organizations that request third-party forms1 subject to federal/provincial/territorial legislation and regulations. Several strategies aimed at reducing the administrative burden of third-party forms are recommended to allow more time for direct patient care.2
The physician's role
* The physician has a well-defined and limited role in form completion - to only provide objective information on physical and/or psychological impairments and abilities, limitations and restrictions, time frames and prognosis from the medical record directly required by the third party for the purpose of administering particular programs or benefits. Questions on forms directed to physicians should be restricted to seeking such information.
* A physician has a duty to ensure that he/she has properly completed the form (i.e., he/she has filled out the form completely, accurately and objectively in accordance with the requirements of the physician's provincial or territorial regulatory college).
* When asked to provide an opinion on functional abilities to employers or insurers, the focus should be on abilities; information on restrictions should be objective and specific, and restrictions should be listed only when absolutely medically indicated.3
* A physician must not state that a patient has been under his/her care unless that is the case. The duration of the care should be indicated. If a physician does not have sufficient knowledge of an illness to provide information or an opinion upon it, the physician should state this on the certificate. The certification of absence should be based only on patient history if the patient was seen after the illness and should be clearly documented as "patient reports." In instances where a physician is being requested to complete a form by a transient patient (i.e., not the physician's patient), the physician should only comment on observations based on their own medical assessment.
* A physician must have a patient's consent to disclose information to any third party, such as the patient's employer or insurer. Unless prevented by law, the physician should ensure the patient is aware that the report he/she provides to the third party is outside the physician-patient relationship and that in completing the form, the physician has a professional obligation to accurately and objectively report upon the patient's condition. A physician must not disclose more information than is covered by the patient's consent - this includes only providing information relevant to the nature of the request and that is reasonably necessary. If a patient limits his/her consent, the physician must consider whether such limitation is relevant to his/her report and if it is, report the limitation to the third party.
* An accurate and relevant narrative summary of a patient's clinical files by the physician should be sufficient information for third parties. The requesting of complete copies of clinical files is unwarranted in the significant majority of cases unless mandated by legislation.
* Physicians should consult with the Canadian Medical Protective Association and their provincial regulatory college for guidance and clarification on third-party form requests (see Appendix B).
The patient's role
* To the greatest extent possible, patients should review the third-party form and be aware of the information being requested.
* Most forms request information on patients' subjective complaints and self-reported function. In such instances, it would be more appropriate to have this information reported directly by the patient to the requesting party.
* Patients must be aware of the following:
o Receipt of their consent authorizes the attending physician to accurately, completely and objectively explain the patient's medical condition as part of the physician's professional responsibility.
o Physicians have a professional and ethical obligation to only document that which is true and medically defensible. The physician does not act as the decision-maker for absences or claims adjudication.
o In some instances (e.g., fitness to drive), physicians also have legislated requirements to complete third-party forms regarding their patient.
The role of the third party
* Third parties should only request medical forms when there is a need for medical information about a patient (i.e., information that could not be provided by a non-physician) to be used for employment/education purposes or the evaluation of a medically related benefit for the patient.
o It is the role of the third party to adjudicate on a patient's eligibility for a benefit, not the physician.
o A request for a patient's non-medical information (i.e., unrelated to the patient's medical condition/history) or a request to certify identity (e.g., asking a physician to certify the principal parent for the purpose of determining eligibility to receive child benefits) is an inappropriate use of medical resources and it is at the discretion of the physician whether to comply with such requests.
o Requests for updates should be reasonable and respect the physician's prognosis.
o Wherever possible, third-party forms should be standardized (e.g., program eligibility, tombstone data, wording of questions) to save time and reduce administrative errors.
o Program eligibility should be made clear to patients and providers to reduce inappropriate form requests (e.g., educating tax advisors on government program eligibility to prevent inappropriate requests for the disability tax credit).
* To make the process of completing a medical form effective and efficient, third parties must involve and inform physicians early and on an ongoing basis, beginning by asking physicians to help to determine whether there is a need for a medical form to be completed in the first place. Medical input is also necessary in the design of the form and to determine how often the form needs to be completed. Physicians should be involved in periodic reviews of existing medical forms with third parties (e.g., governments, insurance companies, associations) for several reasons: to determine whether the forms remain relevant and as a simple as possible; to determine appropriate remuneration for completing the forms; and to ensure that physicians are notified of any changes to requests for medical certification in writing rather than having changes communicated to the physician informally through the patient.4
* In some cases, other health professionals (e.g., occupational therapists) are in a better position to objectively assess patients' abilities and could be designated as qualified practitioners for the purpose of completing the forms, with physicians providing information pertaining to medical assessments and prognoses.
* Confirmation of a short-term absence from work because of minor illness is a matter to be addressed between an employer and an employee directly. Such an absence does not require physician confirmation of illness and represents an inefficient use of scarce health care resources. It is the employer's responsibility -not the physician's - to oversee employee absenteeism. It may be that for many cases, the need for a medical certificate can be replaced by a more effective alternative that does not involve physicians and is agreed to by all parties concerned (e.g., employer and employees).
* If an employer, educational institution or other third party requests an illness confirmation certificate for a short-term, minor illness that would otherwise not have required medical attention, said party should recognize that completion of the certificate is an uninsured service for which physicians are entitled to compensation, preferably from the third party requesting the information, rather than burdening the patient.
* The third party requesting the information should be responsible for compensating the physician for their medical information and expertise. At a provincial/territorial government level, this could mean making the completion of provincial/territorial forms an insured service under the provincial/territorial health insurance plan.
* Physician reimbursement should cover the time and resources devoted to the provision of medical information to third parties (submitted in writing, electronically and/or by phone). This includes compensation for any uninsured medical assessment necessary to complete the form, for the provision of copies of medical information, and for the time and resources needed to respond to any follow-up requests. Wherever possible, the compensation rates should be consistent and should reflect the time and effort necessary to complete the form(s).
* Physicians should be compensated for completing forms related to return to work by provincial/territorial worker's compensation plans; they should be compensated for completing return-to-work forms for non-occupational conditions by provincial/territorial insurance plans, given the important health implications of return-to-work management.
* In the absence of third-party compensation, physicians may charge the patient for the service they provide. As stated in the CMA's Code of Ethics, physicians should consider the nature of the service provided and the ability of the patient to pay, and they should be prepared to discuss the fee with the patient.5 Patient decisions about payment for uninsured services must not negatively affect the physician-patient relationship or pose a barrier to accessing health care services. The physician may decide to reduce or waive his/her fees if the patient lacks the financial ability to pay. Physicians should consult their provincial/territorial medical association for guidance regarding direct billing of patients.
The increasing administrative burden
Physicians face a multitude of requests on a daily basis to complete medical forms and certificates. Requests come from many sources, including governments, government agencies (e.g., workers' compensation boards) and the private/non-governmental sectors (e.g., employers, insurance companies, schools, sporting organizations).
In a 2016 survey of CMA physician members on third-party forms, physicians identified sick notes as the form that they were most frequently asked to complete (67.0% of respondents reported having to fill this form out more than five times per week). Short-term disability claim forms were the second most frequently requested form, with 42.3% of respondents reporting completing this form more than five times per week. Medical certificates for sickness benefit claims under the federal government's employment insurance program - just one example of a third-party form requiring medical input - had to be completed for 336,800 approved applications in 2013-20146 (the vast majority of these certificates would have been completed by physicians).
Physicians continue to devote considerable time to completing forms. Government disability forms, just one type of third-party form, require considerable amount of time to complete. Over 62% of the physicians in the 2016 survey indicated they spend 21-30 minutes (31% of respondents) or more than 30 minutes (31% of respondents) to complete the Canada Pension Plan disability form. Similarly, 60% indicated they spend 21-30 minutes (33% of respondents) or more than 30 minutes (27% of respondents) to complete the Veterans' Affairs disability benefit form.
The most frequently identified concern that physicians have with completing third-party forms (75% of those who participated in the 2016 survey) was the time it took from direct patient care. The second most frequently identified concern (63.4%) was the number of inappropriate requests from third parties.7
Increasing administrative workload/paperwork has been identified by physicians as one of the biggest contributors increasing the demand for their time at work. 8 In many cases, these requests can be an inappropriate use of a physician's time, such as requests for patient information for administrative purposes. Responding to such requests reduces both timely access to care and the time available for direct patient care.
Policies in the office to better manage third-party form requests
Office policies and strategies can be instituted by physicians to better manage third-party requests. These strategies include:
* having an office policy or standardized method to manage third-party form requests;
* having clear communication and posted signage on patient and physician responsibilities regarding forms and fees;
* using a standard form template (e.g., for sick notes)9; and
* organizing time to complete forms.
Physicians are also encouraged to consult with their provincial/territorial medical association and their regulatory college for guidance related to form requests.
These strategies can be part of an overall effort by organizations to raise the awareness of employers, governments and other third parties of the need for a more appropriate approach to form requests to eliminate time wasted for all parties and reduce the inappropriate use of health care resources.
1 The term third-party form refers to any form, letter, medical certificate, mandatory reporting form, photocopy or other document containing medical information about the patient that a physician has been requested to complete or provide by a third party on behalf of their patient. The term third party refers to an employer, government department or agency, private insurer or other organization that is requesting medical information about the patient with the intention of using it.
2 This policy should be considered in conjunction with CMA's policy statement entitled The Treating Physician's Role in Helping Patients Return to Work after an Illness or Injury.
3 Choosing Wisely Canada. Occupational Medicine Specialists of Canada. Five things physicians and patients should question; 2014 Oct 29. Available: www.choosingwiselycanada.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Occupational-Medicine.pdf
4 Saskatchewan Medical Association. SMA relative value guide. Saskatoon: The Association; 2004.
5 Canadian Medical Association. Code of Ethics. Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
6 This figure does not include the number of forms completed for individuals who applied but did not qualify for the program. Canada Employment Insurance Commission. Employment insurance monitoring and assessment report 2013/14. Ottawa: Employment and Social Development Canada. Available: www.esdc.gc.ca/en/reports/ei/monitoring2014/chapter2_4.page
7 Canadian Medical Association. e-Panel survey summary: third-party forms. Ottawa: The Association; 2017.
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National physician survey 2013. Results by FP/GP or other specialist, sex, age and all physicians [table]. Ottawa: The College; 2013. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2013-National-EN-Q13r.pdf
9 Steven Harrison. OMA sickness certificate template: a practical office resource. Ontario Medical Review 2004 Dec.
With the advent of technology allowing for the extension of life, and as a result of the increasing importance of personal autonomy, decisional capacity, and informed consent and the growing awareness of issues related to quality of life and dying, Canadians have become increasingly interested in expressing their wishes regarding their health care and having more input into decisions about their care should they become incapable. Advance care planning (ACP) can help patients to achieve these goals.
The CMA supports development of a strategy for ACP1 in all provinces and territories. ACP leads to better concordance between patients' wishes and treatments provided,2,3 decreased anxiety for families,4 decreased moral distress for health care providers,5 decreased hospitalization rates of nursing home residents3 and fewer unnecessary medical treatments.3,6,7
ACP is at the intersection of the provision of health care, ethical values and legal rights and duties. In particular, it involves the acknowledgement of essential aspects of autonomy, informed consent, and respect of patients' care wishes now and in the future, and their intentions if they become incapable.8,9
The balancing of the need to obtain informed consent for a treatment option in the present with the need to respect health care preferences that were stated in the past has been addressed using various clinical, legal and institutional approaches across Canadian jurisdictions."
