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).
Climate Change and Human Health
Climate change is increasingly recognized as a significant threat facing society and has the potential to be one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st Century1. While the damage is being done now, many of the health effects may arise only decades in the future2.
Possible impacts could include some or all of the following:
* Increased mortality, disease and injuries from heat waves and other extreme weather events;
* Continued change in the range of some infectious disease vectors (i.e. 260-320 million more cases of malaria predicted by 2080, with six billion more at risk for dengue fever);
* Effects on food yields- increased malnutrition;
* Increased flooding in some areas and increased droughts in others, along with other impacts on freshwater supply;
* Increases in foodborne and waterborne illnesses;
* Warming and rising sea levels adding to displacement and also impacting water supply through salination;
* Impaired functioning of ecosystems;
* Negative effects on air quality associated with ground level ozone, including increases in cardio-respiratory morbidity and mortality, asthma, and allergens;
* Displacement of vulnerable populations (especially in coastal areas)1; and
* Loss of livelihoods3.
Most of the impacts of climate change will result from amplifying the existing health hazards found in populations4. How susceptible a population is to the effects of climate change is dependent on their existing vulnerabilities (i.e. disease burden, resources etc.) as well as their adaptive capacity5. The World Health Organization has projected that countries that have, and will likely continue to suffer the greatest effects, are those who have contributed the smallest amount to the causes of climate change.6
While the vast majority of climate change deaths will occur in developing countries with systemic vulnerabilities, a recent Health Canada report has noted that Canada is likely to experience higher rates of warming in this century than most other countries in the world. Climate change scenarios predict an increased risk of extreme weather and other climate events for all regions of Canada, with the exception of extreme cold7. Canadians most vulnerable to climate change include seniors, children and infants, socially disadvantaged individuals, and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease8. Those living in cities could be especially vulnerable due to the impact of the heat island effect. However, given their greater access to emergency, health, social, and financial resources, they might also have the greatest adaptive capacity9.
The health consequences of climate change have the potential to be more severe in far northern regions. Populations in Canada's north including aboriginals have already begun to see differences in their hunting practices as a result of changing ice patterns10, and the melting of permanent snowpacks11. Changes in ice patterns have also led to increased injuries12. In some places in the North, climate changes have led to greater risks from avalanches, landslides and other hazards13. Further problems are related to the infrastructure in Northern Canada, with some communities already noticing degradation of structures due to the thawing of the permafrost14. Given that much of the Northern infrastructure is already in disrepair, this represents a considerable problem. Geographic isolation, and a lack of resources may further exacerbate the situation15.
What CMA has done?
Physicians have a critical role to play in advancing public understanding of the potential impact of climate change on health and promoting health protecting responses.
The CMA has been working on the issue of climate change and human health for a number of years. CMA was supportive of Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and urged the Government of Canada to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfied Canada's international commitments while also maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.
In 2007, a number of resolutions were passed at General Council calling on government to properly plan for the health impacts of climate change and put in place measures to mitigate the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations in Canada's north. In that same year, CMA and the Canadian Nurses Association updated a joint position statement first entered into in 1994 calling for environmentally responsible activity in the health-care sector.
Most recently, the CMA has been an integral part of the drafting of the World Medical Association (WMA) policies on health and climate change. The WMA Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change was adopted at its annual General Assembly in New Delhi, India in October 2009, The declaration calls for action in five main areas; advocacy to combat global warming; leadership-help people be healthy enough to adapt to climate change; education and capacity building; surveillance and research; and collaboration to prepare for climate emergencies. This policy is written to complement the WMA declaration.
What needs to be done?
Climate change may lead to significant impacts on human health. While it is unlikely that these outcomes can be avoided, there are some strategies that can be employed to help limit the negative consequences.
Education and Capacity Building
There is a need for greater public and health professional awareness and education about climate change in order to gain understanding of the health consequences and support for strategies to reduce green house gases and mitigate climate change effects.
1. A national public awareness program on the importance of the environment and global climate change to personal health;
2. Encouraging health sciences schools to enhance their provision of educational programs on environmental health; and fostering the development of continuing education modules on environmental health and environmental health practices.
Surveillance and Research
There are important gaps in our knowledge on the health impacts of climate change as well as the effectiveness of various mitigation and adaptation strategies. Surveillance and reporting functions need to be strengthened to allow for greater accuracy in modeling of future impacts.
3. That the federal government must address the gaps in research regarding climate change and health by undertaking studies to
- quantify and model the burden of disease that will be caused by global climate change
- identify the most vulnerable populations, the particular health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and possible new protections for such populations;
- increase the collection and accuracy of health data, particularly for vulnerable and underserved populations;
- report diseases that emerge in conjunction with global climate change, and participate in field investigations, as with outbreaks of infectious diseases; and
- develop and expand surveillance systems to include diseases caused by global climate change.
Reducing the Burden of Disease to Mitigate Climate Change Impacts
How susceptible a population is to the effects of climate change is dependent on their existing vulnerabilities. Therefore, work needs to be done to reduce the burden of diseases and improve upon the social determinants of health for vulnerable populations in Canada and globally.
4. That the federal and provincial/territorial governments work together to improve the ability of the public to adapt to climate change and catastrophic weather events by
- Encouraging behaviours that improve overall health,
- Creating targeted programs designed to address specific exposures,
- Providing health promotion information and education on self-management of the symptoms of climate-associated illness,
- Ensuring physical infrastructure that allows for adaptation;
5. That the federal government develop concrete actions to reduce the health impact of climate-related emissions, in particular those initiatives which will also improve the general health of the population;
6. That the federal government support the Millennium Development Goals and support the principles outlined in the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health report; and
Preparing for Climate Emergencies
To deal with the future burden of climate change related health issues there is a need to ensure adequate health capacity and infrastructure. Rebuilding of public health capacity globally is seen as the most important, cost-effective, and urgently needed response to climate change16. Domestically, there is a need to ensure adequate surge capacity within the health care system to be prepared for an increase in illness related to climate change effects. There is also a need to strengthen not only the health systems, but the infrastructure (i.e. housing) for vulnerable populations including Aboriginals and those in the North.
CMA recommends that the federal and provincial /territorial governments work together to:
7. Strengthen the public health system both domestically and internationally in order to improve the capacity of communities to adapt to climate change;
8. Ensure adequate surge capacity within Canada's health system to handle the increase in climate change related illness;
9. Ensure the health of vulnerable populations is adequate to handle climate change related situations;
10. Develop knowledge about the best ways to adapt to and mitigate the health effects of climate change;
11. Integrate health professionals into the emergency preparedness plans of government and public health authorities so that front-line providers are adequately informed and prepared to properly manage any health emergencies.
Advocacy to Combat Climate Change
Finally, there is a need to take action to reduce the damaging effects of climate change. The global community needs to come together to reduce the levels of green house gases being released in the atmosphere, and focus on safer more environmentally friendly energy sources. Investments in cuts to greenhouse gas emissions would greatly outweigh their costs, and could help to reduce the future burden of climate change related illness17.
12. That the government of Canada become a global leader in promoting equitable, carbon neutral economic, industrial, and social policies, and practices that fight global warming and adopt specific green house gas reduction targets as determined by the evolving science of climate change.
13. That health care professionals act within their professional settings to reduce the environmental impact of medical activities and to develop environmentally sustainable professional settings;
14. That all Canadians act to minimize individual impacts on the environment, and encourage others to do so, as well.
The CMA believes that Canada must prepare now for the potential health threat that climate change poses to its population. While many of these effects will take decades to materialize, certain populations, such as those in Canada's north, or those in low lying coastal areas, are already starting to experience the impact of climate change.
A focus on education and health promotion, as well as advocacy for improved public policy and primary health care resources will be a good start in dealing with this issue. Additionally, further research and data collection is necessary to improve our understanding of climate change and the effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Finally, the global community needs to act together to address the health and environmental impacts of climate change. By working together, in an international response, strategies can be implemented to mitigate any negative health effects of climate change.
Canada's physicians believe that: What is good for the environment is also good for human health. It is past time for those of us in the health sector in Canada to engage fully in the debate and discussions within our own house, as well as in the broader body politic to ensure that protecting human health is the bottom line of environmental and climate change strategies.
1 Currently a third of the world's population lives within 60 miles of the shoreline and 13 of 20 biggest world cities located on the coast- more than a billion people could be displaced (Costello et.al., 2009)
1 Costello, Anthony et.al. "Managing the health effects of climate change.' The Lancet Volume 373 May 16, 2009. pp.1693-1733.
2 World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization & United Nations Environment Programme (2003) Climate Change and Human Health- Risks and Responses, Summary. Available at: http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ccSCREEN.pdf
3 Confalonieri et.al., (2007) Human Health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf ; Epstein, Paul R. "Climate Change and Human Health." The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14) October 6, 2005.; Friel, Sharon; Marmot, Michael; McMichael, Anthony J.; Kjellstrom, Tord & Denny Vagero. "Global health equity and climate stabilization: a common agenda." The Lancet Volume 372 November 8, 2008. pp.1677-1683.
4Confalonieri et.al., (2007) Human Health. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter8.pdf; World Health Organization (2009) Protecting Health From Climate Change: Global research priorities. Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241598187_eng.pdf
5 Health Canada (2001) Climate Change and Health & Well-being: A Policy Primer Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/climat/policy_primer-abecedaire_en_matiere/index-eng.php
6 Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Corvalan, Carlos & Maria Neira "Global climate change: implications for international public health policy." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. March 2007, 85 (3) pp.235-237
7 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf
8 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf
9 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf
11 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf
12 Epstein, Paul R. "Climate Change and Human Health." The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (14) October 6, 2005.
13 Seguin, Jacinthe & Peter Berry (2008) "Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity, Synthesis Report." Health Canada Available at: http://www.nbhub.org/hubfiles/pdf/HealthinChangingClimate_Synthesis_english_low.pdf
14 Field, Christopher B. et.al. (2007) North America. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: http://www1.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter14.pdf
15 Health Canada (2002) Climate Change And Health & Well-Being: A Policy Primer for Canada's North. Available at: http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H46-2-02-290E.pdf
16 World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization & United Nations Environment Programme (2003) Climate Change and Human Health- Risks and Responses, Summary. Available at: http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/ccSCREEN.pdf
17 Campbell-Lendrum, Diarmid; Corvalan, Carlos & Maria Neira "Global climate change: implications for international public health policy." Bulletin of the World Health Organization. March 2007, 85 (3) pp.235-237
CMA PATIENT SAFETY POLICY FRAMEWORK (Update 2010)
The CMA’s mission is to promote the highest standard of health and health care for Canadians. This means, among other things, ensuring that the health care system is safe for patients and providers and effective in achieving good health outcomes for individuals and society. Unfortunately, studies published in recent years have raised concern that health care is not as safe as it could be; data collected by researchers in various countries has shown that there are unacceptably high levels of preventable adverse events, as high as 16% in one study of adverse events associated with hospital admissions. A study conducted by G. R. Baker, P.G. Norton et al, “The Canadian Adverse Events Study: the incidence of adverse events among hospital patients in Canada” showed an adverse event rate of 7.5 per 100 hospital admissions. (1) This suggests that of the nearly 2.5 million hospital admissions yearly in Canada, approximately 185,000 are associated with an adverse event and 70,000 of those possibly preventable.
These studies have focused attention on health care error and adverse events, but patient safety requires that participants in the health care system are constantly aware of the risks present in the system, and that risks are addressed proactively - preferably before an adverse event occurs. If a preventable adverse event does occur, it provides an opportunity to learn about and correct sources of error.
The CMA considers that a national patient safety strategy, aimed at building a culture of safety, is a priority. This Policy Framework has been developed to provide a clear statement of the CMA’s views on the principles that should underpin a patient safety strategy and to ensure clear support and direction for CMA members and staff involved in patient safety initiatives.
The Health Care System
Errors and adverse events are inevitable in any complex system and more complex systems are more prone to errors. Nevertheless, studies have demonstrated an unacceptably high level of preventable adverse events associated with management of health care.
1. Patient safety initiatives should aim to improve health outcomes for patients by minimizing the rate of preventable adverse events and improving the management of events when they occur.
2. Patient safety is one aspect of quality health care; activities relating to patient safety should result in a net increase in the quality of health care.
3. Patient safety initiatives should recognize that error and adverse events occur because of qualities of the system within which individuals operate. A primary concern of initiatives should be to prevent future errors by addressing the system rather than blaming and punishing individuals.
The Canadian public has a reasonable expectation that health care will not result in avoidable injury.
4. Patient safety initiatives should support the accountability of the health sector, including providers, funders and regulators, to patients and the wider public for the safety of health care.
Participants in Health Care
Patients as partners
5. Patient safety initiatives should promote the role of patients as partners in the provision of safe care, including the prevention and management of adverse events.
6. Patient safety initiatives should encourage and anticipate the full and appropriate disclosure to patients of relevant information that is material to their health and healthcare, including information about adverse events or effects.
Professional responsibility and support
With a very few exceptions, health care is delivered by competent, caring professionals who are striving to achieve a good outcome for patients.
7. Patient safety initiatives should recognize the responsibility of professionals for achieving and maintaining the standard of their own practice.
8. Patient safety initiatives, while responding appropriately to adverse events, should be sensitive to the professional role and personal well being of individual physicians and other health care providers.
Learning and Collaboration
9. Patient safety initiatives should promote and reflect teamwork, communication and collaboration at all levels.
10. Patient safety initiatives should support learning from one’s own experience and the sharing of knowledge so that it is possible to learn from the experience of others.
Legal and Regulatory Environment
11. Patient Safety initiatives should promote a legal and regulatory environment that supports open communication and effective management of adverse events.
12. The protection afforded to the opinions expressed within quality assurance committees must be upheld
Evidence Base and Evaluation
Patient safety initiatives should be based on sound evidence.
Patient safety initiatives should contain provision for appropriate evaluation.
Patient safety initiatives should contain provision for broad dissemination of findings.
PATIENT SAFETY INITIATIVE AREAS
Building a culture of safety in Canadian health care will require the collaboration of many different groups and organizations. The CMA can play a leadership role within this larger group and within its own constituency of over 70,000 physicians. In some instances, it will be the CMA’s role to advocate for initiatives that can be delivered only by another provider or through a consortium; in other instances, CMA can assume sole responsibility for taking action. The CMA has identified that, as priorities, it will support:
Advocacy for changes to legislation and regulation that would remove disincentives for health care providers to share information about adverse events.
Raising awareness of patient safety and changing attitudes towards risk, error and adverse events within the health care community.
Developing and providing resources such as clinical practice guidelines and information technology systems that have been shown to standardize practice and reduce adverse events.
Reporting systems that collect and aggregate data on risks so that good practices can be developed and shared.
Education and training for health care professionals and managers to provide them with the conceptual and practical tools to introduce change into their practice and organizations.
Advocacy for, and development of, an agenda for patient safety research in Canada.
The involvement of government at all levels in supporting and committing resources to initiatives for improved patient safety.
Adverse event – any unintended injury or complication that is caused by health care management rather than the patient’s disease and that leads to prolonged hospital stay, morbidity or mortality. Adverse events do not necessarily result from error, for example a toxic reaction to a drug in a patient without apparent risk factors for the reaction.
Error – the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (“error of execution”) or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (“error of planning”). An error may not result in an adverse event if the error does not result in harm or is intercepted.
Risk – the chance of injury or loss as defined as a measure of the probability and severity of an adverse effect to health, property, the environment or other things of value.
(1) G. Ross Baker, Peter G. Norton, Virginia Flintoft, Régis Blais, Adalsteinn Brown, Jafna Cox, Ed Etchells, William A. Ghali, Philip Hébert, Sumit R. Majumdar, Maeve O'Beirne, Luz Palacios-Derflingher, Robert J. Reid, Sam Sheps, and Robyn Tamblyn. The Canadian Adverse Events Study: the incidence of adverse events among hospital patients in Canada Can. Med. Assoc. J., May 2004; 170: 1678 - 1686.
CMA Statement on Emerging Therapies
The CMA is keenly aware of the heart-rending suffering experienced by MS patients and the devastating impact it has on families and we recognize how desperately they are seeking treatments to alleviate their symptoms. Physicians and researchers dedicate their lives to finding new treatments to prevent and ease the suffering of patients while supporting those battling disease. Along with the physician's care and compassion, clinical research is a key weapon in the battle to manage and treat disease. The CMA believes that all medical decisions must be based upon scientific evidence. That is at the heart of our commitment to patient-centred care.
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-based. This principle is highly relevant in the case of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recent recommendations. The CMA concurs with the CIHR's position on the need for an evidence-based approach to the development of clinical trials of the recently proposed condition called "chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency" (CCSVI). We would hope that the findings of the seven diagnostic studies that are underway will be shared and analyzed as soon as they become available, and that clinical intervention trials would be supported as indicated by the evidence and if researchers come forward with scientifically sound ethical protocols. If additional Canadian funding bodies initiate clinical research in the area, we would encourage CIHR to provide advice if requested.
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.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIANS RECOMMENDING MOBILE HEALTH APPLICATIONS TO PATIENTS
This document is designed to provide basic information for physicians about how to assess a mobile health application for recommendation to a patient in the management of that patient's health, health care, and health care information.
These guiding principles build on the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients.1
* Mobile health applications, distinct from regulated medical devices, may be defined as an application on a mobile device that is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The functions of these applications may include:
o The ability to store and track information about an individual or group's health or the social determinants thereof;
o Periodic educational information, reminders, or motivational guidance;
o GPS location information to direct or alert patients;
o Standardized checklists or questionnaires.2
* Mobile health applications can enhance health outcomes while mitigating health care costs because of their potential to improve a patient's access to information and care providers.3
* Mobile health applications are most commonly used on a smart phone and/or tablet. Some may also interface with medical devices.
