ACHIEVING PATIENT-CENTRED COLLABORATIVE CARE
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recognizes that collaborative care is a desired and necessary part of health care delivery in Canada and an important element of quality, patient-centred care. The CMA considers patient-centred care to be the cornerstone of good medical practice. This is reflected in the first principle of the CMA Code of Ethics, which states that physicians have a fundamental responsibility to "Consider first the well-being of the patient." As patient advocates, physicians strive to ensure that their patients receive the best possible care.
The CMA supports greater collaboration among providers in the interest of better patient care. In the context of clinical practice, the CMA defines collaborative care as follows:
"Collaborative care entails physicians and other providers using complementary skills, knowledge and competencies and working together to provide care to a common group of patients based on trust, respect and an understanding of each others' skills and knowledge. This involves a mutually agreed upon division of roles and responsibilities that may vary according to the nature of the practice personalities and skill sets of the individuals. The relationship must be beneficial to the patient, and acceptable to the physician and other providers.
If designed appropriately, collaborative care models have the potential to:
* improve access to care;
* enhance the quality and safety of care;
* enhance the coordination and efficiency of care; and
* enhance provider morale and reduce burnout within health professions.
To realize this full potential, the profession acknowledges and accepts that it has a central role to play in the evolution of a team-based approach to care.
These policy principles have been prepared by the Canadian Medical Association in order to ensure that the evolution of collaborative care in Canada is built around the needs of individual patients and groups of patients. This policy is founded on the CMA's document, Putting Patients' First: Patient-Centred Collaborative Care - A Discussion Paper.
Principles for Collaborative Care
The medical profession supports collaborative care, both in the hospital and in the community, as one of the essential elements of health care delivery in Canada. In the interests of enhancing the evolution of patient-centred collaborative care, the CMA proposes the following "critical success factors" and principles to address meaningfully the issues and barriers identified by physicians and bring clarity to the discussions.
1. PATIENT-CENTRED CARE
First and foremost, medical care delivered by physicians and health care delivered by others should be aligned around the values and needs of patients.
Collaborative care teams should foster and support patients, and their families, as active participants in their health care decision-making. New models should have the potential to empower patients to enhance their role in prevention and self-care.
Models of collaborative care must be designed to meet the needs of patients.
Collaborative models of practice must reduce fragmentation and enhance the quality and safety of care provided to patients.
It is the patient who ultimately must make informed choices about the care he or she will receive.
2. RECOGNITION OF THE PATIENT-PHYSICIAN RELATIONSHIP
The mutual respect and trust derived from the patient-physician relationship is the cornerstone of medical care. This trust is founded on the ethical principles that guide the medical profession as defined in the CMA Code of Ethics. The impact of collaborative models of practice on this relationship, and hence the patient's satisfaction and experience with their care, is unknown.
Models of collaborative care must support the patient-physician relationship.
Entry into and exit from a formal collaborative care arrangement must be voluntary for both the patient and the physician.
A common Code of Ethics should guide the practice of collaborative care teams.
Every resident of Canada has the right to access a personal family physician. †
3. PHYSICIAN AS THE CLINICAL LEADER
Effective teams require effective leadership. A defined clinical leader is required to ensure proper functioning of the team and to facilitate decision-making, especially in complex or emergent situations. In collaborative care the clinical leader is responsible for maximizing the expertise and input of the entire team in order to provide the patient with comprehensive and definitive care.
It is important to differentiate "clinical leadership" from "team coordination."
The CMA defines a clinical leader as:
"The individual who, based on his or her training, competencies and experience, is best able to synthesize and interpret the evidence and data provided by the patient and the team, make a differential diagnosis and deliver comprehensive care for the patient. The clinical leader is ultimately accountable to the patient for making definitive clinical decisions."
Whereas, the team coordinator is defined as:
"The individual, who, based on his or her training, competencies and experience, is best able to coordinate the services provided by the team so that they are integrated to provide the best care for the patient."
The concept of "most responsible physician" has been and continues to be used to identify the individual who is ultimately responsible for the care of the patient. The "most responsible physician" is responsible for collecting, synthesizing and integrating the expert opinion of physician and non physician team members to determine the clinical management of the patient. Similarly, the presence of a defined clinical leader in a collaborative care setting creates clarity for patients, their families and the health care team by making lines of communication and responsibility clear, ultimately improving the quality and safety of care.
In the CMA's opinion, the physician is best equipped to provide clinical leadership. This does not necessarily imply that a physician must be the team coordinator. Many teams will exist in which the physician will have a supporting role, including those focused on population health and patient education. We believe the most effective teams are ones in which the leadership roles have been clearly defined and earned. Some physicians may be prepared to play both roles; however, other members of the team may be best suited to serve as team coordinator.
Currently, patients rely on, and expect, physicians to be clinical leaders in the assessment and delivery of the medical care they receive. In a collaborative care environment this expectation of physician leadership will not change. Team members will have specific knowledge and expertise in their respective disciplines. Physicians, by virtue of their broad and diverse knowledge, training and experience, have a unique appreciation of the full spectrum of health and health care delivery in their field of practice and are therefore best qualified to evaluate and synthesize diverse professional perspectives to ensure optimal patient care.
The physician, by virtue of training, knowledge, background and patient relationship, is best positioned to assume the role of clinical leader in collaborative care teams. There may be some situations in which the physician may delegate clinical leadership to another health care professional. Other health care professionals may be best suited to act as team coordinator.
4. MUTUAL RESPECT AND TRUST
Trust between individuals and provider groups evolves as knowledge and understanding of competencies, skills and scopes of practice are gained. Trust is also essential to ensuring that the team functions efficiently and maximizes the contributions of all members.
Funders and providers should recognize the importance of team building in contributing to team effectiveness. Collaborative care funding models should support a more formalized and integrated approach to both change management and team building.
As relationships are strengthened within the team, so too are trust and respect. Physicians and all team members have an opportunity to be positive role models to motivate and inspire their colleagues. All team members ought to make a commitment to respect and trust each other with the knowledge that it will lead to enhanced care for patients and a more productive work environment for all.
To serve the health care needs of patients, there must be a collaborative and respectful interaction among health care professionals, with recognition and understanding of the contributions of each provider to the team.
In order to build trust and respect within the team it is essential that members understand and respect the professional responsibility, knowledge and skills that come with their scope of practice within the context of the team.
5. CLEAR COMMUNICATION
In collaborative care environments, it is essential that all members of the team communicate effectively to provide safe and optimal care. Effective communication is essential to ensure safe and coordinated care as the size of the team expands to meet patient needs. It is the responsibility of all team members to ensure that the patient is receiving timely, clear and consistent messaging.
Physicians can take a leadership role in modeling effective communications throughout the team. In particular, there is an opportunity to enhance the consultation and referral process, in order to provide clear and concise instructions to colleagues and optimize care. Sufficient resources, including dedicated time and support, must be available to the team to maximize these communication requirements.
Effective communication within collaborative care teams is critical for the provision of high quality patient care. Planning, funding and training for collaborative care teams must include measures to support communication within these teams.
Mechanisms must be in place within a collaborative team to ensure that both the patients, and their caregiver(s) where appropriate, receive timely information from the most appropriate provider.
Effective and efficient communications within the collaborative care team, both with the patient and among team members, should be supported by clear documentation that identifies the author.
A common, accessible patient record in collaborative care settings is desirable to ensure appropriate communication between physicians and other health care professionals, to prevent duplication, coordinate care, share information and protect the safety of patients.
An integrated electronic health record is highly desirable to facilitate communication and sharing among team members.
6. CLARIFICATION OF ROLES AND SCOPES OF PRACTICE
In order for the team to function safely and efficiently, it is critically important that the scope of practice, roles and responsibilities of each health care professional on the team be clearly defined and understood. In turn, the patient, as a team member, should also have a clear understanding of the roles and scopes of practice of their providers.
Collaborative care must first and foremost serve the needs of patients, with the goal of enhancing patient care; collaborative care is not contingent upon altering the scope of practice of any provider group and must not be used as a means to expand the scope of practice and/or independence of a health professional group.
Changes in the scope of practice of all provider groups must be done with oversight from the appropriate regulatory authority.
Where non-physicians have been provided with an opportunity to undertake activities related to patient care typically unique to the practice of medicine (e.g., ordering tests), they must not do so independently but undertake these activities within the context of the team and in a manner acceptable to the clinical leader.
The role and scope of practice of each member of the collaborative care team should be clearly understood and delineated in job descriptions and employment contracts.
A formal process for conflict resolution should be in place so that issues can be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner.
7. CLARIFICATION OF ACCOUNTABILITY AND RESPONSIBILITY
In the context of providing optimal care, providers must be accountable and responsible for the outcome of their individual practice, while sharing responsibility for the proper functioning of the collaborative care team. This individual responsibility is required so that regardless of the number and diversity of providers involved in the team, patients can be assured that their well-being is protected and that the team is working toward a common goal.
In collaborative care teams, a physician should be identified as the person most responsible for the clinical care of individual patients, and as such must be accountable for the care rendered to patients. This is consistent with the commitment made by the physician in the doctor-patient relationship, mirrors the clinical training of the physician relative to other providers, is reflective of the current state of tort law as it applies to medical practice, and is compatible with the structure of care delivery in hospitals and in the community. Clearly, this type of arrangement does not eliminate the necessity for all providers to be accountable for the care that they provide.
It is essential that all providers be responsible and accountable for the care that they provide and for the well-being of the patient.
As clinical leader, the physician should be responsible for the clinical oversight of an individual patient's care.
8. LIABILITY PROTECTION FOR ALL MEMBERS OF THE TEAM
As discussed earlier in this paper, the resolution of the multiplicity of liability issues that result from care delivered by teams requires clearly defined roles and responsibilities in the team setting and the absolute requirement for appropriate and sufficient liability coverage for each health professional. The August 2006 statement of the Canadian Medical Protective Association, Collaborative Care: A medical liability perspective, identifies issues of concern to physicians and proposes solutions to reduce those risks.
All members of a collaborative care team must have adequate professional liability protection and/or insurance coverage to accommodate their scope of practice and their respective roles and responsibilities within the collaborative care team.
Physicians, in their role as clinical leaders of collaborative care teams, must be satisfied with the ongoing existence of appropriate liability protection as a condition of employment of, or affiliation with, other members on collaborative care teams.
Formalized procedures should be established to ensure evidence of this liability protection.
9. SUFFICIENT HUMAN RESOURCES AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Collaborative models of health care delivery hold the promise of enhancing access to care for patients at a time of serious health human resource shortages. However, effective patient-centred collaborative care depends on an adequate supply of physicians, nurses and other providers. Governments and decision-makers must continue to enhance their efforts to increase the number of physicians and nurses available to provide health care services.
Collaborative care should not be seen as an opportunity for governments to substitute one care provider for another simply because one is more plentiful or less costly than the other.
In addition, governments must understand that co-location of individuals in a team is not a requirement for all collaborative care. Where team co-location does not exist, appropriate resources must be dedicated to ensure communication can be timely, effective and appropriate between providers.
Governments, at all levels, must address the serious shortage of physicians to ensure quality patient care for Canadians.
The effective functioning of a collaborative care team depends on the contribution of a physician.
Governments must enhance access to medical care by increasing the number of physicians and providers, and not by encouraging or empowering physician substitution.
10. SUFFICIENT FUNDING & PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS
Funding must be present to support all aspects of the development of collaborative care teams. At the practice level, remuneration methods for physicians, irrespective of their specialty, must be available to facilitate collaborative care arrangements and environments in which physicians practice. All care delivery models, including collaborative care teams, must have access to adequate and appropriate resources. This includes, but should not be limited to, funding for health human resources, administration/management infrastructure, liability protection, clinical and team/administrative training, team building, and information technology.