Physicians10 can play a significant role in ACP throughout the course of the patient-physician relationship, including in the pediatric setting. At any time, outcomes of the planning process can be documented and/or the patient can appoint a substitute decision-maker in writing. These documents can be identified as advance directives, personal directives or powers of attorney for personal care11 (hereinafter all will be referred to as advance directives). An advance directive does not remove the need for a physician to obtain consent before providing a treatment to a patient, except in an emergency. As stated in the Canadian Medical Protective Association's consent guide: "[U]nder medical emergency situations, treatments should be limited to those necessary to prevent prolonged suffering or to deal with imminent threats to life, limb or health. Even when unable to communicate in medical emergency situations, the known wishes of the patient must be respected."12
While much of the focus of ACP is on making care decisions and nominating proxy decision-makers in case the patient becomes incapable of making decisions in the future, ACP has much more utility. ACP conversations13 can assist patients in determining treatment trajectories and making decisions about the intensity level of interventions in their current care. Providers can have discussions with patients and their families about proposed treatments in the context of the patient's communicated goals and wishes. The process of ACP also helps patients and their families to become familiar with the language and processes used to make cooperative health care decisions.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This policy aims to provide guidance on key considerations pertinent to ACP in a way that is consistent with a physician's ethical, professional and legal obligations. This is a complex subject: physicians should be aware of the legislation in the jurisdiction in which they practise, the standards and expectations specified by their respective regulatory authority, as well as the policies and procedures of the setting(s) in which they practise (e.g., regional health authority, hospital).
1. ACP is a process of (a) respecting patients' wishes through reflection and communication, (b) planning for when the patient cannot make health care decisions and (c) discussion with friends, family and professionals; (d) it may result in a written document.5 It informs the substitute decision-maker and provides information for the clinician to consider in the provision of care within the bounds of the law.
2. Although often associated with the end of life, ACP represents the expression of a patient's wishes for any future health care when the patient is incapable. It expresses the patient's values and beliefs regarding current care decisions and provides information that can inform any decisions that must be made during an emergency when the patient's consent cannot be obtained. For these reasons, ACP should occur throughout a person's lifetime.
3. Respect for patients' dignity and autonomy is a cornerstone of the therapeutic physician-patient relationship. Patients' right to autonomous decision-making has become embedded in ethical frameworks, consent legislation and case law.14 Respect for the wishes of an incapable patient constitutes a preservation of autonomy and promotes trust between the physician and patient.15
4. The way in which the act of obtaining consent is weighed against the patient's stated wishes as outlined during the ACP process varies according to the jurisdiction in which the patient and physician are located.
1. Given the practical, ethical and legal complexities of ACP, physicians, medical learners should be supported in becoming familiar with ACP and comfortable in engaging in the process with their patients. To this end, CMA supports the development of training in ACP and efforts to make it available to all physicians and medical learners.16 For practising physicians and residents, many resources are available, for example:
a. Advance Care Planning in Canada: A National Framework
b. Facilitating Advance Care Planning: An Interprofessional Educational Program
c. Information from the Health Law Institute of Dalhousie University on the regulatory policies and legislation of individual provinces and territories
d. A comprehensive collection of Canadian resources compiled by the Speak Up campaign of the Advance Care Planning in Canada initiative
e. Pallium Canada's Learning Essential Approaches to Palliative Care module on ACP
In the case of medical students, the CMA supports the position of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students that end-of-life training is an essential facet of undergraduate medical education.
2. The issue of the supervision of medical learners practising ACP should be clarified, as considerable ambiguity currently exists.17 Medical learners would benefit from unified national guidelines concerning the nature of their participation in ACP, especially regarding end-of-life care. In the case of medical students, the CMA agrees with the recommendation of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students that supervision be mandatory during conversations about end-of-life care.
3. The CMA calls for more research on the outcomes associated with the provision of ACP training to physicians and medical learners.
4. The CMA recommends that governments and institutions promote information and education on ACP to patients and their substitute decision-makers.
PROFESSIONAL AND LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY
1. While respecting patients' values, all physicians are expected to encourage their patients to engage in ACP with them. ACP is not a one-time event. The nature of the conversation between the physician and the patient and the regularity with which they discuss the subject will depend on the patient's health status. Family physicians and physicians have ongoing care relationships with chronically ill patients are particularly well placed to have regular discussions with their patients about their beliefs, values and wishes. An effective exchange of information between family physicians (and other physicians who work in the community with outpatients) and acute or tertiary care physicians would assist in ensuring patient's wishes are considered.
2. ACP, in particular advance directives, are at the intersection of medicine and the law. Physicians should recognize this and ask patients whether they have an advance directive or have done any ACP.
3. There is wide variation across jurisdictions in terms of the requirements and procedures for ACP; therefore, physicians should inform themselves about any relevant legislation and the scope of the requirement to obtain consent within that jurisdiction when carrying out ACP.
1. The CMA supports institutional processes that recognize and support ACP. Support for ACP includes developing a consistent process for the exchange of information about patients' wishes and advance directives among health care providers, as patients traverse sectors and locations of care. Patients with a written advance directive must be identified and the advance directive integrated fully within the patient's records18 so that it is available across the institution (and ideally the health care system). The CMA advocates for the inclusion of advance care directive functionality as a conformance and usability requirement for electronic medical record vendors.19 Provinces and territories should be encouraged to establish robust organizational processes and resources for patients in all locations of care and strong province- or territory-wide policy, such as in Alberta.20
2. Institutions and other organizations should encourage health care providers to ask patients to bring their advance directive to appointments at the same time they ask them to bring a list of their medications or other medical information.
3. The CMA supports institutional/organizational audits of structures, processes and outcomes related to ACP as an important step in improving the quality and frequency of ACP activities.
ROLE FOR GOVERNMENTS
1. The CMA supports infrastructures enabling ACP, including funding that will support ACP and other end-of-life discussions.
2. The CMA promotes the incorporation of ACP into future federal and provincial/territorial senior strategies and dementia and/or frailty strategies.
3. The CMA supports the development of ACP metrics and their future inclusion in Accreditation Canada standards.
Advance care planning (ACP)
Advance care planning is a term used to describe a process of reflection, communication, conversation and planning by a capable individual with family, friends and professionals about their beliefs, values and wishes for a time when they no longer have the mental capacity to make decisions about their health care. ACP can also involve the naming of a substitute decision-maker.8
The legislated term "advance directive" has different names, definitions and legal authority across the country. For example, in British Columbia an advance directive is a written legal document that provides a mechanism for capable patients to give directions about their future health care once they are no longer capable. 21 As such, in BC an advance directive may, under certain circumstances, be considered "equivalent to consent to treatment and may be acted upon directly by a health care provider without consultation with an SDM [substitute decision-maker]." 8 In Alberta it is called a personal directive. In Ontario, "advance directive" is a generic non-legal term and refers to communications that may be oral, written or in other forms.8
In Quebec, advance care directives are legally binding, as set out in the Act respecting end-of-life care, which recognizes "the primacy of freely and clearly expressed wishes with respect to care. . ."22
Current legislation does not allow for medical assistance in dying to be requested by an advance directive.23 The CMA acknowledges that considerable public, expert and legal debate exists around the issue.
To obtain informed consent, physicians must provide adequate information to the patient or capable decision-maker about the proposed procedure or treatment; the anticipated outcome; the potential risks, benefits and complications; and reasonable available alternatives, including not having the treatment; and they must answer questions posed by the patient. Consent is only informed if there is disclosure of matters that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would want to know.24 Consent must be given voluntarily, must not be obtained through misrepresentation or fraud, must relate to the treatment and must be informed.
Substitute decision-maker (SDM or agent or proxy)
A substitute decision-maker is a capable person who will make health care decisions on behalf of an incapable individual. In all jurisdictions the health care provider must take reasonable steps to become aware of whether or not there is a substitute decision-maker before providing health treatment to an incapable patient. Legally there are implementation differences across the country. For example, in BC a substitute decision-maker is appointed through a representation agreement, in Alberta through a personal directive and in Ontario through a power of attorney for personal care.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
1 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC14-25 - strategy for advance care planning, palliative and end-of-life care. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 Oct 17)
2 Houben CHM, Spruit MA, Groenen MTJ, et al. Efficacy of advance care planning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2014;15:477-89.
3 Martin RS, Hayes B, Gregorevic K, et al. The effects of advance care planning interventions on nursing home residents: a systematic review. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2016;7:284-93.
4 Mack JW, Weeks JC, Wright AA, et al. End-of-life discussions, goal attainment, and distress at the end of life: predictors and outcomes of receipt of care consistent with preferences. J Clin Oncol 2010;28(7):1203-8.
5 Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Advance care planning in Canada: national framework. Ottawa; The Association; 2010.
6 Teo WSK, Raj AG, Tan WS, et al. Economic impact analysis of an end-of-life programme for nursing home residents. Palliat Med 2014;28(5):430-7.
7 Zhang B, Wright AA, Huskamp HA, et al. Health care costs in the last week of life: associations with end-of-life conversations. Arch Intern Med 2009;169(5):480-8.
8 Wahl J, Dykeman MJ, Gray B. Health care consent and advance care planning in Ontario. Toronto (ON): Law Commission of Ontario; 2014.
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
10 Physician involvement is not mandatory in the process. However, it is important for physicians to engage with their patients in ACP as this can facilitate change in patients' ACP behaviour and understanding.
11 Wahl JA, Dykeman MJ, Walton T. Health care consent, advance care planning, and goals of care practice tools: the challenge to get it right. Improving the last stages of life. Toronto (ON): Law Commission of Ontario; 2016.
13 Frank C, Puxty J. Facilitating effective end-of-life communication - helping people decide. CJS Journal of CME 2016;6(2). Available: http://canadiangeriatrics.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Facilitating-Effective-End-of-Life-Communication---Helping-People-Decide.pdf (accessed 2017 April 25).
14 Fleming v Reid (1991) 82 DLR (4th) 298 (CA ON); Cuthbertson v Rasouli, 2013 SCC 53; Malette v Shulman (1990), 72 OR (2d) 417; Starson v Swayze (2003) 1 SCR 722.
15 Harmon SHE. Consent and conflict in medico-legal decision-making at the end of life: a critical issue in the Canadian context. University of New Brunswick Law Journal 2010;60(1):208-29.
16 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC13-69 - training in advance care planning. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2013. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
17 Touchie C, De Champlain A, Pugh D, et al. Supervising incoming first-year residents: faculty expectations versus residents' experiences. Med Educ 2014;48(9):921-9.
18 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC14-19 - advance care plans. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
19 Canadian Medical Association. BD14-05-163 Advance care directive functionality. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2014. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 May 26).
20 Conversations matter. Edmonton (AB): Alberta Health Services. Available: http://goals.conversationsmatter.ca.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/ (accessed 2017 May 19).