* The use of mobile health applications reflects an emerging trend towards personalized medicine and patient involvement in the management of their health information. By 2016, 142 million health apps will have been downloaded.4 According to some industry estimates, by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded at least one mobile health application.5
* While mobile health application downloads are increasing, there is little information about usage and adherence by patients. It is believed that many patients cease to use a mobile health application soon after downloading it.
* Distributers of mobile health applications do not currently assess content provided by mobile health applications for accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, timeliness, or conformity to clinical practice guidelines.6 However, mobile applications may be subjected to certain standards to ensure critical technical requirements such as accessibility, reachability, adaptability, operational reliability, and universality.
* Increasingly there are independent websites providing reviews of medical apps and checklists for health care professionals. However, the quality criteria used by these sites, potential conflicts of interest, and the scope and number of mobile apps assessed are not always declared by these groups.
To date, randomized controlled trials are not usually employed to assess the effectiveness of mobile health applications. Some believe that the rigorousness of this type of assessment may impede the timeliness of a mobile health application's availability.7
* Some examples of the uses of mobile health applications include tracking fitness activities to supplement a healthy lifestyle; supported self-management of health and health information; post-procedure follow up; viewing of test results; and the virtualization of interaction between patients and providers, such as remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. Some mobile health applications may be linked to a patient profile or patient portal associated with a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization.
* Some mobile health applications may be an extension of an electronic medical records (EMR) platform.
* The objective of recommending a mobile health application to a patient must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or otherwise for the purpose of health promotion.
* A mobile health application is one approach in health service delivery. Mobile health applications should complement, rather than replace, the relationship between a physician and patient.
* No one mobile health application is appropriate for every patient. Physicians may wish to understand a patient's abilities, comfort level, access to technology, and the context of the application of care before recommending a mobile health application.
* Should a physician recommend a mobile health application to a patient, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to legislation and regulation (if existing) and/or professional obligations.
* If the mobile health application will be used to monitor the patient's condition in an ongoing manner, the physician may wish to discuss with the patient what they should watch for and the steps they should take in response to information provided.
* Physicians are encouraged to share information about applications they have found effective with colleagues.
* Physicians who require additional information about the competencies associated with eHealth and the use of health information technologies may wish to consult The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's (RCPSC) framework of medical competencies, CanMEDS.8
* Physicians may wish to enter into and document a consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information or information printed out from electronic management platforms like mobile health applications. This agreement may include a one-time conveyance of information and recommendations to cover the elements common to many mobile health applications, such as the general risk to privacy associated with storing health information on a mobile device.
Characteristics of a safe and effective mobile health application
A mobile health application does not need to have all of the following characteristics to be safe and effective. However, the more of the following characteristics a mobile health application has, the likelier it will be appropriate for recommendation to a patient:
1. Endorsement by a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization
As recommended by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), it is best to select mobile health applications that have been created or endorsed by a professional or recognized association or medical society.9 Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse applications for use in their clinical environments. There may also be mobile health applications associated with an EMR platform used by an organization or practice. Finally, some mobile health applications may have been subject to a peer review process distinct from endorsement by an association or organization.
There are a number of usability factors than can complicate the use of mobile applications, including interface and design deficiencies, technological restrictions, and device and infrastructure malfunction.
Many developers will release periodic updates and software patches to enhance the stability and usability of their applications. Therefore, it would be prudent for the physician recommending the mobile health application to also recommend to the patient that they determine if the application has been updated within the last year.
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application to a patient may wish to ask about the patient's level of comfort with mobile health technologies, their degree of computer literacy, whether or not the patient owns a mobile device capable of running the application, and whether or not the patient is able to bear potential one-time or ongoing costs associated with use of the application.
Physicians may consider testing the application themselves beforehand to understand whether its functionality and interface make it easy to use.
3. Reliability of information
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application may wish to understand how the patient intends to use the information, and/or review the information with the patient to understand whether it is current and appropriate.
Information presented by the mobile health application should be appropriately referenced and time-stamped with the last update by the application developer.
4. Privacy and security
In 2014, the Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta assessed approximately 1200 mobile applications and found nearly one-third of them required access to personal information beyond what should be required relative to their functionality and purpose, and that basic privacy information was not always made available.10
Physicians entering into and documenting a consent discussion with their patients may wish to include the electronic management of health information in the scope of these discussions, and make a notation of the discussion in the patient's health record.
Some mobile health applications may feature additional levels of authentication for use, such as an additional password or encryption protocols. If all other factors between applications are equal, physicians may wish to recommend that patients use mobile health applications adhering to this higher standard of security.
5. Avoids conflict-of-interest
Physicians may wish to recommend that patients learn more about the company or organization responsible for the development of the application and their mandate. There is a risk of secondary gains by mobile health application developers and providers where information about patients and/or usage is gathered and sold to third parties.
A standardized conflict of interest statement may be made available through the mobile health application or on the developer's website. If so, physicians may wish to refer the patient to this resource.
Physicians who develop mobile applications for commercial gain or have a stake in those who develop applications for commercial gain may risk a complaint being made to the College on the basis that the physician engaged in unprofessional conduct if they recommend mobile health applications to their patients in the course of patient care.
6. Does not contribute to fragmentation of health information
Some mobile health applications may link directly to an EMR, patient portal, or government data repository. These data resources may be standardized, linked, and cross-referenced.
However, health information entered into an application may also be stored on a mobile device and/or the patient's home computer, or developers of mobile health applications may store information collected by their application separately. While there may be short-term benefits to using a particular mobile health application, the range of applications and developers may contribute to the overall fragmentation of health information.
If all other factors between applications are considered equal, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications which contribute to robust existing data repositories, especially an existing EMR.
7. Demonstrates its impact on patient health outcomes
While not all mobile health applications will have an appropriate scale of use and not all developers will have the capacity to collect and analyze data, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications that have undergone validation testing to demonstrate impact of use on patient health outcomes. If mobile health applications are claiming a direct therapeutic impact on patient populations, physicians may wish to recommend that their patients seek out or request resources to validate this claim.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Physician guidelines for online communication with patients. Ottawa: The Association; 2005. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.pdf?_ga=1.32127742.1313872127.1393248073
2 US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and Food and Drug Administration staff. Rockville (MD): The Administration; 2015. Available:
3 Canada Health Infoway. Mobile health computing between clinicians and patients. White paper. Toronto: The Infoway; 2014 Apr. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/video-gallery/doc_download/2081-mobile-health-computing-between-clinicians-and-patients-white-paper-full-report
4 iHealthBeat. 44M mobile health apps will be downloaded in 2012, report predicts. Available: www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/12/1/44m-mobile-health-apps-will-be-downloaded-in-2012-report-predicts
5 Jahns R-G. 500m people will be using healthcare mobile applications in 2015. Research2guidance. Available: www.research2guidance.com/500m-people-will -be-using-healthcare-mobile-applications-in-2015/
6 Lyver, M. Standards: a call to action. Future Practice. 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
7 Rich P. Medical apps: current status. Future Practice 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The CanMEDS 2015 eHealth Expert Working Group report. Ottawa: The College; 2014. Available: www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/common/documents/canmeds/framework/ehealth_ewg_report_e.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Managing information to delivery safer care. Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/managing-information-to-deliver-safer-care
10 Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. Global privacy sweep rasies concerns about mobile apps [news release]. Available: www.oipc.ab.ca/downloads/documentloader.ashx?id=3482
The harms associated with psychoactive prescription medicinesi including sedatives and tranquilizers1, stimulants2, and analgesics, particularly opioids3, such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl, are a significant public health and patient safety issue.
Canada has one of the highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world.4 Dispensing of medications has substantially increased in Canada, although patterns vary considerably between provinces.5 In 2011, while opioid consumption for medical purposes in morphine equivalence (ME)ii was 62mg per person globally, Canada's ME was 812mg per person.6 When comparing to other developed countries, Australia's ME was 427 and Denmark's 483. In North America, about 5% of the adult population, and substantially higher rates for teens and young adults, reported non-medical opioid use in the previous year. This rate is higher than all other illegal drugs, with the exception of marijuana.7
Psychoactive medications pose significant health and safety risks. The harms include overdoses, suicides, motor vehicle accidents, relationship and employment problems, workplace accidents and exposure to blood borne pathogens and other infections when used by injection, besides addiction.
Data are not collected systematically in Canada, making it difficult to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes. However, practitioners have seen the significant impact of these prescription drugs on their patients and to public health. Studies in Ontario show that the number of people enrolled in methadone maintenance treatment rose from about 7,800 in 2001 to over 35,000 in 2011, where opioids have surpassed heroin as the drug used.8 Opioid-related deaths nearly tripled from 2002 to 2010, according to the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario.9 Another study showed that other non-opioid depressants (sedatives), such as benzodiazepines, were involved in 92% of the opioid-related deaths.10
The impact is felt particularly among vulnerable populations, such as youth, seniors, First Nations and those living in poverty. In 2013, opioids were reported as the third most common drug used by students in Ontario (after alcohol and marijuana).11 Opioid addiction rates anywhere from 43% to 85% have been reported in some Indigenous communities.12 13 While accurate data on the harms of prescription medication among seniors is lacking, it is well known that the prevalence of pain is higher among older adults and that they account for a significant proportion of prescriptions.
The "high" they produce also leads to these medications being sought after for recreational purposes and, as they are legal products, they are often more easily accessible than street drugs. Surveys with youth have shown that as much as 70% of opioids have been obtained from legitimate prescriptions to family and friends (55% were shared at no cost).14 As well, because opioids have high abuse liability and addiction potential, people have resorted to illegal behaviour to obtain them, such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers.
Of great concern, opioid dispensing levels are strongly correlated with increased mortality, morbidity and treatment admissions for substance use.15 16 Studies in Ontario and British Columbia have replicated similar findings in the US. Many patients were prescribed these medications and developed dependence.17
Psychoactive medications are important therapeutic tools and serve legitimate purposes, when prescribed in an appropriate manner with proper assessment, and as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy and monitoring. Medications, such as opioids, have been essential in areas such as palliative and cancer care and have contributed to the alleviation of suffering.
Since the 1990s, opioids have been recommended for longer-term treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, and have become widely used due in part to aggressive promotion and marketing for this indication.18 19 However, there is evidence for significant pain relief in the short term but a need for more evidence regarding maintenance of pain relief over longer periods of time, or for improved physical function.20 21 22
Important contributing factors for the increase in prescriptions are also the lack of supports and incentives for the treatment of complex cases, including availability and funding for treatment options for pain and addictions. Alternate approaches to pain management require more time with the patient. In addition, there are new highly potent opioid drugs available.23 24
Canada's physicians are deeply concerned about the harms of opioids and other psychoactive prescription medications. As prescribers, they have a fundamental role in helping to ensure safe and effective use of these drugs, and the deterrence of abuse. 25 26 27 Physicians assess patients and consider whether a prescription is clinically indicated according to best practices, as well as consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks, while screening for risk factors for substance dependence and diversion. This area can be a source of tension with patients who might seek to obtain drugs through fraudulent means.28 It is also an area which causes concern to many physicians, and this could be affecting access to adequate pain management where it is needed.29
The challenge for physicians and public policymakers is how to mitigate the harms of psychoactive prescription drug use, while ensuring that patients have access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
Comprehensive National Strategy
Canada's physicians believe that this challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further such a solution, the CMA recommends that Canada have a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant.
The federal government has created the National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse, co-chaired by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Coalition on Prescription Drug Misuse (Alberta) and the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, in partnership with Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch's Prescription Drug Abuse Coordinating Committee. In its 2013 report First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada's Prescription Drug Crisis30, there are nearly 60 recommendations toward the development of a strategy to combat the harms associated with psychoactive prescription medications. However, there is much still to be done.
The CMA supports collaborative efforts by the federal and provincial/territorial governments, and by health professionals and other stakeholders, to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy. Such a strategy should include the following:
1. Improvement of Drug Safety
Health Canada, as the agency that approves prescription drugs for use and monitors their safety once on the market, has several levers by which it can control Canadians' access to drugs. One of these is the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and its regulations, which govern access to illegal products and recently has included psychoactive prescription drugs.
Because of their health and safety risks, it is important that Health Canada ensures that the CDSA subjects psychoactive substances to high levels of regulatory scrutiny during both the approval process and post-approval surveillance. The Act should require manufacturers to:
* Meet stringent pre-approval requirements. For example, Health Canada could require intensive review of pre-approval clinical trial results and of product monographs by an expert impartial review committee (including addiction, pain and public health expertise); or require that the manufacturer fulfill special conditions, such as formal post-market studies, as a condition of the drugs' approval; or even require larger sample sizes or longer study periods to assess harms;
* Adhere to restrictions on the marketing of controlled medications to health professionals and the general public. The adequacy of regulations needs to be assessed in this regard.
* Develop and cover tamper-resistant formulations of psychoactive drugs of concern. Although not a standalone solution, tamper-resistant formulations can reduce the potential for manipulation to be able to use through snorting, chewing or intravenously.
2. Enhancement of Optimal Prescribing through Evidence-Based Guidance, Education and Support for Prescribers
CMA recommends that appropriate prescribing of psychoactive medications should be addressed through evidence-based guidance and education. A strategy to support optimal therapy might include:
* Support for models of care that allow a physician to spend time with complex patients.
* Ongoing development and dissemination of clinical guidance. The Canadian Guideline for Use of Opioids to Treat Chronic Non-Cancer Pain was published in the CMAJ in 2010. CMA has co-sponsored an online CME module based on this guideline. There is interest in similar guidelines for sedatives and stimulants.
* Evaluative research to support the critical review of guidelines periodically. It is essential to review data on chronic conditions for which risks might outweigh benefits.
* Relevant, unbiased and easily accessible information for prescribers, which can readily be incorporated into everyday practice. This should include clinical decision-support tools for use at the point of care, inclusive of dosing guidelines and guidance on when to seek consultation with experts. Physicians also require tools, including those that facilitate: monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; tapering of problematic or ineffective doses; among others.
* Educational programs in optimal prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions, as part of the curriculum in medical school, and residency training as well as in continuing education. Particular support is needed for those in primary care.
* Guidance for prescribers about how to deal with conflict in their practice. This would include guidance for patient-centred educational discussions on safe opiate prescribing and use and management of addictions.
* Access to expert advice if required through such means as:
o Policies or standards of practice developed by provincial regulatory colleges of physicians, which can include limitations on prescription volume, treatment period and indications.
o Communities of practice, knowledge hubs and clinical support networks that link practitioners with experts in the field, facilitating triage and supporting front line generalists. Experts can not only provide clinical information, but can provide mentorship and personal advice about best practices.
o Feedback to practitioners about their prescribing practices, particularly if potentially concerning patterns are identified. This initiative should be facilitated by collaborative work between health care professionals and their respective provincial regulatory colleges.
o Academic detailing programs, which use personalized, one-on-one techniques to deliver impartial prescribing information to practitioners.
3. Enhancement of Optimal Prescribing through Physician Regulation and Prescription Monitoring Programs
Medicine is a regulated profession, and the provincial colleges of physicians have ultimate authority and responsibility for the oversight of physician practice. The colleges have taken a leading role in educating their members about appropriate prescribing, in monitoring prescribing practices to ensure their appropriateness and taking disciplinary action when required, and through collaborating with law enforcement agencies to detect and halt criminal diversion.
The CMA recommends that federal and provincial regulations regarding controlled substances recognize the established authority of physician regulatory colleges for the oversight of the medical profession.
While prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) exist in most provinces, they vary considerably in terms of quality, the nature of the information they require, whether health care practitioners have real-time access, and the purpose for which the data are collected. Standardization of monitoring systems across Canada according to best practices can contribute to addressing the harms associated with psychoactive prescription medication by:
* Allowing health care practitioners to identify previous or concomitant prescriptions of controlled medications with more than one practitioner at the time the prescription is requested or filled;
* Deterring interprovincial or jurisdictional fraud, by allowing health care practitioners to identify other prescriptions at the time the prescription is requested or filled; and
* Improving professional regulatory bodies' capacity for oversight and intervention by establishing a mechanism for real-time monitoring.
The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
PMPs should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary.
CMA also recommends that Health Canada ensure that its legislative framework be used to facilitate and support the advancement of e-health, specifically e-prescribing. Electronic health records can help individual physicians or pharmacists identify potential diversion and double prescriptions, at the point where a prescription is written or filled. The electronic health record also facilitates the sharing of information among health professionals, and could minimize the potential administrative burden.
PMPs should conform to privacy laws, protecting patient confidentiality while enabling the sharing of necessary information. The CMA strongly recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the regulatory framework for controlled prescription drugs, and share the results with stakeholders.
4. Increase in Access to Treatment for Pain
Chronic pain affects many aspects of a person's life including their ability to work, their emotional, mental and physical health, and their quality of life. Pain costs Canada an estimated $60 Billion dollars per year; more than the cost of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.31 CMA has endorsed a national strategy for pain, developed and proposed by the Canadian Pain Coalition and Canadian Pain Society,32 which addresses four target areas: awareness and education; access; research; and ongoing monitoring.
Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include:
* Care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals;
* Recommendation of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies;
* Appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and
* A focus on patient participation and empowerment.
However, specialized pain treatment programs are in short supply. Wait times are greater than one year at more than one third of publicly funded inter-professional treatment programs.33 In many parts of Canada, particularly rural and remote areas, such programs are not available. In addition, while physician visits are covered by the public health care system, services provided by other health professionals are more likely to be either covered by private health benefits or paid out of pocket, and are therefore beyond the means of many Canadians. These factors may result in heavier reliance on prescription medication as treatment for chronic pain.
The CMA recommends that all partners work to improve and promote access to specialized treatment programs for pain management, and that investments be made in research about options for treatment.
