Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) believes that the medical training system must be sufficiently flexible to enable medical students to make informed career choices, accommodate resident program changes, and allow practising physicians the opportunity to re-enter training to enhance their skills and knowledge, or to enter a new sphere of practice. The system must also be able to accommodate international medical graduates (IMGs) to provide them with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. For physicians-in-training, effective career guidance and positive influences on career options (e.g., role modelling, early clinical exposure, etc.) may foster confidence with career path selection and minimize program changes during residency. A flexible and well-designed re-entry postgraduate system would be characterized by: long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
The CMA believes that, ultimately, society benefits from a flexible medical training system. These benefits may include enhanced patient care, improved access to physician services, as well as physician retention, particularly in rural and remote communities. A flexible system may also improve morale and satisfaction among students, residents and physicians, and facilitate better career choices. This policy outlines specific recommendations to help create and maintain a well-designed system for flexibility in physician training in Canada. Commitment and action by all stakeholders, including governments, medical schools, regulatory authorities and others, is required.
The CMA believes that this policy must be considered in the context of other relevant CMA policies, including but not limited to the CMA's policies on physician resource planning, physician health and well-being, physician workforce issues and others.
- Postgraduate trainee - Also known as a "resident," an individual who has received his/her MD degree and is currently enrolled in an accredited program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
- Medical student - An individual enrolled in an undergraduate program in a Canadian school of medicine that would lead to an MD degree.
- International medical graduate - An individual who received his/her MD degree from a training program other than from one of Canada's undergraduate schools of medicine.
- Designated positions - Postgraduate positions within the determined complement of residency positions that are identified to meet a need other than that of accommodating the annual number of new graduates of Canadian medical schools to complete the usual training for certification and licensure. Designated positions may be identified for a variety of purposes.
The need for informed career decision-making and positive influences
Choice of practice discipline as lifelong career can be one of the most difficult aspects of physician training. Exacerbating this challenge are the vast array of available specialties, timing of choices, as well as practice considerations in terms of lifestyle and physician resource needs. The rapidly changing face of medical practice as well as the limited amount of information and time available to consider options, are also contributing factors.
A number of other forces, both positive and negative, may affect students' choices of practice specialty. These can include financial considerations in light of student debt incurred by high tuition fees and insufficient financial support. 12 The biases of faculty, family and others may also impact decisions. In addition, limited training opportunities in general, as well as a lack of flexibility to switch training programs, may also restrict choice of practice specialty. While a myriad of personal factors are acknowledged to also play contributing roles in influencing program selection, these issues are too complex to discuss here. Ultimately, students need to have access to financial support so as to reduce stress and the influence of debt on specialty choice. They also need objective information and guidance and broad clinical experiences early in their medical training as this has been identified as a critical factor in making decisions about their future careers.3
The rotating internship, abolished in the early 1990s, used to permit residency selection at a later stage in medical training. The residency program match now takes place during the final year of undergraduate studies. As a consequence of this earlier timing, some students feel pressured to make their specialty choice too early in their medical education and often before their clerkship has even begun. This can include focusing research and program electives4 in one specific area, rather than sampling a broad range of disciplines, to demonstrate conviction of choice to residency program directors at the time of the match. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to the Canadian Resident Matching Service's (CaRMS) 2006 post-match survey indicated they completed more than half of their electives in their first-choice discipline.5 This, combined with the early timing of the residency match, can lead to an uninformed choice of residency program and the realization, at a later date, that a different training program would be more suitable. Eighty percent of medical leader respondents to the 2008 Core Competency Project survey indicated that timing of career choice was the biggest challenge for career decision-making.6
Those residents who wish to change to new training programs may not believe they have the opportunity to do so. Thirty-seven percent of resident respondents to the Core Competency Project survey considered switching disciplines during their residency training7 and 39% had spoken to a faculty member about switching programs.8 Others who do change programs are ultimately delayed entry into the workforce as a result of their prolonged training. This problem is exacerbated by an insufficient number of re-entry postgraduate training positions and large debt that confine trainees to a single career path.
Lack of student confidence and preparedness in choosing a postgraduate training program, or lack of success in achieving a first choice in the postgraduate match, may predict subsequent program changes. A broad range of strategies must be available to help medical students make informed career choices. These include a wider choice of electives at an earlier stage of training, positive and unbiased mentoring experiences, improved access to career information from residents, as well as career seminars and other resources.
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
1. the undergraduate medical school curriculum be re-designed to facilitate informed career choice and, in particular, to ensure that students enjoy a broad range of clinical experiences before they have to choose a specific discipline (i.e., via CaRMS match);
2. national career counselling curricula for both medical students and residents be developed and include the following components: national standardization; stakeholder input (students, residents and others); positive and fair role modelling by both residents and practising physicians/faculty, with appropriate professional respect among medical disciplines; and formal and informal mentorship programs;
3. a wide-range of elective opportunities be developed and communicated at a national level;
4. electives reflect a broad spectrum of experiences, including community-based opportunities;
5. clinical experiences be introduced at the earliest possible stage of undergraduate learning;
6. a national policy be implemented to ensure mandatory diversification of student elective experiences; and
7. medical schools be permitted and encouraged to model alternate systems of postgraduate learning.
The need for broad-based medical education
In order to provide medical students with the greatest options for flexibility in medical training, they should be actively encouraged to pursue a broad-based medical education. Previously, CMA advocated for a common postgraduate year (PGY1). In the 2008 Core Competency Project survey, 77% of physician respondents, 70% of medical student respondents and 67% of program director respondents expressed support for first year residents to do a broad-based common PGY1-like rotating internship.9 The rationale for and importance of ensuring flexibility has been outlined in the previous sections.
Capacity of the postgraduate training system
An essential component in ensuring flexibility within the medical training system is to establish and maintain sufficient capacity at the postgraduate training level. This is necessary for the following reasons:
* Sufficient capacity may prevent highly-skilled and well-trained Canadian physicians from being forced to seek postgraduate training in the U.S. and remain there to practise medicine.
* It is necessary to provide IMGs with a reasonable opportunity to attain their postgraduate credentials and become licensed to practise in Canada. This reflects the CMA's recognition of the important contribution that IMGs have made, and continue to make, in the provision of medical services, teaching and research in Canada. Opportunities for IMGs will also permit Canadians who study medicine abroad to pursue their medical careers in Canada.
* It is essential to provide students with sufficient choice to seek the training that best matches their skills and interests as well as societal demands.
* It is crucial to provide sufficient re-entry positions to allow practising physicians to seek training in other areas of medicine to meet the demands of their communities. [Please refer to the "Re-entry" section of this policy for more details.]
In light of the above, the CMA recommends that:
8. mechanisms be developed to permit reasonable movement of residents within the overall residency structure and career counselling supports be made available to residents considering such a change;
9. the capacity of the postgraduate training system be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort, and the training needs of international medical graduates;
10. there be a clearly defined pool of re-entry postgraduate positions and positions for international medical graduates;
11. government match and maintain undergraduate medical enrolment with a target of at least 120 ministry-funded postgraduate training positions per 100 Canadian medical graduates, to accommodate the training needs of the graduating cohort, the re-entry cohort and international medical graduates; and
12. options be explored for influencing governments to support a flexible postgraduate medical education system that also meets societal needs.
Re-entry medical training system
Note: This section addresses only one kind of designated position, specifically, those for licensed physicians wishing to re-enter training after a period in practice (also known as "re-entry positions"). The re-entry positions addressed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
Increased opportunity for exposure to the breadth of medical fields in undergraduate training, improved undergraduate career counselling and a postgraduate system that makes the changing of disciplines easier are some of the many aspects that should facilitate residents' satisfaction with career choice. There will, however, inevitably be individual cases where issues of societal need, personal health, lifestyle or personal choice necessitate a change in career direction after postgraduate training. This requires the availability of additional postgraduate positions allotted specifically to this sub-set.
A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions is needed within the postgraduate training system to enable practising physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline. While this may apply mostly to family physicians and general practitioners wishing to train in a specialty discipline, it can also include practising specialists wanting to sub-specialize or train in another area, which could be Family Medicine.
The additional or new training of primary care physicians, particularly in obstetrics, emergency medicine, anaesthesia, surgery, psychiatry and general internal medicine, will be of benefit to smaller communities lacking regular access to these specialty medical services. In addition, the availability of adequate re-entry positions may encourage new physicians to accept locum tenens, thus relieving overworked physicians in underserviced communities. Potentially, it could help to increase a community's long-term retention rate of established physicians.
The CMA believes that a well-designed re-entry system for Canadian postgraduate medical education would be characterized by an accessible national registry, long-term stability, sufficient and appropriate capacity, accessibility, flexibility in the workforce and accountability.
Medical students need reassurance that re-entry positions will be available if they wish to re-enter training after a period in practice. This will enable them to better plan their careers, reduce anxieties about career selection and ultimately help to meet the health care needs of society. For physicians re-entering the postgraduate training system, there must also be the guarantee that sufficient program funding will be available to ensure completion of training.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
13. a complement of clearly defined, permanent re-entry positions with stable funding be a basic component of the Canadian postgraduate training system and that the availability of these positions be effectively communicated to potential candidates; and
14. funding for re-entry positions be specifically allocated for the entire training period.
The CMA believes that the capacity of the postgraduate training system must be sufficiently large to accommodate the needs of the re-entry cohort and that postgraduate re-entry positions should be supernumerary to the numbers required for the graduating cohort. [Please refer to the "Capacity of the Postgraduate Training System" section of this policy for specific recommendations.]
The CMA believes that re-entry physicians should not be restricted to competing for particular disciplines for which there is an identified need in their jurisdiction. Re-entry physicians should also be able to compete for any available disciplines across all training programs. Not every discipline will be available for re-entry each year but all should be accessible over the course of a three-year period.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
15. there be accessibility within re-entry postgraduate training positions including:
* open and fair competition at the national level among all re-entry candidates for the clearly defined pool of re-entry positions,
* that the mix of positions available reflect the overall mix of positions in the postgraduate training system, and
* recognizing the limited size of the re-entry pool, access to all specialties be available over a three-year period rather than on an annual basis; and
16. access to entry should be possible through both national and regional pools of re-entry positions, with a process comparable to that currently used for the postgraduate training system.
Flexibility in the Workforce
As previously mentioned, the re-entry positions discussed in this paper would require no return for service. Designated positions for training in return for service in a specified discipline and location is a separate entity from general re-entry.
The CMA therefore recommends that:
17. physicians who have retrained through the re-entry system have the same practice opportunities as physicians entering the workforce for the first time.
The CMA recognizes the importance of public accountability and sound fiscal management and therefore recommends that:
18. there be on-going evaluation of the re-entry system in Canadian postgraduate medical education.
1 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
2 2007 National Physician Survey Data.
3 Directions for Residency Education, 2009 - A final report of the Core Competency Project. February 2009. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and College of Family Physicians of Canada.
4 Ibid, page 23.
6 Ibid, page 59.
7 Ibid, page 27.
8 Ibid, page 60.
TUITION FEE ESCALATION AND DEREGULATION IN UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN MEDICINE (Update 2009)
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is very concerned about high and rapidly escalating, undergraduate medical school tuition fees across Canada. Ontario set a precedent for the deregulation of tuition fees in May 1998 and many provinces have since followed. This policy gives universities, including medical schools, the discretion to set fees for training in those areas that lead to professional careers, such as medicine. For the 2008-2009 academic year, first-year tuition fees at most Ontario medical schools were triple the tuition fees in 1997-1998 at an average of $16,550 per year;1 this figure does not include compulsory "other fees" that can be as much as $1,700 per year.2 Irrespective of whether tuition fees have been regulated, some medical schools outside of Ontario have doubled their tuition fees within the same time period. Decreased government funding to universities is increasing the fiscal pressures on institutions and is driving these dramatic tuition fee increases. The CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant and detrimental impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services.
Broad Effects of High Tuition Fees
Lack of Diversity
Medical education in Canada has traditionally been affordable and accessible to individuals from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic groups who later serve an equally diverse population. Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees may close the door to individuals who either cannot afford the high costs of a medical education or wish to avoid the prospect of significant debt load upon graduation. High tuition fees may therefore create an imbalance in admissions to medical school by favouring those who represent the affluent segment of society and not the variety of groups reflected in the Canadian population. The proportion of medical students from lower income families is already extremely low and decreasing further.3 Paradoxically, funds that should be injected to making tuition fees reasonable - and therefore more accessible by a broader range of society - may soon need to be allocated to creating career promotion and special financial support programs that target those groups that have been alienated by high tuition fees.
Influence on Practice Choice and Practice Location ("Brain Drain")
It is likely that paying off debts as quickly as possible will become a key consideration when determining practice location and specialty. For instance, more students may feel compelled to maximize their earning potential by pursuing those specialties that generate high incomes; others may choose those specialties with short training periods so they can enter the workforce and start to pay off debts sooner.