21 Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act, RSBC 1996, c 181, s.3
22 Act respecting end-of-life care, S-32.0001. Government of Quebec. Available : http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/ShowDoc/cs/S-32.0001
23 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying) S.C. 2016, c.3. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2016. Available: http://canlii.ca/t/52rs0 (accessed 2016 Oct 17)
24 Riebl v Hughes,  2 SCR 880; Hopp v Lepp,  2 SCR 192.
While genetic testing is typically provided in a clinical setting through the referral of a health care professional (HCP) or a regulated research project, a number of private companies now offer genetic testing services directly to consumers over the Internet. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing is distinguished from clinical genetic testing ordered by a HCP in several ways:
1. DTC genetic tests are not regulated in Canada. The clinical validity and reliability of these tests varies widely, but DTC genetic testing companies make them available to consumers without distinguishing between those that may be useful to the management of one's health, those that have some limited health value, and those that are meant purely for recreational use.
2. Many of the tests advertised and sold via the Internet have not undergone clinical evaluation.
3. Marketing materials for these tests often imply that they have health value, but the terms of reference of some of the companies that offer them state that the tests are to be used for recreational purposes and many vendors do not guarantee the validity or reliability of their results.
4. Resale of personal health information and/or DNA samples is often an important part of the business model of companies that offer DTC genetic testing, raising concerns about patient privacy and insufficient or unclear disclosure of privacy terms.
5. Unlike genetic tests ordered and administered by HCPs, DTC genetic tests are ordered directly by the consumer, who most often has not consulted with a HCP as part of a clinical assessment, and the testing may not be clinically indicated. Some companies only agree to do testing if it has been ordered by a physician, but they will provide a phone conversation with one of their physicians (not based in Canada) if a consumer does not have access to a physician. When the testing is ordered by a physician, it will sometimes be ordered by the patient's personal physician. In such cases, this does not truly represent DTC genetic testing.
6. Without appropriate pre- and post-testing counselling by a HCP, consumers are left to interpret and act upon their results on their own. They might suffer psychological consequences if they overestimate their disease risk as a result of DTC.
7. As access to DTC genetic testing increases, Canadian HCPs (specifically primary care physicians) are faced with the challenge of appropriately counselling patients when they receive their test results. However, few physicians feel they have the necessary
training and knowledge in genomics to provide adequate care in this area. Furthermore, these tests may have no clinical indication, produce uncertain results with ambiguous clinical applicability and have tenuous legal status, but they can potentially influence a patient's sense of well-being.
1. The CMA is concerned with understanding, raising awareness of, and mitigating potential patient and societal harms that may arise from DTC genetic testing.
2. The CMA emphasizes the importance of the principle of protection of patient privacy and supports the right of Canadians to understand how their health information is being used by third parties, including insurance and DTC genetic testing companies.
3. The CMA believes that patients have the right to be fully informed about what a DTC genetic test can and cannot say about their health and that the scientific evidence on which a test is based should be clearly stated and easy to understand.
4. The CMA recommends regulation of both DTC genetic tests and the marketing of these tests through the development of a national framework that would include a combination of government and industry regulation with input from medical experts.
5. The CMA believes that unnecessary genetic testing should be avoided to ensure more appropriate use of health care resources. Even if a consumer pays directly for testing, any test result, even an incidental finding from a DTC genetic testing laboratory without clinical certification, may trigger a cascade of clinical investigations and lead to further unnecessary testing and inappropriate use of resources.
6. The CMA supports educational initiatives on DTC genetic testing for physicians practising in all specialties so that they can respond to patient queries about these tests and, when necessary, their results.
PROTECTION OF PRIVACY
* Privacy and confidentiality of patients' personal health information must be maintained.
* Before a patient submits a sample to a DTC genetic testing company, the company should obtain express informed consent from the patient concerning the way in which their data will be collected and used, who will have access to the data and the interpreted results, what safeguards are in place to protect it, and how it will be disposed of in the event of a company/laboratory closure.
* Patients have the right to a clear understanding of who owns the sample and the generated data, in particular whether their data will be sold or shared with third parties. If resale of personal health information and/or DNA samples is an important part of the business model of DTC-GC companies, this should be stated explicitly in terms understandable by the consumer.
* DTC-GC companies that solicit Canadian consumers should be subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
* The CMA encourages physicians to become familiar with privacy legislation affecting the use of DTC genetic tests by insurance companies and employers.
ROLE OF PHYSICIAN
* Physicians should generally avoid using DTC genetic tests unless they have been clinically and empirically validated.
* Physicians who are presented with a patient's DTC genetic test results should take the following actions:
o They should explain to their patient the limits of the specific test the patient used. If a physician does not know this information he/she should discuss with the patient the fact that DTC genetic test results are not necessarily obtained from an accredited laboratory or interpreted in a standardized way; therefore, the validity and clinical utility of the results may be highly variable for certain tests.
o They should disclose their level of comfort in providing an accurate interpretation of the results.
o They should assess whether the test results are clinically significant in the context of that patient's symptoms, signs, medical history and family history before deciding whether it is appropriate to formally consult a specialty provider such as a medical geneticist.
o If a physician wishes to use the results of a test in their clinical assessment, they should ensure that the laboratory performing the test guarantees analytical reliability and validity.
* Physicians should adhere to the following principles related to medically indicated genetic testing:
o Physicians should generally avoid recommending and/or ordering DTC genetic tests if they do not have a clear understanding of the validity and limitations of the tests they select.
o Physicians should follow best practice guidelines and make use of clinically valid tests, accredited laboratories and specialist referral(s), when appropriate.
o Physicians must obtain informed consent from the patient before ordering any genetic test, assist the patient in interpreting the results, support the individual with respect to psychological and biological implications of the results, and refer the patient to appropriate resources.
o Many genetic tests require pre- and post-test counselling, particularly (but not limited to) tests involving children, tests establishing carrier status or tests considered to be predictive. If a provider decides to order such testing, they also accept the responsibility for facilitating access to pre- and post-test counselling.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
* The CMA calls on the government to enact regulations based on Bill S-201 (An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination) that establish clear boundaries for the marketing, distribution, accreditation and third-party use of DTC genetic tests.
* The CMA believes that it is the government's responsibility to ensure that Canadians are only offered reliable, accurate and medically relevant genetic testing services.
* The CMA encourages the development of national standards for the reliability and validity of DTC genetic tests by relevant federal government agencies, in conjunction with interested stakeholders (e.g., geneticists and laboratory scientists, genetic counsellors, physicians, private and public laboratories, industry, and patient groups).
* The CMA encourages the government to enact standards that can keep pace with the rapid development of technological innovation in genetic testing and genetics more generally.
* The CMA encourages the government to enact standards that hold companies accountable for being transparent about their uses of data/DNA and the potential resale of such material.
* The CMA encourages the government to enact standards that mandate that the type of testing (e.g., single-nucleotide polymorphism [SNP] analysis, targeted mutation testing, sequencing) be clearly labelled and that a clear explanation be provided of the type of information that can (or cannot) be obtained from such testing.
* Genetic testing and the interpretation of the results of such testing are highly technical and complex processes. For this reason, the CMA believes that clinical testing laboratories that are used by DTC genetic testing companies must be accredited if the companies are to claim that their testing is valid.
* The CMA believes that scientific evidence describing the validity and utility of a DTC genetic test should be clearly stated in language that is easy to understand. This information should include a clear statement of what a test can or cannot diagnose or infer, and statements about the validity of a specific test should be supported with references. A company that does not guarantee the reliability or validity of its test should not be allowed to make any (implicit or explicit) claims about the potential medical utility of its test and/or its potential to improve health.
EDUCATION AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
* The CMA supports public education initiatives to increase patient awareness of the potential implications and limitations of DTC genetic testing for health purposes.
The CMA supports increased genetics training for physicians to help them to further appreciate the complex issues involved and keep pace with the rapid changes in molecular genetics. Such training would support physicians to counsel patients who seek follow-up for their DTC genetic test results.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
See also Background to CMA Policy on Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER GENETIC TESTING
See also CMA Policy PD17-05 Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing
Some direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, such as "compatibility testing" for online dating, are purely recreational. Other tests, however, are marketed both as being for recreational use and as producing results that are useful to the management of one's health. This document concerns this second category of tests. The characteristics of these tests differ widely, and some of the companies that offer them clearly state that they do not guarantee the validity and reliability of their tests. As of January 2016, 246 companies offered some form of DNA test online.1 Many DTC genetic tests have started to penetrate the Canadian market, especially after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter instructing some companies in the U.S. to cease providing unreliable health information that could potentially lead consumers to make misinformed decisions about their health, which caused some of these companies to seek out alternative markets.2
The increasing availability of DTC genetic tests in Canada presents several challenges, as the predictive value of most of the DTC genetic tests currently on the market is very low. Moreover, there is no standard model for the delivery and interpretation of the results of these tests. Greater regulatory guidance and protection is needed to ensure that individuals who choose to submit samples to DTC genetic testing companies are not adversely affected by information that is not necessarily predictive or even accurate.
Survey research indicates that the general public is overwhelmingly interested in genetic testing technologies.3 Researchers predict that an increasing number of individuals will use DTC genetic testing as testing technologies continue to become more affordable and efficient.3 Since genetic issues tend to cross medical specialties, it often falls on primary care physicians to understand the role of genetics in clinical care.4 In fact, genetic testing companies often direct patients to discuss their results with their primary care physician.5 Patients not only seek out their primary care providers to discuss their genetic test results and obtain appropriate follow-up but also expect them to be able to answer questions about personal genome test results.6 Despite these expectations, health professionals' awareness and knowledge of DTC genetic tests remains low.7
Although DTC genetic tests are marketed under similar names, the genetic tests available in Canada have very different characteristics. Three types of tests are offered: (1) single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) analysis, which assesses an individual's risk for common multifactorial diseases (e.g., diabetes, myocardial infarction), (2) targeted mutation analysis and (3) sequencing. Some are ordered directly by the consumer while others are pre-ordered by the consumer and the order is co-signed by a physician (the patient's physician or a physician who has never met the patient and whose services are provided by the company). SNP testing assesses for a number of genetic variants that are common in the general population and that have been identified in association studies to modify (increase or decrease) the risk of a given disease.
Some DTC genetic testing companies explicitly state in their terms of service that they do not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of the test. This is due in part to deficiencies in the science underlying the tests and their interpretation. For example, the interpretation of SNPs analysis for common multifactorial diseases can only be as good as the science behind it. The scientific community has a long way to go before it will have identified all of the significant genetic risk factors and protective factors for these diseases. Because of this, a given consumer could receive greatly divergent risk interpretations.3 In the case of targeted mutation analysis and sequencing, the specific panels offered by DTC genetic testing companies may not include all of the clinically relevant genes and mutations. This could result in a consumer receiving harmful false reassurance. Test results may include information on genetic changes that are only weakly associated with disease, leading to undue anxiety. As such, the clinical and health value of DTC genetic testing continues to be debated despite consumer uptake of, and enthusiasm for, DTC genetic testing offered online.
Currently, most DTC genetic testing services exist in regulatory limbo, benefiting from laws that tend to lag behind technological innovation. Questions about access to the information yielded by these tests have emerged as a particular concern. For some companies, an important part of the business model is to sell consumers' DNA along with the clinical information that the consumers provide via their interactive websites. Most Canadians are unaware of this: they pay for a test and do not expect that their data will later be sold.