5. Increase in Access to Treatment for Addiction
Access to addiction treatment is very limited and, when available, is primarily comprised of detox or the substitution treatments with methadone or Suboxone(r) (buprenorphine and naloxone). As addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry by definition, which manifests along biological, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions, treatment must address all those areas rather than just one or another.34
The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for addiction treatment that address different needs. Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that addiction programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
Treatment programs must also be integrated within the health care system and be adequately funded to meet evidence based, best-practice guidelines.
CMA also supports the development and dissemination of practice tools and guidelines to help physicians assess the addiction potential of a patient receiving psychoactive medications, and to assist in managing patients who have addiction and related problems and complications.
6. Increase in Information through Epidemiological Surveillance
One of the challenges in dealing with prescription drug abuse, which can reflect hazardous (episodic) use, harmful (regular) use or addiction, is the incompleteness of our knowledge of the extent of the problem. Countries, such as the US and France, are able to monitor psychoactive drug use, while in Canada we still rely on unsystematically collected or locally limited data. The creation of a national surveillance system that supports the collection of systematic, standardized information would:
* Permit the thorough assessment of the problem, with the development and monitoring of indicators;
* Support the early detection of diversion or inappropriate prescribing behaviour;
* Support the establishment of best practices to address crucial issues;
* Identify research priorities; and
* Evaluate the impact of the implementation of strategies.
Sources of information should include PMPs, coroner's investigations, emergency room admissions, and poison control data, among others.
7. Prevention of Deaths due to Overdose
Overdose deaths have increased dramatically over the past ten years. The risk of harm from overdose may be compounded if recreational users are afraid to call for emergency assistance for fear of facing criminal charges. Opioid death and complications overdoses can be prevented with appropriate medication and prompt emergency response. The CMA recommends the:
* Creation and scaling up of community-based programs that offer access to naloxone and other opioid overdose prevention tools and services. Training should be made available to health workers, first responders, as well as opioid users, families and peers about the prevention of overdose fatalities.35
* Improvement of access to naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses. This should include the prescription of naloxone to high risk individuals and third parties who can assist a victim experiencing an opiate-related overdose.
* Enactment of Good Samaritan laws by all levels of government in order to protect callers from criminal charges if they call emergency services to report an overdose. 36 37
8. Provision of Information for Patients and the Public
Awareness programs that provide accurate information to patients and the general public are important, and could include:
* Information on the benefits and harms of psychoactive prescription medication use, and signs of dependence and overdose. This should include the risk of dependence and addiction associated with the use of opiates for the treatment of acute and chronic pain.
* Messages aimed at the prevention of problematic drug use among young people and other populations at risk.
* Information regarding safe medication storage and disposal, and reducing access to medications from family and friends. CMA supports national prescription drug "drop off" days, and recommends that patients be educated about the importance of routinely returning unused prescription drugs to the pharmacy.
The CMA recommends that Canada have a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based. This strategy should include:
* That Health Canada require that manufacturers meet stringent pre-approval requirements, adhere to restrictions on the marketing of controlled medications to health professionals and the general public, and develop formulations of psychoactive drugs of concern that are tamper-resistant.
* Support for optimal prescribing through evidence-based guidance, education and supports, such as clinical guidance, clinical decision-support tools, educational programs, expert advice, and supportive models of care.
* The enhancement of optimal prescribing through physician regulation and the development of a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring programs, compatible with electronic medical and pharmacy record systems, based on national standards.
* Increased access to specialized pain management and treatment, according to best practices, with investments in research.
* The enhancement of access to options for addiction treatment that address different needs, and the support for the development and dissemination of practice tools and guidelines.
* The creation of a national surveillance system that supports the collection of systematic, standardized information to better inform and track policy changes.
* The creation and scaling up of community-based programs that
* Offer access to opioid overdose prevention tools and services, including the improvement of access to medication to reverse opioid overdoses (naloxone) and the enactment of Good Samaritan laws by all levels of government.
* The provision of accurate information to patients and the general public, including safe medication storage and disposal.
i Psychoactive drugs are substances that, when taken, have the ability to change an individual's consciousness, mood or thinking processes (WHO, 2004). Psychoactive prescription drugs include sedatives (such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates), stimulants (such as amphetamines), and opioids (such as oxycodone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl). [World Health Organization (2004) Neuroscience of psychoactive substance use and dependence. Available at: http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/en/Neuroscience.pdf]
ii Comprises six main opioids: fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone and pethidine.
1 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers. Canadian drug summary. Ottawa: The Centre; 2013. Available: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Sedatives-and-Tranquilizers-2013-en.pdf
2 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Prescription stimulants. Canadian drug summary. Ottawa: The Centre; 2013. Available: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Stimulants-2013-en.pdf
3 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Prescription opioids. Canadian drug summary. Ottawa: The Centre; 2013. Available: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Canadian-Drug-Summary-Prescription-Opioids-2013-en.pdf
4 International Narcotics Control Board. Narcotics drugs: estimated world requirements for 2013; statistics for 2011. New York: United Nations; 2013.
5 Fischer B, Jones W, Murray K, et al. Differences and over-time changes in levels of prescription opioid analgesic dispensing from retail pharmacies in Canada, 2005-2010. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2011;20:1269-77.
6 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. World drug report 2014. New York: The Office; 2014. Available: www.unodc.org/documents/wdr2014/World_Drug_Report_2014_web.pdf
7 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction. 2013;109:177-81.
8 Fischer B, Argento E. Prescription opioid related misuse, harms, diversion and interventions in Canada: a review. Pain Physician. 2012;15:ES191-ES203.
9 National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse. First do no harm: responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013.
10 Dhalla IA, Mamdani MM, Sivilotti MLA, et al. Prescribing of opioid analgesics and related mortality before and after the introduction of long-acting oxycodone CMAJ. 2009;181(12): 891-6.
11 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Drug use among Ontario students, 1977-2013: results of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. Toronto: The Centre; 2013. Available: www.camh.ca/en/research/news_and_publications/ontario-student-drug-use-and-health-survey/Documents/2013%20OSDUHS%20Docs/2013OSDUHS_Highlights_DrugUseReport.pdf
12 Chiefs of Ontario. Prescription drug abuse strategy: 'Take a stand.' Final report. Toronto: Chiefs of Ontario; 2010. Available: www.chiefs-of-ontario.org/sites/default/files/files/Final%20Draft%20Prescription%20Drug%20Abuse%20Strategy.pdf
13 Health Canada. Honouring our strengths: a renewed framework to address substance use issues among First Nations people in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2011. Available: http://nnadaprenewal.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Honouring-Our-Strengths-2011_Eng1.pdf
14 US Department of Health and Human Services Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Rockville (MD): The Department; 2011. p. 25. Available: www.oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k10NSDUH/2k10Results.pdf
15 Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Moineddin R, et al. Geographical variation in opioid prescribing and opioid-related mortality in Ontario. Healthc Q. 2011;14(1):22-4.
16 Fischer B, Jones W, Rehm J. High correlations between levels of consumption and mortality related to strong prescription opioid analgesics in British Columbia and Ontario, 2005-2009. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2013;22(4):438-42.
17 Brands B, Blake J, Sproule B, et al. Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2004;73(2):199-207.
18 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ. 2011;343:d5142 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d5142.
19 Manchikanti L, Atluri S, Hansen H, et al. Opioids in chronic noncancer pain: have we reached a boiling point yet? Pain Physician. 2014;17(1):E1-10.
20 Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain. A position paper of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2014;83:1277-84. Available: www.neurology.org/content/83/14/1277.full.pdf+html
21 Chou R, Ballantyne JC, Fanciullo GJ, et al. Research gaps on use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: findings from a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Pain. 2009;10:147-59.
22 Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(1):CD006605.
23 Fischer B, Goldman B, Rehm J, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and public health in Canada. Can J Public Health. 2008;99(3): 182-4.
24 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction. 2013;109:177-81.
25 Silversides A. Opioid prescribing challenges doctors. CMAJ. 2009;181(8):E143-E144.
26 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ. 2011;343:d5142.
27 Kirschner N, Ginsburg J, Sulmasy LS. Prescription drug abuse: a policy position paper from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:198-213.
28 Saveland C, Hawker L, Miedema B, et al. Abuse of family physicians by patients seeking controlled substances. Can Fam Physician. 2014;60:e131-6.
29 Wenghofer EF, Wilson L, Kahan M, et al. Survey of Ontario primary care physicians' experiences with opioid prescribing. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(3):324-32.
30 National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse. First do no harm: responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013. Available: www.ccsa.ca/resource%20library/canada-strategy-prescription-drug-misuse-report-en.pdf
31 Canadian Pain Strategy Initiative. Rise up against pain: the Canadian Pain Strategy. Available: http://canadianpainstrategy.ca/en/home.aspx
32 Canadian Pain Coalition, Canadian Pain Society. Call to action: the need for a national pain strategy for Canada. 2011. Available: http://canadianpainstrategy.ca/media/11445/final%20nat%20pain%20strategy%20for%20can%20121511%20eng.pdf
33 Canadian Pain Coalition, Canadian Pain Society. Call to action: the need for a national pain strategy for Canada. 2011. Available: http://canadianpainstrategy.ca/media/11445/final%20nat%20pain%20strategy%20for%20can%20121511%20eng.pdf
34 American Society of Addiction Medicine. Public policy statement: definition of addiction. 2011. Available: www.asam.org/for-the-public/definition-of-addiction
35 Carter CI, Graham B. Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada. Policy brief series. Vancouver: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; 2013. Available: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/
36 Follett KM, Piscitelli A, Parkinson M, et al. Barriers to calling 9-1-1 during overdose emergencies in a Canadian context. Crit Social Work. 2014;15(1):18-28. Available: http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/system/files/Follett_Piscitelli_Parkinson_Munger_2014.pdf
37 Carter CI, Graham B. Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada. Policy brief series. Vancouver: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; 2013. Available: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/
Canada's prized Medicare system is facing serious challenges on two key fronts: in meeting the legitimate health care needs of Canadians and in being affordable for the public purse. The founding principles of Medicare are not being met today either in letter or in spirit. Canadians are not receiving the value they deserve from the health care system. In both 2008 and 2009, the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index ranked Canada 30th of 30 countries (the U.S. was not included in the sample) in terms of value for money spent on health care. Canadians deserve better.
Canada cannot continue on this path. The system needs to be massively transformed, a task that demands political courage and leadership, flexibility from within the health care professions and far-sightedness on the part of the public. It is a lot to demand, but nothing less than one of Canada's most cherished national institutions is at stake. Unwillingness to confront the challenges is not an option.
With this report, "Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works, Care That Lasts" the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) declares its readiness to take a leadership position in confronting the hard choices required to make health care work better for Canadians. The focus of reform must better serve the patient. The system must adjust to changing needs for care and do so without crowding out other societal needs; many of them determinants of health themselves, such as education and sanitation, and the challenges posed by Canada's geographic, cultural, economic and emerging demographic realities.
This report sets out an ambitious but realizable roadmap to ready the system for the future. Its triple aim is to improve the health of the population at large, to improve the health care experiences of patients, and to improve the value for money spent on health and health care. The CMA seeks to spark a spirited discussion among physicians, other health care providers, governments and the public at large so that an urgent effort can be undertaken to put an improved system on a path to sustainability by the time the federal-provincial/territorial Health Accord expires on March 31, 2014. By so doing, a renewed Health Accord will be enabled to maximize value for patients and sustain a strong health care system for future generations.
This report is divided into three parts: The Problem; Our Vision; and The Framework for Transformation. It is in this last section that the CMA puts forth a five-pillar transformational plan, including a Charter for Patient-Centred Care, for securing Canada's public health care future. These policy directions have been influenced by our consultations with patients, patient advocacy groups and the public. These initiatives are necessary to support the important work already underway in illness prevention and health promotion, in enhancing capabilities for diagnosis and treatment, and in monitoring system performance. They also represent directions we must take towards preparing for the needs of future generations of Canadians.
The CMA, our partner provincial/territorial medical associations and the physicians of Canada are committed to the changes that will allow us to fulfill our objective to provide patients with optimal care within an effective, accountable and sustainable system today and for generations to come.
Medicare has enjoyed the resounding support of Canadians for nearly half a century. But new times bring new challenges to the health care system and so it has been forced from time to time to adapt and evolve. This document is predicated on the belief of the CMA that new demands for adaptation must be addressed starting now, and in a manner consistent with the spirit and principles that have guided Medicare from the beginning.
This report is divided into three Parts. The first lays out the underlying problem confronting the system; the second outlines a vision for Canada's health system by modernizing the guiding principles of Medicare, and the third provides the CMA's prescription for improving the system within and beyond the five original principles that are set out in the Canada Health Act (universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability and public administration).
Following the main report, Appendix A addresses the issue of health care funding and sustainability. This is meant to inform readers regarding the complexities inherent in the challenge of sustaining health care provision and funding for current and future populations.
Part 1: The Problem
Canada's health care system is valued by its citizens. At the same time, it is increasingly recognized that the system is inadequate to meet 21st Century needs and is in urgent need of reform. Canadians wait too long for care. Care providers feel overworked and discouraged. There are insufficient mechanisms to monitor system performance. Technical support needs modernizing.
Closer examination of how the five Medicare principles are being met reveals a number of concerns. While there is universal coverage for a narrow range of medically-necessary services, access to other essential health care services is inconsistent, both within and across jurisdictions. Exceedingly long waits for necessary medical care is prevalent. Efficiencies in the management of our health care system must also be found as Canada has recently been ranked last out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent.
Part 2: Our Vision
There are numerous steps required to transform Canada's health care system so that it becomes highly effective and meets the health needs of Canadians. A first step is to re-examine the five principles of the Canada Health Act and modernize them as they are no longer sufficient to meet current and evolving needs.
All Canadians must have timely access to an appropriate array of medically-necessary services across the full continuum of care, independent of their ability to pay. All health care must be patient-centred. Care must be delivered effectively and must be well-coordinated among all care providers. The health care system must be properly resourced to deliver care in a sustainable way that can accommodate our ever-changing health care needs.
Part 3: The Framework for Transformation
The CMA's Health Care Transformation Plan has three core goals: improving population health, improving the patient experience of health care, and improving the value for money spent on health care. The CMA has created a Framework for Transformation listing the actions needed for change - organized under five pillars:
1. Building a culture of patient-centred care
* Creation of a Charter for Patient-centred Care
2. Incentives for enhancing access and improving quality of care
* Changing incentives to enhance timely access
* Changing incentives to support quality care
3. Enhancing patient access along the continuum of care
* Universal access to prescription drugs
* Continuing care outside acute care facilities
4. Helping providers help patients
* Ensuring Canada has an adequate supply of health human resources
* More effective adoption of health information technologies
5. Building accountability/responsibility at all levels
* Need for system accountability
* Need for system stewardship
The CMA recognizes that none of these directions, taken separately, will transform our health care system. Nor do they represent an exhaustive list of steps, as there are many other directions that can be taken to support our vision. This framework does, however, contain the necessary directions toward the more efficient, high-functioning, patient-focused system that Canadians deserve.
Summary of CMA Recommended Directions
Implementation of these recommendations will require the collaboration of all levels of government and medical and other health organizations.
1. Gain government and public support for the CMA's Charter for Patient-Centred Care.
2. Implement partial activity-based funding for hospitals, whereby facilities are funded based on the number of patients they treat and the types of illnesses they have, to improve timely access to facility-based care.
3. Implement appropriate pay-for-performance systems to encourage quality of care at both the clinician and facility level.
4. Establish an approach to comprehensive prescription drug coverage to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
5. Begin construction immediately on additional long-term care facilities.
6. Create national standards, with input from both federal and provincial/territorial governments, for continuing care provision in terms of eligibility criteria, care delivery and accommodation expenses.
7. Develop options to facilitate pre-funding long-term care needs.
8. Initiate a national dialogue on the Canada Health Act in relation to the continuum of care.
9. Explore ways to support informal caregivers and long-term care patients.
10. Develop a long-term health human resources plan through a national body using the best available evidence to support its deliberations. Within this plan:
a) Increase medical school and residency training positions.
b) Invest in recruitment and retention strategies for physicians, nurses and other health care workers.
c) Ease the process of integration into our health care workforce for international medical graduates and Canadian physicians returning from abroad.
d) Introduce new providers such as physician assistants to the health care workforce and enhance collaborative, team-based care where appropriate.
11. Adopt the CMA's five-year plan to set out clear targets for accelerating the adoption of Health Information Technology (HIT) in Canada.
12. Accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing by 2012.
13. Require public reporting on the performance of the system, including outcomes.
14. Establish an arm's-length mechanism to monitor the financing of health care programs at the federal and provincial/territorial levels.
PART 1: THE PROBLEM
Summary: Canada's health care system is valued by its citizens. However, not only is our Medicare system failing to meet the five principles - universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration - originally laid out in the 1984 Canada Heath Act, but those five principles, while still relevant, need to be expanded in scope to serve the current and future health needs of Canadians.
Canadians believe that the relief of suffering and the promotion of health and human dignity are vitally important - for philosophical as well as pragmatic reasons. Simply stated, there is a broad recognition that health is a valued "good" allowing all Canadians to flourish as individuals and groups. Notwithstanding this fundamental belief, neither of the imperatives of our health care system - optimizing function and the compassionate relief of suffering and promotion of dignity - is being met for many people. Our population and our health providers encounter these failures on a daily basis.
Polls show that most Canadians unwaveringly support the five principles laid out in the 1984 Canada Health Act - universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration.1 In fact, since Medicare was first introduced - in Saskatchewan in 1962 and throughout the rest of Canada soon afterward - the idea of universal health care has become central to our national identity. Nearly half a century after Medicare was first introduced, however, Canada's health care system is falling short of the demands being placed on it from patients and providers.
Canadians well understand that universal health care requires significant public resources to maintain. While the escalating costs of health care are often perceived as the overriding problem, there are other factors contributing to the crisis.