Debt load may also influence where graduating physicians choose to practise medicine. The increasing willingness of American recruiters to pay off the debts of new graduates provides tremendous incentive to practise in the U.S. and explore research opportunities; unfortunately, it only aggravates the ongoing problem of the "brain drain" of Canadian physicians.4 While we have been enjoying a net gain of physicians from the U.S., we may experience net loss with physician shortages expected in the U.S. More physician retention and recruitment initiatives are needed to encourage physicians to remain in or return to Canada. This is especially true for rural and remote communities. Urban areas are often in a better financial position to offer incentives to new graduates than rural and remote communities where physician shortages are most pronounced.
Effects on Rural and Remote Areas
The CMA believes that governments must be made aware of the potentially negative impact of high tuition fees and student debt on physician workforce supply for the rural and remote areas of Canada. Research shows that medical students from rural and remote areas have a greater likelihood of returning to these communities to practise medicine.5 Research also shows that students of rural origin have higher student debts6 and are underrepresented in Canadian medical schools.7 Students from rural and remote communities face the challenge of not being able to live at home while they attend university. They must assume high relocation expenses and travel costs, as well as separation from their families while they are away at school. Of student respondents to the 2007 National Physician Survey, 53.1% of rural students compared with 67.4% of urban medical students had no debt upon entering medical school. When asked to predict their expected debt upon completion of medical school, 33.2% of rural students compared with 23% of urban students expected their debtload to exceed $100,000.8 Unfortunately, the introduction of high tuition fees might make both the personal and financial costs of pursuing a medical education too significant for students from rural and remote areas to even consider. As a result, this may generate fewer physicians willing to practise in these areas and exacerbate the problem most rural and remote communities already face in attracting and retaining physicians. High tuition fees might also further increase the reliance on international medical graduates in rural and remote communities. While the CMA values the contributions of international medical graduates in alleviating shortages in physician supply, it believes that Canadian governments must adopt the guiding principle of self-sufficiency in the production and retention of physicians to meet population needs.
Effects on New and Potential Medical Students
Medical students affected by high and escalating tuition fees will graduate with unprecedented debt loads. Enormous education costs, already a reality in some provinces, are a growing trend. In 2007, over one third (36%) of students said they expected debtloads of $80,000 or more upon completion of medical school.9
A number of factors, as highlighted below, contribute to students' financial burden and may affect their ability to pay off debts and meet financial obligations. This, in turn, may influence their choice of medical discipline and practice location. Exorbitant education costs may also result in students considering dropping out of, or taking longer to complete, their medical studies because they cannot afford the ongoing costs, or are too overwhelmed with the combined stress of their medical studies and trying to make financial ends meet. The CMA is very concerned that excessive debt loads will exacerbate the stress already experienced by medical students during their training and will have a significant and negative impact on their health and well-being.
Previous Education Debt and Accumulative Debt
Most Canadian medical schools make an undergraduate degree a prerequisite to application. As such, by the time most students are accepted into medical school, they may have already accumulated debt from a previous undergraduate degree. Many students have also completed postgraduate degrees before entering medical school.10 This debt continues to accumulate during the undergraduate years of medical school and into the postgraduate training period, which is anywhere from two years to seven years in duration. This does not include additional time spent doing fellowships. It may be very useful to establish a national clearinghouse of public and private financial assistance programs to help students in their search for financial support.
Limited or No Employment Opportunities during Undergraduate Training
Tuition fees, along with ongoing increases in living expenses, are already making it very difficult for some students to make ends meet. It makes matters worse that there are limited or no opportunities to generate income through employment during the academic year and the summer months. Given the intensity of the medical school program, some schools strongly advise against working part time. To further compound the problem, some schools have very short summer breaks. For those schools that do provide summer holidays, the holidays often start later than other university programs, by which time employment opportunities are scarce or low paying. There is also the common expectation that medical students will undertake unpaid clinical or research elective experiences during the summer to enhance their desirability for postgraduate medical programs.
Limited or No Remuneration for the Clinical Clerkship
During the clerkship years, there are no summertime breaks because students spend these years working in hospitals and other clinical settings. All Canadian medical students (outside of Québec) receive a relatively small stipend during their clerkship varying from $2,808 to $6,000;11 however, the stipend had previously been abolished in medical schools in Ontario and Québec in the early 1990s. Fortunately Ontario reinstated the stipend as the Final Year Medical Student Bursary in 2004.12
In addition to very limited or no opportunities to generate employment income, medical students must bear a number of unique and significant costs. These include very high textbook and instrument costs, as well as a variety of expenses associated with their clerkship, such as travel to and from the clinical setting and the need for professional attire. The introduction of distributed medical education including satellite campuses, co-campuses and rural learning sites has increased the amount of travel required of medical students as well as the associated costs.
Off-site electives also generate many additional expenses, including the cost for travel to the site - which may be in a different province - as well as accommodation and other living expenses. A 1999 survey of graduating medical students revealed that more than half took an off-site elective at a specific institution in order to increase their chances of being matched to that site.13 As postgraduate training becomes even more competitive, the number of students taking off-site electives may increase and so will the number of students who are adding this expense to their overall debt load.
Medical students must also assume considerable costs related to interviews for residency training, including the high costs for travel to various interview sites, accommodation expenses, application fees for the resident matching service and other miscellaneous expenses. There is also a considerable fee for the qualifying examination that is written at the end of medical school.
Insufficient Public Funding and Increasing Reliance on Bank Loans
Government financial support programs (bursaries and loans) are not increasing to meet students' needs due to rising tuition costs and living expenses. As a consequence, the number of students who must rely on interest-bearing bank loans to help support themselves while they are in school may increase. Unlike some government programs, repayment of bank loans often cannot be postponed until after graduation and interest payment is required during the course of study; this further exacerbates students' financial stress.
Upon graduation from medical school, students must pursue two to seven years of postgraduate training to obtain a licence to practise medicine. This training period is marked with fees for examinations as well as an annual tuition and/or registration fee. During 2008-2009, the tuition fee was as much as $3,900 in some provinces.14 Residents are also required to work long hours in hospitals and other clinical settings and have frequent on-call responsibilities. Although residents do receive a salary for this work, the remuneration is relatively modest when these factors and debt servicing payments are considered. In fact, mandatory debt maintenance can consume a very significant proportion of a resident's pay.15 The CMA opposes tuition fees for residents. While the CMA's opposition to residency tuition is based on a number of factors not limited to its financial impact, clearly, tuition fees exacerbate debt.
High Practice Start-up Costs and Decreased Pay Potential
Licensed physicians wanting to establish a clinical practice currently face start-up costs estimated between $30,000 and $50,000, depending on their practice specialty and type (e.g., solo versus group practice).16 Some specialties require capital investment over and above the basic start-up costs. These expenses will add to the significant debt that new physicians will bear in the next few years.
In addition to significantly higher debt load than the previous generation of new physicians, a number of factors may influence the net income of physicians and their ability to pay off debts. These include billing caps, stagnant fees for services, high malpractice insurance fees, overhead expenses and increasing non-remunerative administrative responsibilities.
In summary, the CMA believes that high tuition fees, coupled with insufficient financial support systems, have a significant impact on not only current and potential medical students, but also the Canadian health care system and public access to medical services. This impact includes:
* creating socioeconomic barriers to application to medical school and threatening the diversity of future physicians serving the public
* exacerbating the physician brain drain to the U.S. where new physicians can pay off their huge debts more quickly
* generating fewer physicians available or interested in practising in rural and remote areas of Canada
In response to its concerns regarding the deregulation of tuition fees and high tuition fee increases, the CMA recommends that:
1 governments increase funding to medical schools to alleviate the pressures driving tuition increases
2 any tuition increase should be regulated and reasonable
3 financial support systems for students be developed concomitantly or in advance of any tuition increase, be in direct proportion to the tuition fee increase and provided at levels that meet the needs of students.
Glossary of Terms
Undergraduate Program in Medicine, also known as "Medical School"
Medical school is the period of study, usually four years in duration that leads to the doctor of medicine or "MD" degree upon graduation. Most Canadian universities require applicants to the undergraduate medicine program to have at least a three-year degree (e.g., Bachelor of Science degree) before they are eligible to apply. Although the title "Doctor" is conferred upon successful completion of the undergraduate program, an additional two to seven years or more of residency training is required before these individuals can apply for a licence to practise medicine in Canada.
The clerkship is the period during the last one to two years of undergraduate studies in medicine during which medical students work in hospitals, clinics and physicians' offices.
Many students take off-site electives during their clerkship. An "elective" is a course or training that is not mandatory to the curriculum, but may be elected or chosen by the student. An "off-site" elective means that the training is being provided at a location different from the medical school where the student is enrolled; for example, the elective may be in a different city, province, or even a different country.
During the last year of undergraduate training, most graduating medical students participate in a national process that matches them with available residency training positions in Canada.
Residency/Postgraduate Training Period
After earning his/her MD degree and receiving the title "Doctor," additional training is required in a specific area before an individual may practise medicine in Canada. This period of training is referred to as "residency" or "postgraduate training;" the individuals undergoing the training are called "residents." Residents usually work in hospitals (also called "teaching hospitals") under the supervision of a licensed physician. Depending on the field of study, residency training may range from two to seven years or longer if subspecialty training is pursued (e.g., pediatric cardiology). At the end of residency training, individuals must pass a number of examinations to practise medicine in Canada.
A fellowship is training sought by individuals who wish to obtain expertise in a specific area of medicine above and beyond basic residency requirements.
1 Tuition Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine: Session Commencing Fall 2008. Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, November 2008.
3 Kwong JC, Dhalla IA, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE & IL Johnson. Effects of rising tuition fees on medical school class composition and financial outlook. CMAJ 2002; 166 (8): 1023-8.
4 "Are We Losing Our Minds? Trends, Determinants and the Role of Taxation in Brain Drain to the United States," The Conference Board of Canada, July 1999.
5 Advisory Panel Report on the Provision of Medical Services in Underserviced Regions. Canadian Medical Association, 1992.
6 2007 National Physician Survey.
7 Dhalla IA, Kwong JC, Streiner DL, Baddour RE, Waddell AE, Johnson IL, et al. Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian medical schools. CMAJ 2002;166(8):1029-35. 
8 2007 National Physician Survey.
9 2007 National Physician Survey.
10 "Educational Attainment at Time of Application of Registered and Not Registered Applicants to Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2006-2007 (Table 105)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p154.
11 "Duration of Clinical Clerkship and Amount of Stipend in Canadian Faculties of Medicine 2008-2009 (Table 7)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p9.
12 Clinical Clerkship Stipends by Faculty of Medicine, 1995-1996 to 1999-2000, Canadian Medical Association Research Directorate, January 2000.
13 Results of the Post-Match Survey of Students Graduating 1999, Canadian Resident Matching Service.
14 "Post-MD Clinical Trainee Fees in Canadian Faculties of Medicine - 2008-2009 (Table 6)." 2008 Canadian Medical Education Statistics. Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Volume 30, p8.
15 2007 National Physician Survey.
16 Practice Management, MD Management Ltd.
Electronic tools are now being used more widely in medicine than ever before. A majority of physicians in Canada have adopted electronic medical records (EMRs)-75% of physicians use EMRs to enter or retrieve clinical patient notes, and 80% use electronic tools to access laboratory/diagnostic test results. The increased use of point-of-care tools and information repositories has resulted in the mass digitization and storage of clinical information, which provides opportunities for the use of big data analytics.
Big data analytics may come to be understood as the process of examining clinical data in EMRs cross-referenced with other administrative, demographic and behavioural data sources to reveal determinants of patient health and patterns in clinical practice. Its increased use may provide opportunities to develop and enhance clinical practice tools and to improve health outcomes at both point-of-care and population levels. However, given the nature of EMR use in Canada, these opportunities may be restricted to primary care practice at this time.
Physicians play a central role in finding the right balance between leveraging the advantages of big data analytics and protecting patient privacy. Guiding Principles for the Optimal Use of Data Analytics by Physicians at the Point of Care outlines basic considerations for the use of big data analytics services and highlights key considerations when responding to requests for access to EMR data, including the following:
* Why will data analytics be used? Will the safety and effectiveness of patient care be enhanced? Will the results be used to inform public health measures?
* What are the responsibilities of physicians to respect and protect patient and physician information, provide appropriate information during consent conversations, and review data sharing agreements and consult with EMR vendors to understand how data will be used?