ISSUES ARISING IN CLINICAL CONTEXTS
Studies have shown that physicians see a number of benefits with DTC genetic testing, but they also have concerns. The benefits physicians have identified include convenience, promotion of preventive medicine and the provision of personalized services.5 They are concerned about the reliability of test results, the provision of adequate information/counselling, patient anxiety if the results are misunderstood, inappropriateness of advertising, discrimination with respect to employment and insurance, the possible spread of beliefs such as genetic determinism, and the inappropriate disclosure of patients' genetic information.5
The following sections will address primary concerns identified by research and in practice.
1. Patient privacy
Privacy is one of the top concerns of the general public about genetic testing.8 According to a 2010 report commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, approximately 60% of patients indicated that privacy and discrimination fears would influence their decision to undergo genetic testing.9 The average Canadian consumer is not adequately informed that an important part of the business model of many DTC genetic testing companies is to build and sell their database of phenotypic information and DNA accumulated from their clients to third parties, such as biobanks or pharmaceutical companies.
1.1 Informed consent
The increasing quantity, complexity and diversity of DTC genetic testing services pose challenges for informed consent because both specific and generic models do not meet ethical standards when applied to this type of service.10 Many companies bind their consumers to contracts that are activated once the website is viewed, a practice that challenges the adequacy of consent, as it is common for people to view a website without reading or even seeing its terms of reference.1 Consumers who present to genetic clinics tend not to question the validity of the results they have received from DTC genetic testing,11 which can be interpreted as an indication that consumers give their consent without reading or understanding the disclaimers made by the companies.11 Physicians are concerned that this lack of informed consent could compromise the confidentiality of personal health information, encourage requests for unnecessary medical tests and potentially cause distress to patients.
The insurance industry is of particular concern in the context of privacy and DTC genetic tests. A study of patients' perceptions of DTC genetic tests found that participants were concerned that genetic results could affect their health insurance premiums or lead to denial of coverage.12 Private insurance is fundamentally rooted in the practice of discriminating between clients on the basis of risk. While insurers have generally been entitled to request genetic information in the form of family history, to access medical files and to conduct medical tests,13 consumers have expressed the view that the rules governing access to genetic information should be stricter than for access to other forms of personal information.3
While there are studies that report cases of genetic discrimination, it is often unclear whether such treatment is perceived or actual.14. Thus, the consequences of genetic testing remain uncertain. Of particular concern is the potential for discrimination on the basis of results that may not be accurate and/or reliable. Although there is presently no evidence of widespread use of genetic testing by insurance companies,14experts agree that in the next 10 years public acceptance of the use of information from genetic testing will increase and it will become possible to more accurately interpret data from genetic tests (K. Boycott, J. Davies and K. Morin, CIHR Café Scientifique, unpublished remarks), threatening to alter the currently limited role that genetic testing plays in insurance company decision-making. Before policy-makers tackle the potential issues related to the use of DTC genetic testing, it is imperative that they start at ground level and explore options to regulate insurance companies' access to such tests.
2. Patient response
2.1 Interpretation of results and changes in behaviour
Proponents of DTC genetic testing point to the potential for patients to make positive changes to their health as a result of learning about their genetic susceptibility to certain diseases. Findings of studies in this area, however, are inconsistent to date. While some studies have reported that there are some behaviour changes, it is important to keep in mind that early adopters of these services are likely to also be among those most motivated to make health-related changes.15 Recent evidence suggests the opposite response: the general population has a tendency to decrease healthy practices upon learning about a lower health risk, and they do not increase healthy practices when they learn that they have an increased health risk.15 Indeed, patients may make poorer health decisions if they are under the impression that they are not at risk for developing a certain disease; for example, they may avoid routine screening for breast or prostate cancer, or they may not follow exercise and diet advice. 16
These variations in behaviour can be largely attributed to the fact that there is an overarching risk that patients will misinterpret the data they receive from the testing companies. The problem with susceptibility tests in the context of DTC genetic testing is not only that the test results may cause psychological or physical harm but also that there is a possibility that patients will over-interpret their disease risk.10 Without expert guidance, the patient may not be able to evaluate their test results accurately enough to make informed health decisions.14 There is very little evidence to suggest that receipt of a DTC genetic test result produces sustained behavioural change.17 In fact, studies on psychological theories related to motivation do not consider disease risk information a useful tool for motivating patients to change their behaviour.15 Therefore, while receipt of DTC genetic test results may encourage patients to see their family physician and possibly undergo further consultation, the health care resources invested in interpreting results with limited clinical validity may not produce sustained behavioural changes, good or bad.
3. Resource allocation
One of the stated goals of personalized medicine is to save health care systems money by facilitating the use of fewer but more effective treatments.18 However, greater demand for genetic testing, whether public or private, could produce the opposite effect: consumption of health care resources may increase as patients consult with their regular physician about results they obtained through a DTC company.16 Furthermore, physicians who are presented with DTC genetic test results by their patients have a legal and ethical obligation to do their due diligence and carry out a complete, clinically valid investigation, which may ultimately negate the cost savings that personalized medicine is expected to produce.16
Patients who participate in DTC genetic testing are likely to drive up the utilization of health care providers, as they seek out their primary care provider to discuss their results and they obtain follow-up care from a genetic counsellor.19,5 At least one study has suggested that there is an expectation that physicians will help patients to interpret their DTC genetic test results, and DTC genetic testing companies frequently direct patients to discuss their results with their physicians before acting upon their testing information.5 Consequently, the responsibility falls on primary care providers to discuss this technology with their patients.5
Primary care providers, however, believe that genetic specialists are the most appropriate providers of counselling for DTC genetic tests.14 While they acknowledge the benefits of DTC genetic tests, including the potential for test results to encourage patients to be more involved in their care and take responsibility for their health, they also agree that test results may encourage patients to seek unnecessary and potentially expensive follow-up tests.14 As a result, additional health care resources may be required to cope with the increased demand for medical follow-up.20
4. Physician education
Although DTC genetic testing companies have been around since the early 2000s, levels of awareness among health care professionals vary, and knowledge and understanding of the services generally remain low.21 Research suggests that few physicians feel they have the necessary training and knowledge in genomics to provide adequate care in this area.17 A perceived lack of clinical utility appears to be a barrier to learning more about DTC genetic testing.6 Increased genetics training and awareness may allow physicians to better appreciate the complex issues involved and help them to better counsel patients who seek follow-up for their DTC genetic test results.
4.1 Topics that physicians want to learn about
Most physicians are concerned about the privacy implications of DTC genetic testing, specifically health insurance and employment discrimination, which may affect their patients who present with a DTC genetic test.5 Therefore, important discussion points to include in a physician education program would be information on the risks of insurance and employment discrimination, legislation currently in place to protect against genetic discrimination, and guidelines for managing risk.6 Given the ease with which patients can access DTC genetic testing, it is essential to provide health professionals with appropriate education on the potential benefits and risks of DTC genetic testing and help them develop an approach to interpreting the results of such testing, so that they can protect their patients from harm and arrange follow-up appropriately.19
5. Legislative landscape in Canada
Before May 2017, Canada did not have a law to specifically protect against genetic discrimination. Existing human rights and privacy law could only be ambiguously and tenuously applied to DTC genetic testing issues, including genetic discrimination and information collection, use and disclosure.14 The laws that regulate medical devices, such as the Food and Drugs Act, did not clearly apply in the context of DTC genetic tests either,2 because consumers are not purchasing genetic testing kits but rather they are purchasing testing services, which fall outside the scope of that legislation.22 As a result, there was limited evidence to form the regulations necessary to ensure the validity and utility of these tests.
Fortunately, on May 4, 2017, Bill S-201 (hereinafter termed S-201), An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination,23 received Royal Assent and will soon become law. S-201 provides a basis for the creation of regulations concerning the validity and utility of DTC genetic tests. The bill prohibits the requirement that an individual submit to genetic testing or disclose the results of genetic tests in order to receive goods or services or in order to enter into or continue a contract or agreement, and it prohibits submission to genetic testing or disclosure of test results from being used as the basis of any specific conditions in a contract or agreement. S-201 amends the Canada Labour Code to protect employees from being required to undergo or disclose the results of genetic testing and amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of genetic characteristics.21 Legislation at a provincial level, however, may still be required. Private Member's Bill 127, An Act to amend the Human Rights Code with respect to genetic characteristics,24 was presented to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario in 2013 but did not move past the first reading.
Federal and provincial privacy legislation (such as the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA) also plays a role in protecting against genetic discrimination by requiring an individual to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information.25 Currently, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada does not support amending the Privacy Act or PIPEDA, on the grounds that these laws sufficiently apply to genetic information.23 While this legislative framework might provide some protection against genetic discrimination, there is a lack of clarity as to whether it strikes the appropriate balance between consumers' rights to privacy and the interests of insurers. Furthermore, the courts have yet to provide an opinion regarding the constitutionality of S-201 or to assist in the interpretation of privacy legislation in the context of DTC testing, because of the novelty of the service.
It is uncertain if and how Bill S-201 will inform future regulations placed upon employers and insurers. Significant gaps in the legislative framework remain; in particular, privacy protection in Canada has yet to counterbalance the lack of consumer protection in Canadian insurance laws.22 While existing legislation may offer some protection, the absence of legal precedents creates uncertainty and leaves consumers to engage in DTC testing services at their own risk.
See also CMA Policy PD17-05 Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing
1 Phillips AM. Only a click away - DTC genetics for ancestry, health, love ... and more: a view of the business and regulatory landscape. Appl Transl Genom 2016;8:16-22.
2 US Food and Drug Administration. Warning letter. Silver Spring (MD): The Administration; 22 Nov 2013. Available: www.fda.gov/iceci/enforcementactions/warningletters/2013/ucm376296.htm (accessed 2017 May 19).
3 Caulfield T. Direct-to-consumer testing: if consumers are not anxious, why are policy makers? Hum Genet 2011;130:23-5.
4 Delaney SK, Christman MF. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: perspectives on its value in healthcare. Clin Pharmacol Ther 2016; 99(2):146-8.
5 Powell KP, Cogswell WA, Christianson CA, et al. Primary care physicians' awareness, experience and opinions of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. J Genet Couns 2012;21(1):113-26.
6 Powell KP, Christianson CA, Cogswell WA, et al. Educational needs of primary care physicians regarding direct-to-consumer genetic testing. J Genet Couns 2012;21(3):469-78.
7 Jackson L, Goldsmith L, Skirton H. Guidance for patients considering direct-to-consumer genetic testing and health professionals involved in their care: development of a practical decision tool. Fam Pract 2014;31(3): 341-8.
8 Caulfield T, McGuire AL. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing: perception, problems, and policy responses. Annu Rev Med 2012; 63:23-33.
9 Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Analysis of privacy policies and practices of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies: private sector databanks and privacy protection norms. Ottawa: The Office; March 2010. p. 6.
10 Bunnik EM, Janssens AC, Schermer MH. Informed consent in direct-to-consumer personal genome testing: the outline of a model between specific and generic consent. Bioethics 2014;28(7):343-51.