Surveys have repeatedly shown that Canadians are highly satisfied with the care they receive once it is delivered. However, the general view among most Canadians is that their health care system is not as well managed as it must be. They are increasingly concerned about the lack of timely access to see their family physician, the long wait times for diagnostic testing, a widespread lack of access to specialists and specialized treatment, and the compromised quality of care in overburdened emergency rooms, or the unavailability of nearby ER facilities altogether. With our aging population, end of life issues are becoming increasingly important, yet many do not have access to expert palliative care.
The founding principles of Medicare are not being met today either in letter or in spirit. Canadians are not receiving the value they deserve from the health care system. Issues such as quality of care, accountability and sustainability are now recognized as key aspects of a high-performing health system. "Health" by today's standards is not just the assessment and treatment of illness, but also the prevention of illness, and the creation and support of social factors that contribute to health.
Also missing from our current system, but vitally important to proper care, is health information technology (HIT). In this area, Canada is woefully lacking in both resources and coordinated efforts toward a plan of HIT implementation.
Before addressing the missing elements in Canada's health care system, a proper diagnosis of the current system requires a closer look at how the health care system fails to deliver on all five founding principles of Medicare.
Studies have consistently shown that poorer, marginalized populations do not access necessary care. Wealthier populations use health care services more frequently than lower-income populations despite higher illness rates in low-income populations. Poorer communities have fewer services to support good health.
The most vulnerable populations are least able to access and navigate the health care system. At the same time, these are the people most likely to need health care because the essential determinants of health - housing, education and food security - are often not available to them.
Canada's system of universality resonates strongly with Canadians. However, while there is universal first-dollar coverage for insured hospital and medical services, there is uneven coverage of other services also essential to health and quality of life (e.g., prescription drugs and home care).
The principle of accessibility in the Canada Health Act does not define "timely access" to necessary care. For many patients, the months of waiting for necessary treatment amount to a complete lack of "accessibility."
While wait times have been reduced for a limited number of surgical procedures, many Canadians are still waiting far too long to receive necessary medical care for a wide variety of conditions. For many types of treatments, Canadians wait longer than citizens in most other industrialized countries that have similar universal health systems. Approximately five million Canadians do not have a family doctor, severely restricting access to adequate primary medical care.
Provincial/territorial health insurance plans must insure all "medically necessary" hospital and physician services.
Canadians are entitled to all medically necessary (evidence-informed) services to the greatest extent possible. However, since Medicare was established in the 1960s, care patterns have shifted dramatically - away from being primarily acute care in nature, to broader health needs including prevention, treatment and long-term management of chronic illnesses. In addition, new technologies, treatments and medications that were not foreseen by the original planners of Medicare have been developed to diagnose and treat illnesses.
At the time the Canada Health Act was passed, physician and hospital services represented 57% of total health spending; this has declined to 41% in 2008.2 Notwithstanding these changes, there is significant public spending beyond services covered by the Act (in excess of 25% of total spending) for programs such as seniors' drug coverage and home care; however, these programs are not subject to the Act's program criteria and are often subject to arbitrary cutbacks. While a majority of the working-age population and their families are covered by private health insurance, those with lower incomes are less likely to enjoy such benefits. Furthermore, the proportion of Canadians working in non-standard employment conditions (e.g., part-time, temporary or contract work) is increasing and these workers are less likely to have supplementary benefits.3 In addition, while most jurisdictions provide some form of seniors' drug coverage, access to other supplementary benefits post-retirement is most likely highly variable.
Some of the more severe gaps in coverage include:
* the lack of access to prescription medications for those without private health insurance or who are ineligible for government drug benefit programs; this problem is particularly significant for many residents in Atlantic Canada
* the lack of continuing care, including both support for people to stay in their home (home care) or appropriate residential care (e.g., facility-based long-term care)
* a lack of adequate mental health services. Mental illness is one of the leading burdens of illness in Canada. Access to mental health services for both children and adults is poor. Psychiatric hospitals are not covered under the Canada Health Act. Many essential services, such as psychological services or out-of-hospital drug therapies, are not covered under provincial/territorial health insurance plans.
Canadians should receive coverage while travelling outside of their home province or territory.
Portability under the Canada Health Act does not cover citizens who seek non-urgent and non-emergency care outside their home province or territory. Canadians who obtain such care in another province or territory are not covered by their health insurance program unless they receive prior approval (usually for services not available in their home province or territory).
This principle is honoured by some jurisdictions but has never been fully implemented in Québec. Québec did not sign bilateral reciprocal billing agreements with the other provinces and territories stipulating that providers would be reimbursed at host-province rates. Consequently, Québec patients who receive medical care outside of their province must often pay cash for medical services received and then apply to recoup a portion of their costs from the Québec health insurance program.
5. Public administration
Health care insurance plans must be administered and operated on a non-profit basis. The principle of public administration is often misinterpreted to mean public financing of publicly delivered services. In fact, while Medicare services (medically necessary hospital and physician services) are overwhelmingly publicly financed, most services are privately delivered. Most physicians are independent contractors while most hospitals are private organizations governed by community boards. This misconception of what constitutes public administration has inhibited the development of innovative models for publicly funded, privately delivered services.
While Canada's system of Medicare is administered publicly, a case can certainly be made that Canada's health care system is not delivering value for the money spent: Canada is one of the highest spenders of health care when compared to other industrialized countries that offer universal care - Canada is the fifth-highest spender per capita on health care and sixth-highest in terms of spending on health as a percentage of GDP. Canadians spent an estimated $183 billion on health care in 2009, or $5452 per person.2 Of this amount, $3829, or 70%, is spent through the publicly funded system. Health care spending in Canada has increased by 6.8 annually over the past five years and has been increasing faster than the growth in the economy and more importantly faster than revenues at the federal and provincial/territorial levels.
Canada's health care system is under-performing on several key measures, such as timely access, despite the large amounts we spend on health care. Experts agree that Canada's current health care system is not delivering the level of care that other industrialized countries now enjoy. The Conference Board of Canada4, the World Health Organization5, the Commonwealth Fund6 and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy7 have all rated Canada's health care system poorly in terms of "value for money" and efficiency. New governance models should be considered to improve both system effectiveness and accountability.
In addition to the need for improving the performance of our health system is the issue of fiscal sustainability. In 1998, the Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, was among the first to sound an alarm about sustainability with a report on the implications of the aging population. His report projected that government spending on health as a share of GDP; if increases continued apace at an annual rate of 2% of real growth; could as much as double from its 1996 level of 6.4% to 12.5% by 2031.8 According to the most recent estimates from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), government health spending as a percentage of GDP reached 8.4% in 2009i - a level which has already exceeded the 8.1% estimate for 2011 set out in the high-growth scenario of the 1998 report.2
Most recently, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has again sounded the alarm in his February 2010 Fiscal Sustainability report.9 He projects that total provincial-territorial government health expenditure could rise to over 14% of GDP by 2040-41. This report presents estimates of the fiscal gap (which is defined as the increase in taxes and/or reduction in spending, measured relative to GDP) that is required to achieve sustainability over the long term. Under their baseline scenario, the government would need to increase revenue and/or reduce spending by $15.5 billion annually, starting immediately. Given that most commentators expect the demand for health care services to increase, reduced spending seems unlikely; hence the need to increase revenue is the most likely option. If there is no political appetite or public support for increasing public revenues for health on the basis of universality and risk pooling then we will be faced with choosing among options for raising funds from private sources.
A more detailed analysis of health care funding and sustainability is contained in Appendix A.
PART 2: OUR VISION
Summary: There are numerous steps required to transform Canada's health care system so that it becomes highly effective and meets the health needs of Canadians. A first step is to re-examine the five principles of the Canada Health Act - universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness, portability, and public administration - and modernize them to meet current and evolving needs.
MODERNIZING THE PRINCIPLES OF MEDICARE
Change must be undertaken with the patients' interests at the centre. To the CMA, this means meaningful implementation and modernization of the Canada Health Act. Transformational change will refocus our system so that serves the patient - not the other way around as is so often the case today. Canada must follow the lead of other developed countries with universal health care systems that have succeeded in this fundamental objective.
Below are the modernized principles for Canada's health system recommended by the CMA:
All Canadians must have access to the full range of necessary (evidence-informed) health care services using a variety of funding options as necessary to ensure universal coverage regardless of ability to pay. This includes meeting the needs of vulnerable populations who may not be able to access services due to a variety of barriers (e.g., geographical, socio-economic and demographic).
All Canadians must have timely access to the full array of health care services over their life span, from primary care (including health promotion and illness prevention) through institutionally based secondary and tertiary care, to community and home-based services that promote rehabilitation and health maintenance, and to palliation at the end of life. There should be clear, measurable wait-time targets/benchmarks for access to necessary care, with publicly funded alternatives available in situations where timely care is not locally available to patients in need.
All Canadians must have access to the full complement of health services, with incentives in the system to encourage the prevention of illness and to promote optimum health while addressing the complex causative pathways affecting health and disease (i.e., social determinants of health). A defined set of nationally comparable, publicly funded core services should be available to all Canadians chosen through an evidence-informed and transparent manner. There should be an ongoing monitoring of the comparability of access to a full range of medically necessary health services across the country.
All Canadians must be eligible for coverage while travelling within Canada, outside of their home province/territory. This principle must be honored in all jurisdictions, and apply to all levels of necessary care.
5. Public administration
Services must be appropriately, efficiently and effectively delivered, with providers and patients working together to determine how that is done. The system must ensure that care is integrated and coordinated among providers and services to maintain continuity of care. From the patients' perspective, care must be well-coordinated among providers and between levels (i.e., physician to hospital, hospital back to home, etc.), supported by a functional and secure electronic health information system.
The system should be guided by properly structured incentives to reward efficient provision of timely, high-quality patient care. This would include incentives such as activity-based funding of hospitals (i.e., paying on the basis of services provided), and pay-for-performance measures for health care providers, with competition based on valid measures of quality and efficiency. The system would utilize both public and private service providers, and put uniform requirements and regulations in place for measuring quality.ii
The system must be able to demonstrate good value for money. There must be accountability mechanisms and performance measurements in place to ensure responsibility for monitoring and managing system performance (e.g., efficiency and effectiveness) at all levels. Regular public reporting on system performance will be required. Societal health goals and targets focused on outcomes will be set and monitored. Health care providers and the community will be actively involved in system decision-making.
The system needs to be patient-centred. Patient-centred care is seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner, based on need and not the ability to pay, that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family, and treats the patient with respect and dignity.
The system must be properly resourced in a sustainable manner. Funding must be sufficient to meet ongoing health care needs. The system must be resilient; that is, capable of withstanding or accommodating demand surges and fiscal pressures. It must have the capacity to innovate and improve and be able to anticipate emerging health needs. Prospective monitoring and documentation of emerging health needs and the burden of illness must be undertaken on an ongoing basis. Strategies must be developed and implemented to meet those needs properly.
PART 3: THE FRAMEWORK FOR TRANSFORMATION
Summary: The CMA's Health Care Transformation Plan has three core goals: improving population health, improving the patient experience of health care, and improving the value of money spent on health care. There are numerous steps required to transform Canada's health care system so that it becomes highly effective and meets the health needs of Canadians. The next steps are contained in a Framework for Transformation, organized under five pillars, with specific recommendations for action.
1. Building a culture of patient-centred care
* Creation of a Charter for Patient-centred Care
2. Incentives for enhancing access and improving quality of care
* Changing incentives to enhance timely access
* Changing incentives to support quality care
3. Enhancing patient access along the continuum of care
* Universal access to prescription drugs
* Continuing care outside acute care facilities
4. Helping providers help patients
* Ensuring Canada has an adequate supply of health human resources
* More effective adoption of health information technologies
5. Building accountability/responsibility at all levels
* Need for system accountability
* Need for system stewardship
The CMA recognizes that none of these directions, taken separately, will transform our health care system. Nor do they represent an exhaustive list of steps, as there are many other directions that can be taken to support our vision. This framework does, however, contain the necessary directions toward the more efficient, high-functioning, patient-focused system that Canadians deserve.
For the transformation plan to succeed, the following key enablers must be in place:
* leadership at all levels including strong political leadership
* well-informed Canadians who understand the need for, and characteristics of, a high-performing health system
* patients, physicians and other providers actively involved in the reform and management of the system
* a commitment to sustainability with adequate levels of resources to ensure that services are in place
* health information technology in place to improve service delivery, manage care within and between services, and monitor and evaluate organization and system performance
* incentives properly aligned to support a variety of funding and delivery models that can meet system goals (e.g., to improve access, to improve quality)
* co-ordinated health human resources planning at the provincial/territorial and national levels
* a commitment to support continuous quality improvement and evidence-informed decision-making at both the policy and clinical levels.
These five pillars contain the directions which the CMA believes are necessary to successfully transform our health care system. Many other reforms have been proposed in Canada and elsewhere but based on international experience, these should receive priority attention.
1. BUILDING A CULTURE OF PATIENT-CENTRED CARE
The concept of "patient-centred care" is taking hold in other developed countries which are also in the process of reforming their health care systems. The essential principle is that health care services are provided in a manner that works best for patients. Health care providers partner with patients and their families to identify and satisfy the range of needs and preferences. Health providers, governments and patients each have their own specific roles in creating and moving toward a patient-centred system.
Patients have consistently emphasized the importance of being respected, having open communication and confidentiality of personal information, in addition to quality medical care. While building a patient-centred system is clearly better for patients, it is also better for physicians and all health care providers and administrators. In a patient-centred system, physicians are provided the optimal environment to give the best possible medical care. From the perspective of health administrators, recruitment and retention of providers who are satisfied with their work and their environment can have many tangible benefits. For instance, hospitals employing patient-centred care principles have found improvements in patient outcomes in areas ranging from decreased length of stay and fewer medication errors to enhanced staff recruitment.10
It is recognized that health care providers strive to practise patient-centred care. Often the issue is that the system - intended to serve as a network of services - is where patient-centred care breaks down.
CHARTER FOR PATIENT-CENTRED CARE
An important first step in building a culture of patient-centred care is to establish a Charter for Patient-centred Care. As a vision statement, the Charter is built on a foundation of reasonableness and fairness, while acknowledging resource constraints. Notwithstanding resource constraints, governments have the duty to ensure availability of the resources required to provide high quality care. This Charter is a mutually reciprocal covenant among patients, physicians, other health care providers, funders and organizers of care.
Dignity and respect
* All persons are treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
* Health care is provided in an environment that is free from discrimination and/or stigma of any kind.
* Health care services respond to individual needs and give consideration to personal preferences.
Access to care (timeliness, continuity, comprehensiveness)
* Access to and timeliness of appropriate medical and psychiatric services is determined by health need.
* Access to appropriate services is not limited by the patient's ability to pay.
* Care is continuous between health care providers and across settings.
Safety and appropriateness
* Care is provided in accordance with the applicable professional standard of care, by appropriately qualified health care providers, regardless of the location of service.
* Care is based upon the best available evidence and is provided in the safest possible environment.
* The quality of all health care services is evaluated, monitored and improved proactively.
* Care is informed and influenced by lessons learned from any critical incident or adverse event and by patient experiences.
Privacy and security of information
* Personal health information is collected, stored, accessed, used, disclosed and accessible to patients in accordance with applicable law and professional codes of ethics.
* Providers and recipients of care share responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of information in personal health records.
* Patients participate actively with providers in decisions about their medical care and treatment.
* Personal support and assistance with communication is available when required.
* Patients may appoint another person (proxy decision-maker) to act on their behalf and to be aware of their personal health information.
* Decisions for care are made with full disclosure of all relevant information.
* Patients may consent to or refuse any examination, intervention or treatment, and may change or vary their decisions without prejudice.
* Individuals may decline to participate in research without prejudice.
Insurability and Planning of health services
* All parties use health care resources appropriately.
* Recipients and providers are informed and are able to be involved directly, or through representatives, in the planning, organization, delivery and evaluation of health care services.
* Decisions about the provision and insurability of drugs and all other treatments or services are made in accordance with evidence and best practices.
* Government decision-making with respect to the planning, regulation and delivery of health care products and services is transparent.
Concerns and complaints
* Patients may comment on any aspect of their personal health care and have concerns investigated and addressed without repercussions.
* Patients receive timely information and an expression of regret and sympathy if there is any adverse event during their care, regardless of the reason for such event.
* Providers speak publicly and advocate on behalf of Canadians for the provision of high quality care.
The creation of a Charter for Patient-centred Care, as presented above, is a solid foundation on which to build a culture of patient-centred care. In order for the Charter to work, it needs to have supporting mechanisms to ensure accountability. Metrics must be identified to track the elements of the Charter. The Charter needs to be accepted by governments, providers and patients to have an impact on the health system culture and care.
Other examples of activities to promote a culture of patient-centred care may include:
* increasing availability of programs to prevent illness
* increasing involvement of patients and their families in the delivery of care when desired (e.g., if preferred by the patient, family and friends may be trained to help provide care for patients while in the hospital or community)
* soliciting patients' feedback on health care services received, and readiness to make changes based on that feedback
* establishing patient and family advisory councils for hospitals or health regions
* establishing a process for patients or their family members to quickly and efficiently raise a concern about care
* providing patients with information about how to access medical records while in the hospital or in the community
Progress to date/Next steps
The final report of Saskatchewan's Patient First Review, For Patients' Sake (2009),11 devoted considerable attention to the need to re-orient health care to a more patient-centred system. As Commissioner Tony Dagnone stated in his report, "patient-first must be embedded as a core value in health care and be ingrained in the 'DNA' of all health care organizations". The report recommended the adoption of a Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities for that province.