As physicians will encounter big data analytics in a number of ways, this document also outlines the characteristics one should be looking for when assessing the safety and effectiveness of big data analytics services:
* protection of privacy
* clear and detailed data sharing agreement
* physician-owned and -led data collaboratives
* endorsement by a professional or recognized association, medical society or health care organization
* scope of services and functionality/appropriateness of data
While this guidance is not a standalone document-it should be used as a supplemental reference to provincial privacy legislation-it is hoped that it can aid physicians to identify suitable big data analytics services and derive benefits from them.
This document outlines basic considerations for the use of big data analytics services at the point of care or for research approved by a research ethics board. This includes considerations when responding to requests for access to data in electronic medical records (EMRs).
These guiding principles build on the policies of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) on Data Sharing Agreements: Principles for Electronic Medical Records/Electronic Health Records,1 Principles Concerning Physician Information2 and Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information,3 the 2011 clinical vignettes Disclosing Personal Health Information to Third Parties4 and Need to Know and Circle of Care,5 and the Canadian Medical Protective Association's The Impact of Big Data on Healthcare and Medical Practice.6
These guiding principles are for information and reference only and should not be construed as legal or financial advice, nor is this document a substitute for legal or other professional advice. Physicians must always comply with all legislation that applies to big data analytics, including privacy legislation. Big data analytics in the clinical context involves the collection, use and potential disclosure of patient and physician information, both of which could be considered sensitive personal information under privacy legislation.
Big data analytics has the potential to improve health outcomes, both at the point of care and at a population level. Doctors have a key role to play in finding the right balance between leveraging the advantages of big data (enhanced care, service delivery and resource management) and protecting patient privacy.7
A majority of physicians in Canada have adopted EMRs in their practice. The percentage of physicians using EMRs to enter or retrieve clinical patient notes increased from 26% in 2007 to 75% in 2014. Eighty percent of physicians used electronic tools to access laboratory/diagnostic test results in 2014, up from 38% in 2010.8 The increasingly broad collection of information by physicians at the point of care, combined with the growth of information repositories developed by various governmental and intergovernmental bodies, has resulted in the mass digitization and storage of clinical information.
Big data is the term for data sets so large and complex that it is difficult to process them using traditional relational database management systems, desktop statistics and visualization software. What is considered "big" depends on the infrastructure and capabilities of the organization managing the data.9
Analytics is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data. Analytics relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research. Analytics often favours data visualization to communicate insight, and insights from data are used to guide decision-making.10
For physicians, big data analytics may come to be understood as the process of examining the clinical data in EMRs cross-referenced with other administrative, demographic and behavioural data sources to reveal determinants of patient health and patterns in clinical practice. This information can be used to assist clinical decision-making or for research approved by a research ethics board.
There are four types of big data analytics physicians may encounter in the provision of patient care. They are generally performed in the following sequence, in a continuous cycle11,12,13,14:
1. Population health analytics: Health trends are identified in the aggregate within a community, a region or a national population. The data can be derived from biomedical and/or administrative data.
2. Risk-based cost analysis: Populations are segmented into groups according to the level of risk to the patient's health and/or cost to the health system.
3. Care management: Clinicians are enabled to manage patient care according to defined care pathways and clinical protocols informed by population health analytics and risk-based cost analysis. Care management includes the following:
o Clinical decision support: Outcomes are predicted and/or alternative treatments are recommended to clinicians and patients at the point of care.
o Personalized/precision care: Personalized data sets, such as genomic DNA sequences for at-risk patients, are leveraged to highlight best practice treatments for patients and practitioners. These solutions may offer early detection and diagnosis before a patient develops disease symptoms.
o Clinical operations: Workflow management is performed, such as wait-times management, mining historical and unstructured data for patterns to predict events that may affect care.
o Continuing education and professional development: Longitudinal performance data are combined across institutions, classes, cohorts or programs with correlating patient outcomes to assess models of education and/or develop new programs.
4. Performance analytics: Metrics for quality and efficiency of patient care are cross-referenced with clinical decision-making and performance data to assess clinical performance.
This cycle is also sometimes understood as a component of "meaningful" or "enhanced" use of EMRs.
How might physicians encounter big data analytics?
Many EMRs run analytics both visibly (e.g., as a function that can be activated at appropriate junctures in the care pathway) and invisibly (e.g., as tools that run seamlessly in the background of an EMR). Physicians may or may not be aware when data are being collected, analyzed, tailored or presented by big data analytics services. However, many jurisdictions are strengthening their laws and standards, and best practices are gradually emerging.15
Physicians may have entered into a data sharing agreement with their EMR vendor when they procured an EMR for their practice. Such agreements may include provisions to share de-identified (i.e., anonymized) and/or aggregate data with the EMR vendor for specified or unspecified purposes.
Physicians may also receive requests from third parties to share their EMR data. These requests may come from various sources:
* provincial governments
* intergovernmental agencies
* national and provincial associations, including medical associations
* non-profit organizations
* independent researchers
* EMR vendors, service providers and other private corporations
National Physician Survey results indicate that in 2014, 10% of physicians had shared data from their EMRs for the purposes of research, 10% for chronic disease surveillance and 8% for care improvement. Family physicians were more likely than other specialists to share with public health agencies (22% v. 11%) and electronic record vendors (13% v. 2%). Specialists were more likely than family physicians to share with researchers (59% v. 37%), hospital departments (47% v. 20%) and university departments (28% v. 15%).
There is significant variability across the provinces with regard to what proportion of physicians are sharing information from their EMRs, which is affected by the presence of research initiatives, research objectives defined by the approval of a research ethics board, the adoption rates of EMRs among physicians in the province and the functionality of those EMRs.16
For example, there are family practitioners across Canada who provide data to the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN). The CPCSSN is a multi-disease EMR surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers to understand and manage chronic care conditions for patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating family physicians, specifically information about Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions, including Alzheimer's and related dementias.17
In another example, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer's Surgical Synoptic Reporting Initiative captures standardized information about surgery at the point of care and transmits the surgical report to other health care personnel. Surgeons can use the captured information, which gives them the ability to assess adherence to the clinical evidence and safety procedures embedded in the reporting templates, to track their own practices and those of their community.18 The concept of synoptic reporting-whereby a physician provides anonymized data about their practice in return for an aggregate report summarizing the practice of others -can be expanded to any area in which an appropriate number of physicians are willing to participate.
Guiding principles for the use of big data analytics
These guiding principles are designed to give physicians a starting point as they consider the use of big data analytics in their practices:
* The objective of using big data analytics must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or for the purpose of health promotion.
* Should a physician use big data analytics, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to their legislative, regulatory and/or professional obligations.
* Physicians are responsible for the privacy of their individual patients. Physicians may wish to refer to the CMA's policy on Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information.19
* Physicians are responsible for respecting and protecting the privacy of other physicians' information. Physicians may wish to refer to the CMA's policy on Principles Concerning Physician Information.20
* When physicians enter into and document a broad consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information, this agreement should convey information to cover the elements common to big data analytics services.
* Physicians may also wish to consider the potential for big data analytics to inform public health measures and enhance health system efficiency and take this into account when responding to requests for access to data in an EMR.
* Many EMR vendors provide cloud-based storage to their clients, so information entered into an EMR may be available to the EMR vendor in a de-identified and/or aggregate state. Physicians should carefully read their data sharing agreement with their EMR vendor to understand how and why the data that is entered into an EMR is used, and/or they should refer to the CMA's policy on the matter, Data Sharing Agreements: Principles for Electronic Medical Records/Electronic Health Records.21
* Given the dynamic nature of this emerging tool, physicians are encouraged to share information about their experiences with big data analytics and its applications with colleagues.
Characteristics of safe and effective big data analytics services
1. Protection of privacy
Privacy and security concerns present a challenge in linking big data in EMRs. As data are linked, it becomes increasingly difficult to de-identify individual patients.22
As care is increasingly provided in interconnected, digital environments, physicians are having to take on the role of data stewardship. To that end, physicians may wish to employ conservative risk assessment practices-"should we" as opposed to "can we" when linking data sources-and obtain express patient consent, employing a "permission-based" approach to the collection and stewardship of data.
2. A clear and detailed data sharing agreement
Physicians entering into a contract with an EMR vendor or other third party for provision of services should understand how and when they are contributing to the collection of data for the purposes of big data analytics services. There are template data sharing agreements available, which include the basic components of safe and effective data sharing, such as the model provided by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.23
Data sharing agreements may include general use and project-specific use, both of which physicians should assess before entering into the agreement. When EMR access is being provided to a ministry of health and/or regional health authority, the data sharing agreement should distinguish between access to administrative data and access to clinical data.
Physicians may wish to refer to the CMA's policy on Data Sharing Agreements: Principles for Electronic Medical Records/Electronic Health Records.24
3. Physician-owned and -led data collaboratives
In some provinces there may exist opportunities to share clinical data in physician-owned and -led networks to reflect on and improve patient care. One example is the Physicians Data Collaborative in British Columbia, a not-for-profit organization open to divisions of family practice.25 Collaboratives such as this one are governed by physicians and driven by a desire to protect the privacy and safety of patients while producing meaningful results for physicians in daily practice.
Participation in physician-owned data collaboratives may ensure that patient data continue to be managed by physicians, which may lead to an appropriate prioritization of physicians' obligations to balance patient-centred care and patient privacy.
4. Endorsement by a professional or other recognized association or medical society or health care organization
When considering use of big data analytics services, it is best to select services created or endorsed by a professional or other recognized association or medical society. Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse services for use in their clinical environments. Without such endorsement, physicians are advised to proceed with additional caution.
5. Scope of services and functionality/appropriateness of data
Physicians may wish to seek out information from EMR vendors and service providers about how big data analytics services complement the process of diagnosis and about the range of data sources from which these services draw. While big data analytics promises insight into population health and practice trends, if it is not drawing from an appropriate level of cross-referenced sources it may present a skewed picture of both.26 Ultimately, the physician must decide if the sources are appropriately diverse.
Physicians should expect EMR vendors and service providers to make clear how and why they draw the information they do in the provision of analytics services. Ideally, analytics services should integrate population health analytics, risk-based cost analysis, care management services (such as point-of-care decision support tools) and performance analytics.
Physicians should expect EMR vendors to allocate sufficient health informatics resources to information management, technical infrastructure, data protection and response to breaches in privacy, and data extraction and analysis.27,28
Physicians may also wish to consider the appropriateness of data analytics services in the context of their practices. Not all data will be useful for some medical specialties, such as those treating conditions that are relatively rare in the overall population. The potential for new or enhanced clinical practice tools informed by big data analytics may be restricted to primary care practice at this time.29
Finally, predictive analytics often make treatment recommendations that are designed to improve the health outcomes in a population, and these recommendations may conflict with physicians' ethical obligations to act in the best interests of individual patients and respect patients' autonomous decision-making).30
1 Canadian Medical Association. Data sharing agreements: principles for electronic medical records/electronic health records [CMA policy]. Ottawa: The Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD09-01.pdf
2 Canadian Medical Association. Principles concerning physician information [CMA policy]. CMAJ 2002 167(4):393-4. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD02-09.pdf
3 Canadian Medical Association. Principles for the protection of patients' personal health information [CMA policy]. Ottawa: The Association; 2010. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-03.pdf
4 Canadian Medical Association. Disclosing personal health information to third parties. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/CMA_Disclosure_third_parties-e.pdf
5 Canadian Medical Association. Need to know and circle of care. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/CMA_Need_to_know_circle_care-e.pdf
6 Canadian Medical Protective Association. The impact of big data on healthcare and medical practice. Ottawa: The Association; no date. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/documents/10179/301372750/com_14_big_data_design-e.pdf
7 Kayyali B, Knott D, Van Kuiken S. The 'big data' revolution in US health care: accelerating value and innovation. New York: McKinsey & Company; 2013. p. 1.
8 College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National physician survey, 2014. National results by FP/GP or other specialist, sex, age and all physicians. Q7. Ottawa: The Colleges and Association; 2014. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2014-National-EN-Q7.pdf
9 Anonymous. Data, data everywhere. The Economist 2010 Feb 27. Available: www.economist.com/node/15557443
10 Anonymous. Data, data everywhere. The Economist 2010 Feb 27. Available: www.economist.com/node/15557443
11 Canada Health Infoway. Big data analytics in health. Toronto: Canada Health Infoway; 2013. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/technical-documents/emerging-technology/doc_download/1419-big-data-analytics-in-health-white-paper-full-report (accessed 2014 May 16).
12 Ellaway RH, Pusic MV, Galbraith RM, Cameron T. 2014 Developing the role of big data and analytics in health professional education. Med Teach 2014;36(3):216-222.