11 Brett GR, Metcalfe SA, Amor DJ, et al. An exploration of genetic health professionals' experience with direct-to-consumer genetic testing in their clinical practice. Eur J Hum Genet 2012;20(8):825-30.
12 Wasson K, Sanders TN, Hogan NS, Cherny S, Helzlsouer KJ. Primary care patients' views and decisions about, experience of and reactions to direct-to-consumer genetic testing: a longitudinal study. J Community Genet. 2013;4:495-505
13 Lemmens T, Pullman D, Rodal R. Revisiting genetic discrimination issues in 2010: policy options for Canada [PowerPoint presentation]. Ottawa: Genome Canada; 15 June 2010. Available: www.genomecanada.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/en/gps_speakers_presentation/trudo-lemmens-daryl-pullman.pdf
14 Zinatelli F. Industry Code: Genetic testing information for insurance underwriting [Internet]. Toronto, ON: CLHIA; 2017 Jan 11. Available from https://www.clhia.ca/domino/html/clhia/CLHIA_LP4W_LND_Webstation.nsf/page/E79687482615DFA485257D5D00682400/$file/Industry%20Code%20Genetic%20Testing%20-%20Updated.pdf
15 Adams SD, Evans JP, Aylsworth AS. Direct-to-consumer genomic testing offers little clinical utility but appears to cause minimal harm. N C Med J 2013;74(6): 494-8.
16 Ram S, Russell B, Gubb M, et al. General practitioner attitudes to direct-to-consumer genetic testing in New Zealand. N Z Med J 2012;125(1364):14-26.
17 Caulfield T. Obesity genes, personalized medicine and public health policy. Curr Obes Rep 2015;4(3):319-23.
18 Caulfield T, Zarzeczny A. Defining 'medical necessity' in an age of personalised medicine: a view from Canada. Bioessays 2014;36(9):813-7.
19 Bloss CS, Schork NJ, Topol EJ. Direct-to-consumer pharmacogenomic testing is associated with increased physician utilisation. J Med Genet 2014;51(2):83-9.
20 Daly AK. Direct-to-consumer pharmacogenomic testing assessed in a US-based study. J R Coll Physicans Edinb 2014;44:212-3.
21 Jackson L, Goldsmith L, Skirton H. Guidance for patients considering direct-to-consumer genetic testing and health professionals involved in their care: development of a practical decision tool. Fam Pract 2014;31(3):341-8.
22 Mykitiuk R. Caveat emptor: direct-to-consumer supply and advertising of genetic testing. Clin Invest Med 2004;27(1):23-32.
23Parliament of Canada. Legislative summary of Bill S-201: An Act to prohibit and prevent genetic discrimination. Ottawa: Parliament of Canada; 2016
24 Parliament of Canada. Bill 127: An Act to amend the Human Rights Code with respect to genetic characteristics, 2nd Sess, 40th Leg, Ontario, 2013.
25 Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA), S.C. 2000, C.5, para 5(3).
The legalization of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) raises a host of complex ethical and practical challenges that have implications for both policy and practice. The CMA supports maintaining the balance between three equally legitimate considerations: respecting decisional autonomy for those eligible Canadians who are seeking access, protecting vulnerable persons through careful attention to safeguards, and creating an environment in which practitioners are able to adhere to their moral commitments.
Recognizing the educational, legislative, regulatory and practice changes that will result, the CMA recommends that legislative and regulatory processes be coordinated at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to consistently guide health systems, practitioners and patients. To that end, the CMA calls for rigorous information gathering at all levels and for experience with and research on the impacts of this new practice to be reported as it unfolds. The CMA encourages medical schools to incorporate reflective training opportunities at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels that address all aspects of medical practice that might be affected by this new intervention. Further, CMA recognizes the opportunity that exists for all health systems and practitioners to facilitate effective patient access to information about all end-of-life care options.
The CMA acknowledges the importance of understanding that other acts within the realm of end-of-life care are distinct from the practice of medical assistance in dying. Further, the provision of specific assessments for eligibility to access medical assistance in dying is a distinct service unrelated to consultations for general palliative end-of-life care.
It is important that physicians be aware of this distinction and the relationship between legal, medical and ethical norms with respect to medical assistance in dying. The judicial and legislative branches of government have made changes to Canadian law in this area. Society has placed assistance in dying within the realm of regulated medical practitioners. Physicians' ethical norms and duties, arising from long-standing traditions that entail moral commitments to preserve and protect life, have not changed. The CMA supports the right of all physicians to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide or otherwise participate in assistance in dying as per the legislation governing medical assistance in dying. The CMA equally supports conscientious participation in and conscientious objection to assistance in dying by physicians.
SCOPE OF POLICY
This policy aims to provide guidance on key considerations in a way that is consistent with a physician's ethical, professional and legal obligations. Physicians should be aware of the federal and provincial laws in the jurisdiction in which they practise, the standards and expectations outlined by their respective regulatory authority, advice from the Canadian Medical Protective Association as well as the policies and procedures of the setting(s) in which they practise (e.g., regional health authority or hospital).
RELEVANT FOUNDATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS
The following considerations underpin the CMA's position on what ought to constitute the basis of any evolving legislation, regulation or guideline on the implementation of medical assistance in dying. These considerations are not ranked according to priority or importance. As with any foundational considerations, they provide a starting point for ethical reflection, and their application requires further thought and interpretation when conflicts arise.
1. Respect for autonomy: The CMA upholds the importance of respect for decisional autonomy by competent patients - such persons are free to make informed choices and autonomous decisions about their bodily integrity, their personal aims and their care that are consistent with their personal values and beliefs. CMA also asserts that persons have inherent dignity regardless of their circumstances. Services ought to be delivered, and processes and treatments ought to be applied, in ways that strive to preserve and enhance dignity. End-of-life care strives to maintain the integrity of personhood even as bodily functions deteriorate in advance of death.
2. Respect for vulnerability: In consideration of the importance of a patient's decision regarding medical assistance in dying, and the permanence of death if medical assistance in dying is chosen by a patient, the CMA believes that careful and non-judgmental exploration with patients of the reasons they are seeking assistance in dying is always warranted. Care in this regard assists physicians to fulfill the duty to ensure that conditions of vulnerability have been identified and addressed satisfactorily. Physicians should maintain diligent attention to identifying undue coercive influences on the patient. Legislation and regulations, through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards, should aim to minimize harm to all patients and should also address issues of vulnerability and potential coercion.
3. Respect for freedom of conscience: The CMA believes that physicians must be able to follow their conscience without discrimination when deciding whether or not to provide or participate in assistance in dying. The CMA supports physicians who, for reasons of moral commitments to patients and for any other reasons of conscience, will not participate in decisional guidance about, eligibility assessments for, or provision of medical assistance in dying. To enable physicians to adhere to such moral commitments without causing undue delay for patients pursuing this intervention, health systems will need to implement an easily accessible mechanism to which patients can have direct access. Further, the CMA believes that physicians' general employment or contract opportunities should not be influenced by their decisions to participate in, or not participate in, any or all aspects of medical assistance in dying with patients. The right of patients to seek medical assistance in dying does not compel individual physicians to provide it. Learners should be equally free to follow their conscience without risk to their evaluations and training advancement.
4. Accountability: Physicians providing or otherwise participating in assistance in dying must ensure they have the requisite training and the appropriate competencies, and the ability to assess a patient's decisional capacity or the ability to consult with a colleague to assess capacity in more complex situations. Physicians are expected to use appropriate medical judgment to make a determination of eligibility by (1) assessing the capacity of an adult to consent to the termination of life and (2) determining whether the patient has explored their options (and the putative impacts of any of the options). If the patient wishes to continue seeking medical assistance in dying, physicians are expected to use appropriate medical judgment to determine whether s/he meets the eligibility criteria as per the legislation governing medical assistance in dying. This ought to be a shared decision, and it should be made as part of a deliberative process in the context of the patient-physician relationship. The CMA encourages physicians to participate in accountability processes within their jurisdictions that ensure equitable access to all end-of-life options, including palliative and end-of-life care provided by skilled practitioners, in service of their patients' needs and values. To that end, the CMA believes that a federal oversight body and reporting regime should be established to ensure that all processes are followed.
ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS: PHYSICIAN DUTIES
5. Duty of non-abandonment: Physicians have an obligation to respond to a request for assistance in dying, regardless of how their moral commitment is expressed. Patients should never be abandoned and must always be supported by their physician and other members of their care team. The patient's physician ought to explore the reasons motivating the request and be sensitive to issues of culture and background throughout the dying process, regardless of the decisions the patient makes with respect to assistance in dying. There should be no undue delay in providing access to assistance in dying and all other end-of-life options, either from a clinical, system or facility perspective. For those who choose to provide assistance in dying, the duty of non-abandonment means that physicians have a duty to be available to patients during the act of ending their life. Physicians should be present or immediately available to manage any unexpected complications during the medical procedure, whether the chemical administration is done by the patient or by a regulated practitioner.
6. Duty to support interdisciplinary teams: The CMA advocates that physicians work within, and support other members of, interdisciplinary teams, pay close attention to the impacts of participation and non-participation in medical assistance in dying on their non-physician colleagues, and demonstrate solidarity with their team members as they navigate new legal and ethical territory together.
7. Duty to learners: The CMA recognizes the importance of unique moral considerations within learning environments. Learners are encouraged to reflect on their moral understanding of and views about assistance in dying and to seek a wide range of views and experiences from their patients and from their teachers and colleagues.
ADDRESSING ADHERENCE TO MORAL COMMITMENTS
CMA's position on conscientious participation and conscientious objection aims to harmonize two legitimate considerations: (1) effective patient access to a legally permissible medical service and (2) protection of physicians' freedom of conscience (or moral integrity) in a way that respects differences of conscience.
a. The CMA believes that physicians are not obligated to fulfill a patient's request for assistance in dying but that all physicians are obligated to respond to a patient's request. This means that physicians who choose not to provide or otherwise participate in assistance in dying are:
i. not required to provide it, or to otherwise participate in it, or to refer the patient to a physician or a medical administrator who will provide assistance in dying to the patient; but
ii. are still required to fulfill their duty of non-abandonment by responding to a patient's request for assistance in dying.
There should be no discrimination against a physician who chooses not to provide or otherwise participate in assistance in dying.
b. The CMA believes that physicians are obligated to respond to a patient's request for assistance in dying in a timely fashion. This means that physicians are obligated to, regardless of their beliefs:
i. provide the patient with complete information on all options available, including assistance in dying;
ii. advise the patient on how to access any separate central information, counselling and referral service; and
iii. transfer care of the patient to another physician or another institution, if the patient requests it, for the assessment and treatment of the patient's medical condition and exploration of relevant options. If relevant, such options may include palliative care, mental health care and, if the patient meets the eligibility criteria, provision of assistance in dying. The duty of non-abandonment still applies in all other aspects of the patient's care.
c. Physicians are expected to make available relevant medical records (i.e., diagnosis, pathology, treatment and consults) to the physician accepting care of the patient when authorized by the patient to do so.
d. Physicians are expected to act in good faith. They are expected to never abandon or discriminate against a patient requesting assistance in dying and to not impede or block access to a request for assistance in dying. Physicians should inform their patients of the fact and implications of their conscientious objection. No physician may require a patient to make a commitment not to seek assistance in dying as a condition of acceptance or retention of the patient.