More recently, an advisory committee to the Alberta Minister of Health has also recommended the creation of a Patient Charter for that province.12
Lessons can be learned from the effects of patient charters in other developed countries. The National Health Service in England recently adopted a constitution which establishes its principles and values: sets out the rights to which patients, public and staff are entitled; includes pledges that the National Health Service is committed to achieve; delineates the responsibilities which the public, patients and staff owe to one another to ensure that the National Health Service operates fairly and effectively.13 The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights describes seven charter rights to which patients, consumers, carers and families are entitled and the ways they can contribute to ensuring their rights are upheld.14 Those rights are: access, safety, respect, communication, participation, privacy and a right to comment on care and have concerns addressed.
2. PROVIDING INCENTIVES TO ENHANCE ACCESS AND IMPROVE QUALITY OF CARE
Canadians have consistently identified timely access as Canada's most pressing health issue. Many other health systems around the world have been successful in dealing with timely access and now are examining the quality of care being delivered. This direction looks at changing incentives to accomplish two related objectives: improving timely access and supporting quality care.
A. Enhance timely access
Most provinces have taken steps to improve timely access to certain components of their health system. For instance, the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative has set a target for specialty wait times to be no longer than three months within the next four years.15
At the physician level, several initiatives are underway across Canada. In late 2009, the Primary Care Wait Time Partnership involving the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the CMA released its final report entitled, The Wait Starts Here.16 The report identifies several strategies for improving timely access to primary care. Efforts are also underway in some jurisdictions, such as in Manitoba, to improve the referral process from family physician to specialist (i.e., the timeliness and the appropriateness of referrals).
Activity-based funding - an idea raised in the Kirby Commission's final report17 - is another strategy to improve timely access at the facility level. Activity-based funding is a reimbursement mechanism that pays hospitals for each patient treated on the basis of the complexity of their case. A reimbursement level is set for each type of case then applies to all hospitals within the jurisdiction. It is also known as service-based funding, case-mix funding or patient-focused funding. As such, funding is viewed as "following the patient" since the hospital is paid only if the service is provided, resulting in increased productivity and in some instances, competition among hospitals to treat patients.
Financing of hospital services in most industrialized countries involves some portion of activity-based funding. Canada, although it has been a pioneer in the methodology that underlies activity-based funding, has had limited application for funding purposes. Most hospitals in Canada receive their funding in the form of a global budget that is usually based on historical funding levels. As a result, a well-performing hospital emergency room does not receive any additional funding for seeing more patients.
Canada should move toward partial activity-based funding for hospitals to improve hospital productivity. It is almost impossible to decrease wait times and reward productivity without this change in funding. While some countries have implemented 100% activity-based funding, other countries have shown that productivity can increase when even 25% of hospital funding is allocated in this manner.
Progress to date/Next steps
A number of provinces have taken steps to introduce activity-based funding for facility-based care. The government of British Columbia announced that it will provide "patient-focused funding" for the province's 23 largest hospitals.18 Ontario already has some limited activity-based funding for its hospitals and the government has announced that it will introduce patient-based payment for hospitals on April 1, 2011 as part of a multi-year implementation plan.19 Alberta announced in 2009 that it would be adopting a form of activity-based funding for long-term care facilities that started April 1, 2010 and for hospitals the year after.20 While not yet in place in Québec, the adoption of activity-based funding was recommended in the 2008 Castonguay report.21
Much of the work involved in supporting the adoption of partial activity-based funding has already been undertaken by CIHI and its well-developed Case Mix Group program supported by case-costing data from BC, Alberta and Ontario.
B. Support quality care
Timely access is one dimension of quality. But there are many other dimensions of quality including safety, effectiveness, appropriateness and acceptability. More recently in Canada, attention is now focused on incentives to improve quality in the processes of care to achieve better outcomes.
Incentives for providers
Pay-for-performance involves the use of an incentive payment to reward a hospital or physician provider for achieving a target for the quality of patient care. This may be linked to processes or outcomes of care and could be related to the attainment of a specified threshold and/or percentage improvement. Performance incentives may also be linked to the structure of health care delivery as well as the process of that delivery. 22 It is important to note that pay-for-performance, which refers to incentive payments for achieving quality targets, is not the same as activity-based funding, which is a reimbursement mechanism that pays hospitals for each patient treated on the basis of the complexity of their case.
Performance incentives can be targeted at both group output provided by a team of providers (nurses, physical therapists, physicians, etc.) as well as individual members of the team. The incentives may also be targeted at measuring the process involved in delivering the desired health care output.
Canada will likely follow the lead of other countries in increasing the focus on the outputs and outcomes of the health care system. The promise of pay-for-performance programs is that they can improve access, quality and accountability. Pink et al. 23 have tried to synthesize the international experience with pay-for-performance and its implications for Canada. Based on this assessment they offer four key considerations:
1. Pay-for-performance could potentially be used to target individual providers, provider groups/organizations, or health regions.
2. The selection of quality measures should consider provincial/territorial health goals and objectives, measures included in existing report cards, evidence and the ability to risk-adjust and the extent of provider acceptance.
3. Development of pay for performance should consider factors that are within the scope of control of providers, use positive incentives over disincentives and consider size/timing and perceived fairness of awards.
4. Program evaluation should consider the impact on patients and providers, quality measurement and how payments are used to improve quality.
In addition, they cite the need to address enablers/barriers including information technology, consultation, implementation costs and resistance.
Implement appropriate pay-for-performance systems. Adopt principles that secure equity and efficiency in pay-for-performance programs in Canada that will ensure the best outcomes for patients, physicians and the health care system at large.
Progress to date/Next steps
Pay-for-performance has already started in a number of provinces as seen in the table below.
Examples of pay-for-performance programs already in effect in Canada
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE INFORMATION]
Type of program
Family Physician Chronic Disease Management Incentive Program
Cumulative Preventive Care Bonuses for achieving specified thresholds of preventive care for their patients in five areas: influenza vaccine, pap smear, mammography, childhood immunizations and colorectal cancer screening
Physician Integrated Network has a Quality Based Incentive component24
Performance and Diligence Indicator (PDI) Fund for Family Physicians: The PDI Fund provides payments to family physicians who meet specific indicators in the care of their patients. The PDI program "will provide payments to individual family physicians, in and out of primary care networks, who meet specific performance and/or diligence indicators that deliver substantive clinical value"25
Full Service Family Practice Incentive Program: this includes an obstetrical care bonus payment and an expansion of the Full Service Family Practice Condition Payments that were introduced in 2003. The condition-based bonus payments are related to the monitoring patients' course of care according to BC Clinical Guidelines for diabetes, congestive heart failure and hypertension26
Pay-for-performance programs will continue to expand in Canada. Governments and insurance companies are introducing pay-for-performance incentive programs throughout the industrialized world with the goal of improving health care delivery efficiencies and especially to improve patient care. These are lofty goals because measuring improvements in patient care is complicated. It is vital that physicians, patients and the health care system establish principles that can guide them to make the best decisions concerning pay-for-performance. The scope of the program and what is measured will surely evolve. Full-scale adoption requires an electronic medical record (EMR) to be in place.
Incentives for patients
At a macro level, public policies can be instituted to encourage healthy behaviours and environmental improvements (e.g., water quality standards). At the individual level, consideration should be given to empowering patients through the use of patient incentives.
A rapidly emerging dimension of pay-for-performance is the use of incentives directed at the patient for health maintenance and healthy behaviours. Hall has reported that a number of US employers are offering tangible rewards to employees such as cash, merchandise, vacation days, and reductions in health care premiums or deductibles.27 These incentives are targeted variously at:
* activity (e.g., completing a health risk assessment)
* achievement (e.g., quitting smoking, lowering Body Mass Index)
* adherence (e.g., remaining tobacco-free for 12 months)
Positive incentives are used to promote healthy behaviours by transferring funds or alternate benefits to an individual. They work by providing immediate rewards for behaviours that usually provide only long-term health gains. Positive incentives have been shown to be effective in promoting singular, discrete behaviours, such as vaccinations, screening programs, and attending follow-up appointments. An example of an existing Canadian federal government incentive is the children's fitness tax credit. This credit is intended to promote physical activity among children by off-setting some of the cost incurred by families for sports and leisure programs.
In Germany, bonuses for healthy behaviours are integrated into the health system. They are offered for both primary and secondary prevention, including check-up programs, achieving healthy weights, smoking cessation, memberships in sports clubs, and other health-promoting activities. The bonuses take the form of points that can be redeemed for items, including sports equipment, health books or reduction in insurance premiums, or in some cases cash. There are also bonuses, in the form of a reduction in co-payments, for adhering to the treatment plan and participating in special care plans.28
Negative incentives or disincentives by governments largely involve the use of regulation and taxation in order to change individual behaviour. This helps to create an environment in which healthy choices are easier to make. For example, the taxation of tobacco, alcohol or unhealthy foods (such as those high in fat, salt or sugar) are commonly cited interventions. Taxes on tobacco products have been highly effective in reducing use. Studies linking cost to consumption of high-sugar content beverages demonstrate a strong link between higher prices and reduced consumption.29
3. ENHANCING PATIENT ACCESS ALONG THE CONTINUUM OF CARE
The continuum of care may be defined as the array of health services, regardless of the age of the recipient, ranging from primary care (including health promotion and illness prevention), through institutionally based secondary and tertiary care for acute medical situations, to community- and home-based services that promote health maintenance and rehabilitation for people with chronic problems, and finally to palliation at the end of life.
There is a strong realization that Canada's Medicare system covers a decreasing portion of this continuum. An example of where deficits exist is mental health. The CMA's 2008 annual meeting (General Council) tackled the issue of improving access to mental health services as part of a greater effort led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The CMA is currently working toward the several resolutions that were adopted, but there are two other areas that are in urgent need of attention.
Crucial to improved care is (A) universal access to comprehensive prescription drug coverage and; (B) improving access to continuing care (long-term care, home care and palliative care/hospice).
Physicians currently spend a significant amount of time assisting patients to obtain access to necessary prescription drugs. Physicians and families are also heavily engaged in time-consuming efforts to place patients in long-term care facilities or secure assistance in the home. Improving access for Canadians in these two areas would help create a more patient-centred health care system, and enhance efficiency for providers.
CMA approved a new policy on Funding the Continuum of Care in December 2009 that identifies a number of overall principles to enhance the continuum of care:
* optimal management of the continuum of care requires that patients take an active part in developing their care and treatment plan, and in monitoring their health status
* the issue of the continuum of care must go beyond the question of financing and address questions related to the organization of the delivery of care and to the shared and joint responsibilities of individuals, communities and governments in matters of health care and promotion, prevention and rehabilitation
* support systems should be established to allow elderly and disabled Canadians to optimize their ability to live in the community
* strategies should be implemented to reduce wait times for accessing publicly funded home and community care services
* integrated service delivery systems should be created for home and community care services
* any request for expanding the public plan coverage of health services, in particular for home care services and the cost of prescription drugs, must include a comprehensive analysis of the projected cost and potential sources of financing for this expansion
A. Universal access to prescription drugs
Prescription drugs represent the fastest-growing item in the health budget, and the second-largest category of health expenditure. It is estimated that less than one-half of prescription drug costs were publicly paid for in 2008.2 Moreover, Canada does not have a nationally coordinated policy in the area of very costly drugs that are used to treat rare diseases.
The term "catastrophic" has been used by First Ministers and in the National Pharmaceutical Strategy to describe their vision of national pharmaceutical coverage. As defined by the World Health Organization, catastrophic expenditure reflects a level of out-of-pocket health expenditures so high that households have to cut down on necessities such as food and clothing and items related to children's education. From the CMA's perspective, the goal is comprehensive coverage for the whole population, pooling risk across individuals and public and private plans in various jurisdictions.
Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, should 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.
Such a program should include the following elements:
* a mandate for all Canadians to have either private or public coverage for prescription drugs
* uniform income-based ceiling (between public and private plans and across provinces/territories) on out-of-pocket expenditures on drug plan premiums and/or prescription drugs (e.g., 5% of after-tax income)
* federal/provincial/territorial cost-sharing of prescription drug expenditures above a household income ceiling, subject to capping the total federal and/or provincial/territorial contributions either by adjusting the federal/provincial/territorial sharing of reimbursement or by scaling the household income ceiling or both
* group insurance plans and administrators of employee benefit plans to pool risk above a threshold linked to group size
* a continued strong role for private supplementary insurance plans and public drug plans on a level playing field (i.e., premiums and co-payments to cover plan costs)
Furthermore the federal government should:
* establish a program for access to expensive drugs for rare diseases where those drugs have been demonstrated to be effective
* assess the options for risk pooling to cover the inclusion of expensive drugs in public and private drug plan formularies
* provide adequate financial compensation to the provincial and territorial governments that have developed, implemented and funded their own public prescription drug insurance plans
* provide comprehensive coverage of prescription drugs and immunization for all children in Canada
* mandate the CIHI and Statistics Canada to conduct a detailed study of the socio-economic profile of Canadians who have out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses, in order to assess barriers to access and to design strategies that could be built into a comprehensive prescription drug coverage program
Progress to date/Next steps
Provinces and territories have begun to establish public programs of income-based prescription drug coverage. Québec was the first, starting in 1997, and it remains the only province to mandate universal coverage - that is, citizens must have either public or private coverage. Alberta is the most recent to move in this direction, with a seven-point pharmaceutical strategy that was introduced in 2009.30
Overall, however, there is significant variation between the coverage levels of the various plans across Canada. For example, the Manitoba Pharmacare Program is based on adjusted total income (line 150 of the Income Tax return). For families with incomes above $75,000 the deductible is set at 6.08% of total family income.31 In Newfoundland and Labrador, the ceiling on drug costs is set at 10% of net family income (line 236 of the Income Tax return).32 There is wide variation in the burden of out-of-pocket expenditure on prescription drugs in Canada. In 2006 there was almost five-fold variation in the percentage of households spending more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs between PEI (10.1%) and Ontario (2.2%).33
There is some concern about access to cancer drugs, particularly those that are administered outside of hospital. The Canadian Cancer Society has recently reported that of the 12 cancer drugs approved since 2000 that are administered outside a hospital or clinic, three-quarters cost $20,000 or more annually.34 In 2009, Ontario Ombudsman André Morin issued a report critical of the Ministry of Health's decision to limit public funding of the colorectal cancer drug Avastin to 16 cycles.35 Subsequently the government announced that it would cover the cost beyond the 16 cycles if medical evidence from a physician indicates that there has been no disease progression.36
Most, if not all, key national health stakeholders (hospitals,37 pharmacists,38 nurses,39 brand name pharmaceuticals,40 life and health insurance industry41 plus the health charities) have adopted policy statements on catastrophic coverage. There seems to be an unprecedented consensus among health stakeholders on this issue.
The most likely window of opportunity to urge the federal government to take action in this area will be the renegotiation of the Health Accord that is set to expire on March 31, 2014.
B. Continuing care
Continuing care includes services to the aging and to the disabled of all ages provided by long-term care, home care and home support.42 Because continuing care services are excluded from the Canada Health Act, they are, for the most part, not provided on a first-dollar coverage basis. As this kind of care moves away from hospitals and into the home, the community or into long-term care facilities, the financial burden has shifted from governments to the general public. Furthermore, there is tremendous variation across the country in the accessibility criteria for both placement in long-term care facilities and for home care services.
According to Statistics Canada's most recent population projections, the proportion of seniors in the population (65+) is expected to almost double from its present level of 13% to between 23% and 25% by 2031.43 While the impact of an aging population on our health care system must not be overlooked, the continuing care needs of the disabled population at all ages must also be appropriately addressed.
In the 2004 Health Accord, the provinces and territories agreed to publicly fund two weeks of acute home care after hospital discharge, two weeks of acute community mental health care and end-of-life care.44 Outside of these areas, the types of services offered and funding models vary widely.
Continuing care in Canada faces three key challenges:
1. Lack of capacity and access: There is tremendous variation among regions in the levels of public funding for facility-based long-term care. Part of the reason is the lack of national standards for home care services, which results in a wide range of the types of services available, their accessibility, wait times and eligibility for funding. The widespread scarcity of long-term care facilities and home care services has had deleterious consequences: emergency departments are being used as holding stations while admitted patients wait for a bed to become available, surgeries are being postponed, and the care for Alternate Levels of Care patientsiii is compromised in areas that may not suit each patient's specific needs. Major investment is required in community and institutionally based care.
2. Lack of support for informal caregivers: Much of the burden of continuing care falls on informal (unpaid) caregivers. More than one million employed people aged 45-64 provide informal care to seniors with long-term conditions or disabilities45 and 80% of home care to seniors is provided by unpaid informal caregivers.46
3. Lack of funding for long-term care: It is impractical to expect future requirements for long-term care to be funded on the same "pay-as-you-go" basis as other health expenditures. While there is general agreement that, wherever possible, residents should contribute at least a partial payment toward the cost of accommodation at a long-term care facility, the calculation for these charges is inconsistent across the country.
Ensure that all Canadians have affordable and timely access to all elements of any continuing care they require.
The CMA recommends the following actions:
* Construction should begin immediately on additional long-term care facilities. With the senior population projected to increase to around 24% of the population by 2031, and with 3.5% of seniors currently living in these facilities, in order to simply maintain the same occupancy rates, we will need roughly 2,500 additional homes by then. The Building Canada Fund is an ideal source of initial infrastructure funding.
* The federal government should work with the provinces and territories to create national standards for continuing care provision in terms of eligibility criteria, care delivery and accommodation expenses, using the Veterans Independence Plan as a starting point.
* The federal government should make long-term care insurance premiums tax deductible, introduce a Registered Long-term Care Plan and/or consider adding a third special provision for the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) that is similar to the Lifelong Learning Plan and the Home Buyers' Plan, which will allow working adults to draw from their RRSP, without penalty, to pay for their long-term care or home care needs; and consider adding a third payroll tax for continuing care purposes.
* Governments initiate a national dialogue on the Canada Health Act in relation to the continuum of care.
* Governments should adopt a policy framework and design principles for access to publicly funded medically necessary services in the home and community setting that can become the basis of a "Canada Extended Health Services Act".