Remuneration models should be established in a manner that encourages providers to participate effectively in the delivery of care and team effectiveness.
Reimbursement models must be configured to remunerate the communicator, coordinator, manager, and other roles and responsibilities of providers necessary for the success of collaborative care practice.
The ability of a physician to work in a collaborative care team must not be based on the physician's choice of remuneration. Similarly, patients should not be denied access to the benefits of collaborative practice as a result of the physician's choice of payment model.
Collaborative care relationships between physicians and other health care providers should continue to be encouraged and enhanced through appropriate resource allocation at all levels of the health care system.
Physicians should be appropriately compensated for all aspects of their clinical care and leadership activities in collaborative care teams.
Physicians should not be expected to incur the cost of adopting and maintaining health information technology capabilities that facilitate their ability to participate in collaborative practice teams. Governments must fund and support in an ongoing manner, both financially and technically, the development and integration of electronic health records.
11. SUPPORTIVE EDUCATION SYSTEM
Canada is renowned for a quality medical education system and for the early efforts to enhance interprofessional training. The success of collaborative care requires a commitment towards interprofessional education and is contingent upon the positive attitudes and support of educators. To facilitate a sustainable shift toward collaborative practice, these efforts must be continued and enhanced in a meaningful way. However, governments and educators must ensure that the availability and quality of medical education is not compromised for medical trainees.
Interprofessional education, at the undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education levels, is necessary to facilitate a greater understanding of the potential roles, responsibilities and capabilities of health professions, with the overall goal of building better health care teams founded on mutual respect and trust.
Governments must understand the importance of interprofessional education and fund educational institutions appropriately to meet these new training needs.
Educational opportunities must exist at all levels of training to acquire both clinical knowledge and team effectiveness/leadership training.
Interprofessional education opportunities must not come at the expense of core medical training. High quality medical education must be available to all medical trainees as a first priority.
12. RESEARCH AND EVALUATION
More research and evaluations are necessary to demonstrate the benefits of collaborative care, to foster greater adoption by providers and to attract the necessary investment by governments. Quality management systems must be built into the team to ensure efficiencies can be recorded. Measures of the quality of care, cost effectiveness and patient and provider satisfaction should be evaluated.
Research into the effectiveness of collaborative care models on health outcomes, patient and provider satisfaction and health care cost effectiveness should be ongoing, transparent and supported by governments.
Quality assessment measures must be incorporated into the ongoing work of collaborative care teams.
† Where the term "family physician" is used, it is also meant to include general practitioners.
APPROACHES TO ENHANCING THE QUALITY OF DRUG THERAPY
A JOINT STATEMENT BY THE CMA ANDTHE CANADIAN PHARMACEUTICAL ASSOCIATION
This joint statement was developed by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association, a national association of pharmacists, and includes the goal of drug therapy, strategies for collaboration to optimize drug therapy and physicians' and pharmacists' responsibilities in drug therapy. The statement recognizes the importance of patients, physicians and pharmacists working in close collaboration and partnership to achieve optimal outcomes from drug therapy.
Goal of This Joint Statement
The goal of this joint statement is to promote optimal drug therapy by enhancing communication and working relationships among patients, physicians and pharmacists. It is also meant to serve as an educational resource for pharmacists and physicians so that they will have a clearer understanding of each other's responsibilities in drug therapy. In the context of this statement, a "patient" may include a designated patient representative, such as a parent, spouse, other family member, patient advocate or health care provider.
Physicians and pharmacists have a responsibility to work with their patients to achieve optimal outcomes by providing high-quality drug therapy. The important contribution of all members of the health care team and the need for cooperative working relationships are recognized; however, this statement focuses on the specific relationships among pharmacists, physicians and patients with respect to drug therapy.
This statement is a general guide and is not intended to describe all aspects of physicians' or pharmacists' activities. It is not intended to be restrictive, nor should it inhibit positive developments in pharmacist-physician relationships or in their respective practices that contribute to optimal drug therapy. Furthermore, this statement should be used and interpreted in accordance with applicable legislation and other legal requirements.
This statement will be reviewed and assessed regularly to ensure its continuing applicability to medical and pharmacy practices.
Goal of Drug Therapy
The goal of drug therapy is to improve patients' health and quality of life by preventing, eliminating or controlling diseases or symptoms. Optimal drug therapy is safe, effective, appropriate, affordable, cost-effective and tailored to meet the needs of patients, who participate, to the best of their ability, in making informed decisions about their therapy. Patients require access to necessary drug therapy and specific, unbiased drug information to meet their individual needs. Providing optimal drug therapy also requires a valid and accessible information base generated by basic, clinical, pharmaceutical and other scientific research.
Working Together for Optimal Drug Therapy
Physicians and pharmacists have complementary and supportive responsibilities in providing optimal drug therapy. To achieve this goal, and to ensure that patients receive consistent information, patients, pharmacists and physicians must work cooperatively and in partnership. This requires effective communication, respect, trust, and mutual recognition and understanding of each other's complementary responsibilities. The role of each profession in drug therapy depends on numerous factors, including the specific patient and his or her drug therapy, the prescription status of the drug concerned, the setting and the patient-physician-pharmacist relationship. However, it is recognized that, in general, each profession may focus on certain areas more than others.
For example, when counselling patients on their drug therapy, a physician may focus on disease-specific counselling, goals of therapy, risks and benefits and rare side effects, whereas a pharmacist may focus on correct usage, treatment adherence, dosage, precautions, dietary restrictions and storage. Areas of overlap may include purpose, common side effects and their management and warnings regarding drug interactions and lifestyle concerns. Similarly, when monitoring drug therapy, a physician would focus on clinical progress toward treatment goals, whereas a pharmacist may focus on drug effects, interactions and treatment adherence; both would monitor adverse effects.
Both professions should tailor drug therapy, including education, to meet the needs of individual patients. To provide continuity of care and to promote consistency in the information being provided, it is important that both pharmacists and physicians assess the patients' knowledge and identify and reinforce the educational component provided by the other.
Strategies for Collaborating to Optimize Drug Therapy
Patients, physicians and pharmacists need to work in close collaboration and partnership to achieve optimal drug therapy. Strategies to facilitate such teamwork include the following.
- Respecting and supporting patients' rights to make informed decisions regarding their drug therapy.
- Promoting knowledge, understanding and acceptance by physicians and pharmacists of their responsibilities in drug therapy and fostering widespread communication of these responsibilities so they are clearly understood by all.
- Supporting both professions' relationship with patients, and promoting a collaborative approach to drug therapy within the health care team. Care must be taken to maintain patients' trust and their relationship with other caregivers.
- Sharing relevant patient information for the enhancement of patient care, in accordance and compliance with all of the following: ethical standards to protect patient privacy, accepted medical and pharmacy practice, and the law. Patients should inform their physician and pharmacist of any information that may assist in providing optimal drug therapy.
- Increasing physicians' and pharmacists' awareness that it is important to make themselves readily available to each other to communicate about a patient for whom they are both providing care.
- Enhancing documentation (e.g., clearly written prescriptions and communication forms) and optimizing the use of technology (e.g., e-mail, voice mail and fax) in individual practices to enhance communication, improve efficiency and support consistency in information provided to patients.
- Developing effective communication and administrative procedures between health care institutions and community-based pharmacists and physicians to support continuity of care.
- Developing local communication channels and encouraging dialogue between the professions (e.g., through joint continuing education programs and local meetings) to promote a peer-review-based approach to local prescribing and drug-use issues.
- Teaching a collaborative approach to patient care as early as possible in the training of pharmacists and physicians.
- Developing effective communication channels and encouraging dialogue among patients, physicians and pharmacists at the regional, provincial, territorial and national levels to address issues such as drug-use policy, prescribing guidelines and continuing professional education.
- Collaborating in the development of technology to enhance communication in practices (e.g., shared patient databases relevant to drug therapy).
- Working jointly on committees and projects concerned with issues in drug therapy such as patient education, treatment adherence, formularies and practice guidelines, hospital-to-community care, cost-control strategies, sampling and other relevant policy issues concerning drug therapy.
- Fostering the development and utilization of a high-quality clinical and scientific information base to support evidence-based decision making.
The Physician's Responsibilities
Physicians and pharmacists recognize the following responsibilities in drug therapy as being within the scope of physicians' practice, on the basis of such factors as physicians' education and specialized skills, relationship with patients and practice environment. Some responsibilities may overlap with those of pharmacists (see The Pharmacist's Responsibilities). In addition, it is recognized that practice environments within medicine may differ and may affect the physician's role.
- Assessing health status, diagnosing diseases, assessing the need for drug therapy and providing curative, preventive, palliative and rehabilitative drug therapy in consultation with patients and in collaboration with caregivers, pharmacists and other health care professionals, when appropriate.
- Working with patients to set therapeutic goals and monitor progress toward such goals in consultation with caregivers, pharmacists and other health care providers, when appropriate.
- Monitoring and assessing response to drug therapy, progress toward therapeutic goals and patient adherence to the therapeutic plan; when necessary, revising the plan on the basis of outcomes of current therapy and progress toward goals of therapy, in consultation with patients and in collaboration with caregivers, pharmacists and other health care providers, when appropriate.
- Carrying out surveillance of and assessing patients for adverse reactions to drugs and other unanticipated problems related to drug therapy, revising therapy and, when appropriate, reporting adverse reactions and other complications to health authorities.
- Providing specific information to patients and caregivers about diagnosis, indications and treatment goals, and the action, benefits, risks and potential side effects of drug therapy.
- Providing and sharing general and specific information and advice about disease and drugs with patients, caregivers, health care providers and the public.
- Maintaining adequate records of drug therapy for each patient, including, when applicable, goals of therapy, therapy prescribed, progress toward goals, revisions of therapy, a list of drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter drugs) currently taken, adverse reactions to therapy, history of known drug allergies, smoking history, occupational exposure or risk, known patterns of alcohol or substance use that may influence response to drugs, history of treatment adherence and attitudes toward drugs. Records should also document patient counselling and advice given, when appropriate.
- Ensuring safe procurement, storage, handling, preparation, distribution, dispensing and record keeping of drugs (in keeping with federal and provincial regulations and the CMA policy summary "Physicians and the Pharmaceutical Industry (Update 1994)" (Can Med Assoc J 1994;150:256A-C.) when the patient cannot reasonably receive such services from a pharmacist.
- Maintaining a high level of knowledge about drug therapy through critical appraisal of the literature and continuing professional development.
Care must be provided in accordance with legislation and in an atmosphere of privacy, and patient confidentiality must be maintained. Care also should be provided in accordance with accepted scientific and ethical standards and procedures.
The Pharmacist's Responsibilities
Pharmacists and physicians recognize the following responsibilities as being within the scope of pharmacists' practice, on the basis of such factors as pharmacists' education and specialized skills, relationship with patients and practice environment. Some responsibilities may overlap with those of physicians (see The Physician's Responsibilities). In addition, it is recognized that, in selected practice environments, the pharmacists' role may differ considerably.
- Evaluating the patients' drug-therapy record ("drug profile") and reviewing prescription orders to ensure that a prescribed therapy is safe and to identify, solve or prevent actual or potential drug-related problems or concerns. Examples include possible contraindications, drug interactions or therapeutic duplication, allergic reactions and patient nonadherence to treatment. Significant concerns should be discussed with the prescriber.
- Ensuring safe procurement, storage, preparation, distribution and dispensing of pharmaceutical products (in keeping with federal, provincial and other applicable regulations).
- Discussing actual or potential drug-related problems or concerns and the purpose of drug therapy with patients, in consultation with caregivers, physicians and health care providers, when appropriate.
- Monitoring drug therapy to identify drug-related problems or concerns, such as lack of symptomatic response, lack of adherence to treatment plans and suspected adverse effects. Significant concerns should be discussed with the physician.
