Clinical photography is a valuable tool for physicians. Smartphones, as well as other devices supporting network connectivity, offer a convenient, efficient method to take and share images. However, due to the private nature of the information contained in clinical photographs there are concerns as to the appropriate storage, dissemination, and documentation of clinical images. Confidentiality of image data must be considered and the dissemination of these images onto servers must respect the privacy and rights of the patient. Importantly, patient information should be considered as any information deriving from a patient, and the concepts outlined therefore apply to any media that can be collected on, or transmitted with, a smart-device.
Clinical photography can aid in documenting form and function, in tracking conditions and wound healing, in planning surgical operations, and in clinical decision-making. Additionally, clinical photographs can provide physicians with a valuable tool for patient communication and education. Due to the convenience of this type of technology it is not appropriate to expect physicians to forego their use in providing their patients with the best care available.
The technology and software required for secure transfer, communication, and storage of clinical media is presently available, but many devices have non-secure storage/dissemination options enabled and lack user-control for permanently deleting digital files. In addition, data uploaded onto server systems commonly cross legal jurisdictions. Many physicians are not comfortable with the practice, citing security, privacy, and confidentiality concerns as well as uncertainty in regards to regional regulations governing this practice.1 Due to concern for patient privacy and confidentiality it is therefore incredibly important to limit the unsecure or undocumented acquisition or dissemination of clinical photographs.
To assess the current state of this topic, Heyns et al. have reviewed the accessibility and completeness of provincial and territorial medical regulatory college guidelines.2 Categories identified as vital and explored in this review included: Consent; Storage; Retention; Audit; Transmission; and Breach. While each regulatory body has addressed limited aspects of the overall issue, the authors found a general lack of available information and call for a unified document outlining pertinent instructions for conducting clinical photography using a smartphone and the electronic transmission of patient information.2
The discussion of this topic will need to be ongoing and it is important that physicians are aware of applicable regulations, both at the federal and provincial levels, and how these regulations may impact the use of personal devices. The best practices supported here aim to provide physicians and healthcare providers with an understanding of the scope and gravity of the current environment, as well as the information needed to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality is assessed and protected while physicians utilize accessible clinical photography to advance patient care. Importantly, this document only focusses on medical use (clinical, academic, and educational) of clinical photography and, while discussing many core concepts of patient privacy and confidentiality of information, should not be perceived as a complete or binding framework. Additionally, it is recommended that physicians understand the core competencies of clinical photography, which are not described here.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests that the following recommendations be implemented, as thoroughly as possible, to best align with the CMA policy on the Principles for the Protection of Patient Privacy (CMA Policy PD2018-02). These key recommendations represent a non-exhaustive set of best practices - physicians should seek additional information as needed to gain a thorough understanding and to stay current in this rapidly changing field.
* Informed consent must be obtained, preferably prior, to photography with a mobile device. This applies for each and any such encounter and the purpose made clear (i.e. clinical, research, education, publication, etc.). Patients should also be made aware that they may request a copy of a picture or for a picture to be deleted.
* A patient's consent to use electronic transmission does not relieve a physician of their duty to protect the confidentiality of patient information. Also, a patient's consent cannot override other jurisdictionally mandated security requirements.
* All patient consents (including verbal) should be documented. The acquisition and recording of patient consent for medical photography/dissemination may be held to a high standard of accountability due to the patient privacy and confidentiality issues inherent in the use of this technology. Written and signed consent is encouraged.
* Consent should be considered as necessary for any and all photography involving a patient, whether or not that patient can be directly recognized, due to the possibility of linked information and the potential for breach of privacy. The definition of non-identifiable photos must be carefully considered. Current technologies such as face recognition and pattern matching (e.g. skin markers, physical structure, etc.), especially in combination with identifying information, have the potential to create a privacy breach.
* Unsecure text and email messaging requires explicit patient consent and should not be used unless the current gold standards of security are not accessible. For a patient-initiated unsecure transmission, consent should be clarified and not assumed.
* Transmission of photos and patient information should be encrypted as per current-day gold standards (presently, end-to-end encryption (E2EE)) and use only secure servers that are subject to Canadian laws. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns or standards for servers in other jurisdictions. Generally, free internet-based communication services and public internet access are unsecure technologies and often operate on servers outside of Canadian jurisdiction.