13 Marino DJ. Using business intelligence to reduce the cost of care. Healthc Financ Manage 2014;68(3):42-44, 46.
14 Porter ME, Lee TH. The strategy that will fix health care. Harv Bus Rev 2013;91(10):50-70.
15 Baggaley C. Data protection in a world of big data: Canadian Medical Protective Association information session [presentation]. 2014 Aug 20. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/documents/10179/301372750/com_2014_carmen_baggaley-e.pdf
16 College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National physician survey, 2014. National results by FP/GP or other specialist, sex, age and all physicians. Q10. Ottawa: The Colleges and Association; 2014. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/2014-National-EN-Q10.pdf
17 Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network. Available: http://cpcssn.ca/ (accessed 2014 Nov 15).
18 Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Sustaining action toward a shared vision: 2012-2017 strategic plan. Toronto: The Partnership; no date. Available: www.partnershipagainstcancer.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2015/03/Sustaining-Action-Toward-a-Shared-Vision_accessible.pdf
19 Canadian Medical Association. Principles for the protection of patients' personal health information [CMA policy]. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-03.pdf
20 Canadian Medical Association. Principles for the protection of patients' personal health information [CMA policy]. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-03.pdf
21 Canadian Medical Association. Data sharing agreements: principles for electronic medical records/electronic health records [CMA policy]. Ottawa: The Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD09-01.pdf
22 Weber G, Mandl KD, Kohane IS. Finding the missing link for big biomedical data . JAMA 2014;311(24):2479-2480. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.4228.
23 Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Model data sharing agreement. Toronto: The Commissioner; 1995. Available: www.ipc.on.ca/images/Resources/model-data-ag.pdf
24 Canadian Medical Association. Data sharing agreements: principles for electronic medical records/electronic health records [CMA policy]. Ottawa: The Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD09-01.pdf
25 Physicians Data Collaborative. Overview. Available: www.divisionsbc.ca/datacollaborative/home
26 Cohen IG, Amarasingham R, Shah A, Xie B, Lo B. The legal and ethical concerns that arise from using complex predictive analytics in health care. Health Aff 2014;33(7):1139-1147.
27 Rhoads J, Ferrara L. Transforming healthcare through better use of data. Electron Healthc 2012;11(1):e27.
28 Canadian Medical Protective Association. The impact of big data and healthcare and medical practice. Ottawa: The Association; no date. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/documents/10179/301372750/com_14_big_data_design-e.pdf
29 Genta RM, Sonnenberg A. Big data in gastroenterology research. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014;11(6):386-390.
30 Cohen IG, Amarasingham R, Shah A, Xie B, Lo B. The legal and ethical concerns that arise from using complex predictive analytics in health care. Health Aff 2014;33(7):1139-1147.
Principles concerning physician information (CMA policy – approved June 2002)
In an environment in which the capacity to capture, link and transmit information is growing and the need for fuller accountability is being created, the demand for physician information, and the number of people and organizations seeking to collect it, is increasing.
Physician information, that is, information that includes personal health information about and information that relates or may relate to the professional activity of an identifiable physician or group of physicians, is valuable for a variety of purposes. The legitimacy and importance of these purposes varies a great deal, and therefore the rationale and rules related to the collection, use, access and disclosure of physician information also varies. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) developed this policy to provide guiding principles to those who collect, use, have access to or disclose physician information. Such people are termed “custodians,” and they should be held publicly accountable. These principles complement and act in concert with the CMA Health Information Privacy Code (1), which holds patient health information sacrosanct.
Physicians have legitimate interests in what information about them is collected, on what authority, by whom and for what purposes it is collected, and what safeguards and controls are in place. These interests include privacy and the right to exercise some control over the information; protection from the possibility that information will cause unwarranted harm, either at the individual or the group level; and assurance that interpretation of the information is accurate and unbiased. These legitimate interests extend to information about physicians that has been rendered in non-identifiable or aggregate format (e.g., to protect against the possibility of individual physicians being identified or of physician groups being unjustly stigmatized). Information in these formats, however, may be less sensitive than information from which an individual physician can be readily identified and, therefore, may warrant less protection.
The purposes for the use of physician information may be more or less compelling. One compelling use is related to the fact that physicians, as members of a self-regulating profession, are professionally accountable to their patients, their profession and society. Physicians support this professional accountability purpose through the legislated mandate of their regulatory colleges. Physicians also recognize the importance of peer review in the context of professional development and maintenance of competence.
The CMA supports the collection, use, access and disclosure of physician information subject to the conditions outlined below.
Purpose(s): The purpose(s) for the collection of physician information, and any other purpose(s) for which physician information may be subsequently used, accessed or disclosed, should be precisely specified at or before the collection. There should be a reasonable expectation that the information will achieve the stated purpose(s). The policy does not prevent the use of information for purposes that were not intended and not reasonably anticipated if principles 3 and 4 of this policy are met.
Consent: As a rule, information should be collected directly from the physician. Subject to principle 4, consent should be sought from the physician for the collection, use, access or disclosure of physician information. The physician should be informed about all intended and anticipated uses, accesses or disclosures of the information.
Conditions for collection, use, access and disclosure: The information should:
be limited to the minimum necessary to carry out the stated purpose(s),
be in the least intrusive format required for the stated purpose(s), and its collection, use, access and disclosure should not infringe on the physician’s duty of confidentiality with respect to that information.
Use of information without consent: There may be justification for the collection, use, access or disclosure of physician information without the physician’s consent if, in addition to the conditions in principle 3 being met, the custodian publicly demonstrates with respect to the purpose(s), generically construed, that:
the stated purpose(s) could not be met or would be seriously compromised if consent were required,
the stated purpose(s) is(are) of sufficient importance that the public interest outweighs to a substantial degree the physician’s right to privacy and right of consent in a free and democratic society, and
that the collection, use, access or disclosure of physician information with respect to the stated purpose(s) always ensures justice and fairness to the physician by being consistent with principle 6 of this policy.
Physician’s access to his or her own information: Physicians have a right to view and ensure, in a timely manner, the accuracy of the information collected about them. This principle does not apply if there is reason to believe that the disclosure to the physician will cause substantial adverse effect to others. The onus is on the custodian to justify a denial of access.
6. Information quality and interpretation: Custodians must take reasonable steps to ensure that the information they collect, use, gain access to or disclose is accurate, complete and correct. Custodians must use valid and reliable collection methods and, as appropriate, involve physicians to interpret the information; these physicians must have practice characteristics and credentials similar to those of the physician whose information is being interpreted.
7. Security: Physical and human safeguards must exist to ensure the integrity and reliability of physician information and to protect against unauthorized collection, use, access or disclosure of physician information.
8. Retention and destruction: Physician information should be retained only for the length of time necessary to fulfill the specified purpose(s), after which time it should be destroyed.
9. Inquiries and complaints: Custodians must have in place a process whereby inquiries and complaints can be received, processed and adjudicated in a fair and timely way. The complaint process, including how to initiate a complaint, must be made known to physicians.
10. Openness and transparency: Custodians must have transparent and explicit record-keeping or database management policies, practices and systems that are open to public scrutiny, including the purpose(s) for the collection, use, access and disclosure of physician information. The existence of any physician information record-keeping systems or database systems must be made known and available upon request to physicians.
11. Accountability: Custodians of physician information must ensure that they have proper authority and mandate to collect, use, gain access to or disclose physician information. Custodians must have policies and procedures in place that give effect to the principles in this document. Custodians must have a designated person who is responsible for monitoring practices and ensuring compliance with the policies and procedures.
(1) Canadian Medical Association. Health Information Privacy Code. CMAJ 1998;159(8):997-1016.
SCOPES OF PRACTICE
This policy outlines the principles and criteria that are important for physicians to consider when they are involved in the determination of the scopes of practice of physicians and other health care providers, whether regulated or unregulated, in all settings.
The primary purposes of scopes of practice determinations are to meet the health care needs and to serve the interests of patients and the public safely, efficiently, and competently.
There are many factors impacting the scopes of practice of health providers: broadening definition of health, emerging use of alternative therapies, increasing patient consumerism, advances in technology and in treatment and diagnostic modalities, information technology, legislation, changing demographics, increasing health care costs, and the shortage of physicians, nurses and other providers. Scopes of practice must reflect these changes in societal needs (including the need of the public for access to services), societal expectations, and preferences of patients and the public for certain types of health care providers to fulfill particular roles and functions, while at the same time reflecting economic realities. These factors and related issues (e.g., access, availability and cost) are influencing
governments and other stakeholders to consider new roles and expanded scopes of practice for health care providers.
There is a need to define principles and criteria for understanding and articulating scopes of practice that ensure public safety and appropriate utilization of provider skills.
Principles for determining scopes of practice
Focus: Scopes of practice statements should promote safe, ethical, high-quality care that responds to the needs of patients and the public in a timely manner, is affordable and is provided by competent health care providers.
Flexibility: A flexible approach is required that enables providers to practise to the extent of their education, training, skills, knowledge, experience, competence and judgment while being responsive to the needs of patients and the public.
Collaboration and cooperation: In order to support interdisciplinary approaches to patient care and good health outcomes, physicians engage in collaborative and cooperative practice with other health care providers who are qualified and appropriately trained and who use, wherever possible, an evidence-based approach. Good communication is essential to collaboration and cooperation.
Coordination: A qualified health care provider should coordinate individual patient care.
Patient choice: Scopes of practice should take into account patients' choice of health care provider.
Criteria for determining scopes of practice
Accountability: Scopes of practice should reflect the degree of accountability, responsibility and authority that the health care provider assumes for the outcome of his or her practice.
Education: Scopes of practice should reflect the breadth, depth and relevance of the training and education of the health care provider. This includes consideration of the extent of the accredited or approved educational program(s), certification of the provider and maintenance of competency.
Competencies and practice standards: Scopes of practice should reflect the degree of knowledge, values, attitudes and skills (i.e., clinical expertise and judgment, critical thinking, analysis, problem solving, decision making, leadership) of the provider group.
Quality assurance and improvement: Scopes of practice should reflect measures of quality assurance and improvement that have been implemented for the protection of patients and the public.
Risk assessment: Scopes of practice should take into consideration risk to patients.
Evidence-based practices: Scopes of practice should reflect the degree to which the provider group practices are based on valid scientific evidence where available.
Setting and culture: Scopes of practice should be sensitive to the place, context and culture in which the practice occurs.
Legal liability and insurance: Scopes of practice should reflect case law and the legal liability assumed by the health care provider including mutual professional malpractice protection or liability insurance coverage.
Regulation: Scopes of practice should reflect the legislative and regulatory authority, where applicable, of the health care provider.
Principles and criteria to ensure safe, competent and ethical patient care should guide the development of scopes of practice of health care providers. To this end, the CMA has developed these principles and criteria to assist physicians and medical organizations when they are involved in the determination of scopes of practice.
The CMA welcomes opportunities to dialogue with others on how scopes of practice can be improved for the benefit of patients and society in general.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIAN ELECTRONIC MEDICAL RECORDS (EMR) ADOPTION IN AMBULATORY CLINICAL PRACTICE
The following principles outline what is important to physicians and why as they make the decision to adopt electronic medical record systems (EMRs) in ambulatory clinical practice.
Physician adoption of the EMR has the potential to transform patient care and the quality of health statistics and health research in Canada, as long as the right conditions are met and the guiding principles outlined here are adhered to. Adoption of EMRs in clinical ambulatory practices will lead to significant improvements in data comprehensiveness, clinical relevance and quality — and this, in turn, will lead to improved clinical decision support, core data sets and health statistics that meet the primary goal of enhancing health care delivery, treatment and outcomes.
Privacy. A physician’s ethical and legal responsibility as data steward of the patient’s medical information must be protected and enhanced.1
Choice. There must be appropriate independence of choice that respects physicians’ professional and business autonomy. Physicians must be free to choose the EMR product that best meets the needs of their practice model, type and size.
Voluntary. Physician adoption of EMRs must be voluntary, not mandated or coerced.
Non-discriminatory. Programs designed to offset physicians’ costs or encourage them to adopt EMRs must be non-discriminatory (i.e., not tied to a single EMR product or health care practice model). While such restrictions may be attractive to some payors and administrators, they discriminate against physicians who do not meet their criteria and risk creating two “classes” of physicians and patients.
Outcome-related incentives. Incentives for EMR adoption should be tied to clinical benefits and outcomes, not driven by cost containment. Financial incentives or bonuses that are tied to clinical outcomes may encourage EMR utilization and optimize the use of these systems in ambulatory clinical practices.
1 For more detail on the physician’s ethical responsibilities as data steward of patient information please refer to the CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism, Guiding Principles for the Optimal Use of Data Analytics by Physicians at the Point of Care, and Guiding Principles for Physicians Recommending Mobile Health Applications to Patients.
Unrestricted. Funding for EMRs in physician offices must be equally available to all physicians, and not restricted to a single EMR product or physician practice model.
Funding. Cost analyses have determined that the majority of the benefits from EMRs accrue to the health care system (i.e., payors and patients) and not to individual physicians. It is only reasonable that those who benefit most should assume the costs.