WHAT MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IN DYING (MAID) ENCOMPASSES
1. Medical assistance in dying encompasses the assessment of a patient for eligibility for assistance in dying, deliberation with the patient, accompaniment of the patient through the process of deciding and, if so chosen by the patient, the provision of assistance in dying, which refers to:
a. The administering by a medical practitioner or nurse of a substance to a person, at their request, that causes their death; or
b. The prescribing or providing by a medical practitioner or nurse practitioner of a substance to a person, at their request, so that they may self-administer the substance and in doing so cause their death.
2. The Supreme Court of Canada in Carter used the terms physician-assisted dying and physician-assisted death.
These terms refer to both of the following:
a. Voluntary euthanasia, or physician-administered assistance in dying:
The physician takes the final act that will end the individual's life via, usually, the intravenous administration of a lethal substance, at the request and with the consent of a patient
b. Assisted suicide, or physician-prescribed, self-administered assistance in dying:
An individual performs the final act to end their life by, usually, ingesting a lethal substance prescribed or provided by the physician, at the request and with the consent of the patient.
3. Other commonly used terms are hastened death, physician-administered hastened death and physician-prescribed, patient-administered hastened death.
a. These terms are proposed to make a clear distinction between palliative care and other practices that hasten or bring about death, such as through the legitimate removal of life-sustaining interventions or via the provision or administration of chemicals.
4. Medical aid in dying has a distinct technical and legal meaning within Quebec, described in Bill 52, and is limited to physicians administering the lethal substance at the request of the individual.
WHAT IT DOES NOT ENCOMPASS
1. Palliative care is an integrated approach that aims to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life of those facing life-limiting acute or chronic conditions by means of early identification, assessment and treatment of pain and other symptoms.
2. Continuous palliative sedation therapy1 refers to complete sedation, with the intent of rendering the patient unable to experience the environment, sensation or thoughts, until the patient dies naturally from the underlying illness.
3. Withdrawing or withholding treatment or treatment cessation refers to withdrawing or withholding life-prolonging treatment where it is no longer indicated or desired.
4. Voluntary refusal of hydration and nutrition is the conscious and active choice to refuse and to discontinue food and fluid, orally or parenterally, with the intention of hastening death.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors May 2017
1 Consensus statement on continuous palliative sedation therapy: www.chpca.net/media/343120/final_cpst_framework.pdf.
The term physician health encompasses the prevention and treatment of acute or chronic issues of individual physicians, as well as the optimization of interconnected physical, mental and social factors to support health and wellness.1 Attributable to a range of personal, occupational and system-level factors, physicians and learners alike are increasingly voicing distress and calling for resources and support.
As a central issue for Canadian physicians, and a growing concern within the medical profession, physician ill-health is being increasingly understood as a set of risk-management practices,2 including the use of strategies rooted in organizational psychology and occupational medicine, as well as intensified oversight by professional bodies, and the integration of maintaining personal health as a core medical competency.3
Physician health, is important to the long-term sustainability of the physician workforce and health systems.4 As a quality indicator5-6 addressing the complex array of related issues is a shared responsibility of individual physicians and the systems in which they work.2,4,5 This involves efforts from individuals as well as system-level influencers, such as stakeholder groups from areas including academic medicine, medical education, practice environments, accrediting and regulatory bodies, provincial and territorial medical associations, regional and local health authorities, national medical associations and their affiliates, governments and other decision-making bodies.
Meaningful, system-wide change can only occur via deliberate and concerted efforts on a national scale5 to address personal, workplace, and cultural barriers and normalize the promotion of opportunities and conditions for optimizing health and wellness. Although considerable progress has been made, it is necessary to continue working towards a more coordinated and sustained system of health promotion, illness prevention and tertiary care to build on these successes.4-5
This policy aims to provide broad, aspirational recommendations to help guide stakeholders at all levels of the health system to promote a healthy, vibrant, and engaged profession - including a healthy practice and training culture, and work environment.
The CMA recommends that physicians and learners:
* demonstrate a commitment to physician health and well-being as part of their responsibilities under the CanMEDS Professional Role, including: Exhibiting self-awareness and managing influences on personal well-being (e.g., self-regulation and assessment, mindfulness, resilience); managing personal and professional demands for a sustainable practice throughout the career life cycle; and promoting a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to colleagues in need;3
* actively engage in fostering supportive work and training environments;
* assume responsibility for individual actions and behaviours that may contribute to negative culture and stigma;5
* foster relationships with family and friends, as well as interests outside of medicine, and ensure sufficient rest (including time-off); and
* have a family physician and visit him or her regularly for comprehensive and objective care.
The CMA recommends that:
* national-level advocacy be undertaken to address issues related to physician and learner health;
* efforts to address physician health incorporate individually targeted initiatives and optimize learning and practice environments, including cultivating a healthy culture,6-7 and that stakeholders collaborate (including input from physicians and learners) to develop and promote initiatives that strengthen physician health at both the individual and system levels;
* health systems adopt an understanding of their obligation to the health of physicians that is similar to the obligation of other Canadian employers to their workers (e.g., psychological safety, work hours, employee resources, standards and expectations);
* policies aiming to cultivate a healthy culture be modelled, and behaviours not conducive to supporting and enabling a healthy culture dealt with in an effective manner;
* physician and health system leaders acknowledge and demonstrate that physician health is a priority, and continually assess whether actions and policies align with desired values and culture;4
* physician and health system leaders be better equipped to identify and address behaviours that are symptomatic of distress (e.g., psychological) and receive more comprehensive training to address with colleagues, including within teams;
* mechanisms and opportunities for physicians and learners to access existing services and programs (e.g., provincial, institutional) are maximized, and that these resources are regularly promoted and barriers to access addressed in a timely manner;5,8
* standards, processes and strategies be developed to address occupational barriers to positive health8 (at a minimum, these should address the meaningful integration of occupational and personal life, provision of resources to enhance self-care skills,4 and prioritization of opportunities for adequate rest, exercise, healthy diet and leisure;8
* wellness (including enhancement of meaning, enjoyment and engagement) be promoted, instead of an exclusive focus on reduction of harm;5
* physicians and learners be encouraged to have a family physician, and that barriers to access such care be identified and addressed;
* physicians, particularly those providing primary care to other physicians, have access to training in treating physician colleagues;
* physicians and learners be given reasonable access to confidential assistance in dealing with personal and professional difficulties, provided in a climate free of stigmatization;
* programs and services be accessible to physicians and learners at every stage of their diagnosis and treatment, and that seeking treatment should not feel punitive or result in punitive consequences;
* physicians and learners have supportive learning and work environments free of discrimination, and for processes which provide reasonable accommodations to physicians and learners with existing disabilities, while allowing for safe patient care, to be bolstered; and
* practices which enable safe and effective patient care, and support workflow and efficient capture of information (e.g., electronic medical records), do not create excessive work and time burdens on physicians.
Physician organizations, professional associations and health authorities
The CMA recommends that:
* all physicians and learners have access to a robust and effective provincial physician health program (PHP), and for long-term, sustained efforts to be made to maintain and enhance physician health, including a commitment to resourcing PHPs5 via the provision of stable funding through provincial and territorial medical associations, or the negotiation of such funding from provincial governments;
* training programs, hospitals, and other workplaces ensure appropriate programs, services, and policies are developed, in-place, and enforced for physicians and learners to get help to manage health and behavioural issues, support the need for treatment, and facilitate return to work or training while protecting individual confidentiality, privacy, as well helping the institution manage risk;
* the range of continuing medical education offerings aimed at personal health be expanded (content should develop individual skills and extend to training for leaders and administrators that targets improved training and practice environments and culture);
* continuing education credits for physicians' efforts to enhance their personal wellness or that of colleagues be established and promoted, free of conditions requiring links to patient care;
* emerging champions from learner and early-career segments be identified and supported; and
* the unique health and wellness challenges faced by physicians and learners in rural, remote, or otherwise under-serviced regions (including the Canadian territories) be recognized, and for access to services and other resources to be enhanced.
Medical schools, residency training programs, and accreditation bodies
The CMA calls for:
* accreditation standards for health and wellness programs and initiatives for medical faculties and training programs, and health authorities to be raised, reviewed in an ongoing manner and that standards and competencies be enforced;
* action to bring meaningful change to the 'hidden curriculum' by aligning formal and 'hidden' curriculums that promote and reinforce positive conduct, and for accreditation bodies to consider this in their review and enforcement of standards for training programs; and
* formal health and wellness curricula to be integrated and prioritized at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including but not limited to training around how to recognize and respond to distress or illness in oneself and colleagues, as well as self-management strategies (e.g., resilience and mindfulness).
Medical regulatory authorities
The CMA calls for medical regulatory authorities to:
* work with provincial and territorial medical associations, PHPs, governments and other key stakeholders to; (a) create a regulatory environment that protects the public (their explicit duty) while limiting barriers for physicians seeking diagnosis and treatment,5 and (b) promote resources for early self-identification of potential health issues; and
* while maintaining their duty to protect the public, review their approach to mental health challenges to ensure that focus is placed on the existence of impairment (illness interferes with ability to engage safely in professional activities,9 and not the mere presence of a diagnostic label or act of seeking of care5 (in order to ensure that physicians and learners who are appropriately caring for their health not be impacted in their ability to work).