* Efforts should be made to use the most secure transmission method possible. For data security purposes, identifying information should never be included in the image, any frame of a video, the file name, or linked messages.
* The sender should always ensure that each recipient is intended and appropriate and, if possible, receipt of transmission should be confirmed by the recipient.
* Storing images and data on a smart-device should be limited as much as possible for data protection purposes.
* Clinical photos, as well as messages or other patient-related information, should be completely segregated from the device's personal storage. This can be accomplished by using an app that creates a secure, password-protected folder on the device.
* All information stored (on internal memory or cloud) must be strongly encrypted and password protected. The security measures must be more substantial than the general password unlock feature on mobile devices.
* Efforts should be made to dissociate identifying information from images when images are exported from a secure server. Media should not be uploaded to platforms without an option for securely deleting information without consent from the patient, and only if there are no better options. Automatic back-up of photos to unsecure cloud servers should be deactivated. Further, other back-up or syncing options that could lead to unsecure server involvement should be ascertained and the risks mitigated.
4. Cloud storage should be on a Canadian and SOCII certified server. Explicit, informed consent is required otherwise due to privacy concerns for servers in other jurisdictions.
5. AUDIT & RETENTION
* It is important to create an audit trail for the purposes of transparency and medical best practice. Key information includes patient and health information, consent type and details, pertinent information regarding the photography (date, circumstance, photographer), and any other important facts such as access granted/deletion requests.
* Access to the stored information must be by the authorized physician or health care provider and for the intended purpose, as per the consent given. Records should be stored such that it is possible to print/transfer as necessary.
* Original photos should be retained and not overwritten.
* All photos and associated messages may be considered part of the patient's clinical records and should be maintained for at least 10 years or 10 years after the age of majority, whichever is longer. When possible, patient information (including photos and message histories between health professionals) should be retained and amalgamated with a patient's medical record. Provincial regulations regarding retention of clinical records may vary and other regulations may apply to other entities - e.g. 90 years from date of birth applies to records at the federal level.
* It may not be allowable to erase a picture if it is integral to a clinical decision or provincial, federal, or other applicable regulations require their retention.
* Any breach should be taken seriously and should be reviewed. All reasonable efforts must be made to prevent a breach before one occurs. A breach occurs when personal information, communication, or photos of patients are stolen, lost, or mistakenly disclosed. This includes loss or theft of one's mobile device, texting to the wrong number or emailing/messaging to the wrong person(s), or accidentally showing a clinical photo that exists in the phone's personal photo album.
* It should be noted that non-identifying information, when combined with other available information (e.g. a text message with identifiers or another image with identifiers), can lead to highly accurate re-identification.
* At present, apps downloaded to a smart-device for personal use may be capable of collecting and sharing information - the rapidly changing nature of this technology and the inherent privacy concerns requires regular attention. Use of specialized apps designed for health-information sharing that help safeguard patient information in this context is worth careful consideration.
* Having remote wipe (i.e. device reformatting) capabilities is an asset and can help contain a breach. However, inappropriate access may take place before reformatting occurs.
* If a smartphone is strongly encrypted and has no clinical photos stored locally then its loss may not be considered a breach.
* In the event of a breach any patient potentially involved must be notified as soon as possible. The CMPA, the organization/hospital, and the Provincial licensing College should also be contacted immediately. Provincial regulations regarding notification of breach may vary.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors March 2018
i Heyns M†, Steve A‡, Dumestre DO‡, Fraulin FO‡, Yeung JK‡
† University of Calgary, Canada
‡ Section of Plastic Surgery, Department of Surgery, University of Calgary, Canada
1 Chan N, Charette J, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO. Should 'smart phones' be used for patient photography? Plast Surg (Oakv). 2016;24(1):32-4.
2 Unpublished - Heyns M, Steve A, Dumestre DO, Fraulin FO, Yeung J. Canadian Guidelines on Smartphone Clinical Photography.
The Built Environment is part of the overall ecosystem of our earth. It encompasses all the buildings, spaces and products that are created, or at least significantly modified by people. It includes our homes, schools and workplaces, parks, business areas and roads. It extends overhead in the form of electric transmission lines, underground in the form of waste disposal sites and subway trains and across the country in the form of highways (Health Canada, 1997)."