Comprehensive. The cost of implementing an EMR system goes beyond acquisition of hardware and software. Funding for physician adoption of EMRs must be comprehensive and include costs associated with the initial purchase, as well as implementation, change management, ongoing operation, and evergreening of the system.
Save harmless. Early adoptors who need to update or replace their existing systems, as well as physicians whose EMR vendor goes out of business, must not be disadvantaged. These physicians must not be penalized or excluded from funding programs, and should be provided with the necessary transition support.
Vendor sustainability. Vendor stability is critical to EMR adoption by physicians. This can be achieved through vendor compliance with technical and business requirements that address fiscal sustainability as well as EMR product quality, technical standards and capabilities.
Due diligence. Because physician practices vary in type, size and needs, there is no “one-size-fits-all” EMR solution. Physicians must assess the needs of their individual practice to determine the best product.
Workflow re-engineering. Implementation of EMRs in ambulatory clinical practice may require workflow adjustment or re-engineering. Assessments of workflow and practice needs must be part of EMR change management programs.
HR impact. Adoption of EMRs in ambulatory clinical practices will have an impact on human resources. Provision should be made for physician and office staff retraining, retention and turnover.
Support and service agreements. Physician use of EMRs in ambulatory clinical practice requires appropriate support and service agreements not only to provide the necessary infrastructure and connectivity, but also to guarantee ongoing, accessible and reliable technical support. Physicians must be able to access patient records in their EMR system at all times, regardless of where the records are physically stored (e.g., off-site with an alternate service provider, or onsite in a local client server).
Risk management strategies (liability and insurance) tied to EMR adoption must address the privacy, security, business continuity and professional liability requirements of physician practice in an electronic environment.
Change management and transition
Critical to success. To fully realize the benefits from EMR adoption, the move from paper to electronic records requires change management support and services geared specifically to physician EMR adoption.
Ongoing. Change management is a key success factor in driving both uptake and optimal utilization of EMRs in ambulatory clinical practice. To realize the full benefits of EMR adoption on health care outcomes, physician change management programs must be ongoing, not one-time.
Comprehensive. Comprehensive change management for physicians who adopt EMRs must include the tools and services to assist with system needs assessment, EMR selection, implementation, workflow adjustment, and training for physicians and staff, as well as suggestions to maximize use of the EMR.
Physician driven and designed. Change management must meet the real and individual needs of physicians as they move to an EMR-based practice. This requires flexibility (not one-size-fits-all), “just in time” capacity and delivery, and a mechanism for evaluating the program.
Payor funded and delivered. Delivery and costs of these programs should be borne by payors as part of any physician EMR funding programs or agreements.
Usability and human factors
User interface and usability. User interface and usability of EMR systems are critical success factors for physician acceptance and optimal utilization of EMRs in clinical practice.
Workflow. EMR adoption requires changes to physician workflow, such as history-taking and charting. Done properly, workflow changes related to EMRs should result in administrative efficiencies and improved clinical outcomes.
Core principles of practice must be respected. The EMR must allow the physician to practice comprehensive care, efficiently manage patients with multiple problems and respect the doctor-patient relationship where the patient’s values, wishes, advance directives and physical and social function are integral to medical care.
Training and education. Training in the use, benefits, shortcomings and opportunities of an EMR must become part of the medical education curricula in all stages of physician practice: undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing medical education.
Standardized data. Large data sets that record every observation are unworkable in practice. The EMR must allow the physician to record and access data in a standardized way.
Data quality. Data quality is critical to patient care. Physicians require access to accurate, clinically relevant data. Inaccurately recorded and unfiltered data does not benefit patient care.
Clinical patient care
Management of patient records. EMR systems allow physicians to quickly access and manage patient data in an organized fashion (e.g., search, sort and retrieve data, spot trends, or flag charts). This leads to more efficient practices and enhances care delivery.
Referrals and patient summaries. The ability to transmit referral requests and reports electronically using an EMR greatly facilitates the consultation process. Core clinical data sets generated from the EMR can be used to share or hand off patient care among providers, facilitating both continuity of care and emergency access to relevant data.
Drugs and lab reports. Physician use of an EMR permits drug and lab data to be recorded and shared more accurately and efficiently. Benefits to patient care include automated prescription renewals, quick identification of patients affected by drug alerts, and collation of lab data to show trends.
Decision support. EMR adoption in ambulatory clinical practice makes clinical decision support (i.e., access to timely, appropriate, evidence-based information) possible at the point of care. This has the potential to enhance patient safety, care delivery and health outcomes.
Patient values and autonomy. Patient values and autonomy cannot become secondary to the "data management" requirements of the EMR. An EMR must provide the same (or better) standards of patient confidentiality as traditional paper-based records.
Accessibility. Patient data must always be collected and stored in an EMR with the primary goal of improving individual patient care. Data accessibility for clinical care is more important than compiling a large common data set.
Standardized data. Primary care is driven by symptoms, not diagnoses, and both must be recorded in the EMR in a standardized way.
Clinical coding. Primary care disorders are low-prevalence and will require a high degree of precision when data are coded.
Evidence-based care models. The episode-of-care data model demonstrates how symptoms and symptom clusters evolve over time. It is possible to derive the sensitivity and specificity of symptoms and symptom clusters to improve pre-test likelihood and avoid unproductive testing.
Core and aggregate data. Standardized data means that core data sets can be combined, and their aggregation allows identification and analysis of rarer conditions.
Vision for e-Prescribing: a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association
By 2015, e-prescribing will be the means by which prescriptions are generated for Canadians.
e-Prescribing is the secure electronic creation and transmission of a prescription between an authorized prescriber and a patient's pharmacy of choice, using clinical Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and pharmacy management software.
Health Information Technology (HIT) is an enabler to support clinicians in the delivery of health care services to patients. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) each have identified e-prescribing as a key tool to deliver better value to patients. The integration of HIT into clinics and health care facilities where physicians and pharmacists provide care is a priority for both associations1.
As part of its Health Care Transformation initiative, the CMA highlighted the need to accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing. In its policy on optimal prescribing the CMA noted that one of the key elements was the introduction of electronic prescribing. The CPhA, as part of its Blueprint for Pharmacy Implementation Plan, highlights information and communication technology, which includes e-prescribing, as one of five priority areas.
We applaud the ongoing efforts of Canada Health Infoway, provinces and territories to establish Drug Information Systems (DIS) and the supporting infrastructure to enable e-prescribing. We urge governments to maintain e-prescribing as a priority and take additional measures to accelerate their investments in this area.
It is our joint position that e-prescribing will improve patient care and safety. e-Prescribing, when integrated with DIS, supports enhanced clinical decision-making, prescribing and medication management, and integrates additional information available at the point of care into the clinical workflow.
The following principles should guide our collective efforts to build e-prescribing capability in all jurisdictions:
* Patient confidentiality and security must be maintained
* Patient choice must be protected
* Clinicians must have access to best practice information and drug cost and formulary data
* Work processes must be streamlined and e-prescribing systems must be able to integrate with clinical and practice management software and DIS
* Guidelines must be in place for data sharing among health professionals and for any other use or disclosure of data
* The authenticity and accuracy of the prescription must be verifiable
* The process must prevent prescription forgeries and diversion
* Pan-Canadian standards must be set for electronic signatures
Benefits of e-Prescribing
A number of these benefits will be realized when e-prescribing is integrated with jurisdictional Drug Information Systems (DIS).
o Improves patient safety and overall quality of care
o Increases convenience for dispensing of new and refill prescriptions
o Supports collaborative, team-based care
o Supports a safer and more efficient method of prescribing and authorizing refills by replacing outdated phone, fax and paper-based prescriptions
o Eliminates re-transcription and decreases risk of errors and liability, as a prescription is written only once at the point-of-care
o Supports electronic communications between providers and reduces phone calls and call-backs to/from pharmacies for clarification
o Provides Warning and Alert systems at the point of prescribing, supporting clinician response to potential contraindications, drug interactions and allergies
o Facilitates informed decision-making by making medication history, drug, therapeutic, formulary and cost information available at the point of prescribing
* Health Care System:
o Improves efficiency and safety of prescribing, dispensing and monitoring of medication therapy
o Supports access to a common, comprehensive medication profile, enhancing clinical decision-making and patient adherence
o Increases cost-effective medication use, through improved evidence-based prescribing, formulary adherence, awareness of drug costs and medication management
o Improves reporting and drug use evaluation
While evidence of the value of e-prescribing is established in the literature, its existence has not fostered broad implementation and adoption. In Canada, there are a number of common and inter-related challenges to e-prescribing's implementation and adoption. These include:
* Improving access to relevant and complete information to support decision-making
* Increasing the level of the adoption of technology at the point of care
* Focusing on systems-based planning to ensure continuum-wide value
* Integrating e-prescribing into work processes to gain support from physicians, pharmacists and other prescribers
* Increasing leadership commitment to communicate the need for change, remove barriers and ensure progress
* Updating legislation and regulation to support e-prescribing
Enabling e-Prescribing in Canada
CMA and CPhA believe that we can achieve the vision that is set out in this document and address the aforementioned challenges by working collectively on five fronts:
* Health care leadership in all jurisdictions and clinical organizations must commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015
* Provinces and territories, with Canada Health Infoway, must complete the building blocks to support e-prescribing by increasing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) adoption at the point of care, finishing the work on the Drug Information Systems (DIS) in all jurisdictions and building the connectivity among the points of care and the DIS systems
* Pharmacist and medical organizations in conjunction with provinces, territories and Canada Health Infoway must identify clear benefits for clinicians (enhancing the effectiveness of care delivery and in efficiencies in changing workflows) to adopt e-prescribing and focus their efforts on achieving these benefits in the next three years
* Provinces, territories and regulatory organizations must create a policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing which facilitates the role of clinicians in providing health care to their patients
* Provinces and territories must harmonize the business rules and e-health standards to simplify implementation and conformance by software vendors and allow more investment in innovation.
1 Health Care Transformation in Canada, Canadian Medical Association, June 2010; Blueprint for Pharmacy Implementation Plan, Canadian Pharmacists Association, September 2009
Health systems around the world are struggling with how to best meet the health needs of their populations. Health leaders speak with urgency about the need to improve the individual experience of care, improve the health of populations, and maximize return on investments. Physicians concur - they are continually focused on providing better care to their patients.
Concurrently, concerns over patient safety have arisen over the last two decades, rooted in studies of adverse events. The incidence of adverse events (AEs) in acute care hospitals has been reported in the United States (US),1,2,3 Australia,4 United Kingdom,5 and Canada.6 Between 5% and 20% of patients admitted to hospital experience one or more AEs; between 36.9% - 51% of these AEs are preventable; and AEs contribute billions of dollars through additional hospital stays as well as other costs to the system, patients and the broader society.7 Leape et al. maintain that more than two-thirds of AEs are preventable.8 These outcomes have prompted decision makers, policy makers and healthcare providers to examine contributing factors, including the increasingly complex health system and its impact on the well-being of providers.
Patient safety and physician well-being are the key drivers leading to restrictions on resident and/or physician duty hours aimed at reducing their fatigue. The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) was first established in 1993 to place limits on all workers' hours throughout Europe under the umbrella of health and safety legislation. That directive included physicians but excluded doctors in training. In 2000, a new directive passed to include the "junior doctor" constituency accompanied by a requirement that by 2009 all health systems in the European Union limit resident work to a maximum of 48 hours averaged per week. The intention was to improve the working lives of doctors in training and to increase patient safety. A systematic review on the impact of the EWTD on postgraduate medical training, patient safety, or clinical outcomes found studies to be of poor quality with conflicting results.9
In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in the US adopted a set of duty hour regulations for physicians in training. The ACGME issued revised regulations that went into effect in July 2011, reflecting the recommendations of a 2008 Institute of Medicine report Resident Duty Hours: Enhancing Sleep, Supervision, and Safety, calling for elimination of extended duty shifts (more than 16 hours) for first year residents, increasing days off, improving sleep hygiene by reducing night duty and providing more scheduled sleep breaks, and increasing oversight by more senior physicians.10 The Institute of Medicine's report bases its recommendations on the growing body of research linking clinician fatigue and error.
In 2013, the National Steering Committee on Resident Duty Hours released Canada's first comprehensive, collaborative and evidence-based report on fatigue and duty hours for Canada's approximately 12,000 residents. The Committee stresses that a comprehensive approach is necessary in order to enhance safety and wellness outcomes. Fatigue risk management is a predominant theme in the recommendations.
Fatigue management systems are in place in other sectors/industries that have a low threshold for adverse outcomes including aviation, transportation, and the Department of National Defence. In 2010, the Canadian Nurses Association released a position statement Taking Action on Nurse Fatigue that speaks to system, organizational and individual level responsibilities of registered nurses.
