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.
The future of medicine
In 1997 the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) embarked on a study of the future of medicine. Two premises guided this activity: (1) the pace of change in the practice of medicine that physicians experienced in the last quarter of the 20th century is bound to increase in the 21st century; and (2) it is essential that the medical profession position itself to influence future developments in medical practice.
In order to prepare the profession to anticipate and meet the challenges of the future, the CMA is engaged in a medium- to long-term (5–20 years) planning exercise. This policy statement summarizes the results of the first part of this exercise: working definitions of health, health care and medicine; a vision for the future of the medical profession; and the implications of this vision for the roles of physicians. This work was conducted by an expert project advisory group, which developed background papers on these topics and prepared this statement for approval by the CMA Board of Directors.
Health: is a state of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is characterized in part by an absence of illness (a subjective experience) and disease (a pathological abnormality) that enables one to pursue major life goals and to function in personal, social and work contexts.
Health care: is any activity that has as its primary objective the improvement, maintenance or support of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, as characterized by the absence of illness and disease.
Medicine: is the art and science of healing. It is based on a body of knowledge, skills and practices concerned with the health and pathology of individuals and populations. The practice of medicine encompasses those health care activities that are performed by or under the direction of physicians in the service of patients, including health promotion, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, palliation, education and research.
A vision for the future of the medical profession
Medicine will continue to be a healing profession dedicated to serving humanity. Its cornerstone will continue to be the relationship of trust between the patient and the
physician. It will uphold with integrity the values of respect for persons, compassion, beneficence and justice. It will strive for excellence and incorporate progress in its art and science. It will maintain high standards of ethics, clinical practice, education and research in order to serve patients. It will encourage the development of healthy communities and of practices and policies that promote the well-being of the public. It will demonstrate its capacity for societal responsibility through self-regulation and accountability. It will actively participate in decision-making regarding health and health care policy. It will guard against forces and events that may compromise its primary commitment to the well-being of patients.
The roles of physicians in the future1
Although the vision and values of medicine are enduring and will remain stable, the practice environment of physicians will change as the medical profession responds to health system and societal influences. This in turn will have implications for the roles of physicians.
The traditional role of physicians has been medical expert and healer. This has involved diagnosing and treating disease and other forms of illness, comforting those who cannot be cured and preventing illness through patient counselling and public-health measures. While this role will remain at the core of medical practice, the evolving context of health care requires physicians to assume additional roles to support their primary role.
The CMA proposes the following roles as essential to the future practice of medicine (cf. Fig. 1 for their interrelationship). Although no physician will function in all roles simultaneously, they should all have the fundamental competencies to participate in each of these roles.
-Medical expert and healer: Physicians have always been recognized for their role as medical expert and healer; it is the defining nature of their practice and derives from the broad knowledge base of medicine and its application through a combination of art and science. This is the foundation for continued physician leadership in the provision of medical and health care in the future.
-Professional: There must be renewed efforts to reaffirm the principles of the medical profession, including upholding its unique body of knowledge and skills; maintenance of high standards of practice; and commitment to the underlying values of caring, service and compassion. The medical profession of the future must continue to develop standards of care with ongoing opportunities for continued assessment of competency in order to remain a credible, self-regulated discipline worthy of public respect and trust.
-Communicator: Increasing emphasis will be placed upon the ability to gather and communicate medical information in a compassionate and caring fashion, to enter into a partnership with patients when organizing care plans and to provide important information through counselling and the promotion of health. As always, the patient–physician relationship will remain paramount, with its essential features of compassion, confidentiality, honesty and respect.
-Scholar: Scholarship involves the creation of new knowledge (research), its uniform application (clinical practice) and its transfer to others (education). It is this strong association with the science of medicine and physicians’ willingness to embrace the scholarship of their practice that is closely linked to their roles of
medical experts and professionals.
-Collaborator: Health care services will increasingly be provided by interdisciplinary teams throughout the continuum of care from health promotion activities to the management of acute life-threatening disorders to the delivery of palliative care. In the role of collaborator, physicians recognize the essential functions of other health care workers and respect unique provider contributions in patient-centred health care delivery.
-Advocate: As the health sector becomes increasingly complex and interdependent with other sectors of society, it will be essential for physicians to play a greater role as health advocates. This may pertain to advocacy for individual and family health promotion in the practice environment; it may also relate to the promotion of improved health at the broader community level.
-Manager: In order to provide quality care, physicians of the future must be effective resource managers at the individual practice level, at the health care facility level and as part of the wider health care system.
In order to fulfil these roles and participate in communities as integral members of society, physicians need to lead balanced lives.
Physicians may sometimes experience conflicts among these roles. The CMA Code of Ethics specifies the basic principles of professional ethics for dealing with such conflicts.
The CMA has developed this vision for the future of medicine and the future roles of physicians to assist individual physicians and medical organizations to anticipate and prepare for the challenges of the next 20 years. The vision provides the profession with criteria for evaluating proposed changes in how medicine is practised and reaffirms the core values of medicine that must be upheld in whatever system emerges.
The CMA invites other organizations, nonmedical as well as medical, to comment on the contents of this statement and its implications for health and health care. The CMA welcomes opportunities to dialogue with others on how the health care system can be improved for the benefit of future patients and society in general.
1The section is indebted to the work of the Educating Future Physicians for Ontario (EFPO) project supported by the Associated Medical Services group, the Ontario faculties of medicine and the Ontario Ministry of Health, and the Canadian Medical Education Directions for Specialists 2000 (CanMEDs 2000) project of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.