The built environment affects every one of us every day, and mounting evidence suggests that it can play a significant role in our state of health and well-being. This policy statement provides the perspective of the Canadian Medical Association on how the built environment can influence health, and what all sectors in society might do to ensure that community design and development takes the health of residents into consideration.
In the 19th century, the industrial revolution attracted hordes of people into cities. Congestion, squalid living conditions, and lack of clean water, clean air, and proper sewage systems led to outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. These events, coupled with the development of the germ theory, served as a catalyst for public and professional awareness of how the built environment has direct health impacts; clean water, fresh air, uncongested living conditions, and proper housing were all recognized as constituents of good health.
During the past three decades, the 'Healthy Cities' movement has brought a renewed interest to the health implications of the built environment by focusing on disease prevention through community design. Over the years this idea has proliferated, and a body of literature has grown revealing the large scope of health risk factors that may be influenced by the built environment. The literature indicates that the following connections between the built environment and public health are possible:
o Decreased physical activity
o Increased prevalence of obesity
o Increased prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases
o Injuries and unintended fatalities
o Heat exposure. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012) (Franks, Kavage & Devlin, 2012; Health Canada 2013)
There is also mounting evidence that these factors may be compounded for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those living in poverty.
Smart Growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that became popular almost two decades ago. Though different organizations may differ slightly in their view of what smart growth means, its general aims are to build compact accessible cities that avoid urban sprawl and mitigate auto-dependence. The 'Smart Growth' movement contains tenets that research supports in creating healthy built environments such as mixed land uses, providing transportation alternatives like walking and bicycle infrastructure and public transit, and creating walkable neighbourhoods. (Smart Growth BC, 2012)(See definitions)
What the Research Is Telling Us
Canada's physical activity guidelines recommend that children from 5 to 11 should be active for at least 60 minutes a day; those 18 and over should be active for at least 150 minutes per week. (Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, 2011). Participation in regular physical activity bestows substantial health benefits; it can lengthen and improve quality of life and reduce the risk for many physical and mental health conditions. Physical activity can improve overall fitness, lower risk for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, lower risk for non-insulin dependent diabetes and the risk of overweight. (Dannenberg, Frumkin, & Jackson, 2011) Physical activity includes more than exercise and leisure time activity, it also includes active transportation such as walking to school, work or errands as part of daily living.
One of the most important determinants of physical activity is a person's neighbourhood. (Jackson & Kochtotzky) Research shows that urban sprawl, access to parks and recreation/fitness facilities, and neighbourhood walkability all may have an impact on physical activity levels (Cutts, Darby, Boone, & Brewis, 2009; Ewing, Schmid, Killingsworth, Zlot, & Raudenbush, 2003).
Individuals living in walkable neighbourhood with a mix of land uses and interconnected street networks were found to be 2-4 times more likely to achieve 30 minutes moderate physical activity a day. Urban design characteristics associated with higher physical activity rates include pedestrian-oriented street and site design, parks, trails, playgrounds and other recreational facilities within walking distance and sidewalks. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012)
A barrier to physical activity can be the perception of the lack of a safe place to be active. Safety concerns keep 1 in 5 Canadians from walking or bicycling. Urban design that encourages walking and cycling can improve perceived neighbourhood safety. (Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2011)
There are unique barriers to active modes of transportation in rural communities. Rural environments often lack pedestrian facilities and bike lanes; stores, schools, jobs, and services are sometimes located far apart from homes; and parks and recreation facilities are rare. Understanding these barriers is the first step towards finding opportunities to remove them. (Active Living Research and the Public Health Institute, 2013)
CMA' policy on Active Transportation recommends that all sectors (government, business and the public) work together, as a matter of priority, to create a culture in their communities that supports and encourages active transportation and physical activity.
Increased prevalence of obesity
Obesity has almost doubled in the past 3 decades; in 1978 the measured obesity rate was 13.8% and in 2008 the measured obesity rate was 25.4% (PHAC/CIHI, 2011). Obesity is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, which are among the leading causes of disability and death (Statistics Canada, 2008). Mental health conditions, type II diabetes, several types of cancer, among many other diseases, are also linked to obesity (Guh, Zhang, Bansback, Amarsi, Birmingham, & Anis, 2009). The combined cost of obesity and these related conditions was estimated to be $4.3 billion dollars in 2005 (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012).