The CMA calls for:
* governments to acknowledge the adverse impact their policies and processes can have on the health of physicians, and to adopt and enforce health and wellness standards through a lens of occupational health for physicians that are similar to those afforded to other Canadian workers;
* governments to work with employers and key stakeholders to create more effective systems that provide better practice and training conditions;5 and
* enhanced support for provincial PHPs, institutions (e.g., medical schools, training programs), and other providers of physician health services.5
The CMA recommends that:
* national and regional data for major health and wellness indicators be assessed at regular intervals to establish and compare norms and to better target and assess initiatives;
* a national research strategy be developed through collaboration among relevant stakeholders to identify priorities, coordinate efforts, and promote innovation (consider the specific recommendations from a 2016 research summit to improve wellness and reduce burnout,10 including: Estimating economic impacts; using common metrics; developing a comprehensive framework for interventions with individual and organizational components; and sharing the best available evidence); and
* further research in a range of areas including, but not limited to: efficacy of programs, strategies, and systems for promoting and managing health and wellness; examination of the factors exerting the greatest influence on physician health; and system-level interventions.5
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors October 2017
See also Background to CMA Policy on Physician Health
1 World Medical Association (WMA). WMA Statement on physicians well-being. France: WMA; 2015 Oct. Available: https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-statement-on-physicians-well-being/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
2 Albuquerque J, Deshauer D. Physician health: beyond work-life balance. CMAJ 2014;186:E502-503. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.140708 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
3 Frank JR, Snell L, Sherbino J, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). CanMEDS 2015 physician competency framework. Ottawa: RCPSC; 2015. Available: http://canmeds.royalcollege.ca/uploads/en/framework/CanMEDS%202015%20Framework_EN_Reduced.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
4 Shanafelt TD, Noseworthy JH. Executive leadership and physician well-being: Nine organizational strategies to promote engagement and reduce burnout. Mayo Clin Proc 2017;92:129-6. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.10.004 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Physician health matters: A mental health strategy for physicians in Canada. Ottawa: CMA; 2010. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/practice-management-and-wellness/Mentalhealthstrat_final-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
6 Wallace JE, Lemaire JB, Ghali WA. Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator. Lancet 2009;374:1714-21. Available: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61424-0 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
7 Panagioti M, Panagopoulou E, Bower P, Lewith G, Kontopantelis E, Chew-Graham C, et al. Controlled interventions to reduce burnout in physicians: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2017;177:195-205. Available: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.7674 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
8 Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, Mariné A, Serra C, Ruotsalainen JH, Verbeek JH, et al. Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers. Sao Paulo Medical Journal 2016;134:92-92. Available: https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-3180.20161341T1 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
9 Rondinelli RD, Genovese E, Brigham CR, American Medical Association (AMA). Guides to the evaluation of permanent impairment. Chicago: AMA; 2008. Available: https://commerce.ama-assn.org/store/catalog/productDetail.jsp?product_id=prod1160002 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
10 Dyrbye LN, Trockel M, Frank E, Olson K, Linzer M, Lemaire J, et al. Development of a research agenda to identify evidence-based strategies to improve physician wellness and reduce burnout. Ann Intern Med 2017;166:743-4. Available: https://doi.org/10.7326/M16-2956 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
See also CMA Policy on Physician Health
In recent decades there has been growing recognition of the impact of physician health on systemic outcomes and patient-care.1,2 Physician health encompasses the prevention and treatment of acute or chronic issues of individual physicians, as well as the optimization of of interconnected physical, mental and social factors to support health and wellness.3 It is also being increasingly understood as a set of risk-management practices aimed at shifting perceptions of health from being an individual (private) matter to more of a shared resource.4 In Canada evidence for this includes the use of strategies adapted from organizational psychology and occupational medicine to change physician behaviour, as well as intensified oversight by professional bodies, and the inclusion of maintaining personal health as a core competency for physicians.4,5 Despite concerted efforts to promote and protect the health and wellness of physicians, the collective state of physician health remains a significant threat to the viability of Canada's health system.1 Physician distress is emerging as an important quality indicator in medical practice,4,6 and both individual- and system-level factors are well-established contributors to compromised physician health.2,7 As such, the advancement of a model of shared responsibility - targeting the relative roles of individual physicians and system-level influencers8 - represents a robust response to this reality.
1. The state of learner and physician health
Poor health may develop before or during training and persist into medical practice. Medical school and residency training are particularly challenging times, when a myriad of competing personal and professional demands threaten learner health. In Canada, it has been reported that most students suffer from at least one form of distress over the course of their training9,10 and recent national data point to higher rates compared to their age and education-matched peers. With respect to burnout, characterized by a high level of emotional exhaustion and/or high level of depersonalization (at least weekly), overall rates are reportedly 37%.11,12 Similarly higher levels of depression, anxiety and burnout are reported among American medical students than in the general population.13
While both residents and physicians are reported to be physically healthier than the general population, their mental and social health are cause for concern.1,14 Compared with the general population, physicians are at a higher risk of experiencing adverse outcomes such as depression and burnout15,16 - the latter of which is nearly twice as common among physicians compared with workers in other fields, even after adjusting for age, sex, education level, relationship status, and work hours.17 Results from the 2017 CMA National Physician Health Survey18 showed that 49% of residents and 33% of physicians screened positive for depression, and high burnout rates were reported in 38% of residents 29% of physicians. Furthermore, although the mental health, addiction and substance-use problems, including alcohol, among physicians are not dissimilar to those in the general population, the abuse of prescription drugs (e.g., opioids) is reportedly higher.1,19 Although most physicians referred to monitoring programs have been diagnosed with substance use disorders, an increasing number are being referred for recurrent mood disorders, often stemming from workplace concerns.20,21
1.1 Contributing factors
Adverse health outcomes among learners and physicians are linked to a range of contributing factors, including intrinsic ones (e.g., personality characteristics22 and other personal vulnerabilities) and extrinsic ones (e.g., excessive workloads, excessive standards of training and practice, excessive duty hours, lack of autonomy, disruptive behaviour, poor work-life integration, increasing demands with diminishing resources, systemic failures, financial issues, and the practice and training environment).2,15,23
Moreover, the management of risk that many physicians are involved with as it relates to the treatment and management of their patients can be challenging and impacts their health4. A dearth of recent data on the health status of physicians in Canada represents a critical gap in knowledge and limits future efforts to refine, select and assess initiatives.
2.1. Impact on learners and physicians
Compromised physician health can result in decreased personal and professional satisfaction, dysfunctional personal and professional relationships, increased attrition and increased rates of suicide and suicidal ideation.6,24,25 Perhaps most troubling, completed suicide rates among physicians are 1.4-2.3 times higher than in the general population - between 300 and 400 physicians annually in the United States.26 In Canada, suicidal ideation among physicians (including residents) has been recently reported at 19% (lifetime) and 9% (in the last year)18, while Canadian medical student data report 14% (lifetime) and 6% (in the last year).11 Overall, ideation rates are higher among both physicians and learners than in the general population.27
2.2. Impact on patient care
The impact of the mental and physical health of physicians extends to the quality of care provided to patients.16,28,29 For instance, physicians suffering from burnout are reportedly two to three times more likely to report their conduct with their patients as sub-optimal.24 Indeed, physicians remain a primary source of health information for patients, and they act as both role models and health advocates.15 Characteristics of burnout (e.g., poor communication and reduced empathy) run counter to the core principles of patient-centred care,30 and physicians who maintain healthy lifestyles are more likely to focus on preventive strategies with their patients.31,32 Although deficits in physician health can negatively affect patient care, it is notable that evidence linking the health of physicians to medical errors is incomplete, if not difficult to establish. Nevertheless, studies have reported a relationship between medical error and specific adverse outcomes such as burnout.17,33
2.3 Impact on health system
Issues that are associated with compromised physician health, such as reduced productivity, increased turnover, absenteeism and the likelihood of early retirement,25,34 contribute to the strained state of the health system. Given that physicians represent a significant proportion of the Canadian medical workforce, more attention must be paid to physician health if the health system is to be sustainable.2 Encouragingly, studies have shown that resources and services such as workplace wellness programs produce investment returns,35,36 such as decreases in medical leave and absenteeism2,36,37 Implementing strategies from occupational medicine are also being increasingly employed to ensure patient safety when doctors return to work after illness.4 This contributes to helping balance the need of institutions and medical regulatory agencies to minimize the risk while maximizing quality of patient care, with the desire of individual physicians to help their patients while leading healthy, fulfilling lives.4
Although there are moral grounds for addressing physician and learner ill-health, an economic case can also be made to support and guide initial and ongoing investment to address the problem.7,18 In navigating the many external challenges facing the Canadian the health system, it is critical that system-level leaders not neglect internal threats, including physician distress and dissatisfaction6,7, and challenges in navigating complex work environments.24 To this end, although there are many positive and supportive elements within medical culture, it is also important to acknowledge aspects that contribute to poor health.
2.4 Impact on the culture of medical practice and training and on the workplace
Enduring norms within the culture of medicine are directly contributing to the deterioration of the health of Canadian learners and physicians.2 Culturally rooted impediments, such as the reluctance to share personal issues or admit vulnerability, discourage the medical profession from acknowledging, identifying and addressing physician health issues.7 Physicians and learners alike face pressure not to be ill, to care for patients regardless of their personal health and even to attempt to control their own illness and treatment by self-medicating.1,38 Indeed, physicians are often portrayed as being invincible professionals who put patient needs above all else, including their own needs.39,40
Although the CMA Code of Ethics encourages physicians to seek help from colleagues and qualified professionals when personal or workplace challenges compromise patient care41 physicians tend to delay or avoid seeking treatment, especially for psychosocial or psychiatric concerns. Moreover, nearly 33% of Canadian physicians are not registered with a family physician.42 which means they are among the lowest users of health services.43 Providing care to physician colleagues is both complex and challenging, yet this is an area where formal training has not been explicitly or systematically provided on a national scale.1 There is a need to identify physicians willing to treat colleagues, to develop or adapt existing approaches that encourage help-seeking and to help physicians to navigate the treatment of colleagues.
Stigma around mental health within medical practice and training acts as a significant barrier to early intervention.1,44 In a localized study of Canadian physicians, 18% reported distress, but only 25% considered getting help and only 2% actually did.39 Similarly, national CMA data reported that 'feeling ashamed to seek help' was identified (76%) as a major reason for physicians not wanting to contact a physician health program.18 Indeed, common concerns include not wanting to let colleagues or patients down, believing seeking help is acknowledging weakness, being apprehensive about confidentiality, and fearing negative reprisals (e.g., from colleagues, supervisors, regulatory bodies, other licence-granting bodies, insurers)1,45 Fear of retribution is also a frequent reason why physicians may feel hesitant to report impaired colleagues, even if supportive of the concept.46
From the outset of training, medical learners are introduced to system-wide cultural aspects and values of the medical profession, which they then internalize and pass on to others.2 Extensive literature on the "hidden curriculum" points to a performance culture that includes norms such as the view that adversity is character building and the valorization of emotional repression (e.g., mental toughness).2,47 Culture-related issues are being increasingly addressed as a function of medical professionalism. For instance, commitment to physician health, collegiality and support have been established as key competencies within the Professional Role of the CanMEDS Framework,5 the most widely accepted and applied physician competency framework in the world.48 This involves a commitment to exhibiting self-awareness and managing influences on personal well-being and professional performance; managing personal and professional demands for a sustainable practice throughout the physician life cycle, and promoting a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to colleagues in need. In support of these commitments to personal care, physicians must develop their capacity for self-assessment and monitoring, mindfulness and reflection, and resilience for sustainable practice.5
Intra-professionalism, characterized by effective clinical and personal communication among physicians,49 significantly influence job satisfaction, which in turn has been shown to predict physician health outcomes.50 Furthermore, peer support can buffer the negative effects of work demands;39 collegial, professional environments are known to be healthier for both providers and patients.51 Conversely, unprofessional behaviour is associated with physician dissatisfaction,50 and dysfunctional workplaces and poor collegiality are linked to burnout.52 Unprofessional workplace behaviour is tolerated, and in fact is often customary, within medical training and practice environments.53
Of particular concern, such behaviour carried out by more senior physicians has been shown to encourage similar conduct among learners,54 highlighting the importance of promoting effective professional role modelling.55 Unfortunately, poor supervisory behaviour, and even mistreatment of learners, is common within the medical training environment.56 Although expectations for professional behaviour are increasingly being incorporated into both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, issues related to a lack of professionalism persist in both training and practice.51 System-wide efforts are needed to counter what is perceived to be an eroding sense of collegiality and to promote professionalism as a way to address physician burnout and enhance engagement.7,39
3. Treatment and preventive approaches
3.1 Physician health services
The scope of physician health services has expanded from focusing primary focus on identifying treating and monitoring physicians with substance abuse issues to more recent efforts to de-stigmatize poor physician health and integrate proactive resources to complement tertiary approaches.1 In Canada, there are multiple services to support the health needs of learners and physicians. These can be conceptualized along a continuum of approaches,1 including the following: health-promoting environments (e.g., efforts to ensure balanced workloads, provide more support staff, and encourage physicians to make sure they get adequate exercise, nutrition and sleep in training and practice); primary prevention (e.g., resilience training, stress-reduction groups, fatigue management programs, strategies to enhance teamwork and collaborative care); secondary prevention (e.g., access to assessment and counselling; services and workshops on coping with adverse events, litigation and career transitions and on managing difficult behaviour); and tertiary prevention (e.g., more intensive outpatient counselling, inpatient treatment). Many of these approaches, including those at the system level, focus on assisting the individual physician rather than addressing more contextual issues.