There are currently no specific policies in Canada for physicians in practice with respect to fatigue management. Given the heterogeneity of medical practice (i.e. various specialties) and of the practice settings (i.e. rural and remote versus urban, clinic versus hospital, etc.), the solutions emanating from a fatigue management policy may be different - one size will not fit all.
Impact of Physician Fatigue
Sleep deprivation is the condition of not having enough sleep and can be either chronic or acute. It impairs cognitive and behavioural performance. "Sleep is required for the consolidation of learning and for the optimal performance of cognitive tasks. Studies of sleep deprivation have shown that one night without sleep negatively affects the performance of specific higher cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex and can cause impairment in attention, memory, judgment, and problem solving."(p. 1841)11 A seminal study by Williamson and Feyer found that after 17-19 hours without sleep, performance on some cognitive and motor performance tests was equivalent or worse than that at a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%.12 Wakefulness for 24 hours is equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.10%.13
A chronic sleep-restricted state can cause fatigue, which is a subjective feeling of tiredness, lack of energy and motivation. A large body of research exists linking sleep deprivation/fatigue, performance and adverse patient outcomes, particularly for medical residents. 14,15,16,17,18,19, 20, 21,22, 23,24 However, literature on the impact on performance varies based on a number of factors. There are significant inter-individual differences in the global response to sleep loss, as well as significant intra-individual variations in the degree to which different domains of neurobehavioral function (e.g., vigilance, subjective sleepiness, and cognitive performance) are affected. Inter-individual differences are not merely a consequence of variations in sleep history. Rather, they involve trait-like differential vulnerability to impairment from sleep loss. 25
Evidence suggests an inconclusive relationship between duty hour reductions (primarily those implemented in the US) and patient safety, suggesting that restrictions on consecutive duty hours have not had the anticipated impact on this crucial outcome as anticipated.26 Several large studies have revealed only neutral or slightly improved patient mortality and other clinical parameters since implementation of the ACGME work hour limits in the US.27,28, 29,30 In complex and ever changing health systems, it is difficult to isolate the impact of restricted duty hours alone.
Research on the effects of practicing physician sleep deprivation and extended work shifts on clinical outcomes is limited and inconclusive.31, 32
The issue of physician fatigue is complex, and is affected by much more than duty hours. Other contributing factors affect performance including work patterns, individual response to sleep loss, experience of the worker, the context of which sleep deprivation is necessary, hours of actual sleep, patient volume, patient turnover and patient acuity, environmental factors, personal stressors, workload, etc. Limiting work hours alone is not sufficient to address sleep deprivation among physicians. Reduced or disturbed periods of sleep, more consecutive days or nights of work, shift variability, and the volume of work all increase fatigue and thus can contribute to errors.
One of the biggest concerns with a fatigue management strategy is continuity of care, linked to the number of transfers of care (handover) among providers. Transfers of care inevitably increase in an environment of work hour limitations.33, 34 Handovers are considered critical moments in the continuity of patient care and have been identified as a significant source of hospital errors, often related to poor communication. There is a growing body of literature on how to do these well and how to teach this well. This is an important skill for physicians in the context of a fatigue management strategy: "Standardization of the handover process has been linked to a reduction in the number of errors related to information transfers. In addition, effective mechanisms for the transfer of information at transition points have been recognized as patient safety enablers."35
Provider well-being (physical, mental, occupational) is linked to system performance and patient outcomes. It is affected by fatigue and work patterns including night shift and extended hours. Comprehensive, systematic reviews of the health effects of on-call work in 2004 showed that nighttime work interrupted sleep patterns, aggravated underlying medical conditions, and increased the risk of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and reproductive dysfunction.36,37.38 Other research suggests an elevated risk of breast cancer,39,40 prostate cancer,41 colorectal cancer,42 asthma43, diabetes,44 and epilepsy45 for shift workers. Disruption of the body's circadian rhythms is thought to be one of the main pathways for adverse health effects from shift work, particularly for work schedules that involve night work.
Given that 24-hour work is unavoidable in various industries, including healthcare, researchers have evaluated different shift schedules designed to reduce some of the negative health effects of working at night. Optimal shift schedules are aligned as much as possible with the circadian rhythm, promote adaptation of the circadian rhythm with shift work, reflect workers' needs and preferences, and meet organizational or productivity requirements. The following interventions appear to have the most beneficial effects on the health of shift workers:46
* Schedule changes including changing from backward (counterclockwise) to forward (clockwise) rotation, from eight hour to 12 hour shifts, and flexible working conditions, self-scheduling, and ergonomic shift scheduling principles
* Controlled exposure to light and day;
* Behavioural approaches such as physical activity, scheduled naps and education about sleep strategies; and
* Use of pharmacotherapy (i.e. caffeine and melatonin) to promote sleep, wakefulness, or adaptation
Sleep deprivation and on-call shifts consistently point to deterioration of mood resulting in depression, anger, anxiety, hostility, and decreased vigilance.47 ,48, 49 A Canadian study found that shift workers reported significantly higher burnout, emotional exhaustion, job stress and psychosomatic health problems (e.g. headaches, upset stomach, difficulty falling asleep) than workers on a regular day schedule.50 Prolonged duty hours by residents has been found to contribute to marital problems, pregnancy complications, depression, suicide and substance abuse,51 as well as serious conflicts with attending physicians, other residents, and nurses, in addition to increased alcohol use and instances of unethical behaviour.52 Surprisingly however, the abolishment of 24-hour continuous medical call duty for general surgery residents at one facility in Quebec was associated with self-reported poorer quality of life.53
In contrast to other recommendations on the health benefits of 8 hr shifts, the risk of a work safety incident increases markedly after more than eight hours on duty. The risk in the twelfth hour is almost double than in the eighth hour (and more than double the average risk over the first eight hours on duty).54 Extended work duration and nighttime work by interns is associated with an increased risk of reported percutaneous injuries (PIs).55 Fatigue was reported more often as a contributing factor for nighttime compared with daytime injuries. Fatigue was also more commonly reported as a contributing factor to PIs that occurred after extended work than those that occurred after non-extended work.56 Other research found that residents were most exposed to blood-borne pathogens through needle punctures or cuts during overnight duty periods.57
Health care facilities that have physicians working in them have a role in supporting and promoting provider well-being, including providing enablers of extending and continuing resiliency such as nutritious food, on call rooms, appropriate numbers of staff, locums, etc. They also have a role in working jointly and collaboratively with physicians to ensure that on-call schedules do not place work demands on individual physicians that prevent the physicians from providing safe patient care and service coverage. For example, research with emergency physicians suggests that a nap at 3 AM improves performance in physicians and nurses at 7:30 AM compared to a no-nap condition despite the fact that memory temporarily worsened immediately after the nap.58
Individual resilience, intergenerational differences, illness-related issues, as well as family commitments also need to be considered. Physicians should also be encouraged to take the necessary time to rest and recover on their time off. The obligation of physicians to provide after hour coverage and care is unavoidable and should be considered by an individual when they choose a career in medicine, and as a physician in managing their schedule/call.
A review of 100 studies from around the world indicates the culture of medicine contributes to doctors ignoring the warning signs of fatigue and stress and in many cases suffering from undiagnosed ailments such as stress and depression, or from burnout.59 The authors suggest the culture of medicine is such that doctors feel they don't need help; they put their patients first. Of the 18% of Canadian doctors who were identified as depressed, only a quarter of them considered getting help and only two per cent actually did. The report suggests that burnout from working long hours and sleep deprivation because of understaffing seems to be the biggest problem worldwide.60 The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) states that physicians should consider their level of fatigue and if they are clinically fit to provide treatment or care.61 Fatigue is not a sign of weakness. All members of the health care team should support their colleagues in recognizing and managing sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Physician fatigue has several ethical dimensions. The Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics states that physicians have an ethical responsibility to self-manage their fatigue and well-being. 62 However, physicians must be trained and competent to know their own limits and evaluate their own fatigue level and well-being. The system must then support physicians in this recognition. The doctrine of informed consent is another dimension of physician fatigue. If physician fatigue is an added risk for any aspect of patient care, whether it is surgical or medical, elective or emergent, then some have argued that the doctrine of informed consent suggests that physicians have an obligation to inform patients of that risk.63 ,64 "The medico-legal considerations for physicians centre on the ethical duty to act in the best interests of their patients. This may mean that if a physician feels that his or her on-call schedule endangers or negatively impacts patient care, reasonable steps are taken to ensure patients do not suffer as a result and that the physician is able to continue providing an adequate level of care for patients."65
Addressing physician fatigue may have workforce implications.
Physician workload is multifaceted comprised of clinical, research, education and administrative activities. If physician workload or duty hours are reduced, any one of these activities may be impacted.
It has been suggested that implementing fatigue management strategies such as a workload ceiling for physicians may result in a greater need for physicians and thus increase system costs. However, new models of team based care delivery that incorporate technology, reduce redundancy, utilize a team based approach, and optimize the role of physicians offer an opportunity to better manage physician fatigue without necessarily requiring more physicians. Other strategies also need to be explored to improve the on-the-ground efficiency of physicians.
Some of the strategies to address practicing physician sleep deprivation/fatigue such as scheduling changes and reduced workload may affect access to care, including wait times. Surgeons or others may have to cancel surgeries or other procedures because of fatigue and hours of work, forcing rescheduling of surgery/procedures and potentially increasing wait times. This is particularly relevant given Canada's large geography and varied distribution of physicians. Therefore, flexibility in strategies to address physician sleep deprivation/fatigue are needed to reflect the variety of practice types and settings in existence across the country, in particular solo practices; rural, remote and isolated sites; community locations; etc. The same holds true for smaller specialties, which has been the experience in the UK with the implementation of the EWTD.
Fatigue management is a competency that needs to be taught, modelled, mentored, and evaluated across the medical education continuum, from medical student to practicing physician.
1. Educate physicians about the effects of sleep deprivation and fatigue on the practice of medicine and physician health, and how to recognize and manage their effects.
2. Create a national tool-box of self-awareness tools and fatigue management strategies and techniques.
3. Advocate for the integration of fatigue management into the continuum of medical education.
4. Advocate for the creation of system enablers with the flexibility to:
* Consider the full workload of physicians (clinical, teaching, administrative, research, etc.);
* Optimize scheduling to coordinate on call and other patient care following call; and
* Implement organizational/institutional level fatigue risk management plans.
5. Develop and advocate for implementation of standardized handover tools.
6. Enhance and reaffirm a culture within medicine that focuses on patient-centered care.
7. Reaffirm the culture shift within medicine that encompasses physician well-being.
8. Encourage physicians treating physicians to be aware of the aggravating effects of fatigue on their well-being and practice.
Physicians are interested in how to best meet the needs of the population, in continually improving the care provided to Canadians. To do so requires that they also care for themselves including managing the effects of sleep deprivation and fatigue. It is a complex issue that requires multifaceted solutions. Strategies must address physician fatigue at an individual, organizational/institutional and system level.
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59 Wallace, J., Lemaire, J., & Ghali, W. (2009). Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator. The Lancet 374 (9702): 1714-1721.
60 Wallace, J., Lemaire, J., & Ghali, W. (2009). Physician wellness: a missing quality indicator. The Lancet 374 (9702): 1714-1721.
61 Canadian Medical Protective Association. The new realities of medical care. Originally published September 2012. Retrieved January 12, 2014 from https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/the-new-realities-of-medical-care
62 Canadian Medical Association. (2011). Canadian Medical Association Code of Ethics. Ottawa: Author.
63 Mercurio. M. & Peterec, S. (2009). Attending Physician Work Hours: Ethical Considerations and the Last Doctor Standing. Pediatrics 124:758-762.
64 Czeisler, C., Pellegrini, C., & Sade, R. (2013). Should Sleep-Deprived Surgeons Be Prohibited From Operating Without Patients' Consent? Ann Thorac Surg 95:757-766.
65 Canadian Medical Protective Association. The new realities of medical care. Originally published September 2012. Retrieved January 12, 2014 from https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/the-new-realities-of-medical-care
PHYSICIAN RESOURCE PLANNING
The purpose of this policy statement is to identify the key elements required to properly undertake physician resource planning to support the delivery of appropriate medical care to all Canadians. A sustainable health care system requires effective physician resource planning and training that ensures an appropriate specialty mix that is responsive to population needs. CMA supports the need for the establishment of a coordinated national approach toward physician resource planning and an appropriately responsive undergraduate and postgraduate education system. CMA supports supply- and demand- projection models for health human resources using standardized approaches. National specialty societies should be actively engaged in physician resource planning for their respective discipline. Governments must work cooperatively with the medical profession to meet the needs of the population they serve in an affordable manner including funding the necessary infrastructure to support the appropriate number and mix of physicians.