* Governments and provincial/territorial medical associations review physician remuneration for home- and community-based services.
* Governments undertake pilot studies to support informal caregivers and long-term care patients, including those that
a) explore tax credits and/or direct compensation to compensate informal caregivers for their work
b) expand relief programs for informal caregivers that provide guaranteed access to respite services in emergency situations
c) expand income and asset testing for residents requiring assisted living and long-term care
d) promote information on advance directives and representation agreements for patients
Progress to date/Next steps
Many other groups have released reports on this issue, including the Canadian Healthcare Association's 2009 reports on home care and long-term care. Among many other recommendations, both of these reports call for the introduction of national minimum standards for care and additional support for caregivers.47, 48
New Brunswick announced an ambitious long-term care strategy in early 2008 and the province has invested $167 million in long-term care facilities since 2007. There are plans to open 318 nursing home beds over the next three years, with plans to open a total of 700 in the next 10 years.49 The federal government should use New Brunswick as an example to encourage all other provinces and territories to follow suit.
In its final report released in April 2009, the Special Senate Committee on Aging made 32 recommendations; eight of them specifically address health care for seniors in terms of care provision, accommodation and affordability.50
As with improving access to prescription drugs, the most likely window of opportunity to press the federal government to take action in the area of continuing care will be the renegotiation of the 2004 Health Accord that is set to expire on March 31, 2014.
4. HELPING PROVIDERS HELP PATIENTS
The fourth pillar of health care transformation speaks to creating necessary resources to support patient-centred care. Two areas that are absolutely essential are: (A) an adequate supply of health human resources; and (B) health information technology at the level in which care is provided or point of care.
A. Health human resources
Every high-performing health system begins with a strong primary care system in place. Yet roughly 5 million Canadians do not have a regular family physician, and once Canadians do access primary care, they often face long waits to see consulting specialists, and further waits for advanced diagnostics and ultimately treatment. Part of the reason for these delays is the shortage of health care professionals in Canada.
An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study of countries with wait times shows that the availability of physicians has the strongest association with lower wait times than any other factor.51 Notably, Canada's physician supply relative to the population is far below the OECD average. Statistics indicate that in 2006 Canada had only 2.15 practising physicians per 1,000 population compared to the OECD average of 3.07.52 With the number of medical graduates similarly low in comparison to the OECD average, Canada cannot expect to make up the difference without some new sources for physicians.
Nurses and other health professionals are also in short supply, in Canada and across the globe. The Canadian Nurses Association is projecting a shortage of 60,000 full-time equivalent nurses in Canada by 2022 if no new policies are adopted,53 and Western Europe is also experiencing a significant nursing shortage. The global shortage of health professionals compounds the problem - while Canadian training programs still lack sufficient seats to produce enough new providers to meet current and future demands, Canadian-educated physicians, nurses, technicians, etc, are being lured away by ample opportunities to train and work outside of Canada.
Initiatives such as the Nursing Sector Study,54 Task Force Two,55 the 2004 Federal/Provincial/ Territorial 10-year Plan to Strengthen Health Care44 and the 2005 Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning56 have all yielded abundant information and recommendations, yet Canada still seems unable to maintain a stable supply of physicians, nurses, technicians or other health care professionals to provide the care and treatment patients need.
In its 2008 election platform, the federal government announced that it would contribute funds to the provinces and territories to create 50 new residency positions ($10 million/year for four years), ease repatriation of Canadian physicians living abroad ($5 million/year for four years) and help fund the development of nursing recruitment and retention pilot projects ($5 million over three years). On May 10, 2010, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced funding of $6.9 million for 15 additional family medicine residents in the University of Manitoba's Northern and Remote Family Medicine Program. This is a promising start.57
Collaborative care models - whereby health professionals work together with, and in the best interests of, the patient - can help address some of the gaps in health human resources. Over the past decade there have been three key trends pertinent to collaboration in health care:
* the contention/recognition that collaboration is an important element of quality patient-centred care
* the growing interest in inter-professional education among health professions
* the sustained efforts by governments to foster multidisciplinary teams by creating competitive conditions in primary care through expanding the scope of other non-physician providers
Physicians recognize the value of collaboration. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the CFPC and the CMA have all released policy documents that identified collaboration with other health professionals as a key role of the physician.58,59,60 The RCPSC has since been working to incorporate these roles and competencies in postgraduate medical training programs across Canada. In 2006, the national boards of ten health professional organizations including CMA and CFPC each ratified the principles and framework for interdisciplinary collaboration in primary health care that were developed by a consortium of staff of these organizations, sponsored by the federal Primary Health Care Transition Fund.61
In an effort to find ways to better distribute the workload and improve access to care, much attention has been turned to the role of physician extenders such as physician assistants. Physician assistants can be trained to work autonomously to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients in a partnership and with the supervision of a licensed physician.
In Canada, four programs exist to train physician assistants. The Canadian Forces Medical Services School at the Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario trains Canadian Forces members while civilian physician assistants can train at McMaster University, the University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba. After the CMA Board approved the inclusion of the physician assistant profession as a designated health science profession within the accreditation process in 2003, its Conjoint Accreditation Services accredited the Canadian Forces' Physician Assistant Program in 2004. Although this program is currently the only one accredited, the other three schools are undergoing the process.
Working smarter, Canada needs to be more systematic about innovations and adoption of health sector resources. There is no national body in Canada equivalent to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the US, or the National Health Service's Institute for Innovation and Improvement in England, that is charged with promoting innovation in the delivery of health services. In Canada, the $800-million 2000 Primary Health Care Transition Fund and its fore-runner the $150-million 1997 Health Transition Fund were intended to buy transformation in areas linked to primary care. For the most part, this resulted in short-term pilot demonstration projects that ended when the money ran out. Arguably only Ontario and Alberta have achieved lasting results through the development and proliferation of new models of primary care delivery.
Ensure Canada's health care system has an adequate supply of human resources. Addressing health human resource shortages is critical to ensuring a sustainable, accessible and patient-centred health care system. The evaluation of and long-term planning for health human resources needs to be performed by a national body using the best available evidence to support its deliberations. Based on the defined need, there are four main mechanisms to address the shortage of health human resources in the Canadian health care system. These are:
1. increase medical school and residency positions to replenish and increase our physician supply for the future
2. invest in recruitment and retention strategies for physicians, nurses and other health care workers
3. ease the process of integration into our health care workforce for international medical graduates and Canadian physicians returning from abroad
4. introduce new providers such as physician assistants to the health care workforce
Progress to date/Next steps
Immediate specific steps for increasing Canada's supply of health human resources are as follows:
1. Urge the federal government to honour the remainder of its 2008 commitment to fund residency positions, repatriation of Canadian physicians abroad and pilot projects to recruit and retain nurses.
2. Secure comprehensive funding plans for physician assistant compensation.
3. Continue to work with the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada and provincial/territorial medical associations to monitor the impact of the new labour mobility provision of the Agreement on Internal Trade on the distribution and mobility of physicians.
4. Work with provincial/territorial medical associations to carry out an inventory and assessment of the payment arrangements across Canada that foster the emergence of new practice models based on an interdisciplinary approach and the use of new information technologies.
5. Work with other stakeholders to promote the idea of a national locus for innovation in the delivery of health care.
Since it can take ten years or longer to train a new physician depending on specialty, the results of increasing medical school placements and residency positions will not be immediate. However, this plan would ultimately increase the future supply of physicians, and serve as a step toward becoming more self-sufficient in the future.
As medical education and postgraduate training extend beyond academic health science centres to the community, and as inter-professional education takes on greater emphasis, educational programs need to ensure quality training experiences. Physicians-in-training require adequate human, clinical and physical resources to train appropriately. Programs must ensure that all new teaching sites are properly equipped to take learners.
Training new providers, such as physician assistants, is a medium-term option since it takes fewer years (as few as two depending on the program) to train them. Increasing their numbers within the health workforce and permitting them to share some tasks will allow physicians to devote more one-on-one time with patients. Similarly, integrating international medical graduates and repatriating Canadian physicians currently practising outside the country could be a quicker method of increasing physician numbers than training new physicians, provided that appropriate immigration policies and licensure processes are in place.
Removing certain constrains, such as limited operating room times, and providing support for collaborative models of care would allow the health human resources currently available to optimize their ability to practise. These options could see results in the shorter term.
B. More effective adoption of health information technologies (HIT)
Over the past decade, Canada's ministers and deputy ministers of health have been developing strategies to relieve mounting pressures within the health care sector. In all of these strategies, HIT has been viewed as a foundational component. Five main reasons for implementing HIT have been identified: improved health outcomes (patient safety, wait time reduction), increased accessibility, better integration of health care "silos," cost efficiencies and improved patient-provider satisfaction.
Multi-billion dollar investments made in Canada on HIT, however, have not yet resulted in significant benefits to providers or patients. In large measure this is due to the fact that all jurisdictions have taken a top-down approach to their HIT strategies and focused their investment on large-scale HIT systems and architecture, with very little investment being made at the points of care where the actual benefits of HIT will be realized.
The majority of health care occurs at the local level. Some 400 million patient encounters take place in Canada each year with most occurring in primary care settings with physicians, clinical teams, in home care and long-term care facilities.62 Patient-physician office interactions outnumber patient-hospital interactions by a ratio of 18 to 1. In Ontario (Diagram 1), just 3,000 out of an average of 247,000 patient visits per day - or 1.2% - are made in hospitals.
Diagram 1. Patient visits per day in Ontario (Canada Health Infoway)
Compared to a select group of other industrialized countries, Canada ranks last in terms of "health information practice capacity" (i.e., the use of EMRs in primary care practice). According to the most recent Commonwealth Fund study (Figure 1) conducted in 2009, only 37% of Canadian primary care physicians use some form of EMR. That compares to 99% in the Netherlands, 97% in New Zealand, 96% in the UK and 95% in Australia. 63
We need to move from a top-down approach to one that gives all providers, and in particular physicians, the lead role in determining how best to use HIT to improve care, improve safety, improve access and help alleviate our growing health human resource issue. HIT adoption needs to be accelerated, but in a way that focuses on the individual patient and where he or she interacts with the health care delivery system, with the intent of improving quality of care and patient safety. An important priority must be a clear, target-driven plan that meets the needs of Canadian physicians and their patients.
The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations will develop a five-year plan with clear targets for accelerating the adoption of HIT in Canada. This includes working with governments to accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing by 2012.
Progress to date/Next steps
In February 2009, the federal government announced a $500 million investment in HIT, with specific focus on EMRs and point of care integration, as part of their Economic Stimulus package. Transfer of these funds to Canada Health Infoway was delayed due to concerns over accountability and lack of progress on the electronic health record (EHR) agenda on the part of Infoway and most jurisdictions. The Office of the Auditor General's report on Infoway, and six provincial audits on jurisdictional EHR progress addressed these concerns and the funds were finally transferred in spring 2010.
CMA is working to ensure that the bulk of this investment is allocated to physician EMRs, as well as local interoperability solutions and applied research on EMR use and patient tools. How to achieve this goal will be described in detail in the CMA's upcoming five-year strategy for HIT investment in Canada, a plan to connect the delivery points at the front lines of care.
Provincially, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia have established EMR funding programs and are the most likely to meet targets and realize the value of HIT. The addition of $500 million federal stimulus funding to this environment will allow the remaining provinces and territories to implement similar programs.
The key will be to focus HIT efforts and investment directly at the point of care. The CMA five-year HIT plan takes a grassroots, bottom-up approach and identifies ways to quickly implement local and regional solutions that will deliver short-term, tangible benefits without building un-scalable, expensive point-to-point solutions.
The five-year HIT plan in and of itself is not the goal of this undertaking. The key to effectiveness lies in ensuring any HIT plan sets clear benchmarks and targets for reporting progress and demonstrating value of accelerated HIT adoption in terms of patient care - access, quality and safety.
The CMA five-year HIT strategy will set out clear targets and metrics for benchmarking progress and demonstrating value. Tracking and reporting on progress against these targets would occur over the following three to five years, with a final report card to be released at the end of this period.
5. BUILDING ACCOUNTABILITY/RESPONSIBILITY AT ALL LEVELS
Two key issues confronting the Canadian health care system are (A) the lack of accountability for system quality of care and performance, and (B) the lack of stewardship for the integrity of the public health insurance program and its long-term financial sustainability.
A. Need for system accountability
The past decade has seen growing demand for accountability for performance and outcomes at all levels of the health care system, which has been impossible to deliver due to a lack of direction, resources or accountability. As a result, Canada's ability to report publicly on the performance of the Canadian health care system has been piecemeal at best. A main stumbling block is the federal/provincial/territorial dynamic, with provinces and territories being primarily responsible for health care.
In 2000, First Ministers made a commitment to develop common indicators to report to their citizens and in 2003 they set out some 40 indicators in the areas of timely access, quality, sustainability and health status and wellness. Subsequently, the Health Council of Canada was set up to monitor the 2003 Health Accord, but since 2004 only the federal government has honoured its commitment to produce indicators, and Québec and Alberta do not participate on the Health Council. The December 2008 report of the federal Auditor General criticized Health Canada for a lack of interpretation in its report and on the limited number of indicators specific to the First Nations and Inuit Health, for which Health Canada is responsible.64
Some national organizations and private organizations are reporting on health system performance at the macro level. CIHI has been producing annual wait time reports in the past years. Think tanks that have also reported on health system performance include: the Commonwealth Fund, the Conference Board of Canada (which has ranked Canada as a middle-of-the-pack performer) and the Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index, which has ranked Canada 30th out of 30 countries in terms of value for money spent on health care in both 2008 and 2009 (the US was not included).7 The Wait Time Alliance65 has produced five report cards on wait times, assessing national and provincial/territorial performance on access to elective care. The CMA has been releasing an annual report card as part of the General Council meetings for the past nine years.
At the provincial/territorial level, reporting on health system performance varies widely. All provinces and territories have been reporting wait times, albeit in varying degrees and quality, for some elective surgical care. Several provinces have quality health councils which are producing reports on the quality of care being received. The Ontario Health Quality Council has released several reports on the performance of Ontario's health system, reporting on nine attributes of a high-performing health system.66 Many of these reports call for the need to accelerate the adoption of electronic health records to acquire better data and properly assess health system performance.
Ontario has been a leader in health care reporting within Canada. Since the early 1990s, the Ontario Cardiac Care Network has been the gold standard for the comparison of cardiac centres on the basis of wait time and crude and risk adjusted mortality and length of stay data.67 In 1997, a research team at the University of Toronto, funded by the Ontario Hospital Association, began developing a hospital report that focused on key areas of hospital activity including patient perceptions of hospitals.68
In 2007, CIHI released Canada-wide Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratios (HSMR) for the first time. The HSMR is the ratio of actual (observed) deaths to expected deaths, and is adjusted for several factors that affect in-hospital mortality.69
Most recently, the Saskatchewan Health Quality Council issued its first Quality Insight report which reports at the health region (and, in some cases, hospital) level on 121 indicators in the areas of chronic diseases (asthma, diabetes, post heart attack), drug management and patient experience.70
The quest to improve quality of care is a dominant issue in European health systems. The UK, Denmark and the Netherlands have all implemented mechanisms to monitor the performance of their health system. Accountability and monitoring instruments in place in these three countries include: ratings of hospitals, ratings of doctors and system performance reports. In addition, the UK has organizations devoted to monitoring and improving the quality of its health care system.
Public reporting on health system performance enjoys high public acceptability. This was the finding of CMA's consultation process for its health care transformation project. Seventy percent of the public surveyed by Ipsos Reid supported independent reviews of hospitals on quality and performance.
National Health Goals were developed by the Government of Canada and approved in a broad consensus by all of the provinces and territories in 2005.71 While there was universal acceptance of these goals at the time, there has been limited action on developing a framework and indicators for monitoring achievements. Comprehensive approaches to population health require coordinated action across governments, supported by a common vision, such as national health goals. The CMA strongly supports the advancement of the National Health Goals agenda and believes that public reporting of supporting indicators reflecting the determinants of health as well as health services and outcomes are an important component of improving the health status of Canadians.72
Improve the accountability of the Canadian health care system by reporting publicly on the performance of the system including outcomes. What is needed is a systemic approach to public reporting that shifts the focus from "blame and shame" to quality improvement.
Progress to date/Next steps
Based on the foregoing, the most likely opportunity for advancing the idea of increased public reporting in the short term will be to work with existing national and provincial/territorial organizations involved in acquiring and analyzing data related to health system performance. At the federal level, the renegotiation of the Health Accord in the lead-up to March 31, 2014 is the best opportunity to see a heightened commitment to improve public reporting at a coordinated federal-provincial-territorial level.
Provincially, Québec's recent budget devoted considerable attention to the issue of system accountability. That government announced the annual publication of health accounts to improve transparency and public awareness on health care spending. The accounts, released with the budget, list health and social services spending and revenues. It also includes a breakdown of health sector resources including the number of physicians and nurses and hospitalization days.
B. Need for system stewardship
To ensure accountability and responsibility, it will be necessary to establish an arm's-length, independent body to monitor, in a transparent manner, the medium to longer-term prospects of the comparability and financing of health care programs for Canada and the provinces and territories.
Since its establishment, Canada's national Medicare program has been a funding partnership between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. Since the mid-1990s, this partnership has been beset by problems, due in part to the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces/territories to administer health programs and to the federal government's unilateral cut to cash transfers of some $6 billion with the implementation of the Canada Health and Social Transfer in 1996.
Three broad concerns have been expressed:
1. Lack of accountability of the provincial/territorial governments for use of health transfer funds: at the provincial level, the reports of both the Ménard (2005)73 and Castonguay (2008)21 commissions in Québec called for the establishment of a health account which would provide accountability for how revenues collected for health are used and to inform the public about issues such as financial sustainability of health programs.