There are many factors involved in this increase, but a causal indicator is the decline in physical activity among Canadians: In 2005, 47% of Canadians were reported as being 'inactive' (Human Resource and Skills Development Canada, 2006).
Urban design that encourages sedentary living habits such as work, home, school and shopping separated by distances that discourage walking, parking lots built as close as possible to final destinations not only discourage walking but encourage automobile usage. (Jackson, Kochtitzky, CDC) Less walkable, auto dependent built environments have been correlated with higher body weights and obesity. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012)
Furthermore, research indicates that the food environment that we live in, and the amount of healthy food choices we have access to, can affect the chance of becoming obese as well. For example, neighbourhoods with a high density of fast food restaurants or neighbourhoods with poor access to grocery stores (food deserts) have both been correlated with obesity (Larsen & Gilliland, 2008; Cummins & Macintyre, 2006; Frank L. D., 2009).
Increased prevalence of asthma and other respiratory diseases
In August 2008, the CMA released a report estimating that the effects of air pollution would result in 11,000 hospital admissions and 21,000 deaths Canada wide, totaling a financial cost of close to $8.1 billion dollar (Canadian Medical Association, 2008). Carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, ozone, and lead, among other toxins, are emitted into the air every day from industrial processes and car exhaust. These air-borne chemicals are associated with heart disease, cancer, acute respiratory illness, and the aggravation of other respiratory illnesses such as asthma (Frank L. D., 2009). While the built environment does not directly produce these chemicals, it has a role to play in where those chemicals are emitted, where they are concentrated, and, in the case of vehicles, how much of them are produced.
Urban sprawl has been tied to longer commute times and higher total vehicle miles traveled per person. Neighbourhood design and walkability have been identified as factors that can affect number of vehicle trips taken and transportation mode choice, and increased mixed land use has been identified as a factor that could further decrease emission rates (Newman & Kenworthy, 1989; Frank, Sallis, Conway, Chapman, Saelens, & Bachman, 2006).
Injuries and unintentional fatalities
Transport-related injuries accounted for a total of $3.7 billion dollars in healthcare costs in Canada in 2009 (SmartRisk, 2009). The majority of this financial burden was related to motor vehicle, pedestrian, and cycling accidents. Death and injuries from these types of incidents typically happen at a younger age which both
increases the years of life lost due to death or disability and the financial burden of continuing care (SmartRisk, 2009).
The built environment perhaps has the most identifiable and direct correlation to this category of impacts. Designs of auto-oriented environments that promote high traffic volume, high traffic speed, and low accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists lead to increased incidence of injuries and fatalities (Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, 2002).
Increased prevalence of illness and death related to heat exposure
The 'urban heat island effect' is a phenomenon correlated with urban environments that are primarily asphalt and concrete and lack vegetation and green space. Such environments have been estimated to have anywhere from 1oC to 12oC higher surface level temperatures in comparison to rural areas (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). This can be especially dangerous for elderly individuals in the summertime and studies have demonstrated increased mortality amongst these populations during hot summers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). This is not only an issue of building materials and the balance of green space but has to do with isolation as well: If elderly residents have poor access to public transportation they may not be able to reach air-conditioned facilities.
Noise - be it from transport, industry, neighbours, or construction - is a prominent feature of the urban environment. Prolonged exposure to environmental noise has been directly linked to physical and psychosocial health outcomes, including hypertension, high blood pressure and heart disease, hearing impairment, stress levels, and sleep. There is some evidence linking noise to reduced ability to concentrate and more aggressive behavior. (Stansfeld SA, 2003)
In general, denser neighbourhoods have higher levels of ambient noise through the concentration of more people, traffic, and activities. However, as with air pollution, noise exposure is extremely site-specific and not necessarily exclusive to walkable or auto-oriented neighbourhoods. (Frank , Kavage S, & Devlin A, 2012) Canadian noise mapping data would assist researchers in assessing how environmental noise affects health and assist communities to proactively manage noise pollution.
The research shows that certain built environment characteristics may affect specific populations such as children, the elderly, low-income populations.