- Advising patients and caregivers on the selection and use of nonprescription drugs and the management of minor symptoms or ailments.
- Directing patients to consult their physician for diagnosis and treatment when required. Pharmacists may be the first contact for health advice. Through basic patient assessment (i.e., observation and interview) they should identify the need for referral to a physician or an emergency department.
- Notifying physicians of actual or suspected adverse reactions to drugs and, when appropriate, reporting such reactions to health authorities.
- Providing specific information to patients and caregivers about drug therapy, taking into account patients' existing knowledge about their drug therapy. This information may include the name of the drug, its purpose, potential interactions or side effects, precautions, correct usage, methods to promote adherence to the treatment plan and any other health information appropriate to the needs of the patient.
- Providing and sharing general and specific drug-related information and advice with patients, caregivers, physicians, health care providers and the public.
- Maintaining adequate records of drug therapy to facilitate the prevention, identification and management of drug-related problems or concerns. These records should contain, but are not limited to, each patient's current and past drug therapy (including both prescribed and selected over-the-counter drugs), drug-allergy history, appropriate demographic data and, if known, the purpose of therapy and progress toward treatment goals, adverse reactions to therapy, the patient's history of adherence to treatment, attitudes toward drugs, smoking history, occupational exposure or risk, and known patterns of alcohol or substance use that may influence his or her response to drugs. Records should also document patient counselling and advice given, when appropriate.
- Maintaining a high level of knowledge about drug therapy through critical appraisal of the literature and continuing professional development.
Care must be provided in accordance with legislation and in an atmosphere of privacy, and patient confidentiality must be maintained. Products and services should be provided in accordance with accepted scientific and ethical standards and procedures.
Authorizing Cannabis for Medical Purposes
The legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes came into effect with the Cannabis Act in October 2018, and patients continue to have access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The Cannabis Regulations have replaced the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. Patients can obtain cannabis for medical purposes when a physician or nurse practitioner provides a “medical document” , authorizing its use, and determining the daily dried cannabis dose in grams.
With the authorization, patients have the choice whether to (a) buy directly from a federally licensed producer; (b) register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount for personal consumption; (c) designate someone to produce it for them; or (d) buy cannabis at provincial or territorial authorized retail outlets or online sales platforms, if above the legal age limit.
While acknowledging the unique requirements of patients suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective and for whom cannabis may provide relief, physicians remain concerned about the serious lack of clinical research, guidance and regulatory oversight for cannabis as a medical treatment. There is insufficient clinical information on safety and efficacy for most therapeutic claims. There is little information around therapeutic and toxic dosages and knowledge on interactions with medications. Besides the need for appropriate research, health practitioners would benefit from unbiased, accredited educational modules and decision support tools based on the best available evidence.
The Canadian Medical Association has consistently expressed concern with the role of gatekeeper that physicians have been asked to take as a result of court decisions. Physicians should not feel obligated to authorize cannabis for medical purposes.
Physicians who choose to authorize cannabis for their patients must comply with their provincial or territorial regulatory College's relevant guideline or policy. They should also be familiar with regulations and guidance, particularly:
Health Canada’s Information for Health Care Practitioners – Medical Use of Cannabis (monograph, summary and daily dose fact sheet),
the Canadian Medical Protective Association’s guidance;
the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s preliminary guidance Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety; and
the Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care, published in the Canadian Family Physician.
The CMA recommends that physicians should:
Ensure that there is no conflict of interest, such as direct or indirect economic interest in a licensed cannabis producer or be involved in dispensing cannabis;
Treat the authorization as an insured service, similar to a prescription, and not charge patients or the licensed producer for this service;
Until such time as there is compelling evidence of its efficacy and safety for specific indications, consider authorizing cannabis only after conventional therapies are proven ineffective in treating patients’ conditions;
Have the necessary clinical knowledge to authorize cannabis for medical purposes;
Only authorize in the context of an established patient-physician relationship;
Assess the patient’s medical history, conduct a physical examination and assess for the risk of addiction and diversion, using available clinical support tools and tests;
Engage in a consent discussion with patients which includes information about the known benefits and adverse health effects of cannabis in its various forms (e.g., edibles), including the risk of impairment to activities such as driving and work;
Advise the patient regarding harm reduction strategies and the prevention of accidental exposure for children and other people;
Document all consent discussions in patients' medical records;
Reassess the patient on a regular basis for its effectiveness to address the medical condition for which cannabis was authorized, as well as for addiction and diversion, to support maintenance, adjustment or discontinuation of treatment; and
Record the authorization of cannabis for medical purposes similar to when prescribing a controlled medication.
The Cannabis Regulations provide some consistency with many established provincial and territorial prescription monitoring programs for controlled substances. Licensed producers of cannabis for medical purposes are required to provide information to provincial and territorial medical licensing bodies upon request, including healthcare practitioner information, daily quantity of dried cannabis supported, period of use, date of document and basic patient information. The Minister of Health can also report physicians to their College should there be reasonable grounds that there has been a contravention of the Narcotic Control Regulations or the Cannabis Regulations.
Approved by CMA Board February 2015
Latest update approved by CMA Board in February 2020
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has always recognized the unique requirements of those individuals suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective and for whom cannabis may provide relief.
However, there are a number of concerns, primarily related to the limited evidence to support many of the therapeutic claims made regarding cannabis for medical purposes, and the need to support health practitioners in their practice.1,2,3,4
While the indications for using cannabis to treat some conditions have been well studied, less
information is available about many potential medical uses.
Physicians who wish to authorize the use of cannabis for patients in their practices should consult relevant CMPA policy5 and guidelines developed by the provincial and territorial medical regulatory authorities to ensure appropriate medico-legal protection. The CMA’s policy Authorizing Marijuana for Medical Purposes6, as well as the CMA’s Guidelines For Physicians In Interactions With Industry7 should also be consulted.
The CMA makes the following recommendations:
1. Increase support for the advancement of scientific knowledge about the medical use of cannabis. The CMA encourages the government to support rigorous scientific research into the efficacy for therapeutic claims, safety, dose-response relationships, potential interactions and the most effective routes of delivery, and in various populations.
2. Apply the same regulatory oversight and evidence standards to cannabis as to pharmaceutical products under the Food and Drug Act, designed to protect the public by the assessment for safety and efficacy.
3. Increase support for physicians on the use of cannabis for medical purposes in their practice settings. As such, CMA calls on the government to work with the CMA, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons,
and other relevant stakeholders, to develop unbiased, accredited education options and licensing programs for physicians who authorize the use of cannabis for their patients based on the best available evidence.
In 2001, Health Canada enacted the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). These were in response to an Ontario Court of Appeal finding that banning cannabis for medicinal purposes violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.8 The MMAR, as enacted, was designed to establish a framework to allow legal access to cannabis, then an illegal drug, for the relief of pain, nausea and other symptoms by people suffering from serious illness where conventional treatments had failed.
While recognizing the needs of those suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease, CMA raised strong objections to the proposed regulations. There were concerns about the lack of evidence on the risks and benefits associated with the use of cannabis. This made it difficult for physicians to advise their patients appropriately and manage doses or potential side effects. The CMA believes that physicians should not be put in the untenable position of gatekeepers for a proposed medical intervention that has not undergone established regulatory review processes as required for all prescription medicines.
Additionally, there were concerns about medico-legal liability, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), encouraged those physicians that were uncomfortable with the regulations to refrain from authorizing cannabis to patients.
Various revisions were made to the MMAR, and then these were substituted by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2013/ 2014 and subsequently by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in 2016 and now as part of the Cannabis Act (Section 14)9. Healthcare practitioners that wish to authorize cannabis for their patients are required to sign a medical document, indicating the daily quantity of dried cannabis, expressed in grams.
For the most part, these revisions have been in response to decisions from various court decisions across the country.10,11,12 Courts have consistently sided with patients’ rights to relieve symptoms of terminal disease or certain chronic conditions, despite the limited data on the effectiveness of cannabis. Courts have not addressed the ethical position in which physicians are placed as a result of becoming the gate keeper for access to a medication without adequate evidence.
The CMA participated in many Health Canada consultations with stakeholders as well as scientific advisory committees and continued to express the concerns of the physician community. As previously noted, the Federal government has been constrained by the decisions of Canadian courts.
The current state of evidence regarding harms of cannabis use is also limited but points to some serious concerns. Ongoing research has shown that regular cannabis use during brain development (up to approximately 25 years old) is linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, especially if there is a personal or family history of mental illness. Long term use has also been associated with issues of attention, impulse control and emotional regulation. Smoking of cannabis also has pulmonary consequences such as chronic bronchitis. It is also linked to poorer pregnancy outcomes. Physicians are also concerned with dependence, which occurs in up to 10% of regular users. From a public and personal safety standpoint, cannabis can impact judgement and increases the risk of accidents (e.g. motor vehicle incidents). For many individuals, cannabis use is not without adverse consequences.3,13,14
Pharmaceutically prepared alternative options, often administered orally, are also available and regulated in Canada.15 These drugs mimic the action of delta-9-tetra-hydrocannabional (THC) and other cannabinoids and have undergone clinical trials to demonstrate safety and effectiveness and have been approved for use through the Food and Drug Act. Of note is that in this format, the toxic by-products of smoked marijuana are avoided.16 However, the need for more research is evident.
Approved by the CMA Board in December 2010.
Last reviewed and approved by the CMA Board in March 2019.
1 Allan GM, Ramji J, Perry D, et al. Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care. Canadian Family Physician, 2018;64(2):111-120. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/64/2/111.full.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
2 College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC). Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety: Preliminary Guidance. Mississauga: CFPC; 2014. Available: https://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/_PDFs/Authorizing%20Dried%20Cannabis%20for%20Chronic%20Pain%20or%20Anxiety.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
3 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2017. 4 Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, et al. Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2015;313(24):2456-73.
5 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Medical marijuana: considerations for Canadian doctors. Ottawa: CMPA; 2018. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2014/medical-marijuana-new-regulations-new-college-guidance-for-canadian-doctors (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
6 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Authorizing marijuana for medical purposes. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11514 http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-04.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
7 Canadian Medical Association. (CMA) Guidelines for Physicians In Interactions With Industry. Ottawa: CMA; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf. (accessed 2019 Jan22).
8 R. v. Parker, 2000 CanLII 5762 (ON CA). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/1fb95 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
9 Cannabis Act. Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes. Section 14. 2018. Available: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2018-144/page-28.html#h-81 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
10 Hitzig v. Canada, 2003 CanLII 3451 (ON SC). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/1c9jd (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
11 Allard v. Canada,  3 FCR 303, 2016 FC 236 (CanLII), Available: http://canlii.ca/t/gngc5 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
12 R. v. Smith, 2014 ONCJ 133 (CanLII). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/g68gk (accessed 2019 Jan 8). 13 Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SRB. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219–2227.
14 World Health Organization. The health and social effects of nonmedical cannabis use. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016. Available: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/msbcannabis.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
15 Ware MA. Is there a role for marijuana in medical practice? Can Fam Physician 2006;52(12):1531-1533. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1952544/pdf/0530022a.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
16 Engels FK, de Jong FA, Mathijssen RHJ, et.al. Medicinal cannabis in oncology. Eur J Cancer. 2007;43(18):2638-2644. Available: https://www.clinicalkey.com/service/content/pdf/watermarked/1-s2.0-S0959804907007368.pdf?locale=en_US (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
This statement discusses the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) position on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM, widely used in Canada, is increasingly being subject to regulation. The CMA's position is based on the fundamental premise that decisions about health care interventions used in Canada should be based on sound scientific evidence as to their safety, efficacy and effectiveness - the same standard by which physicians and all other elements of the health care system should be assessed. Patients deserve the highest standard of treatment available, and physicians, other health practitioners, manufacturers, regulators and researchers should all work toward this end. All elements of the health care system should "consider first the well-being of the patient."1 The ethical principle of non-maleficence obliges physicians to reduce their patient's risks of harm. Physicians must constantly strive to balance the potential benefits of an intervention against its potential side effects, harms or burdens. To help physicians meet this obligation, patients should inform their physician if the patient uses CAM.