1. Physician resource planning requires a pan-Canadian supply and needs-based projection model.
2. Infrastructure and resources as well as physician resources need to match the needs-based projection.
3. Strategies should be used throughout the undergraduate and postgraduate training system to address the current challenges matching physician resources to population needs.
4. Changing models of care delivery must be taken into consideration when developing physician resource projection models.
The purpose of this policy statement is to identify the key elements required to properly undertake physician resource planning to support the delivery of appropriate medical care to all Canadians.1
Ensuring an adequate supply of physician human resources is a major tenet of the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Health Care Transformation initiative.2 While the number of students enrolled in Canadian medical schools increased by over 60 percent between 2001-02 and 2011-12, some enrollment reductions are now occurring despite significant physician resource issues remaining, affecting patient care delivery across the country.
Currently, four to five million Canadians do not have a family physician. For older family physicians who may retire soon or wish to reduce their practice workload, there may be no colleagues able to take on new patients. Many new family physicians do not take on as large a roster of patients as those retiring. Even where overall supply has improved, recruiting and retaining physicians in underserved areas remains a challenge. Canada continues to license International Medical Graduates (IMGs) with 25% of practicing physicians receiving their medical degree from outside of the country3-the distribution of this group varies throughout Canada.
Physician disciplines in short supply vary by jurisdiction. Some new physicians (especially those dependent on hospital based resources) are finding it hard to secure employment in their discipline.4 Concern for the future has spread to postgraduate residents and medical students. Completing fellowships, to make physicians more marketable, are now commonplace. A major contributor to underemployment in some specialties is a lack of infrastructure and related human resources (e.g., operating room time, nursing care).
A sustainable health care system requires effective physician resource planning and training that ensures an appropriate specialty mix that is responsive to population needs. At present, there is no pan-Canadian system to monitor or manage the specialty mix. Few jurisdictions engage in formal health human resources planning and little cross-jurisdictional or pan-Canadian planning takes place. Currently, few Canadian jurisdictions have a long-term physician resource plan in place, particularly one that employs a supply and needs-based projection model. It has been almost four decades since the federal government has completed a needs-based projection of physician requirements in Canada.5
Physician resource planning must consider the population's health care needs over a longer term as the length of time to train a physician can be over a decade long depending on the specialty; this also means that practice opportunities can change during the period of training. The consequences of the lack of monitoring and management of the physician specialty mix can be long-lasting. A 2014 comparison of posted physician practice opportunities across Canada versus the number of post-graduate exits suggests a supply and demand mismatch for both family physicians (more positions posted than post-grad exits) and for medical and surgical specialists (more post-grad exits than available positions posted).6
Overall goal and considerations of physician resource planning
The overall goal of physician resource planning is to produce a self-sustaining workforce that will effectively serve the health needs of Canadians by providing an adequate supply of clinicians, teachers, researchers and administrators.
Physician resource planning should recognize the following considerations:
* Physicians in training have a dual role of learner and clinical care provider.7
* Shifts in service delivery can occur with the development of new technologies, the changing prevalence of some disease states, the emergence of new illnesses and shifting public expectations (see Appendix A: The impact of emerging health technologies and models of care on physician resource planning).
* Rural and remote communities possess unique challenges of not only attracting physicians but also in the nature of skills required to provide services.
* Physicians are required for services to patient populations who fall under federal jurisdiction including members of the Canadian Armed Forces, First Nations and Inuit, refugees and refugee claimants, veterans, and prisoners in federal penitentiaries; this includes consideration of how they are attracted and the skills they require.
* The full use of national medical services should be utilized instead of outsourcing to other countries. In instances where outsourcing of medical services occurs, Canadian training and certification standards must be met.
* The emphasis from governments and the public for 24/7 access to a wide scope of physician and health care services must be balanced with the possibility of more fragmented care from multiple physicians involved in the care of a single patient.
* There is a need for more clearly defined scopes of professional activity and optimal interactions among primary care physicians including family physicians who acquire enhanced/advanced skills to meet community needs, general specialists and subspecialists, particularly in the large urban areas where these three broad groups co-exist.
* It is also relevant to define the role and most appropriate interactions of physicians with other healthcare professionals, including but not limited to physician assistants, specially trained nurses, dieticians, therapists and pharmacists.
* The current shift to alternate payment plans and collaborative care models may, increase or decrease the non-clinical portion (e.g., research, teaching) of a physician's workload and thus increase the need for additional physicians.
* The scheduling for the provision of after-hours care can have an effect on the use of physician resources (See CMA's policy statement on Management of Physician Fatigue for more information).
* High tuition fees affect the social demographic mix of those seeking medical degrees while higher debt loads and the opportunity to practice in various models of care can influence specialty choice. 8 Similarly, advice from supervising faculty role models, negative/positive experiences during training, perceived lifestyle of the discipline, personal finances and earning potentials of medical disciplines all influence a medical student's specialty choice and in turn what health services will be available to future populations. Reliable and valid information on the current and future needs of the Canadian population can help trainees to make evidence-based decisions that allow them to select careers that match the needs of their patients.
* Patterns in the transition of retiring physicians' practices need to be identified.
It is essential to project not only the number of physicians but also some measure of their likely level of professional activity. Practice patterns may vary in response to changes in lifestyle among physicians, changing health technologies, group practices, interdisciplinary care models, and increased specialization of many generalist specialists and family physicians.
The academic sector must ensure the provision of high-quality undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education programs, and remain internationally competitive in the recruitment and retention of a first-class teaching and research community.
Structured mentorship programs and formal career counseling should be a required component of all undergraduate and postgraduate curricula in Canada.9 Teaching institutions and postgraduate accreditation authorities need to recognize the risk in requiring students to make critical career choices before exploring all the options and should develop strategies to mitigate those risks, which may include tools for assessing aptitudes. Formal career counseling throughout medical education and training can boost employment success. Results of supply projection models should also be readily available to students and advisors so an informed choice can be made.
There is a need to ensure flexibility at the undergraduate, postgraduate, and re-entry levels of medical education, with the recognition that the requirements for specialist services may change. It also allows room for standardized transfers of residents between programs and locations and for the integration of international medical graduates (IMGs). CMA recommends that a ratio of 120 postgraduate training positions per 100 medical graduates be re-established and maintained. Canadians studying medicine abroad and other IMGs who are permanent residents or citizens of Canada must be explicitly factored into the planning for the capacity of the post-MD training system. CMA supports measures to facilitate the acculturation of IMGs.
The objective of seeking reasonable self-sufficiency for the full range of physician services must be paramount.10 Self-sufficiency is defined as ensuring that the annual output of the undergraduate and postgraduate sectors of Canadian medical schools meets the medical service needs of the Canadian public. This will reduce the need to attract physicians from countries that face a higher burden of disease whose requirements for physician services exceed those of Canada. It is important to facilitate the retention of physicians who train in the Canadian postgraduate system.
There must be adequate human and physical infrastructure to support physician training. An adequate supply of clinical educators is required to prevent training bottlenecks. Strategies that utilize untapped health infrastructure resources within and outside the academic community such as satellite or distributive medical education training sites should be considered for not only training reasons but for retention purposes as well.
Effectively matching supply to societal needs
Residency training positions should reflect current and emerging population needs and if possible, job availability at the national level. Mechanisms should be in place to assist medical training programs to adjust to changing health needs in a timely manner.
Physician resource planning can benefit from enhanced evaluation of community health needs, as established by thorough determinations of health status, epidemiological studies, input from communities and other needs assessments.
In recent years, attention has been given to augmenting the provision of care to properly respond to Canada's growing seniors' population. This will require an assessment of physician resource trends among specialties that focus on seniors' care including the capacity to deliver quality palliative end-of-life care throughout Canada.
To address geographic maldistribution, programs should train physicians in the wide spectrum of practice that is required for underserved communities-both rural and urban-as well as incorporate the involvement of the communities throughout the medical trainee life cycle. Programs to attract and retain physicians, including those from rural and underservice areas, need flexible incentives to address the professional and personal needs of physicians. Financial incentives, locum support, spousal employment, children's education and support from other specialists are key factors that need to be addressed. Also, the attraction and retention of physicians to underserved areas requires the presence of adequate technical equipment and personnel.
Exposure to patterns of community practice-including generalist training-outside large urban tertiary/quaternary centres may help attract individuals into specialties best suited for rural and regional centres. CMA encourages family physicians to maintain their skills in comprehensive family medicine, while supporting their choice to acquire additional skills that will better serve the needs of their community.
It is important to strive and budget for a critical mass of physicians required to deliver basic services to given populations to permit reasonable life-style management and the avoidance of professional isolation. Coercive measures that restrict physicians' choice of location and subsequent geographic mobility are not supported.
Concentrated efforts are needed to assist new graduates of Canadian residency programs and established physicians find optimal employment in their discipline within Canada. The issue of facilitating the mobility of physicians among provinces and territories (including locum work) requires dialogue with and cooperation from individual provincial and territorial licensing authorities.
CMA supports supply- and demand- projection models for health human resources using standardized approaches. Physician human resource plans should be reviewed on an ongoing basis, examining current supply and attrition patterns to determine if new policies are required or changes are needed to the undergraduate and postgraduate complement.
Collaborative approach to physician resource planning
Physician resource planning is complex, requiring the involvement of provincial/territorial medical associations, national specialty societies, the Royal Canadian Medical Service (Canadian Armed Forces), special medical interest groups, the medical education sector, the health care facilities sectors, governments, other health care professionals and other key stakeholders.
CMA is committed to promoting a collaborative and respectful interaction among all the disciplines within the medical profession and recognition of the unique contributions of each to an efficient, high-quality and cost-effective health care delivery system. Governments must work cooperatively with the medical profession to meet the needs of the population they serve in an affordable manner including funding the necessary infrastructure to support the appropriate number and mix of physicians. National specialty societies should be actively engaged in physician resource planning for their respective discipline.
CMA supports the establishment of a coordinated national approach toward physician resource planning and an appropriately responsive undergraduate and postgraduate education system. The recruitment and retention policies available at the provincial level can play a significant role in health human resources distribution and evolution. The federal government in conjunction with the provincial Deputy Ministers and Deans of Medicine, should continue to fund a pan-Canadian supply based planning model as laid out by the Physician Resource Planning Taskforce and extend its support to the second phase which is a comprehensive needs based planning model that will be accessible to governments and the profession.
Given the importance of a planned, open and professional approach to physician resource planning, the CMA encourages all stakeholders to permit researchers, policy planners and other relevant organizations access to their physician resources database at the national and jurisdictional level while protecting the privacy of individual physicians. The CMA will continue to seek input into the design and structure of any such national databases.
The impact of emerging health technologies and models of care on physician resource planning
As in the past, a number of technological developments11 will alter the future demand for medical services and how medicine is practiced. Examples of such technological developments include: health information technologies (HITs); technologies to support distance care and self-monitoring (e.g., telemedicine, implantable or wearable sensors); surgical robotics; advanced diagnostic testing; genomic technologies; integrated care teams; and new funding models. It is important to consider how these developments will affect future supply and training (i.e., skill sets) of physicians as part of physician resource planning.
There is little evidence about whether new technologies increase or reduce working hours.12 However, the adoption of new technologies can lead to new roles and opportunities for physicians as well as for other staff. New technologies can also lead to a greater role for patients in taking responsibility for their own health. There is extensive evidence that new technologies can improve the quality of patient care, especially when used in addition to existing care rather than as a substitution.13
A key factor in assessing the impact of new health technologies on physician resource planning is the rate of adoption and diffusion of new technologies. The rate can vary widely depending on an extensive range of factors including ease of use, safety, cost (both in terms of acquiring the technology and to train the clinician), compatibility and culture/attitudes. Not all new technologies are successfully adopted or lead to positive outcomes. Moreover, unlike other sectors, the adoption of health care technologies does not often lead to lower costs.14 The adoption can also be influenced by broader factors such as changing patient needs and the government's fiscal resources.
One key impact of emerging health technologies is a shift in the location where care is received. For instance, less invasive surgery will lead to greater use of community services for follow up care rather than in-hospital care. Likewise, the technologies can support the provision of more specialized services in small and remote communities by family physicians with the appropriate training and support.
Emerging health technologies can also impact the type of care provided. The literature suggests the impact will be felt more in sub-specialty areas with care shifting from one subspecialty to another.15 Advances in non-invasive surgical interventions will continue to drive practice convergence such as seen with cardiac related procedures.16
The accelerated use of HITs specifically could have the greatest overall impact on health human resources due to such factors as: the need for increased training to use HITs; and an increased need for health informatics specialists (both medical and non-medical).15 Automated knowledge work tools will almost certainly extend the powers of many types of workers and help drive top-line improvements with innovations and better decision making.17
The move to more collaborative care models, particularly in primary care, can be expected in the coming years. Common characteristics of these models include comprehensive chronic disease prevention, population-based services and programs, full use of electronic medical records, quality monitoring, dedicated time to team building and collaboration, and a wide range of health care providers functioning to their full scope of practice.18 Multi-disciplinary teams could also involve a wider range of providers such as IT specialists, bio-engineers and genetic counselors. While CMA has previously called for funding models to be in place to allow physicians and other health care providers to practice within the full scope of their professional activities,19 a significant issue will be how such collaborative care models can be funded by governments on a sustained basis.