Children: Overweight and obesity is an issue for Canadians nationwide, but particularly so for children. Between 1978 to 2004 there was a 70% increase in overweight and obese children aged 12-17 (Statistics Canada, 2006). Obesity in children can lead to health issues such as hypertension, glucose intolerance, and orthopedic complications (Statistics Canada, 2006). Furthermore obesity in childhood has a high likelihood of carrying over into adulthood and may result in further health problems such as diabetes and heart disease (Statistics Canada, 2006). With this in mind, environments that promote physical activity are especially important for this segment of the population. Living in mixed use communities with walkable destinations, parks and recreational facilities is related to greater physical activity. (Dannenburg, Frumkin & Jackson, 2011)
Elderly: The elderly population is generally less physically robust and more prone to chronic illnesses, which make them especially vulnerable to air pollution and heat exposure. Physical activity is an important aspect of daily life for this age group as it has been shown to reduce the negative health impacts of aging (Vogel, Brechat, Lepetre, Kaltenbach, Berthel, & Lonsdorfer, 2009). Being physically active however, requires accessible and safe streets that cater to the needs of individuals with mobility issues. Special consideration is required when constructing the built environment to ensure the needs of this growing population.
CMA's policy on Health and Health Care Principles for an Aging Population recommends that communities take the needs and potential limitations of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems or other aspects of the built environment.
Low Income Populations: Low income populations are at higher risk for chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and have a lower overall survivability for major heart attacks (Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control. , 2002; Statistics Canada, 1996-97). They are also more likely to smoke, be overweight or obese, and are less likely to be physically active (Creatore, Gozdyra, Booth, & Glazier, 2007). Many of these factors may be due to limited access to stable housing, housing location (normally close to highways or industrial zones with high pollution exposure), neighbourhood safety, and lack of access to or affordability of healthy food options.
Planning and public health combined efforts in the 19th century to improve living conditions. Today there is a need for health care practitioners, particularly those in the public health field, and community planners to work together, to share their expertise and efforts, to improve the health and well-being of Canadians. By designing communities that encourage and support healthy living - physical activity, healthy weights, access to healthy foods - we can address some of the risk factors for many chronic diseases and create supportive, active communities.
Health Care Associations can:
o Advocate for health supportive environments by increasing the public and policy makers' understanding of the impact of the built environment on health.
o Advocate for the contribution that public health professionals can make to urban planning and development to ensure that population health impacts are recognized and mitigated.
o Provide community planners with strong public health arguments and health data to support healthy communities.
Health Care Professionals can:
o Incorporate an awareness of a patient's built environment (such as housing, access to transportation and healthy foods) into treatment programs and health counseling.
o Encourage your community to adopt policies and design principles that build healthy supportive environments.
Federal, Provincial and Local Governments can:
o Integrate concepts of population health into urban planning.
o Promote multidisciplinary planning teams, including professionals in medicine, public health and community design to ensure that all stakeholders take health impacts into account.
o Incorporate health impact assessments into community planning and development initiatives in the public sector.
o Encourage the private sector to provide infrastructure and amenities in developments that promote healthy living.
The Public can:
o Learn more about the connection between the built environment and health and advocate for positive change.
o Become involved in public consultations regarding local community planning and development.
o Develop research projects at the Federal level on the impact of the built environment on health to inform and help coordinate programs and initiatives at the provincial and local levels.
o Focus on creating a standardized set of health indicators that can be uniformly applied to assess the status of a community's built environment.
o Research into the effectiveness of policy options on various communities (urban, suburban, rural).
It is important that we acknowledge how our surroundings can affect our lives and health, and work together to create positive change. The CMA is willing to work with other people and organizations to ensure that the influence of the built environment on health receives the attention that it warrants with the ultimate goal of building or re-inventing healthy communities for all Canadians.
In order of appearance
Inactive: "Respondents are classified as active, moderately active or inactive based on an index of average daily physical activity over the past 3 months. For each leisure time physical activity engaged in by the respondent, an average daily energy expenditure is calculated by multiplying the number of times the activity was performed by the average duration of the activity by the energy cost (kilocalories per kilogram of body weight per hour) of the activity. The index is calculated as the sum of the average daily energy expenditures of all activities. Respondents are classified as follows: 3.0 kcal/kg/day or more = physically active; 1.5 to 2.9 kcal/kg/day = moderately active; less than 1.5 kcal/kg/day = inactive". (Human Resource and Skills Development Canada, 2006).