CAM in Canada
CAM has been defined as "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine."i This definition comprises a great many different, otherwise unrelated products, therapies and devices, with varying origins and levels of supporting scientific evidence. For the purpose of this analysis, the CMA divides CAM into four general categories:
* Diagnostic Tests: Provided by CAM practitioners. Unknown are the toxicity levels or the source of test material, e.g., purity. Clinical sensitivity, specificity, and predictive value should be evidence-based.
* Products: Herbal and other remedies are widely available over-the-counter at pharmacies and health food stores. In Canada these are regulated at the federal level under the term Natural Health Products.
* Interventions: Treatments such as spinal manipulation and electromagnetic field therapy may be offered by a variety of providers, regulated or otherwise.
* Practitioners: There are a large variety of practitioners whose fields include chiropractic, naturopathy, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and many others. Many are unregulated or regulated only in some provinces/territories of Canada.
Many Canadians have used, or are currently using, at least one CAM modality. A variety of reasons has been cited for CAM use, including: tradition; curiosity; distrust of mainstream medicine; and belief in the "holistic" concept of health which CAM practitioners and users believe they provide. For most Canadians the use is complementary (in addition to conventional medicine) rather than alternative (as a replacement). Many patients do not tell their physicians that they are using CAM.
Toward Evidence-Informed Health Care
Use of CAM carries risks, of which its users may be unaware. Indiscriminate use and undiscriminating acceptance of CAM could lead to misinformation, false expectations, and diversion from more appropriate care, as well as adverse health effects, some of them serious.
The CMA recommends that federal, provincial and territorial governments respond to the health care needs of Canadians by ensuring the provision of clinical care that continually incorporates evidence-informed technological advances in information, prevention, and diagnostic and therapeutic services.2 Physicians take seriously their duty to advocate for quality health care and help their patients choose the most beneficial interventions. Physicians strongly support the right of patients to make informed decisions about their medical care. However, the CMA's Code of Ethics requires physicians to recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that they consider to be beneficial to the patient or to others.3 Until CAM interventions are supported by scientifically-valid evidence, physicians should not recommend them. Unless proven beneficial, CAM services should not be publicly funded. To help ensure that Canadians receive the highest-quality health care, the CMA recommends that CAM be subject to rigorous research on its effects, that it be strictly regulated, and that health professionals and the public have access to reliable, accurate, evidence-informed information on CAM products and therapies. Specific recommendations are provided below:
a) Research: Building an Evidence Base
To date, much of the public's information on CAM has been anecdotal, or founded on exaggerated claims of benefit based on few or low-quality studies. The CMA is committed to the principle that, before any new treatment is adopted and applied by the medical profession, it must first be rigorously tested and recognized as evidence-informed.4 Increasingly, good-quality, well-controlled studies are being conducted on CAM products and therapies. The CMA supports this development. Research into promising therapies is always welcome and should be encouraged, provided that it is subject to the same standards for proof and efficacy as those for conventional medical and pharmaceutical treatments. The knowledge thus obtained should be widely disseminated to health professionals and the public.
b) An Appropriate Regulatory Framework
Regulatory frameworks governing CAM, like those governing any health intervention, should enshrine the concept that therapies should have a proven benefit before being represented to Canadians as effective health treatments.
i) Natural Health Products. Natural health products are regulated at the federal level through the Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada.
The CMA believes that the principle of fairness must be applied to the regulatory process so that natural health products are treated fairly in comparison with other health products.5 The same regulatory standards should apply to both natural health products and pharmaceutical health products. These standards should be applied to natural health products regardless of whether a health claim is made for the product. This framework must facilitate the entry of products onto the market that are known to be safe and effective, and impede the entry of products that are not known to be safe and effective until they are better understood. It should also ensure high manufacturing standards to assure consumers of the products' safety, quality and purity. The CMA also recommends that a series of standards be developed for each natural health product. These standards should include:
* manufacturing processes that ensure the purity, safety and quality of the product;
* labelling standards that include standards for consumer advice, cautions and claims, and explanations for the safe use of the product to the consumer.6
The CMA recommends that safety and efficacy claims for natural health products be evaluated by an arm's length scientific panel, and claims for the therapeutic value of natural health products should be prohibited when the supportive evidence does not meet the evidentiary standard required of medications regulated by Health Canada.7 Claims of medical benefit should only be permitted when compelling scientific evidence of their safety and efficacy exists.8
The Canadian Medical Association advocates that foods fortified with "natural health" ingredients should be regulated as food products and not as natural health products
The CMA recommends that the regulatory system for natural health products be applied to post-marketing surveillance as well as pre-marketing regulatory review. Health Canada's MedEffect adverse reaction reporting system now collects safety reports on Natural Health Products. Consumers, health professionals and manufacturers are encouraged to report adverse reactions to Health Canada.
ii) CAM Practitioners. Regulation of CAM practitioners is at different stages. The CMA believes that this regulation should: ensure that the services CAM practitioners offer are truly efficacious; establish quality control mechanisms and appropriate standards of practice; and work to develop an evidence-informed body of competence that develops with evolving knowledge.
Just as the CMA believes that natural health products should be treated fairly in comparison with other health products, it recommends that CAM practitioners be held to the same standards as other health professionals. All CAM practitioners should develop Codes of Ethics that insure practitioners consider first the best interests of their patients.
Among other things, associations representing CAM practitioners should develop and adhere to conflict of interest guidelines that require their members to:
* Resist any influence or interference that could undermine their professional integrity;9
* Recognize and disclose conflicts of interest that arise in the course of their professional duties and activities, and resolve them in the best interests of patients;10
* Refrain, for the most part, from dispensing the products they prescribe. Engaging in both prescribing and dispensing , whether for financial benefit or not, constitutes a conflict of interest where the provider's own interests conflict with their duty to act in the best interests of the patient.
c) Information and Promotion
Canadians have the right to reliable, accurate information on CAM products and therapies to help ensure that the treatment choices they make are informed. The CMA recommends that governments, manufacturers, health care providers and other stakeholders work together to ensure that Canadians have access to this information. The CMA believes that all natural health products should be labeled so as to include a qualitative list of all ingredients. 11 Information on CAM should be user-friendly and easy to access, and should include:
* Instructions for use;
* Indications that the product or therapy has been convincingly proven to treat;
* Contraindications, side effects and interactions with other medications;
* Should advise the consumer to inform their health care provider during any encounter that they are using this product.12
This information should be provided in such a way as to minimize the impact of vested commercial interests on its content.
In general, brand-specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing information about any health product or therapy. In view of our limited knowledge of their effectiveness and the risks they may contain risks, the advertising of health claims for natural health products should be severely restricted. The CMA recommends that health claims be promoted only if they have been established with sound scientific evidence. This restriction should apply not only to advertising, but also to all statements made in product or company Web sites and communications to distributors and the public. Advertisements should be pre-cleared to ensure that they contain no deceptive messages. Sanctions against deceptive advertising must be rigidly enforced, with Health Canada devoting adequate resources to monitor and correct misleading claims.
The CMA recommends that product labels include approved health claims, cautions and contraindications, instructions for the safe use of the product, and a recommendation that patients tell physicians that they are using the products. If no health claims are approved for a particular natural health product, the label should include a prominent notice that there is no evidence the product contributes to health or alleviates disease.
The Role of Health Professionals
Whether or not physicians and other health professionals support the use of CAM, it is important that they have access to reliable information on CAM products and therapies, so that they can discuss them with their patients.
Patients should be encouraged to report use of all health products, including natural health products, to health care providers during consultations. The CMA encourages Canadians to become educated about their own health and health care, and to appraise all health information critically.
The CMA will continue to advocate for evidence-informed assessment of all methods of health care in Canada, and for the provision of accurate, timely and reliable health information to Canadian health care providers and patients.
i Working definition used by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
1 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC00-196 - Clinical care to incorporate evidence-based technological advances. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2000. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
3 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
4 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
5 Canadian Medical Association. CMA statement on emerging therapies [media release]. Available: www.facturation.net/advocacy/emerging-therapies.
6 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 1998.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC08-86 - Natural health products. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2008.
8 Canadian Medical Association. Policy resolution GC10-100 - Foods fortified with "natural health" ingredients. Ottawa (ON): The Association; 2010. Available:
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 7. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
10 Canadian Medical Association. CMA code of ethics (update 2004). Ottawa: The Association; 2004. Paragraph 11. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm.
11 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
12 Canadian Medical Association. Brief BR1998-02 - Regulatory framework for natural health products. Ottawa: The Association; 1998.
CORE AND COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH CARE SERVICES
CMA believes that physicians must be actively involved in the decision-making process on core and comprehensive services. It developed a framework for this purpose after review and analysis of national and international decision-making frameworks, and after consideration of the political, policy and legal context of Canadian health care decision making. In addition to the framework, key terms associated with core and comprehensive health care services are operationally defined. Quality of care and ethical and economic factors are considered in a balanced and flexible manner, recognizing that the relative importance of any one factor may vary depending on the health care service being considered.
CMA first prepared this policy in 1994 to help physicians participate in making choices concerning core and comprehensive health care services. Over a decade later, the issue of defining these services remains a central issue for patients, providers and funders of Canada's health care system. Looking ahead, this will become even more pertinent as regional authorities assume greater authority in planning and allocating health funding across a broad range of programs.
Constructive leadership from the medical profession is essential to ensure a high quality Canadian health care system. Specifically, physicians must be actively involved in the decision-making process on core and comprehensive health care services.
CMA reviewed and analyzed several national and international decision-making frameworks and subsequently developed a framework for making decisions about core and comprehensive health care services (Core and Comprehensive Health Care Services: a Framework for Decision Making, CMA, 1994). It also considered the current political, policy and legal context in which decisions on health care are made in Canada. Key terms associated with core and comprehensive health care services were operationally defined.
CMA encourages the use of its framework for making decisions about these services. Quality of care and ethical and economic factors are considered in a balanced and flexible manner, recognizing that the relative importance of any one factor may vary depending on the health care service being considered. Each factor affects decision making at the patient-physician (micro) level, the hospital and regional (meso) level and the provincial, territorial and national (macro) level.
This policy summary addresses the requirement for governments to fund core medical services but not the availability or desirability of private or alternative funding for these services.
Uniform use and interpretation of the terms used in this area are particularly important in policy development, negotiations and communications. The 1984 Canada Health Act stipulates that all "medically necessary" services be insured; however, the act does not define "medically necessary." This lack of a clear operational definition gives the provinces/territories some flexibility in the breadth of coverage provided by their insurance plans. However, it may also cause ambiguity and difficulty in selecting core health care services.
CMA defines medically necessary services as those "that a qualified physician determines are required to assess, prevent, treat, rehabilitate or palliate a given health concern or problem as supported by available scientific evidence and/or professional experience." (Adapted from Core and Comprehensive Health Care Services, page 96.)
Health care services are "not only services provided by or under the supervision of a physician, but also a wide range of services performed by many other health care professionals." (Adapted from Core and Comprehensive Health Care Services, page 92.) Medical services is "a category of health care services provided by or under the supervision of a physician." (Core and Comprehensive Health Care Services, page 96.)
Comprehensive health care and medical services are distinguished from core health care and medical services. Comprehensive health care and medical services are "a broad range of services that covers most, if not all, health care needs. These services may or may not be funded/insured by a government plan." (Core and Comprehensive Health Care Services, page 86.) Core health care and medical services are those that "are available to everyone as funded/insured by a government plan. [Alternative] funding sources for these services are not necessarily excluded." (Core and Comprehensive Health Care Services, page 86.)