2. Canada is a "patchwork quilt" in terms of the continuum of care: there is increasing concern about the wide variation in the level of services provided across the country. The Canada Health Act program criteria only apply to hospital and medical services, and those represent just 41% of total health spending. There is roughly a further 25% of health spending that is public but there is wide variability across jurisdictions with respect to coverage of broader continuum care, such as home care and prescription drugs. For example, Statistics Canada estimates that there was almost five-fold variation in the proportion of households spending more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs in 2006, ranging from 2.2% in Ontario to 10.1% in PEI.33
3. Canada may not be able to sustain Medicare on a "pay-as-you-go" basis: in 1998 the Auditor General of Canada published a report on the implications of the aging population which projected that government spending on health as a share of GDP could as much as double from its 1996 level of 6.4% to 12.5% by 2031 if it increased at an annual rate of 2% real growth.8
In 1998 the Auditor General recommended that the government produce long range financial projections on the basis of status quo policies and alternatives that would be presented to Parliament. In its response, the government indicated that it would continue its fiscal planning on the basis of setting and meeting short-run targets.
Clearly we need to be able to look beyond year-over-year budgeting and reporting.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has recently published a report on Canada's emerging "structural deficit" that estimated this shortfall will reach a level of $19 billion in 2013-14.74 The Parliamentary Budget Officer's mandate does not extend to the provincial/territorial governments.
While a number of agencies and organizations are doing work related to long-term system sustainability, each is constrained in some manner from carrying out the forward looking cross-jurisdictional analyses that are required.
Establish an arm's-length mechanism to monitor the financing of health care programs for the federal and provincial/territorial levels, to assess the comparability of coverage across jurisdictions, to assess value for money and to make recommendations to governments on the sustainability of the current Medicare program and mechanisms to fund additional programs that cover the continuum of care.
Progress to date/Next steps
At the federal level, the renegotiation of the Health Accord in the lead-up to March 31, 2014 is the best opportunity to see if such a concept could be acceptable at the federal/provincial/territorial level.
The CMA met with federal and provincial auditors general on March 16, 2010 to discuss system accountability and sustainability. The auditors general were very interested in this issue and some anticipate examining the matter in the coming months.
PART 4: AN ACTION PLAN FOR 2010-2014
With the CMA's ambitious triple aim of improving the health of the population at large, patients' health care experience and value for money spent, the transformation of health care will inevitably be a multi-year and multi-pronged initiative.
The first priority has been the release of this document, with its emphasis on adopting a Charter for Patient-centred Care. The final goal is to ensure that the First Ministers' Agreement in 2014 addresses longer-term fundamental issues, such as providing appropriate access to comprehensive pharmaceuticals and continuing care for all Canadians, and implementing a proper accountability framework.
As a multi-year initiative, the CMA will pursue the actions described under the health care transformation directions between now and 2013, in time for the negotiation of the next potential Health Accord expected to take effect after the current 2004 agreement expires.
As previously mentioned, the directions listed do not represent an exhaustive list. Rather, they are intended to serve as a foundation for change that will build momentum for health care transformation leading to better care.
It will be important to demonstrate tangible results - early wins - so that the public, health care providers and system funders can sense the move toward a more patient-focused system and become energized to implement subsequent actions.
Summary timeline of key health care transformation deliverables
Release of Framework and Charter for Patient-centred Care
IT: Federal support for EMRs
Partial Activity-Based Funding
Health human resources - new funding models (physician assistants)
Comprehensive pharmacare/long-term care
PART 5: CONCLUSION
The policy directions contained in this document, while fundamental, do not represent the entire array of possible choices. This document focuses on the "what" of health care transformation. The "how to" of implementation will require considerable further work, tailored to the needs and circumstances of the various jurisdictions and their populations.
Some of the directions in this document are meant to be carried out by government, some by providers, and some by patients. Many, but not all, of the ideas set out in this document will require additional investment by governments. It will not be possible to implement all of these policy directions at the same time. Much of what is outlined here will be put in place at the provincial/territorial level and will be phased in as each jurisdiction deems fit. Provinces and territories must be encouraged to share the lessons they learn as changes are made so that other jurisdictions can build on their successes. Provision must be made for evaluation and mid-course correction to ensure that the proposed directions achieve their intended objectives.
The CMA, our partner provincial/territorial medical associations and the physicians of Canada are committed to inspiring change, for the benefit of the patients we serve and in the interests of our members. The aspirations embodied in this document will foster transformation that allows us to accomplish our goals as physicians - to serve the public, provide for our patients' health needs optimally, and to make our health care system more effective, accountable and sustainable now and for the generations to come.
APPENDIX A - HEALTH CARE FUNDING AND THE SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE
The ability to pay for health care, which is in competition with all the other legitimate uses for public funds, and the ability to maintain a health workforce are both central to the concept of sustainability. While there is ample evidence that health spending continues to outpace other areas of public expenditure and the growth of government revenue, there is no consensus that we need to act on it. The section notes the necessity of raising funds from private sources if there is no political appetite or public support for increasing public revenues for health.
Other key points in this section:
* Appropriate investments in health care result in improved health, which reduces health care demand in the future by decreasing the burden of illness in the population. Better health and the resultant improved productivity of the population pays economic dividends for the country.
* Given our changing population demographics, governments in Canada will face challenges finding new revenue streams to fund appropriate initiatives such as long-term care, home care or enhanced pharmaceutical coverage over the next two decades.
* A large unfunded liability will be created as a consequence of the need to address our growing, aging population that is increasingly burdened with multiple chronic illnesses. Only recently have a few jurisdictions recognized the unfairness of saddling this economic burden on future generations.
* Overall health spending is consuming a rising proportion of total government program spending. It also is rising faster than the growth in our GDP, so our ability to pay for health care is increasingly in question. Other important societal programs will be increasingly jeopardized in order to pay for health care programs.
* Methods to manage the gap between current levels of expenditure and what will be required to maintain and respond to future health care demands include, a) reducing services and therefore reducing expenditures, b) raising taxes and c) developing new sources of revenue (such as patient co-payments, population health premiums and private insurance).
* Our system and culture relies on the principle of collective risk-pooling so as to lessen individual burden. To sustain health care for current and future Canadians and to expand the basket of required coverage, given our changing demographic reality, creative approaches to managing and funding our health system are necessary.
The ability to pay for health care is increasingly in question. The challenge of sustaining our health care system is what makes it imperative to move forward now with health care transformation. Sustainability in health care may be defined as the ability to deliver universal publicly funded health care services without compromising other government programs or the ability of future generations to pay. In 2001 the Honourable Roy Romanow was tasked by the federal government to study and make recommendations in order to "ensure over the long-term the sustainability of a universally accessible, publicly funded health system." The Romanow Commission put forward 47 recommendations in 2002 with a view to "buying change".75 Similarly, the Kirby Commission in its review of the Canadian health care system recommended an additional $5 billion of federal funding per year to restructure and renew Medicare.17 These reports were followed by additional federal funding in the amounts of $34.8 billion and $41.3 billion in the 200376 and 200444 First Ministers' Accords respectively. Eight years later it is evident that, for the most part, these Accords bought time, not change.
The directions set out in Part 3 of this report rest on two critical assumptions with respect to sustainability. The first is that there is a business case for quality. That is to say, investments in quality today will pay off in improved health that, in turn, will reduce health care demand and expenditures down the road. The resultant improved productivity from the reduction of illness in the population will generate economic dividends for the country.
A second assumption is that timely and appropriate interventions will relieve access bottlenecks currently generating unproductive costs. A study conducted for the CMA in 2008 makes the case: it estimated the cost of excess waiting for four procedures at almost $15 billion.77 Hence, the introduction of activity-based funding for hospitals might not reduce hospital costs in total, but if it increases throughput and timely access there will be offsets in improved quality of life and productivity of the population. Clearly, the gains resulting from these assumptions will not be realized in the short term.
All the numbers on sustainability, including the projections by Desautels and Page (highlighted in Part 1), assume the status quo in terms of publicly funded programs. But the current system is hardly sustainable on a quality of care basis, particularly given the demographic changes that will see fewer working-age Canadians supporting more and more elderly citizens weighed down by drug costs and the need, over time, for nursing home care. Given our changing population demographics, governments in Canada cannot avoid the challenge of finding new revenue streams to fund appropriate initiatives, such as long-term care, home care or enhanced pharmaceutical coverage over the next two decades.
Since the 1990s, there have been repeated recommendations for expanded public coverage of prescription drugs and home care. Health ministers have estimated it would cost $5 billion for governments to provide "catastrophic" pharmaceutical coverage, meaning no household has to spend more than 5% of net income on prescription drugs.78 In contrast, there has been no national policy discussion about the funding of long-term care. Alberta made an exploratory move in this direction in 2005 when it commissioned Aon Consulting to develop health insurance models for continuing care.79 Aon estimated that in order to pre-fund projected costs to 2050, a flat dollar charge of $779 per capita, indexed at 4% per year, would be required for all Albertans aged 16 or over.80 Similarly, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that long-term care accounted for 1.2% GDP in Canada in 2005 and that, at a minimum, the burden will double to 2.4% by 2050.81 A significant amount of this share will almost certainly be publicly funded.
Canada will soon have to grapple with how to finance a more comprehensive - and expensive - system of health and continuing care. This, in turn, raises issues about intergenerational equity, that is to say the fairness with which the costs of the system are distributed between generations. If these escalating costs are not addressed now, future generations will be unfairly, and possibly untenably, saddled with the burden flowing from today's growing elderly population.
Academics have developed a technique called generational accounting to measure this effect.82 Hagist has applied generational accounting to estimate the revenue gap for health expenditures in six countries. The revenue gap is the percentage increase in taxes that would have to be applied immediately for both living and future generations to bring current fiscal policy on a sustainable track. The same study also estimated a delayed revenue gap, which is the percentage increase that will be required if increases are postponed until 2050. The results for the six countries are shown in Table 1.
[SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY OF TABLE INFORMATION]
Estimates of current and delayed revenue gap for health expenditures
Selected countries (% increase)
Delayed Revenue Gap
Source: Hagist, C. Demography and Social Health Insurance. Baden-Baden:Nomos, 2008.
As one can see, significant immediate increases in revenues are required in all six countries and much more drastic increases will be required if action is delayed. Klumpes and Tang have also applied generational accounting to the funding of the UK National Health Service. They found that under the base assumption of a 2% real interest rate, future tax payers will need to contribute about ten-fold what 2005 new tax payers did.83 In Canada, Robson has applied similar methods to estimate the "unfunded liability" that will result from an aging population. He estimates that between 2007 and 2050, provincial and territorial health budgets will experience an aggregate liability of almost $1.9 trillion if things continue along as they are.84
Total health spending in Canada reached an historic high of 11.9% of GDP in 2009. While this reflects, in part, the effect of the recession in lowering GDP, health spending grew by 5.5% in nominal terms and 3.3% in real terms over 2008. Table 2 shows the average percentage increases in health and total program spending from 1999 to 2008 and the most recent experience of the provinces and territories as presented in their 2010-11 budgets.
Health and Program Spending 1999-2008 and
Selected Indicators 2010 Provincial Territorial Budgets
Province / Territory
1999-2008 Average Annual % Increase in Health Spendinga
1999-2008 Average Annual % Increase in Program Spendinga
Health as % Program Spending 2010-11
% Increase in Health Spending 2010-11 over 2009-10
% Increase in Program Spending 2010-11 over 2009-10
% Increase in Revenue 2010-11 over 2009-10
Data sources available upon request
a Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
b Note the budget also contains an estimate that health is 45% of program spending in 2010-11
c Total health spending by function is estimated at 42.1% of all government spending
The evidence is incontrovertible that health spending has continuously outpaced other areas of public expenditure. All provinces are expecting further health spending increases in 2010-11 - ranging from 3.7% in Québec to 16.6% in Alberta. In eight out of ten provinces, increases in health spending exceed increases in both total program spending and provincial/territorial revenue. As a percentage of program spending, health stands near or just over 45% in six provinces.
Aside from Québec (which is discussed below), few measures have been taken to address the problem. It may well require a province or territory to exceed the psychological barrier of 50% to incite a concerted response. This is suggested by a February 2010 poll done for CMA by Ipsos Reid in which respondents were also asked to estimate the actual, appropriate and maximum proportions of their provincial/territorial budget that are or should be devoted to health. The averages estimated by the public are as follows:
* actual current percentage - 38%
* appropriate percentage - 47%
* maximum percentage - 52%.
The prospect of going beyond the 50% threshold of the share of government program spending on health might be likened to the proverbial "crossing the Rubicon," which means following a course of action on which there is no turning back. To follow the 50%+ trajectory under the current parameters of Medicare, taxes will surely have to increase, either through general taxation or a dedicated health premium or some variant thereof. Another option that would still pool risk would be the establishment of a contributory social insurance fund.
If, however, there is no political appetite or public support for increasing public revenues for health on the basis of universality and risk pooling then we will be faced with options for raising funds from private sources. These could include co-payments for publicly insured services, private insurance or out-of-pocket payment for uninsured/deinsured services, and deductibles linked to utilization.
Québec has been the first among the provinces and territories to acknowledge that the current approach to funding health care is neither sustainable in the long term nor fair to future generations - and to announce measures to address the problem. It has taken three major task forces over the past decade to get to this point. In 2001 the Clair Commission recommended a capitalized (pre-funded) insurance plan to cover loss of autonomy.85 Clair also put forward the idea of the creation of a provincial health insurance corporation apart from the Health Ministry. In 2005 the Ménard Committee again recommended the establishment of an insurance scheme for persons experiencing loss of autonomy, as well as the creation of a health and social services account that would provide transparency and accountability for the sources and uses of funds.73 In 2008 the Castonguay Task Force recommended a dedicated "health stabilization fund" that would be funded in part by a deductible linked to medical visits that would be collected at year-end through the income tax system. Castonguay also recommended a health account.21
In response to these studies, the 2010-11 Québec budget contained the following measures:
* starting July 1, 2010 a health contribution (premium) will be introduced, to be collected through the tax system; starting at $25 per adult, this will increase to $200 by 2012 at which time it is expected to raise $945 million
* further study of the introduction of a health deductible as proposed by Castonguay
* the introduction of an annual health account86
Other jurisdictions will also need to give consideration to options for at least partially pre-funding future health care expenditures.
The findings of the February 2010 survey conducted for CMA by Ipsos Reid suggest that Canadians would prefer an option that would assure that funds raised would be dedicated to health care over an option that would simply add additional funds to the consolidated revenue account (Figure 2).
In considering such options, however, one must be mindful of the current experience with existing mechanisms that are available to Canadians to accumulate savings. According to Canada Revenue Agency Statistics for the 2007 tax year, one in four (26.4%) Canadians with a taxable return reported making a RRSP contribution.87 The likelihood of making RRSP contributions was strongly correlated with income - 15% or fewer with those with incomes less than $25,000 reported one, rising to greater then 60% among those with incomes of $80,000 or greater. There may be greater uptake with the Tax-free Savings Account (TFSA) that was introduced in 2009. A poll done by Ipsos Reid in June 2009 found that 21% of households had opened a TFSA.88 No research has been done on the salience of saving for future health needs as compared to RRSPs and TFSAs.
The CMA's 2006 discussion paper It's About Access: Informing the Debate on Public and Private Health Care provides a comprehensive overview and discussion of the international application and pros and cons of a range of public and private funding options.
It also sets out ten policy principles to guide policy decision-making related to the public-private interface. In brief, these are:
1. Timely Access 6. Quality
2. Equity 7. Professional Responsibility
3. Choice 8. Transparency
4. Comprehensiveness 9. Accountability
5. Clinical Autonomy 10. Efficiency89
We believe that these principles will serve to guide a national debate.
i Derived as the .7023 public share of the estimate of 11.9% of GDP going to total health expenditure.
ii The CMA's 2007 policy statement 'It's still about access! Medicare Plus' sets out comprehensive recommendations for the public-private interface in the delivery and funding of health care.
iii Patients who remain in hospital while waiting for placement in long-term care facilities or for home care arrangements to be made.
1 Department of Justice Canada. Canada Health Act (R.S., 1985, c. C-6). www.laws.justice.gc.ca/PDF/Statute/C/C-6.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
2 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2009. Ottawa, 2009.
3 Bowlby G. Studies in "non-standard" employment in Canada. www.wiego.org/reports/statistics/nov-2008/bowlby_presentation_2008.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
4 Conference Board of Canada. How Canada performs 2009: A report card on Canada. www.conferenceboard.ca/HCP/Details/Health.aspx. Accessed 06/27/2010.
5 World Health Organization. World health report 2000. Health systems: Improving performance. Geneva, 2000.
6 Commonwealth Fund. Mirror, mirror on the wall. How the performance of the U.S. health care system compares internationally. 2010 update.
7 Eriksson D, Björnberg A. Euro-Canada Health Consumer Index 2009. Winnipeg: Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 2009.
8 Auditor General of Canada. April 1998 Report. Chapter 6 population aging and information for Parliament: understanding the choices. www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_199804_06_e_9312.html. Accessed 01/26/10.
9 Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report. February 18, 2020. www2.parl.gc.ca/sites/pbo-dpb/documents/FSR_2010.pdf. Accessed 04/27/10.
10 Stone S. A Retrospective Evaluation of the Planetree Patient-Centred Model of Care on Inpatient Quality Outcomes. Health Environments Research and Design Journal. 2008;1(4):55-69.
11 Dagnone T. For patients' sake. www.health.gov.sk.ca/patient-first-commissioners-report. Accessed 06/28/2010.
12 Minister's Advisory Committee on Health. A foundation for Alberta's health system. www.health.alberta.ca/documents/MACH-Final-Report-2010-01-20.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
13 Department of Health. The NHS Constitution. www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_113645.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
14 Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare. Australian charter of healthcare rights. www.health.gov.au/internet/safety/publishing.nsf/content/com-pubs_ACHR-roles/$file/17537-charter.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
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16 Canadian Medical Association, College of Family Physicians of Canada. The wait starts here. The Primary Care Wait Time Partnership. 2 Dec 2009. www.cfpc.ca/.../PCWTP%20FINAL%20-%20FINAL%20ENGLISH%20(DEC%202009).pdf
17 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians - the federal role. Volume six: Recommendations for reform. Ottawa, 2002.