Most jurisdictions in Canada have consolidated a number of services under the banner of a provincial physician health program (PHP).These range from counselling, treatment and/or peer support to fitness-to-practice and return-to-work assessments, workplace behaviour management and relationship management. The services available to physicians in a given area vary greatly.1,15 More established and resourced programs often offer services across the continuum, while less established programs tend to focus on secondary and tertiary services.2 Provincial PHPs have been shown to produce positive outcomes1,20,21,48 and are generally considered to be effective in addressing user issues,57 however but many physicians remain reluctant to access them.58 In addition to provincial programs, many learners and physicians in Canada can access support and treatment from other sources, including medical school and faculty wellness programs, employee assistance or workplace programs, and more individual-led options such as physician coaches.1 There has been a steady accumulation of evidence on the positive returns of workplace health and wellness programs,35 as well as indications that even modest investments in physician health can make a difference.17
In response to challenges posed by the considerable diversity in the organizational structure of provincial PHPs, the ways in which PHPs classify information, the range of services they offer, the mechanisms of accountability to stakeholders and the manner in which they pursue non-tertiary activities (e.g., education and prevention work)59 a consortium of PHPs released a preliminary Descriptive Framework for Physician Health Services in Canada in 2016. Through this framework a series of core services (and modes of activity within each) were defined.59 Potential users of the framework include PHPs, academic institutions, medical regulators, national associations, hospitals and health authorities, as well as other local groups. The framework may serve a range of purposes, including program reviews and planning, quality improvement, resource allocation, advocacy, stakeholder consultation and standards development.59 Initiatives such as this framework help address a persistent gap in Canada around equity of and access to services. Overall, fulfilling the needs of all learners and physicians through enhanced service quality and functional equivalence is an ongoing challenge for provincial PHPs and other service providers, and it must be a priority moving forward.
3.2 Individual primary prevention
Prevention and promotion activities can help mitigate the severity and decrease the incidence of adverse outcomes associated with physician health issues among learners and physicians.3 Although secondary and tertiary services are critical components of any health strategy, complementary, proactive, preventive initiatives promote a more comprehensive approach. Some of the best-documented strategies include attuning to physical health (e.g., diet, exercise, rest), psychosocial and mental health (e.g., mindfulness and self-awareness, resilience training, protecting and maintaining cultural and recreational interests outside of medicine, and protecting time and relationships with family and friends).60 For instance, resilience has been identified as an indicator of physician wellness61 and as a critical skill for individuals working in health care environments.39 Innovative, coordinated approaches such as resilience and mindfulness training are instrumental in helping physicians overcome both anticipated and unexpected difficulties, to position them for a sustainable career in medicine.
Many internal (e.g., personal) and external (e.g., occupational) factors can interfere with a physician's capacity to consistently maintain healthy lifestyle behaviours and objectively attend to personal health needs. Although the emergence of individually targeted proactive and preventive activities is encouraging, a greater focus on system-level initiatives to complement both proactive and tertiary approaches is needed. This also aligns with recent CMA member data indicating that medical students (61%), residents (55%), physicians (43%) and retired physicians (41%) want more access to resources to ensure their emotional, social and psychological well-being.62 Such an approach is increasingly important in light of physicians' professional responsibility to demonstrate a commitment to personal health.5
4. Physician health as a shared responsibility
Although physicians are a critical component of Canadian health systems, those systems do not necessarily promote health in the physician community. It cannot be overstated that many health challenges facing learners and physicians are increasingly systemic in nature.1 Despite increasing challenges to the cultural norm that health-related issues are an individual-physician problem,2 system-level factors are often ignored.1,7 Although solutions targeted at the individual level (e.g., mindfulness and resilience training) are important proactive approaches and are a common focus, they often do not address occupational and organizational factors.7 Intervention exclusively at the individual level is unlikely to have meaningful and sustainable impacts. Interventions targeting individual physicians are likely most effective when paired with efforts to address more systemic (e.g., structural and occupational) issues.63 Moreover, organization-directed interventions have been shown to be more effective in reducing physician burnout than individual-directed interventions, and meaningful reductions in negative outcomes have been linked to system-level interventions.22,34
Concerted efforts at the system level will ultimately drive substantive, meaningful and sustainable change. This includes coordination among leaders from national, provincial and local stakeholders as well as individual physicians.16,22,64 Potential influencers include medical schools and other training programs, regulatory bodies, researchers (and funding bodies), professional associations and other health care organizations, as well as insurers.1 Indeed, addressing the complex array of issues related to physician health is a shared responsibility. A clear mandate exists to guide individuals and leaders in promoting and protecting the health of learners and physicians.1,7
Physician health is a growing priority for the medical profession. Medical practice and training present complex occupational environments34, in which leaders play a central role in shaping training, practice and organizational culture through the implicit and explicit ways in which they communicate core values.2 When promoting physician health across the career lifecycle it is also important to consider the unique challenges and experiences of physicians who are not actively practicing (e.g., on leave; have non-clinical roles) as well as those who are retired.
Notwithstanding the impact on patient care or health systems, promoting the health of individual physicians and learners is in and of itself worthy of attention. Indeed, leaders in the health system have a vested interest in helping physicians to meet the personal and professional challenges inherent in medical training and practice as well as in promoting positive concepts such as wellness and engagement.7 The increasingly blurred lines between physician health, professionalism and the functioning of health systems40 suggest that leaders at all levels must promote a unified and progressive vision of a healthy, vibrant and engaged physician workforce. This involves championing health across the career life cycle through advocacy as well as promoting solutions and outcomes through a lens of shared responsibility at both individual and system levels. Broad solutions skewed towards one level, without requisite attention given to the other level, are unikely to result in meaningful change. Moving from rhetoric to action, this next frontier integrates the promotion of self-care among individuals, support for healthy and supportive training and practice environments - both physical and cultural - as well as continued innovation and development of (and support for) physician health services. This constellation of efforts will ultimately contribute to the success of these actions.
See also CMA Policy on Physician Health
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2 Montgomery AJ. The relationship between leadership and physician well-being; A scoping review. Journal of Healthcare Leadership 2016;55:71-80. Available: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/doaj/11793201/2016/00000055/00000001/art00010 (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
3 World Medical Association (WMA). WMA Statement on physicians well-being. France: WMA; 2015 Oct. Available: https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-statement-on-physicians-well-being/ (accessed 2017 Oct 30).
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What is it?
The CMA Charter of Shared Values aims to identify shared values and commitments to each other and to the profession to which physicians and learners can commit to promote trust and respect within the profession and for each other, and identify opportunities for engagement and leadership to promote civility and confront incivility within the profession.
Why does it matter?
The Charter is intended to further strengthen professional responsibilities in support of a unified and aligned profession. We achieve the highest degree of both individual and collective success when we work together, commit together and believe together; when we share a clearly articulated set of common values, virtues and principles; and when we subscribe to the same explicit and implicit understandings.
Commitments to Each Other:
Our most important shared values
As a physician, I will strive to be respectful; I will recognize that everyone has inherent worth, is worthy of dignity, and has the right to be valued and respected, and to be treated ethically; I will respect others and their personal and professional dignity; and I will aim to promote and model respect through collaborative training and practice.
As a physician, I will strive to act with integrity; I will act in an honest and truthful manner, with consistency of intentions and actions; and I will act with moral concern to promote and model effective leadership and to achieve a good outcome for patients.
As a physician, I will strive to cultivate reciprocal relationships; I will be kind with my physician colleagues, and expect them to respond similarly; I will share and exchange my knowledge and experience with them; and I will be generous with them in spirit and in time.
As a physician, I will strive to be civil; I will respect myself and others, regardless of their role, even those with whom I may not agree; I will enter into communication with my physician colleagues with an attitude of active and open listening, whether it be in person, in writing, or virtually; and I will accept personal accountability.
Commitments to the Profession
1. Commitment to promoting a culture of respect and collegiality
As a physician, I will strive to build a culture based on mutual respect and collegiality where physicians treat each other as people in a shared endeavor, and promote civility. I will strive to:
Cultivate respectful, open, and transparent dialogue and relationships
Take responsibility for promoting civility and confronting incivility within the profession
Recognize the relative value among family medicine and specialties and across the educational spectrum, and of the profession’s shared contributions within health systems
Model healthy and supportive training and practice environments
2. Commitment to promoting a culture of self-care and support
As a physician, I will strive to build a culture of self-care and support where physicians are empowered to ask for help and are supported to care for their own physical, mental, and social well-being. I will strive to:
Value physician health and wellness and promote a professional culture that recognizes, supports, and responds effectively to your needs and colleagues in-need
Cultivate an environment of physical and psychological safety, conducive to challenging the status quo, as well as encouraging help-seeking behaviours, without fear of negative reprisal
Recognize that both individual and system-level barriers contribute to health and wellness-related issues and advocate for cultural and systemic change to remove barriers
3. Commitment to promoting a culture of leadership and mentorship
As a physician, I will strive to foster a culture of leadership and mentorship across the career life cycle. I will strive to:
Encourage and enable opportunities and participation in leadership roles across all levels of training, practice, and health system delivery
Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship opportunities and leadership training across all levels of training and practice
Value the exchange of knowledge and experience and encourage reflective relationships (bi-directional) across all levels of training and practice
4. Commitment to promoting a culture of inquiry and reflection
As a physician, I will strive to foster a culture of inquiry and reflection that values and enables reflective practice, individually and collectively. I will strive to:
Value and enable collective inquiry and self-reflection to effect meaningful change
Foster curiosity and exploration to identify strengths and capabilities of teams and health systems to generate new possibilities for action
Cultivate strong connections and relationships between, and meaningful interactions with, colleagues
5. Commitment to promoting a culture of quality
As a physician, I will strive to foster a culture of quality and quality improvement. I will strive to:
Foster intra- and inter-professional collaborations and promote collaborative models of care
Provide high quality patient care and have a view to continuous improvement at the practice and system level, and commit to developing and applying the skills and techniques of quality improvement
Understand that quality improvement is a critical and life-long part of education and practice; participate in maintaining professional standards in myself and my colleagues
Engage patients, families, and caregivers in the process of improvement
6. Commitment to valuing a culture of diversity
As a physician, I will strive to foster a community of practitioners that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve. I will strive to:
Promote diversity within the profession to be receptive and responsive to the evolving (physical, emotional, cultural, socioeconomic) needs of our patient populations
Foster a training and practice environment where diverse and unique perspectives, across generations, cultures and abilities, are heard and appreciated
Foster diversity in leadership across the full spectrum of leadership roles within the profession and health systems
Value the importance of these perspectives within the medical profession, even when they may not be my own patients, families, and caregivers in the process of improvement