Framework for decision making
CMA advocates a systematic and transparent decision-making framework for determining which services are considered core and comprehensive health care services. The framework was originally intended for medical services; however, it can also be applied to health care services. It is flexible so that users may adapt it to their own specific circumstances and needs. It is not a formula or set process that yields a quantifiable result for any given service, nor does it prescribe which services to insure or not insure. CMA has put forth the following principle concerning the framework.
When decisions about core and comprehensive health care services are made, the various levels at which decisions can be made must be considered. These include the patient- physician (micro) level, the hospital and regional (meso) level and the provincial, territorial and national (macro) level.
CMA recognizes that decisions are made at several levels: (1) the micro level, which involves individual decisions about service delivery made by patients, physicians and other providers, (2) the meso level, which involves regional health authorities and health care institutions such as hospitals, community groups and professional staff, and (3) the macro level, which involves system wide decisions made by governments, the electorate and professions as a whole.
It is important to take into account the likely effect of any decision on each level: a decision that is acceptable at the macro level may be impossible to deliver at the meso level and inappropriate for patients or practitioners at the micro level. Coordination is essential to make consistent decisions among levels and incorporate the concerns of patients, providers and payers.
CMA upholds a second principle concerning the decision making framework.
Quality of care and ethical and economic factors must be considered when decisions about core and comprehensive health care services are made.
Quality of care
Effectiveness, efficiency, appropriateness and patient acceptance are elements of quality of care. To be considered a core medical service, a medical service must be of high quality (i.e., it addresses effectively a health concern or condition through improved health outcomes and is delivered efficiently, appropriately and in a manner acceptable to patients) as well as fulfilling ethical and economic criteria. A medical service that is shown to be of little effectiveness cannot be delivered efficiently or poses many problems for patient safety or acceptance is less "medically necessary" than services that meet the quality of care criteria. Such a service is therefore unlikely to become or remain a core medical service.
The adoption of evidence-based medicine such as through the use of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) is a key component of quality improvement. CPGs are based on a systematic review of experience and research, and they help physicians to make decisions about necessary care. CPGs that are well developed and appropriately evaluated may also help to define core health care services. CPGs are also tools for the pursuit of quality, to maximize effective care and to reduce waste and ineffective activity in a given service, resulting in savings.
Clinical research is a key aspect of improvement in quality of care. Such research focuses on the effectiveness and impact of health care services on health outcomes. Procedures that demonstrate better outcomes than others should be included in a core health care package, whereas those that demonstrate inferior outcomes may be limited or excluded in some instances. When applying the concept of core health care services, provision must be made for ongoing evaluation of the quality of current services and appropriate assessment of new ones.
While it is important that the decision-making framework be evidence-based to the greatest extent possible, it should not be evidence-bound - that is, decisions may still need to be made from limited evidence.
Balancing finite fiscal resources and high quality medical and other health care services requires explicit societal choices about which services will be publicly funded (and for whom), which can be purchased and which will not be available at all in the Canadian system. These issues are ethical ones because they involve rights, responsibilities and societal values.
Whether decisions about resource allocation are made at the macro, meso or micro level, they must be fair. This means that those likely to be affected by a decision, whether they are patients, providers or payers, must have adequate opportunity for input into the decision-making process and must be informed about the reasons for the decisions.
When the availability of a health care service is inadequate to meet the demand, the criteria for allocating it should be fair and explicit. One such criterion is medical need: even if not all needed services can be publicly funded, services that are clearly unnecessary should not be funded in this way. Funding decisions should be nondiscriminatory; decisions about which health care services should or should not be publicly funded should not be based on age, sex, race, lifestyle and other personal and social characteristics of the potential recipients of a service.
Economic factors (Cost-effectiveness)
The level of public funding for health care services is ultimately a societal decision, as discussed in the section on ethical factors. Once such a societal decision has been made, economic factors are useful in determining the allocation of resources among health care services, especially in times of fiscal restraint.
There are various economic methods for evaluating funding decisions, the most common of which is cost effectiveness analysis. This approach suggests that decisions to insure a particular service should take into account cost in relation to outcome, e.g., cost per quality-adjusted life-year. Services that have a low cost for a significant gain in effectiveness may be more acceptable for public funding than others. This approach cannot be used in isolation; quality of care and ethical considerations must be taken into account before a final determination of the source of funding for core or comprehensive health care services is made.
Determination of which health care services are to be included in or excluded from a publicly financed health insurance plan should also incorporate an economic analysis of the primary and secondary effects on both the patient and provider populations. Some of the factors that should be included in such an analysis are: availability of substitutes, discretionary income, availability of private insurance, direct and indirect costs of service provision, barriers to entry and the existence of fixed global budgets. Economic analyses also include measurement of the opportunity costs, in terms of foregone services, associated with public financing of health care services. When possible, the public's needs should be distinguished from its wants for the purposes of public policy and funding.
From a clinical perspective, providers have always addressed patient needs on a case-by-case basis. However, fiscal restraint and the rationalization of health care services often result in the onus being placed on the provider to make micro resource allocation decisions. Local decisions (i.e., at the hospital and community level) about the rationalization of health care resources can restrict providers' ability to deliver services and patients' ability to receive them. Therefore, it is critical that the patient and provider perspectives be included in any economic analysis undertaken to define core health care services.
As enunciated in its policy statement, Federal Health Financing, the CMA will urge the federal government to ensure that full funding be available to support provincial and territorial provision of core medical services.
Nevertheless, there remain concerns regarding how the comprehensiveness principle is being interpreted. First, the array of core services varies considerably among the provinces/territories (e.g., prescription drug coverage). Second, the basket of core health services needs to be modernized to reflect Canadians' emerging health needs and how health care is now being delivered (e.g,. more out-patient care).
While a degree of latitude is required to accommodate differing regional needs, core services should be available to all Canadians on uniform terms and conditions and should not be limited to physician and hospital services. There should be ongoing periodic monitoring and reporting of the comparability of Canadians' access to a full range of medically necessary health services across the country.
Furthermore, there is a need for a federal/provincial/territorial process that is transparent, accountable, evidence-based and inclusive to regularly update the basket of core services. CMA will work with provincial/territorial medical associations and other stakeholders to develop a process for defining a national list of core medical services.
Greater transparency is required when de-insuring services, including the need for consultation and providing an adequate notice period for patients, providers and funders.
A new framework is also required to govern the funding of a basket of core health services that allows at least some core services to be cost-shared under uniform terms and conditions in all provinces and territories.
Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) Policy Statement
Canadians have a right to information about prescription drugs and other therapeutic interventions, to enable them to make informed decisions about their own health. This information must be evidence based and provide details about side effects and health risks as well as benefits.
Brand-specific direct-to-consumer advertisements, such as those permitted in the United States, do not provide optimal information on prescription drugs. We are concerned that DTCA:
* is not information but marketing, and sends the message that a prescription drug is a “consumer good” rather than a health care benefit.
* may not provide enough information to allow the consumer to make appropriate drug choices. For example, it generally does not provide information about other products or therapies that could be used to treat the same condition. In addition, it may stimulate demand by exaggerating the risks of a disease and generating unnecessary fear.
* may strain the relationship between patients and providers, for example if a patient’s request for an advertised prescription drug is refused.
* drives up the cost of health care, and undermines the efforts of physicians, pharmacists and others to promote optimal drug therapy.
Patient groups, health care providers, governments and pharmaceutical manufacturers should be supported in activities to develop objective, reliable plain-language information about prescription drugs to ensure that Canadians are able to make informed health care decisions.
* Support the provision of objective, evidence-based, reliable plain-language information for the public about prescription drugs.
* Oppose direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada.
Health and safety in the workplace continue to be areas of concern to the CMA. The CMA recommends that educational programs on the risks of drug-related impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general. Occupations for which impairment resulting from drug use may constitute a serious hazard should be identified and designated as such. The association recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds to suspect impairment of the worker. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs should be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) being taken to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice. The CMA is opposed to routine pre-employment drug testing. It recommends that random drug testing among employees be restricted to safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable. Drug testing should always be conducted in such a way as to protect confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
The idea of drug testing among workers has developed from society's concern over the relation between drug use and impairment, with resultant risks to the worker, fellow workers and the public.
Education: Since prevention is the principal and ultimate objective the association recommends that educational programs on the risks of impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general.
Illicit drugs are not the only ones that may cause impairment. Certain prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter medications may affect a person's ability to carry out professional functions safely; such effects may vary considerably from one person to another.
Alcohol is by far the most common impairing drug implicated in accidents; in addition, the scientific literature contains a growing body of information on impairment and dangers resulting from the use and misuse of various therapeutic medications. Far less is documented or known about the role of illicit drugs in work-related accidents.
Safety-sensitive occupations: In most workplaces there are occupations for which impairment may constitute a serious hazard. Such occupations should be identified and designated as such. Workers who hold such safety-sensitive jobs must accept the fact that other workers and the public need to be protected from the hazards of impairment, whether from physical or psychologic ill health or from the use of drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illicit).
Performance assessment of safety-sensitive occupations: The CMA recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds (e.g., unsatisfactory performance or observed unusual behaviour) to suspect impairment of the worker. The examining physician may recommend that some tests (including tests for the presence of certain drugs) be carried out under pre-agreed protocols. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs must be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) they may be taking to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice.
Testing: Any discussion of drug testing must take the following into account:
If a quantitative test is to be used to determine impairment a limit must be established beyond which a person is deemed to be impaired. However, since the threshold of impairment varies from one person to another this variation should be taken into account when a worker is being assessed.
The tests must be valid and reliable. They must be performed only in laboratories accredited for drug testing.
The tests must provide results rapidly enough to be useful in deciding whether the person should continue to work.
If different testing procedures are available and the differences between the validity and reliability are not significant the least intrusive alternative should be chosen.
The test should be conducted in such a way as to ensure confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
Pre-employment testing: The CMA opposes routine pre-employment drug testing for the following reasons:
Routine pre-employment drug screening may not objectively identify those people who constitute a risk to society.
The mass, low-cost screening tests may not be reliable or valid.
The circumstances may not justify possible human rights violations.
Random testing: The CMA believes that random drug testing among employees has a limited role, if any, in the workplace. Such testing should be restricted to employees in safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable.
Role of occupational health services: Occupational health physicians must not be involved in a policing or disciplinary role with respect to employee testing.
CMA recommends that employers provide a safe environment for all workers. With the help of experts such as those from national and provincial agencies dedicated to dealing with substance abuse occupational health departments should develop lists of drugs known to cause short-term or long-term impairment, including alcohol. These lists should be posted prominently in the workplace, and workers should be advised that in the event of obvious impairment those involved in safety-sensitive occupations will be asked to undergo medical assessment. If testing for drugs is indicated refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
Alcohol impairment should not be tolerated, and legislation should be considered that would set a legal blood alcohol level for safety-sensitive occupations. Breathalyzers or other detection methods could be used if alcohol impairment is suspected in a person holding safety-sensitive occupation. As stated previously, refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
These measures should be discussed with labour and management. Labour should be expected to recognize drug-related impairment as a serious health and safety issue, and management should demonstrate its concern by ensuring access to treatment, prevention and educational programs such as employee assistance programs.
Ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services is one strategy which can help to mitigate health inequities resulting from differences in the social and economic conditions of Canadians.
Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity of patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care. This necessitates consideration of not only availability of services but quality of care as well.1
There is far ranging evidence indicating that access to care is not equitable in Canada. Those with higher socio-economic status have increased access for almost every health service available, despite having a generally higher health status and therefore a decreased need for health care. This includes insured services (such as surgery), as well as un-insured services such as pharmaceuticals and long-term care.