18 British Columbia Ministry of Health Services. B.C. launches patient-focused funding provincewide. News release April 12, 2010. www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2009-2013/2010HSERV0020-000403.pdf. Accessed 06/28/2010.
19 Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Patient-based payment for hospitals. Backgrounder May 3,2010. www.health.gov.on.ca/en/news/release/2010/may/bg_20100503.pdf.Accesed 06/06/2010
20 Duckett S. "Thinking Economically in the health Sector". Presented to the Economics Society of Northern Alberta. 13 Nov 2009.
21 Task Force on the Funding of the Health System. Getting our money's worth. Québec: Gouvernement du Québec, 2008.
22 Donabedian A.Evaluating the quality of medical care. Milbank Quarterly 1966; 44:166-203.
23 Pink GH, Brown AD, Studer ML, Reiter KL, Leatt P. Pay-for-Performance in publicly financed healthcare: Some international experience and considerations for Canada. Healthcare Papers 2006; 6(4):8-26.
24 PIN is a Manitoba Health and Healthy Living primary care renewal initiative that focuses on fee-for-service (FFS) physician groups. Its goal is to facilitate systemic improvements in the delivery of primary care. See: www.gov.mb.ca/health/phc/pin/index.html
25 Alberta Medical Association President's Letter September 16, 2009. See: www.albertadoctors.org/bcm/ama/ama-website.nsf/AllDoc/4C2E247349659BD58725763300532A11/$File/preslet_sept16_09.pdf
26 British Columbia Medical Association. Full service family practice incentive program: frequently asked questions. Vancouver, 2006.
27 Hall B. Health incentives: the science and art of motivating healthy behaviours. Benefits Quarterly 2008; 24(2):12-22.
28 Schmidt H. Bonuses as incentives and rewards for healthy responsibility: A good thing? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 2008; 33: 198-220.
29 Andreyeva T, Long M, Brownell K. The impact of food prices on consumption: a systematic review of research on the price elasticity of demand for food. Am J Public Health. 2010 Feb; 100(2):216-22.
30 Alberta Health and Wellness. Alberta Pharmaceutical Strategy. www.health.alberta.ca/documents/Pharmaceutical-Strategy-2009.pdf Accessed 11/02/09.
31 Manitoba Health. Manitoba Pharmacare Program. www.gov.mb.ca/health/pharmacare/index.html Accessed 11/02/09.
32 Newfoundland and Labrador Health and Community Services. Enhancements to program make drugs more affordable. April 23, 2007. www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2007/health/0423n01.htm Accessed 11/02/09.
33 Statistics Canada. CANSIM Table 109-5012 Household spending on prescription drugs as a percentage of after-tax income, Canada and provinces. 2008.
34 Canadian Cancer Society. Cancer drug access for Canadians. Toronto, 2009.
35 Marin A. A vast injustice. Toronto, 2009.
36 Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Ontario expands access to cancer drug. News release November 29, 2009. www.health.gov.on.ca/en/news/release/2009/nov/nr_20091129.pdf. Accessed 06/06/2010.
37 Canadian Healthcare Association. Catastrophic pharmaceutical coverage. Ottawa, 2006.
38 Canadian Pharmacists Association. Catastrophic drug coverage - CphA position statement. Ottawa, 2008.
39 Canadian Nurses Association. CNA Presentation to House of Commons Standing Committee on Health Study on Prescription Drugs. September, 2003.
40 Canada's Research Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D). Catastrophic drug coverage. Ottawa, 2006.
41 Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. Towards a sustainable, accessible, quality public health care system. Ottawa, 2009.
42 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Development of National Indicators and a Reporting System for Continuing Care (Long Term Care Facilities). Ottawa, 2000.
43 Statistics Canada. Population projections: Canada, the province and territories, 2009 to 2036. The Daily, Wednesday, May 26, 2010.
44 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. A 10-year plan to strengthen health care. Available from: scics.gc.ca/cinfo04/800042005_e.pdf Accessed 06/07/2010.
45 Pyper W. Balancing career and care. Perspectives on Labour and Income 2006;7(11):5-15.
46 National Advisory Council on Aging. 1999 and beyond: Challenges of an aging Canadian society. Ottawa, 1999. dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/H88-3-28-1999E.pdf. Accessed 02/29/2010.
47 Canadian Healthcare Association. Home Care in Canada: From the margins to the mainstream. Available from: www.cha.ca/documents/Home_Care_in_Canada_From_the_Margins_to_the_Mainstream_web.pdf. Accessed 06/04/2010
48 Canadian Healthcare Association. New Directions for Facility-Based Long Term Care. Available from: www.cha.ca/documents/CHA_LTC_9-22-09_eng.pdf. Accessed 06/04/2010.
49 Smith L. There is nothing for nothing any longer, especially for seniors. The Daily Gleaner. 21 Oct 2009. Available from: dailygleaner.canadaeast.com/rss/article/830881. Accessed 11/10/2009.
50 Special Senate Committee on Aging. Is Canada ready for an aging population? Senate Special Committee on Aging Identifies Serious Gaps for Older Canadians in Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity. Available from:
www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/agei-e/subsite-e/Aging_Report_Home-e.htm. Accessed 06/07/2010
51 Siciliani L, Hurst J. Explaining waiting times for elective surgery across OECD countries. OECD Health Working Papers No 7. Paris, 2003.
52 OECD Health Data 2009, June 2009.
53 Canadian Nurses Association. Tested solutions for eliminating Canada's registered nursing shortage. Ottawa, 2009
54 Nursing Sector Study Corporation (May 2006). Building the Future: An integrated strategy for nursing human resources in Canada, retrieved from www.cna-aiic.ca/CNA/documents/pdf/publications/Phase_II_Final_Report_e.pdf. Accessed 06/09/09.
55 Task Force Two. A physician human resource strategy for Canada: final report. Ottawa, 2006
56 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Advisory Committee on Health Delivery and Human Resources (2005, revised 2007). Framework for Collaborative Pan-Canadian Health Human Resources Planning, retrieved from www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/hhr/2007-frame-cadre/2007-frame-cadre-eng.pdf. Accessed 06/04/2010
57 Health Canada. Government of Canada announces funding to support 15 new family medicine positions for Canada's north. News release. May 10, 2009. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/_2010/2010_72-eng.php. Accessed 06/29/2010.
58 Frank J (ed.) The CanMEDS 2005 Physician Competency Framework. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada;
59 College of Family Physicians of Canada. Four principles of family medicine. www.cfpc.ca/English/cfpc/about%20us/principles/default.asp?s=1. Accessed 06/07/2010
60 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Policy on Scopes of Practice. Ottawa, 2001.
61 Enhancing Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Primary Health Care. The principles and framework for interdisciplinary collaboration in primary health care. www.eicp.ca/en/principles/march/EICP-Principles-and-Framework-March.pdf. Accessed 04/28/10.
62 Sources: CIHI Reports for Physician visits: Physicians in Canada: Fee-for-Service Utilization 2005-2006. Table 1-21. Hospital contacts: Trends in Acute Inpatient Hospitalizations and Day surgery Visits in Canada 1995-1996 to 2005-2006 and National Ambulatory Care Reporting System: Visit Disposition by Triage Level for All Emergency Visits - 2005-2006.
63 Schoen C, Osborn R, Doty MM, Squires D, Peugh J, Applebaum S. A survey of primary care physicians in eleven countries, 2009: Perspectives on care, costs and experiences. Health Affairs 2009; 28(6):1179-83.
64 Auditor General of Canada. 2008 December report of the Auditor General of Canada. Chapter 8 - reporting on health indicators - Health Canada. www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_200812_08_e.pdf. Accessed 06/27/2010.
69 Canadian Institute for Health Information. HSMR: A New Approach for Measuring Hospital Mortality Trends in Canada. secure.cihi.ca/cihiweb/products/HSMR_hospital_mortality_trends_in_canada.pdf. Accessed 06/09/09.
70 Saskatchewan Health Quality Council. Quality Insight, 2008. www.hqc.sk.ca/download.jsp?oLYnotVGsC60FgKBEcq12DBIzBf0QfLQkUwK4QBZaJtXhmSAKqZibA==. Accessed 06/07/10
71 Public Health Agency of Canada. Health goals for Canada. www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hgc-osc/pdf/goals-e.pdf. Accessed 06/20/2010.
72 Canadian Medical Association. National Health Goals for Canada: A Review of Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities for the Canadian Medical Association. Ottawa 2010
73 Comité de travail sur la pérennité du système de santé et des services sociaux du Québec. Pour sortir de l'impasse : la solidarité entre nos générations. Québec : Ministère de la santé et des services sociaux du Québec, 2005.
74 Parliamentary Budget Officer. Estimating potential GDP and the government's structural budget balance. www2.parl.gc.ca/Sites/PBO-DPB/documents/Potential_CABB_EN.pdf. Accessed 01/26/10.
75 Romanow, R. Building on values: the future of health care in Canada. Ottawa: Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada, 2002.
76 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. 2003 First Ministers' Accord on Health Care Renewal. February 5, 2003. www.scics.gc.ca/pdf/800039001_e.pdf. Accessed 04/27/10.
77 The Centre for Spatial Economics. The economic cost of wait times in Canada 2008. www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/pdf/2008/EconomicReport.pdf Accessed 07/06/2010.
78 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. National Pharmaceutical Strategy decision points. http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo08/860556005_e.html. Accessed 04/27/10.
79 Aon Consulting. Health benefit design options for Alberta Health & Wellness: Executive summary 29 March 2006. http://www.health.alberta.ca/documents/Options-Aon-2006-summary.pdf. Accessed 04/27/10.
80 Aon Consulting. Continuing care. http://www.health.alberta.ca/documents/Options-Aon-2006-Care.pdf. Accessed 04/27/10.
81 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Projecting OECD health and long-term care expenditures: what are the main drivers? Economics Department Working Papers No. 477. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/57/7/36085940.pdf. Accessed 04/28/10
82 Auerbach A., Gokhale J., Kotlikoff L. Generational accounts: a meaningful alternative to deficit acccounting. Tax Policy and the Economy 5. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press and the NBER, 1991.
83 Klumpes P, Tang L. The cost incidence of the UK's National Health Service system. Geneva Papers 2008;33:744-67.
84 Robson W. Boomer bulge: dealing with the stress of demographic change on government budgets in Canada. www.cdhowe.org/pdf/ebrief_71.pdf. Accessed 04/28/10.
85 Commission d'étude sur les services de santé et les services sociaux. Emerging solutions : report and recommendations. Québec : Gouvernement du Québec, 2001.
86 Finances Québec. For a more efficient and better funded health-care system. www.budget.finances.gouv.qc.ca/Budget/2010-2011/en/documents/MoreEfficient.pdf. Accessed 04/27/10.
87 Canada Revenue Agency. Income Statistics 2009 - 2007 tax year. Interim Table 2 - Universe data. www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/stts/gb07/pst/ntrm/pdf/table2-eng.pdf. Accessed 04/28/10.
88 Ipsos Reid. Canadians embracing tax-free savings accounts. October 20, 2009. www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=4557. Accessed 04/28/10.
89 Canadian Medical Association. It's about access: informing the debate on public and private health care. Ottawa, 2006.
HEALTH IN ALL POLICIES
Despite significant investments in health and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada have not been moving in the right direction. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continue to rise. This negative health status can undermine not only individual health but the productivity and prosperity of the country as well.1 As noted in the Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies, "Good health enhances quality of life, improves workforce productivity, increases the capacity for learning, strengthens families and communities, supports sustainable habitats and environments, and contributes to security, poverty reduction and social inclusion."2
Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.3 Many studies show that people low on the socio-economic scale are likely to carry a higher burden of just about any disease.4 Poverty accounts for 24% of person years of life lost in Canada (second only to 30% for neoplasms).5 These numbers demonstrate a need to rethink the way we work to improve the health of the Canadian population. While a strong health care system is vital, changes to our health system alone will not be sufficient to improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
Using health determinants as a focus means that most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the health and medical care service.6 Canadians must be supported to make the choices that keep them healthy and reduce their risks of injury and disease. However, many face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which make these healthy choices difficult. What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. As noted by the former Minister of Health and Welfare, Jake Epp, "it is not an overstatement to say that public policy has the power to provide people with the opportunities for health, as well as to deny them such opportunities... All policies having a direct bearing on health need to be coordinated."7
Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada. Not only will it help to reduce costs to the health system, it will also increase economic growth as healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.8 As laid out in the principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, "Coordinated investments in health promotion and disease and injury prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system.9"
The utilization of such an approach is not new. Governments from England to Finland to New Zealand have increasingly recognized the importance of the social determinants of health and have developed national strategies accordingly. These strategies, often referred to as 'health in all policies,' call for a whole of government approach where cross-departmental collaboration is established at the highest government level to increase the health of the population and reduce inequalities.10 The World Health Organization defines health in all policies as follows:
Health in all Policies (HiAP) is an approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health and health systems implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts, in order to improve population health and health equity. A HiAP approach is founded on health-related rights and obligations. It emphasizes the consequences of public policies on health determinants, and aims to improve the accountability of policy-makers for health impacts at all levels of policy-making.11
This approach looks at all policies that have a health impact not just those in the health sector. Policies are reviewed for their potential impact on population health and health system utilization.12
There are many ways that a HiAP approach can be implemented. Examples include:
inter-ministerial and inter-departmental committees; community consultations and Citizens' Juries; cross-sector action teams; partnership platforms; integrated budgets and accounting; Health Lens Analyses; cross-cutting information and evaluation systems; impact assessments; joined-up workforce development; and legislative frameworks.13
A Plan for Canada
Role of the Federal Government:
While the provinces and territories have constitutional authority for the majority of health system delivery, the federal government has a significant role in health: through system oversight, Canada Health Act; delivery to certain populations, Canada's Aboriginal peoples; as well as accountability and pan-Canadian initiatives for the various health systems. Additionally, the federal government has significant control over areas such as taxation, food security and agriculture, justice, transportation safety and income security (eg child tax benefits, Old- Age Security). All of these can have a marked impact on both individual and population health.
As a result of these responsibilities the Canadian government needs to adopt a clear mandate to focus on the health of the population. Actions must be taken to provide Canadians with the ability to make healthy choices. All legislation must be subject to a health lens to determine potential health implications so as to minimize or mitigate any negative consequences and maximize opportunities for health benefits. Given the central coordinating function of Cabinet in policy setting and delivery, this would be an ideal place to incorporate a HiAP approach.
1. CMA recommends that the federal government acknowledge the relationship of the social determinants of health on the health of the population as well as the demands of the health care system and that it implement a Health in All Policies approach for all cabinet decision-making.
While Cabinet should serve as the central decision-making body for a HiAP approach, there must be formal and sustainable structures that allow timely analysis of the health consequences of policy decisions, which appropriately engage stakeholders, and which ensure that health impacts are actually considered in policy decision-making.14
Such an approach will require some form of enabling legislation as well as benefits for departments that conduct HiAP analysis. In Quebec, for example, all policies are required to undergo a review of health impacts under Section 54 of the 2002 Quebec Public Health Act.15
In addition, it is likely that a lead agency will need to be appointed to facilitate the necessary data collection/analysis to review policies. In the Netherlands health impact assessments are the responsibility of the Department of Intersectoral Policy at the Netherlands School of Public Health.16 Since 2000, the Swedish National Public Health Institute (SNIPH) has been tasked with developing methodology in strategically important areas and with supporting the application of health assessments on the central, regional and local level.17 In England, the Public Health Observatories play a key role in providing data and analysis for health impact assessments.18
A significant barriers to HiAP in Canada is the existing data infrastructure. Hundreds of major and minor publications speak to the volume of analyses undertaken on health and health systems every year in Canada. Despite this effort, Canadian policy makers and the public do not fully understand how health system vs. non-health factors contribute to the health outcomes observed or the picture of overall health. The available data tends to focus on the health care system, sickness and the measurement of sickness related risks. What is missing is a way of organizing the data which provides greater insight for planners and greater accountability for all Canadians. This capacity will need to be developed in order to properly implement a HiAP approach.
2. CMA recommends that the federal government provide the necessary enabling environment to allow for the application of a health in all policies approach in all new policy development.
As the experiences from other countries demonstrate there is some value in selecting a few Ministries to begin the process. Once selected the Ministries should be responsible for starting the process and screening any new policies. If there is a potential health impact they would then contact the centralized resource to conduct the analysis and produce a report with potential impacts and recommendations for change. This report would go back to the originating Ministry for review and modification of the policy as necessary. Changes should be highlighted and the revised policy should be sent with the health analysis report to Cabinet for final decision-making. This will help to improve the policy and will create greater awareness among all Cabinet members of the potential health implications of various policies.
3. CMA recommends that the Federal Minister of Health work with Cabinet to select appropriate Ministries to begin the implementation of the health in all policies approach.
Role of Health Care Sector:
Government is not the only group with a role in HiAP. The health sector, including Canada's physicians can work to ensure that the policy environment promotes health. By working with governments at all levels, physicians can uses their vast knowledge and expertise to provide evidence regarding potential health implications, and promote the development of evidence-informed decision making. In addition, they can work with partners both within and outside of the health sector to advocate as necessary for policy improvements.19
4. CMA recommends that physicians and other health care providers use their knowledge and expertise to support governments in the development of evidence-informed policy which promotes the health of the population.
Investments in the health system will only go so far in improving the health of the population. Population health approaches must tackle the wider social determinants of health. To do so the government must consider health in all the policies that it develops.
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