Physicians and other health care providers need to be trained to effectively adopt any new technology. The literature is clear that physicians must be engaged in any discussions regarding new and current health technologies to ensure their proper assessment and successful implementation.20 Previously, CMA has called for:
* A flexible medical training system based on informed career choice to accommodate changes in medical practice and physician resource needs;
* A sufficient and stable supply of re-entry positions within the postgraduate training system to enable practicing physicians to enhance their skills or re-enter training in another discipline.21
* Recognition that scopes of practice must reflect these changes in societal needs (including the need of the public for access to services), societal expectations, and preferences of patients and the public for certain types of health care providers to fulfill particular roles and functions, while at the same time reflecting economic realities.22
1 This policy is to be used in conjunction with CMA's policy statements on Management of Physician Fatigue (2014), Flexibility in Medical Training (Update 2009), Physician Health and Well-Being (1998), Tuition Fee Escalation and Deregulation in Undergraduate Programs in Medicine (Update 2009), and Rural and Remote Practice Issues (1998).
2 Canadian Medical Association. Health Care Transformation in Canada. Change That Works, Care That Lasts. Ottawa: The Association; 2010. Available: http://www.hpclearinghouse.ca/pdf/HCT-2010report_en.pdf (accessed 2015 May 04).
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Physicians in Canada, 2013: Summary Report Ottawa: The Institute; 2013 Sep.
4 College of Family Physicians of Canda, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National Physician Survey 2013. Backgrounder. Available: http://nationalphysiciansurvey.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/OFFICIAL-RELEASE_NPS-2013-Backgrounder_EN.pdf
5 The last federally commissioned study, the Report of the Requirements Committee on Physician Manpower to the National Committee on Physician Manpower, was published by the Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1975.
6 Research conducted by the Canadian Medical Association. Fall 2014.
7 National Steering Committee on Resident Duty Hours. Fatigue, risk and excellence: Towards a Pan-Canadian consensus on resident duty hours. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. 2013.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Tuition fee escalation and deregulation in undergraduate programs in medicine (update 2009). Ottawa" The Association; 2003 June. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca
9 The Canadian Association of Internes and Residents. CAIR Position Paper on Mentorship. June 2013. http://residentdoctors.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CAIR-Position-Paper-on-Mentorship_June-2013_en.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 29).
10 Self-sufficiency is a key principle of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources' Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning. Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources. 2009. How Many Are Enough? Redefining Self-Sufficiency for the Health Workforce: A Discussion Paper. The policy is also consistent with the World Medical Association and the World Health Organization (The WHO Global Code of Practice of the International Recruitment of Health Personnel). http://www.who.int/hrh/migration/code/code_en.pdf?ua=1
11 Definition of Health Technologies (World Health Organization): "The application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives."
12 Evidence Centre for Skills for Health, How do technologies impact on workforce organisation? Bristol (UK): The Centre. Available: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=101&cf_id=24 (accessed 2015 Feb 02).
13 Evidence Centre for Skills for Health, How do technologies impact on workforce organisation? Bristol (UK): The Centre. Available: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=101&cf_id=24 (accessed 2015 Feb 2)
14 Skinner J. "The costly paradox of health-care technology". MIT Technology Review. 2013 Sep 5.
15 Anvari M. Impact of information technology on human resources in healthcare. Healthcare Quarterly, 10(4) September 2007:84-88.
16 Social Sector Metrics Inc., Health Intelligence Inc. Physician resource planning: a recommended model and implementation framework. Final report submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. 2002 Jan 31. Available: www.doctorsns.com/site/media/DoctorsNS/PhysicianResourcePlanning-finalreport.pdf (accessed 2015 Feb 2).
17 McKinsey Global Institute, Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy. McKinsey & Company 2013.
18 Social Sector Metrics Inc., Health Intelligence Inc. Physician resource planning: a recommended model and implementation framework. Final report submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. 2002 Jan 31. Available: www.doctorsns.com/site/media/DoctorsNS/PhysicianResourcePlanning-finalreport.pdf (accessed 2015 Feb 02).
19 Canadian Medical Association. The Evolving Professional Relationship Between Canadian Physicians and Our Health Care System: Where Do We Stand? Ottawa: The Association; 2012
20 Steven A. Olson et al., Healthcare technology: Physician collaboration in reducing the surgical cost. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. (2013) 471:1854-64.
21 Canadian Medical Association. Flexibility in Medical Training (update 2009) Ottawa: The Association; 2009.
22 Canadian Medical Association. Scopes of practice. Ottawa: The Association; 2002.
Clinical photography is a valuable tool for physicians. Smartphones, as well as other devices supporting network connectivity, offer a convenient, efficient method to take and share images. However, due to the private nature of the information contained in clinical photographs there are concerns as to the appropriate storage, dissemination, and documentation of clinical images. Confidentiality of image data must be considered and the dissemination of these images onto servers must respect the privacy and rights of the patient. Importantly, patient information should be considered as any information deriving from a patient, and the concepts outlined therefore apply to any media that can be collected on, or transmitted with, a smart-device.
Clinical photography can aid in documenting form and function, in tracking conditions and wound healing, in planning surgical operations, and in clinical decision-making. Additionally, clinical photographs can provide physicians with a valuable tool for patient communication and education. Due to the convenience of this type of technology it is not appropriate to expect physicians to forego their use in providing their patients with the best care available.
The technology and software required for secure transfer, communication, and storage of clinical media is presently available, but many devices have non-secure storage/dissemination options enabled and lack user-control for permanently deleting digital files. In addition, data uploaded onto server systems commonly cross legal jurisdictions. Many physicians are not comfortable with the practice, citing security, privacy, and confidentiality concerns as well as uncertainty in regards to regional regulations governing this practice.1 Due to concern for patient privacy and confidentiality it is therefore incredibly important to limit the unsecure or undocumented acquisition or dissemination of clinical photographs.
To assess the current state of this topic, Heyns et al. have reviewed the accessibility and completeness of provincial and territorial medical regulatory college guidelines.2 Categories identified as vital and explored in this review included: Consent; Storage; Retention; Audit; Transmission; and Breach. While each regulatory body has addressed limited aspects of the overall issue, the authors found a general lack of available information and call for a unified document outlining pertinent instructions for conducting clinical photography using a smartphone and the electronic transmission of patient information.2
The discussion of this topic will need to be ongoing and it is important that physicians are aware of applicable regulations, both at the federal and provincial levels, and how these regulations may impact the use of personal devices. The best practices supported here aim to provide physicians and healthcare providers with an understanding of the scope and gravity of the current environment, as well as the information needed to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality is assessed and protected while physicians utilize accessible clinical photography to advance patient care. Importantly, this document only focusses on medical use (clinical, academic, and educational) of clinical photography and, while discussing many core concepts of patient privacy and confidentiality of information, should not be perceived as a complete or binding framework. Additionally, it is recommended that physicians understand the core competencies of clinical photography, which are not described here.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests that the following recommendations be implemented, as thoroughly as possible, to best align with the CMA policy on the Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy (CMA Policy PD2018-02). These key recommendations represent a non-exhaustive set of best practices - physicians should seek additional information as needed to gain a thorough understanding and to stay current in this rapidly changing field.
* Informed consent must be obtained, preferably prior, to photography with a mobile device. This applies for each and any such encounter and the purpose made clear (i.e. clinical, research, education, publication, etc.). Patients should also be made aware that they may request a copy of a picture or for a picture to be deleted.
* A patient's consent to use electronic transmission does not relieve a physician of their duty to protect the confidentiality of patient information. Also, a patient's consent cannot override other jurisdictionally mandated security requirements.
* All patient consents (including verbal) should be documented. The acquisition and recording of patient consent for medical photography/dissemination may be held to a high standard of accountability due to the patient privacy and confidentiality issues inherent in the use of this technology. Written and signed consent is encouraged.
* Consent should be considered as necessary for any and all photography involving a patient, whether or not that patient can be directly recognized, due to the possibility of linked information and the potential for breach of privacy. The definition of non-identifiable photos must be carefully considered. Current technologies such as face recognition and pattern matching (e.g. skin markers, physical structure, etc.), especially in combination with identifying information, have the potential to create a privacy breach.
* Unsecure text and email messaging requires explicit patient consent and should not be used unless the current gold standards of security are not accessible. For a patient-initiated unsecure transmission, consent should be clarified and not assumed.
* Transmission of photos and patient information should be encrypted as per current-day gold standards (presently, end-to-end encryption (E2EE)) and use only secure servers that are subject to Canadian laws. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns or standards for servers in other jurisdictions. Generally, free internet-based communication services and public internet access are unsecure technologies and often operate on servers outside of Canadian jurisdiction.
* Efforts should be made to use the most secure transmission method possible. For data security purposes, identifying information should never be included in the image, any frame of a video, the file name, or linked messages.
* The sender should always ensure that each recipient is intended and appropriate and, if possible, receipt of transmission should be confirmed by the recipient.
* Storing images and data on a smart-device should be limited as much as possible for data protection purposes.
* Clinical photos, as well as messages or other patient-related information, should be completely segregated from the device's personal storage. This can be accomplished by using an app that creates a secure, password-protected folder on the device.
* All information stored (on internal memory or cloud) must be strongly encrypted and password protected. The security measures must be more substantial than the general password unlock feature on mobile devices.
* Efforts should be made to dissociate identifying information from images when images are exported from a secure server. Media should not be uploaded to platforms without an option for securely deleting information without consent from the patient, and only if there are no better options. Automatic back-up of photos to unsecure cloud servers should be deactivated. Further, other back-up or syncing options that could lead to unsecure server involvement should be ascertained and the risks mitigated.
4. Cloud storage should be on a Canadian and SOCII certified server. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns for servers in other jurisdictions.
5. AUDIT & RETENTION
* It is important to create an audit trail for the purposes of transparency and medical best practice. Key information includes patient and health information, consent type and details, pertinent information regarding the photography (date, circumstance, photographer), and any other important facts such as access granted/deletion requests.
* Access to the stored information must be by the authorized physician or health care provider and for the intended purpose, as per the consent given. Records should be stored such that it is possible to print/transfer as necessary.
* Original photos should be retained and not overwritten.
* All photos and associated messages may be considered part of the patient's clinical records and should be maintained for at least 10 years or 10 years after the age of majority, whichever is longer. When possible, patient information (including photos and message histories between health professionals) should be retained and amalgamated with a patient's medical record. Provincial regulations regarding retention of clinical records may vary and other regulations may apply to other entities - e.g. 90 years from date of birth applies to records at the federal level.
* It may not be allowable to erase a picture if it is integral to a clinical decision or provincial, federal, or other applicable regulations require their retention.
* Any breach should be taken seriously and should be reviewed. All reasonable efforts must be made to prevent a breach before one occurs. A breach occurs when personal information, communication, or photos of patients are stolen, lost, or mistakenly disclosed. This includes loss or theft of one's mobile device, texting to the wrong number or emailing/messaging to the wrong person(s), or accidentally showing a clinical photo that exists in the phone's personal photo album.
* It should be noted that non-identifying information, when combined with other available information (e.g. a text message with identifiers or another image with identifiers), can lead to highly accurate re-identification.
* At present, apps downloaded to a smart-device for personal use may be capable of collecting and sharing information - the rapidly changing nature of this technology and the inherent privacy concerns requires regular attention. Use of specialized apps designed for health-information sharing that help safeguard patient information in this context is worth careful consideration.
* Having remote wipe (i.e. device reformatting) capabilities is an asset and can help contain a breach. However, inappropriate access may take place before reformatting occurs.
* If a smartphone is strongly encrypted and has no clinical photos stored locally then its loss may not be considered a breach.
* In the event of a breach any patient potentially involved must be notified as soon as possible. The CMPA, the organization/hospital, and the Provincial licensing College should also be contacted immediately. Provincial regulations regarding notification of breach may vary.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors March 2018
i Heyns M†, Steve A‡, Dumestre DO‡, Fraulin FO‡, Yeung JK‡
† University of Calgary, Canada
‡ Section of Plastic Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Calgary, Canada
1 Chan N, Charette J, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO. Should 'smart phones' be used for patient photography? Plast Surg (Oakv). 2016;24(1):32-4.
2 Unpublished - Heyns M, Steve A, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO, Yeung J. Canadian Guidelines on Smartphone Clinical Photography.