Those from disadvantaged groups are less likely to receive appropriate health care even if access to the system is available. They are more likely to report trouble getting appointments, less testing and monitoring of chronic health conditions, and more hospitalizations for conditions that could be avoided with appropriate primary care.
There is a financial cost to this disparity in equitable care. Reducing the differences in avoidable hospitalizations alone could save the system millions of dollars.
Barriers to equitable access occur on both the patient and health care system or supply side. Common barriers include:
(see pdf for correct display of table)
Demand Side or Patient Barriers
Supply Side or System Barriers
Services not located in areas of need
Cultural beliefs and norms
Patients lack family physicians
Lack of management of chronic disease
Cost of transportation
Long waits for service
Time off work for appointments
Payment models which don't account for complexity of patients
Access to child care
Coordination between primary care and speciality care and between health care and community services
Payment for medications or other medical devices/treatments
Standardization of referral and access to specialists and social services
Immobility- due to physical disabilities, and/or mental health barriers
Lack of needs based planning to ensure that population has necessary services
Cognitive issues, ie. Dementia, that adversely affect ability to access and comply with care
Attitudes of health care workers
To tackle barriers on the patient side there is a need to reduce barriers such as transportation and the prohibitive cost of some medically necessary services. Further, there is a need to increase the health literacy of patients and their families/caregivers as well as providing support to health care providers to ensure that all patients are able to be active participants in the management of their care.
On the system side the strategies for action fall into four main categories: patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management; better care coordination and access to necessary medical services along the continuum of care; quality improvement initiatives which incorporate considerations of equity as part of their mandate; and health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care.
Recommendations are provided for CMA and national level initiatives; health care planners; and physicians in practice.
Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. By removing barriers on both the patient and system side it is hoped that greater access to appropriate care will follow.
In Canada as in many countries around the world there are major inequities in health status across the population. Those lower on the socio-economic scale face higher burdens of disease, greater disability and even shorter life expectancies.2 Many of these disparities are caused by differences in social and economic factors such as income and education known as the social determinants of health.3,1 While many of these factors are outside of the direct control of the health care system, ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services can help to mitigate some of these disparities. The alternative can also be true. In health systems where access to care and appropriateness are unequal and skewed in favour of those of higher socio-economic status, the health system itself can create further inequities and add greater burden to those already at an increased risk of poor health. Physicians as leaders in the health care system can play a role in ensuring equitable access to care for all Canadians.
Equitable Access to Health Care in Canada:
Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity for patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care. This necessitates consideration of not only availability of services but quality of care as well.4
Due to burden of disease and therefore need, those with lower socio-economic status should be utilizing more services along the continuum.5 That, however, is not the case. Individuals living in lower income neighbourhoods, younger adults and men are less likely to have primary care physicians than their counterparts.6
Primary care physicians deliver the majority of mental illness treatment and they are the main source of referrals to psychiatrists or other specialists. However, much of the care for people with mental illnesses, especially on the lower socio-economic end of the scale, is delivered in emergency rooms, which is both costly and episodic. This is due not only to a lack of primary care access but to a lack of community mental health services.7
Those with higher socio-economic status are much more likely to have access to and utilize specialist services.8 Examples include greater likelihood of catheterization and shorter waits for angiography for patients with myocardial infarction9; and greater access to in-hospital physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech language therapy for those hospitalized with acute stroke10. Low income men and women with diabetes were just as likely to visit a specialist for treatment as high income individuals despite a significantly greater need for care.11
There is a correlation between higher income and access to day surgery.12 A Toronto study found that inpatient surgery patients were of much higher income than medical inpatients.13 Additionally, utilization of diagnostic imaging services is greater among those in higher socio-economic groups.14 Access to preventive and screening programs such as pap smears and mammography are lower among disadvantaged groups.15
Geography can cause barriers to access. In general rural Canadians have higher health care needs but less access to care.16 People in northern and rural communities typically have to travel great distances to obtain health services as many, especially specialist services, cannot be obtained in their home community.17 Those living in the most rural communities in Canada are the least likely to have a regular family doctor, or to have had a specialist physician visit.18 According to data from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, 21% of the Canadian population is rural while only 9.4% of family physicians and 3% of specialists are considered rural.19 This lack of access to specialists and other medically necessary services can lead to delays in treatment and harm to health including unnecessary pain and permanent disability.20 Further, travel for necessary treatment often comes with a significant financial cost.21
It is not just access to insured services that is a problem in Canada. Many Canadians do not have access to needed pharmaceuticals. Researchers have reported that those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill prescriptions, and 60% less able to get needed tests because of cost.22 The use of appropriate diabetes preventative services, medication, and blood glucose testing, has been shown to be dependent on out of pocket expenditures.23
Rehabilitation services are difficult for some Canadians to access as well. Services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy are often not covered unless they are provided in-hospital or to people on certain disability support programs. This leads to long wait times for services that are covered or no access at all.24 Adding to these inequities is the fact that different programs are covered in different provinces and territories.25
Access to mental health services is a major challenge for Canadians. According to data from Statistics Canada, more than half a million Canadians who had a perceived need for mental health care services, reported that their needs were unmet. Access to counselling services was the most frequent unmet need reported.26 A number of important mental health professionals - notably psychologists and counsellors - are not funded through provincial health budgets, or are funded only on a very limited basis. Access to psychologists is largely limited to people who can pay for them, through private insurance or out of their own pockets.27,2
Access to subsidized residential care, long-term care, home care and end-of-life care is problematic as well. Those with means can access high quality long-term care services within their community, while those with inadequate resources are placed in lower quality facilities sometimes hours away from family and friends.28 Even with expansions promised by governments, home care will not be able to meet the needs of underserved groups such as those living in rural and remote areas.29 Finally, only a fraction of patients have access to or receive palliative and end-of-life care. Those living in rural or remote areas or living with disabilities have severely limited access to formal palliative care.30
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Aboriginal peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care.31 Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems. While geography is a significant barrier for Aboriginal peoples, it is not the only one. Aboriginals living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on Aboriginal programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve.32 Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate. Finally, Canada's Aboriginal peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status.33
However, these examples are only part of the story as accessing care which is inappropriate cannot be considered equitable access.34 Those of lower socio-economic status are more likely to use inpatient services; show an increased use of family physician services once initial contact is made;35 and have consistently higher hospitalization rates; 36 This could be due to the higher burden of need or could demonstrate that the services that are received are not addressing the health care needs of those lower on the socio-economic scale.37
Women and men from low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to report difficulties making appointments with their family doctors for urgent non-emergent health problems. They were also more likely to report unmet health care needs.38 In terms of hospitalizations, people with lower socio-economic status were much more likely to be hospitalized for ambulatory care sensitive conditions (ACSC) and mental health39; admissions which could potentially be avoided with appropriate primary care.40 They were also found to have on average longer lengths of stay.41 According to a study of hospitals in the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, patients considered to be Alternate Level of Care were more likely to have a low-income profile.42
Further, people with ACSC in low-income groups, those living in rural areas, or those with multiple chronic conditions were twice as likely to report the use of emergency department services for care that could have been provided by a primary care provider.43
There is a financial cost to this disparity. According to a 2011 report, low-income residents in Saskatoon alone consume an additional $179 million in health care costs than middle income earners.44 A 2010 study by CIHI found increased costs for avoidable hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions were $89 million for males and $71 million for females with an additional $248 million in extra costs related to excess hospitalizations for mental health reasons.45
Areas for Action:
As the background suggests, equitable access is about more than just utilization of services. There are patient characteristics as well as complex factors within the health system which determine whether equitable access is achieved. Recent work has categorized access as having considerations on the supply of services and demand of patients for care. On the demand or patient side we must consider: ability to perceive; ability to seek, ability to reach, ability to pay, and ability to engage. On the supply side or health system considerations include: approachability; acceptability, availability and accommodation, affordability, and appropriateness. 46 The following table highlights some of the current barriers to equitable access.
(See PDF for correct display of table)
Demand Side or Patient Barriers
Supply Side or System Barriers
Services not located in areas of need
Cultural beliefs and norms
Patients lack family physicians
Lack of management of chronic disease
Cost of transportation
Long waits for service
Time off work for appointments
Payment models which don't account for complexity of patients
Access to child care
Coordination between primary care and speciality care and between health care and community services
Payment for medications or other medical devices/treatments
Standardization of referral and access to specialists and social services
Immobility- due to physical disabilities, and/or mental health barriers
Lack of needs based planning to ensure that population has necessary services
Cognitive issues, ie. Dementia, that adversely affect ability to access and comply with care
Attitudes of health care workers
Patient based actions for improving equitable access:
Low health literacy can lead to difficulties for some Canadians in perceiving a need for care.47 Evidence suggests that more than half of Canadian adults (60%), lack the capacity to obtain, understand and act upon health information and services in order to make health decisions on their own.48 Many physicians are undertaking strategies to minimize this lack of health literacy among their patients. Examples include plain language resources as well as teach-back exercises which allow physicians to determine whether patients have fully understood the information provided.49 These efforts should continue to be supported.
Understanding how the health system works and where to access services can be a problem for some individuals.50 Beliefs about the need and value for certain services can also undermine the ability of patients in seeking care.51 Work needs to be done to ensure that disadvantaged groups are aware of the services that are available to them and the benefits of taking preventative steps in their health.
Low-income Canadians are ten times more likely to report unmet needs of health care due to the cost of transportation.52 Other barriers include a lack of child care, and ability to get time off work to attend necessary health appointments.53 Strategies that provide patients with transportation to appointments or subsidies for such travel have seen some success. Extended office hours and evening appointments can increase access for those unable to take time off work. Additionally, programs that provide patients with home visits from health care providers can help to eliminate this barrier. Further support and expansion of these programs should be explored.
There is also the inability to pay for services not covered by provincial plans such as pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services.54 According to a 2005 report on diabetes in Canada, affordability and access to medical supplies was the biggest challenge for those Canadians living with diabetes.55 Access to services such as mental health counselling, subsidized residential care, and long-term care are also hindered by the inability to pay.
Even if patients are able to obtain care they may not be able to fully engage. Language difficulties, low health literacy, cognitive challenges (ie. Dementia), cultural mores and norms, and discrimination or insensitivity of health care workers, may all act as barriers to full participation in care.56 Efforts should be made to develop teaching methods to improve engagement of patients and their families/caregivers from disadvantaged groups.57 Strategies to remove or minimize the barriers created by a lack of health literacy should be developed and shared with physicians and other health care providers. Further, programs which facilitate access to services including interpretation and translation of key health information should be supported.58
Finally, an understanding of a patient's cultural and social context is important. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada have developed training modules for physicians who will be working with Canada's Aboriginal peoples.59 Similar programs have been developed by the Canadian Paediatric Society, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. More of this training is needed and should focus on groups who are likely to experience disadvantage in health care access and appropriateness.
Recommendations for action:
CMA and National Level Initiatives
The CMA recommends that:
1. Governments develop a national strategy for improving the health literacy of Canadians which takes into account the special needs of different cultures.
2. Governments provide accessible and affordable transportation options for patients requiring medical services when such services are unavailable locally.
3. Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
4. Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income and other disadvantaged Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care.
5. Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians.
6. Governments ensure that necessary interpretation and translation services are provided at all points of care.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that
7. Physicians be supported in addressing the health literacy of their patients and their families/caregivers.
8. Physician education programs continue to emphasize the important cultural and social contexts in which their patients live.
System based actions for improving equitable access:
On the system side there are two main areas that need to be addressed: making sure that people can access the services that they need (approachability, availability and accommodation, and affordability); and ensuring that once they have accessed the system that services are appropriate for their health needs (acceptability and appropriateness). Strategies for action include: patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management; better care coordination and greater access to necessary medical services along the continuum; quality improvement initiatives which incorporate equity as part of their mandate; and health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care.
1. Patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management and which includes programs to increase access to those most at need.
Comprehensive primary care offers the biggest possibility for increasing equitable access and reducing health disparities. Data from a large population study in Ontario indicates that inequities in access to primary care and appropriate chronic disease management are much larger than inequities in the treatment of acute conditions.60
Currently many primary care services are located outside of the neighbourhoods with the greatest need for care. While some are accessible through public transportation, there is still a need for more convenient access for these communities. Community health centres (CHC) offer a good model for addressing this challenge through location in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the provision of culturally appropriate care.61 Additionally, CHCs offer a number of different health, and sometimes social services, under one roof making access to many different types of care more convenient for patients.
More work needs to be done to to reduce barriers in access to Canadians living in rural and remote communities. Telemedicine is one strategy that has increased access for rural Canadians. The Ontario Telemedicine Network is one example of this innovative approach. Patients in rural communities can have access to specialists in urban centres through their local health providers. Examples include cardiac rehab follow-up, tele-homecare to support lifestyle changes, and psychiatric or mental health consultations.62
Programs which encourage recruitment and training of health professionals from rural and disadvantaged populations have been found to increase access as these individuals are more likely to return to their home communities to practice.63
Medical schools have been attempting to increase the diversity in their schools for a number of years. However, work still needs to be done. Data from the 2012 student component of the National Physician Survey shows that 278 of the 2000 students who responded to the survey (13.9%) come from families considered to be in the top 1% of earners in Canada. This is compared to only 46 (2.3%) of students whose family incomes place them in the bottom quintile of earners. 64
One of the suggested strategies for increasing diversity in medical schools is increasing the knowledge about the medical profession among rural and disadvantaged young people. An innovative program in Alberta called Mini Docs allows children between the ages of six and 12 to learn about being a doctor and how to stay healthy. The children get to wear medical scrubs for the day and use harmless medical tools such as stethoscopes and bandages. The day long program is run by medical students.65
Strategies to remove financial barriers to access, such as scholarships, should be expanded. Further, there is a need to modify the admissions process to recognize the differences in access to programs such as MCAT preps and overseas volunteer experiences based on the availability of financial resources as well as the necessity of employment for some students while in medical school. This necessary employment may limit the time available for volunteer and community service.66
Another strategy that can be effective in increasing access is programs that seek to link primary care providers with unattached and underserved patients. Programs such as Health Care Connect in Ontario and the GP and Me program in British Columbia actively seek to link sometimes hard to serve patients to appropriate primary care.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada has developed a blueprint for comprehensive primary care for Canadians. The concept, a 'patient's medical home' seeks to link Canadians with a comprehensive health care team led by a family physician. These medical homes will take many forms but will be designed to increase both access and the patient-centredness of care.67
Another barrier to access is timeliness of service. Many patients are forced to use walk in clinics or emergency departments as they cannot receive the required care from their primary care providers. Use of walk-in clinics or emergency departments for primary care may lead to lost opportunities for prevention and health promotion.68 Advanced access programs can help to improve equitable access to care by facilitating timely appointments for all patients.69 The AIM (Access improvement measures) program in Alberta uses a system designed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to redesign practice to focus on same day appointments and elimination of unnecessary delays.70
Primary care which prioritizes chronic disease management offers the greatest potential for increasing appropriateness of care and reducing system costs. Those most likely to have chronic diseases are also those who face the biggest barriers to equitable access.71 Currently many people with ACSC do not receive the appropriate tests to monitor their conditions, management of their medications, or supports to self-manage their disease.72 Some programs do exist to encourage more effective management of chronic disease. The Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ontario has developed a cardiovascular disease prevention network to improve care through the use of evidence based practices and better integration between all areas of the health care continuum.73 Primary Care networks in Alberta have similar goals designed to connect multiple physicians, clinics and regions together to support the health needs of the population.74
Further work is necessary to expand these types of programs and to provide appropriate compensation models for complex patients. Payment models in some jurisdictions undermine access by failing to take morbidity and co-morbidity into consideration in designing rates such as equal capitation.75
Finally, there is a need to encourage greater self-management of disease. Practice support programs in British Columbia are providing training to support physicians in increasing patient self-management and health literacy.76 Additional programs of this nature are necessary in all jurisdictions.
2. Better care coordination and greater access to necessary medical services along the continuum of care.
Patient-centred care which integrates care across the continuum and which includes community services will be necessary to ensure not only greater access but greater acceptability of care.77 Innovative programs focused on increasing the coordination in terms of transition from hospital to home have shown some success in preventing readmissions particularly when vulnerable populations are targeted.78 Health Links in Ontario aims to reduce costs, based on the assumption that much of the utilization of high cost services, such as emergency department visits, could be prevented with better coordinated care. One of the pilot sites in Guelph aims to assign one person in primary care, likely a doctor or a nurse, to be the primary contact for patients deemed high need and to intervene on behalf of these patients to ensure better care coordination.79
Further work is needed to ensure greater coordination in speciality care. As the evidence demonstrates, access to specialist services are skewed in favour of high-income patients. To reduce this inequity it may be necessary to standardize the referral process and facilitate the coordination of care from the primary care providers' perspective.80 A new program in British Columbia is designed to reduce some of these barriers by providing funding and support to rapid access programs which allow family physicians to access specialist care through a designated hotline. If no specialist is available immediately there is a commitment that the call will be returned within two hours. Specialists available through this program include cardiology, endocrinology, nephrology, psychiatry, and internal medicine among others.81 Similar programs in other jurisdictions could help to increase coordination between primary and speciality care.
Care coordination is only part of the problem, however. There is also a need to increase the access to services that are medically necessary across the care continuum. These include a lifetime prevention schedule82, diagnostic testing, specialty services, and access to appropriate rehabilitation services, mental health, long-term care and end of life care.
3. Quality improvement initiatives which incorporate considerations of equity as part of their mandate.
Equity has become a key component of many quality improvement initiatives around the world. The Health Quality Council Ontario identified nine attributes of a high-performing health system: safe, effective, patient-centred, accessible, efficient, equitable, integrated, appropriately resourced, and focused on population health.83
The POWER study, a large study of Ontario residents found that where there were targeted programs for quality improvement fewer inequities were observed. In particular they referred to the actions of Cancer Care Ontario and the Ontario Stroke Network. Both of these groups had undergone large quality improvement initiatives to standardize care and increase coordination of services through evidence-based guidelines and ongoing performance measurement. Considerations of accessibility and equity were specifically included. As a result of these efforts, the POWER study found that acute cancer and stroke care in Ontario were quite equitable.84
Similar efforts are underway in other jurisdictions. The Towards Optimized Practice initiative in Alberta supports efforts in medical offices to increase the use of clinical practice guidelines for care as well as quality improvement initiatives.85 Encouraging more health services and programs to undertake such quality improvement initiatives could help to reduce the inequities in access for all Canadians.
4. Health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care
Considerations of equity must be built specifically into all planning considerations. Too often services are designed without adequate consideration of the specific needs of disadvantaged groups. Planners need to do a better job of understanding their practice populations and tailoring programs to those most in need of care.86 This planning should be done in consultation with other sectors that play a role in influencing the health of their practice populations.
Further, assessments of the equity and use of services is also needed. Some services may be designed in a way that is more appropriate for some than others, resulting in higher utilization among some groups and a lack of access for others.87 Innovative work is taking place in the Saskatoon Health Region to try and understand these barriers. Health care services are undergoing specific health equity assessments to ensure that all services meet the needs of diverse populations. This includes looking at the full spectrum of services from preventative care and education programs to tertiary level care such as dialysis. In Ontario, the local health integration networks (LHIN) have now been tasked with developing equity plans for their services. Clear goals and performance measurements are part of this work.88
One of the tools available to support this work is a health equity impact assessment tool developed by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This tool is intended for use by organizations within the health system as well as those outside the system who will impact on the health of Ontarians. The main focus of the tool is to reduce inequities that result from barriers in access to quality health services. Additionally, it is designed to identify unintended health impacts, both positive and negative, before a program or policy is implemented.89 Further work is needed to ensure that equity is included in the deliverables and performance management of health care organizations and provider groups across the country.90
To support these planning programs appropriate data will need to be collected. This data needs to be comprehensive for all services and needs to include specific data points which will allow planners as well as providers to understand the composition of their populations as well as measure and report on considerations of equity.91
Recommendations for action:
CMA and National Level Initiatives
The CMA recommends that:
9. Governments continue efforts to ensure that all Canadians have access to a family physician.
10. Appropriate compensation and incentive programs be established in all jurisdictions to support better management of chronic disease for all Canadians.
11. Governments provide funding and support to programs which facilitate greater integration between primary and speciality care.
12. With support from government, national medical organizations develop programs to increase standardization of care and the use of appropriate clinical practice guidelines.
13. Appropriate data collection and performance measurement systems be put in place to monitor equitable distribution of health services and greater appropriateness of care.
Health System Planners
The CMA recommends that:
14. Needs based planning be mandated for all health regions and health system planning. Equity impact assessment should be part of this planning to ensure that services meet the needs of all Canadians.
15. Chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system be prioritized in all health systems.
16. Quality improvement initiatives be mandated in all care programs. These programs should include a specific focus on standardization of care and continuous quality improvement and should include equity of access as part of their mandate.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that:
17. Physicians be supported in efforts to offer timely access in primary care settings.
18. Physicians be supported in continued efforts to include all patients in decisions about their care and management of their illnesses.
19. Physicians be supported in continued efforts to standardize care and utilize evidence based clinical practice guidelines with a particular emphasis on the management of chronic disease.
20. Physicians be encouraged and adequately supported to participate in community-based interventions that target the social determinants of health.
Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. For those that are most vulnerable, this lack of access can serve to further exacerbate their already increased burden of illness and disease. The strategies discussed above offer some opportunities for the health sector and the medical profession to intervene and mitigate this inequity. By removing barriers on both the patient and system side it is hoped that greater access to appropriate care will follow. While these strategies offer some hope, these actions alone will not be sufficient to increase the overall health of the Canadian population. Action is still required to tackle the underlying social and economic factors which lead to the disparities in the health of Canadians.
1 This paper represents a focus on equitable access to care. For a more general policy statement on the role of physicians in addressing the social determinants of health please see: Canadian Medical Association. Health Equity and the Social Determinants of Health: A Role for the Medical Profession. Ottawa, ON; 2012. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-03.pdf
2 The Canadian Medical Association is currently developing a policy paper on access to mental health services in Canada. It is anticipated that this policy statement will be completed in 2014.
1 Levesque JF, Harris M, Russell G. Patient-centred access to health care: conceptualising access at the interface of
health systems and populations. Int J Equity Health 2013. Available: http://www.equityhealthj.com/content/12/1/18 (accessed 2013Mar 12)
2 Mikkonen J, Raphael D. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Toronto (ON); 2010. Available: http://www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf (accessed 2011 Jan 14).
3 Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health: Executive Summary. Geneva (CH) World Health Organization; 2008. Available: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2008/WHO_IER_CSDH_08.1_eng.pdf (accessed 2011 Jan 7).
4 Levesque JF, Harris M, Russell G. Patient-centred access to health care: conceptualising access at the interface of
health systems and populations. Int J Equity Health 2013. Available: http://www.equityhealthj.com/content/12/1/18 (accessed 2013Mar 12)
5 Oliver A, Mossialos E. Equity of access to health care: outlining the foundations for action. J Epidemiol Community Health 2004; 58: 655-658.
6 Bierman AS, Angus J, Ahmad F, et al. Ontario Women's Health Equity Report : Access to Health Care Services : Chapter 7. Toronto (ON) Project for and Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report; 2010. Available: http://powerstudy.ca/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/10/Chapter7-AccesstoHealthCareServices.pdf (accessed 2012 Dec 10).
7 Kirby M, Goldbloom D, Bradley L. Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada.Ottawa (ON): Mental Health Commission of Canada; 2012. Available: http://strategy.mentalhealthcommission.ca/pdf/strategy-text-en.pdf (accessed 2013 Mar 12).
8 Allin S. Does Equity in Healthcare Use Vary...; Frolich N, Fransoo R, Roos N. Health Service Use in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority: Variations Across Areas in Relation to Health and Socioeconomic status. Winnipeg (MB) Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. Available: http://mchp-appserv.cpe.umanitoba.ca/teaching/pdfs/hcm_forum_nf.pdf (accessed 2013 Feb 6); McGrail K. Income-related inequities: Cross-sectional analyses of the use of medicare services in British Columbia in 1992 and 2002. Open Medicine 2008; 2(4): E3-10; Van Doorslaer E, Masseria C. Income-Related Inequality in the Use... Veugelers PJ, Yip AM. Socioeconomic disparities in health care use: Does universal coverage reduce inequalities in health? J Epidemiol Community Health 2003; 57:424-428.
9 Alter DA, Naylor CD, Austin P, et al. Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Access to Invasive Cardiac Procedures And On Mortality After Acute Myocardial Infarction. NEJM 1999; 341(18):1359-1367.
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Federal Health Financing (Update 2008)
The Canadian Medical Association believes that financial support from the federal government for health care should provide the following:
* The maintenance and improvement of standards of health care service across Canada.
* The financial stability necessary to effectively plan health care delivery and flexibility in spending across Canada to respond to local circumstances, emerging health needs, and new patient-care modalities.
* The indexing of federal health cash payments to provinces and territories to reflect changes in population growth, ageing, epidemiology, current knowledge, new technology and economic growth.
* Greater accountability, visibility and improved linkages of services to users.
* Greater equity across the provinces and territories in the ability to finance necessary health care programs.
* The joint policy discussions necessary to address health issues of national importance.
The CMA is committed to preserving the right of reasonable access to high-quality health care regardless of ability to pay. It is also committed to achieving national health care standards (accessibility, universality, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration) and to developing health goals to ensure that all Canadians receive the best possible care when required. The CMA supports the goal of maintaining the national integrity of the health care system. It encourages the federal government to be sensitive to the concerns of equity, and to ensure that provinces and territories that have not attained a level of health care services and facilities equivalent to those of other provinces and territories, because of fiscal incapacities, have access to additional funding requirements to reduce the gap. The CMA recognizes that flexibility in spending across Canada is important to respond to changing health care needs and changes in the delivery of health care, as is the necessity of joint policy discussions to address health issues of national importance. Stability in funding is viewed as the mechanism to achieving effective health care planning.
Over 50 years of federal financing
In 1957 and 1966, the federal government introduced the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act and Medicare Act. These programs reflected the federal government's desire to implement 50-50 basis with the provinces for the funding of hospital and physician services. The federal support was program specific, with contributions determined to be about half the national average of per-capita expenditures on health care. This provided greater assistance to provinces with lower per-capita costs.
In 1977, the funding arrangement was replaced by the negotiated Established Programs Financing (EPF) arrangements. The new "block-funding" agreement established a predetermined level of financial contributions by the federal government that was linked to the rate of change of gross national product (GNP) and changes in the provincial/territorial populations. It is important to note that federal transfers are comprised of cash and tax points.
The objectives of the EPF arrangements as set out by the Prime Minister in June 1976, were (a) to maintain across Canada the standards of service to the public under these major programs, and to facilitate their improvement; (b) to put the programs on a more stable footing, so that both levels of government are better able to plan their expenditures; (c) to give the provinces the flexibility of in the use of their own funds which they have been spending in these fields; (d) to bring about greater equity among the provinces with regard to the amount of federal funds that they receive under the program; and (e) to provide for continuing joint policy discussions relating to the health and post-secondary education fields.
The need for funding predictability
Over the course of their existence, the EPF arrangements were amended four times - 1982 (Bill C-97), 1984 (Bill C-96), 1989 (Bill C-33) and 1991(Bill C-69). These changes resulted in freezes in the growth of federal health transfers and created a period of funding uncertainty for provinces and territories.
On April 1, 1996, the federal government introduced the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) which combined two transfer programs, EPF and the Canada Assistance Plan into one transfer program for insured health services, post secondary education and social assistance programs. Cash payments under the CHST were subject to the five program criteria of the Canada Health Act (1984) - accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness, and public administration as well as the single condition that the province/territory must provide social assistance to applicants without a minimum residency requirement.
In combining these programs the federal government used the opportunity to cut cash entitlements to the provinces/territories from $18.5 billion per year 1995-1996 to a low of $11.1 billion per year in 1999-2000. However, due to improving economic conditions and a rapidly impending balanced budget, the federal government announced in its September 1997 Throne Speech that it would be increasing the cash floor to $12.5 billion per year in 1998-1999 to 2002-2003. This measure was announced in the 1998-1999 budget; however, rather than an increase in funding, it was merely a partial reversal in cash reductions to the provinces/territories.
Targeted federal financing
Since 2000, the federal government has increased the use of targeted investments and in the health arena.
On Sept. 11, 2000, First Ministers issued a Communiqué on Health announcing a series of investments, over five years, which focused on health and other social programs. The CHST cash floor was "increased" by $2.5 billion effective April 1, 2001.
The February 2003 Budget in support of that year's First Ministers' Accord on Health Care Renewal confirmed: (1) a two-year extension to 2007-2008 of the five-year legislative framework put in place in September 2000, with an additional $1.8 billion; (2) a $2.5 billion CHST supplement, giving provinces the flexibility to draw down funds as they require up to the end of 2005-2006; and (3) the restructuring of the CHST to create a separate Canada Health Transfer and a Canada Social Transfer effective April 1, 2004, in order to increase transparency and accountability.
In September 2004, First Ministers signed an agreement on health care that included commitments to reduce wait times, address gaps in health human resources, expand home care, continue efforts in primary care reform, implement a national pharmaceutical strategy, and develop national public health goals.
To support the new agreement, the federal government committed to increase health funding by a total of $18 billion over 6 years or $41 billion over 10 years. This includes:
* $3 billion to close the "short-term Romanow gap;"
* $500 million for home care and catastrophic coverage;
* $4.5 billion for a Wait Time Reduction Fund;
* $1 billion for health human resources (to be transferred in last four years of agreement);
* $500 million for medical equipment; and
* a 6% escalator for the Canada Health Transfer.
The 2007 budget provided over one billion additional dollars for the health care system mainly through a $612 million investment to accelerate the implementation of patient wait-time guarantees, $400 million for Canada Health Infoway to support the further development of health information systems and electronic records, and $300 million for a vaccine program to protect women and girls against cancer of the cervix.
Clarifying responsibilities and accountability
The 2007 budget made reference to the federal government's constitutional responsibilities for health care and stressed an increased concern of accounting for federal health transfers to the provinces/territories.
The Oct. 16, 2007 Speech from the Throne, to open the second session of the 39th Parliament of the Government of Canada, included a commitment to introduce legislation that would place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new cost-shared programs in areas of provincial/territorial jurisdiction, and would also provide an opt-out option with compensation for provinces and territories if they offer compatible programs.
The main foundation for this proposal is set out in the Feb. 4, 1999 Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA), in which the federal government gave several undertakings with regard to new "Canada-wide initiatives" in areas of provincial jurisdiction:
* collaboration with provincial/territorial governments to identify priorities and objectives;
* not to introduce new initiatives without agreement of a majority of provincial governments;
* provincial/territorial governments to determine detailed program design and mix;
* provincial/territorial governments can reinvest any funds not needed to deliver objectives;
* federal/provincial/territorial governments to agree on accountability framework; and
* funding to be contingent on meeting or committing to objectives specified in accountability framework.
The most notable application of SUFA principles in respect of new programs to date has been the Sept. 15, 2004 Asymmetrical Federalism that Respects Quebec's Jurisdiction Agreement in which Quebec agreed to develop and implement its own plan to attain the objectives of the First Ministers' 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care, and to report progress to Quebecers using comparable indicators, mutually agreed to with other governments.
The accountability framework set out in SUFA would appear to be the linchpin of assuring the national character of any future health programs. Its implementation has thus far been a failure. While governments did agree to common indicators in 2000 and 2003, and did produce them in 2002 and 2004, they have been resistant to any attempts at comparability/benchmarking between jurisdictions and they failed to produce them at all in 2006. The Health Council of Canada lamented this lack of cooperation in its 2007 annual report.
Ensuring federal health financing is responsive to Canadians' health needs
The CMA believes that the federal government has a special responsibility for financing health care. The development of the health care financing system on a cooperative federal/provincial/territorial basis has many merits. It has resulted in the clear perception that the federal government has an obligation to ensure that reasonably comparable, high quality health care services are available, on a reasonably comparable basis, to all Canadians.
Through its financial contributions in support of the 2000, 2003 and 2004 health accords, the federal government has effectively restored the cuts made to federal health transfers during the early 1990s. However, health care which is now at 40 per cent of total provincial/territorial program spending continues to grow. The CMA must remain vigilant to ensure that the federal government continues to provide stable, predictable and adequate funding necessary to maintain and improve the standards of health care service across Canada. This federal funding should provide for a system that is effective, efficient and responsible.
With respect to the broader continuum of care, the future of Medicare is uncertain. While the federal government's role in funding health care remains tied to the Canada Health Act, Medicare must be modernized to reflect the current and future reality of the delivery of care. In 1975, just after Medicare was fully adopted, hospital and physician expenditures represented 60% of total health expenditures; as of 2006, this share has dropped by almost one-third to 43%. Over the past two decades, prescription drugs, as a proportion of total health spending, have doubled from 7% in 1986 to an estimated 14.2% in 2006. While a majority of Canadians have prescription drug coverage from either private or public plans, it is estimated that some 3.5 million are either uninsured or underinsured for prescription drug costs.
However, there is a clear consensus on the need for catastrophic prescription drug coverage and a growing concern about how to address the issue of very costly "orphan" drugs for rare diseases, and expensive treatments for common diseases such as breast cancer. In 2003, First Ministers committed to having catastrophic drug coverage in place by the end of 2005-2006, and while this is one of the elements of the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy, little collective action has taken place beyond further study. Similarly a 2003 commitment by First Ministers to first-dollar coverage for a basket of short-term acute home care, community mental health and end-of-life care services remains unmet.
The issue of long-term care of the elderly also looms on the horizon as the first cohort of the baby boom generation turns 65 in 2011. Indeed hospitals are already feeling the pinch of a lack of alternative level of care beds. International experience suggests that long-term care cannot nor should not be financed on the same pay-as-you-go basis as medical/hospital insurance.
Innovative approaches will be required to provide funding for the broader continuum of care (see CMA Policy Statement, It's Still About Access: Medicare Plus). We can expect to continue to see a mix of public and private plans and out-of-pocket payments (e.g., co-payments) and greater use of tax policy. This is the experience of most European and other industrialized countries. In Canada and internationally, the prospects for additional health programs funded on a first-dollar basis out of general taxation revenues are slim. In its 2007 budget, the federal government introduced a Registered Disability Savings Plan to help parents of children with a severe disability to ensure their children's future financial security by investing after-tax income on which the investment income will accumulate tax-free. Consideration should be given to implementing a similar contributions-based program for long-term care as is found in some other countries.
Another possibility would see the creation of a Canada Extended Health Services Financing Act that would provide a mechanism for sustainable federal funding to support provinces and territories providing necessary health services in the home and community setting. Such legislation would be based on a series of principles supported by Canadians to meet their health care needs.