Urban Sprawl: "A particular type of suburban development characterized by very low-density settlements, both residential and non-residential; dominance of movement by use of private automobiles, unlimited outward expansion of new subdivisions and leap-frog developments of these subdivisions; and segregation of land uses by activity." (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1999)
Walkability: Walkability refers to the ease with which pedestrians can move within and between environments. The literature gives varied definitions but the main variable to consider are the following: mixed land use (defined below), proximity to destinations (accessibility and convenience), pedestrian facilities (sidewalks, urban furniture etc...), street connectivity (short block lengths, availability of multiple alternate routes etc...), aesthetics (landscape, vegetation, architecture), presences of public spaces (parks, plazas, etc...), presence of traffic calming measures (lower speed limits, street narrowing, speed bumps etc...), and access to transit. (Shay, Spoon, & Khattak, 2003)
Transportation Mode Choice: Transportation mode choice refers to an individuals decision regarding how to get from one destination to another. The theory behind mode choice is complex and involves characteristics of the built environment, socio-demographic and socioeconomic variables, benefit-cost analysis, and personal preference. (Cervero, Built Environments and Mode Choice: Toward a Normative Framework, 2002)
Mixed Land Use: "Land use mix is the composition of uses within a given geographic area." (Cervero, Land Use Mixing and Suburban Mobility, 1998) The uses referred to can be restaurants, offices, studios, shops, or any variety of business, institution, natural space, or recreation site. In the literature there are various indices and equations used to measure the degree of 'mixed land use' in an area.
Urban Heat Island Effect: The urban heat island effect occurs when the sun significantly heats urban surfaces (concrete, asphalt, etc...) to significantly higher temperatures than the surroundings air (can be upwards of 27-50oC). Comparatively shaded or more moist regions (such as rural areas with lots of vegetation) stay much closer to the surrounding air temperature. This heat imbalance between urban surfaces and surrounding air causes heat to transfer from those surfaces to the air, elevated the temperature above what it normally would be. This happens both at a surface and an atmospheric level. (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2012)
Smart Growth: Smart Growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that became popular almost two decades ago. Though different organization's may differ slightly in their view of what smart growth means, it's general aims are to build compact accessible cities that avoid urban sprawl and mitigate auto-dependence. Some of the principles of this movement are as follows:
1). Incorporate mixed land uses into community designs
2). Build compact, accessible neighbourhoods close to jobs and amenities
3). Provide alternative modes of public transportation
4). Diversify housing to meet the needs of people from all socioeconomic classes
5). Maintain and protect natural open spaces
6). Build within existing communities instead of developing beyond community boundaries
7). Preserve agricultural land
8). Use new, sustainable technology in infrastructure and buildings
9). Develop community identity
10). Encourage active citizens to remain engaged in their communities
(Smart Growth BC, 2012)
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United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012, July 13). Heat Island Effect. Retrieved July 29, 2012, from United States Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/hiri/
United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2012, June 21). Heat Island Effect: Basic Information. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from United States Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/hiri/resources/pdf/BasicsCompendium.pdf
Vogel, T., Brechat, P., Lepetre, P., Kaltenbach, G., Berthel, M., & Lonsdorfer, J. (2009). Health Benefits of Physical Activity in Older Patients: A Review. The International Journal of Clinical Practice, 63(2), 303-320.
CMA CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONALISM
A compassionate physician recognizes suffering and vulnerability, seeks to understand the unique circumstances
of each patient and to alleviate the patient’s suffering, and accompanies the suffering and vulnerable patient.
An honest physician is forthright, respects the truth, and does their best to seek, preserve, and communicate
that truth sensitively and respectfully.
A humble physician acknowledges and is cautious not to overstep the limits of their knowledge and skills or the
limits of medicine, seeks advice and support from colleagues in challenging circumstances, and recognizes the
patient’s knowledge of their own circumstances.
A physician who acts with integrity demonstrates consistency in their intentions and actions and acts in a
truthful manner in accordance with professional expectations, even in the face of adversity.
A prudent physician uses clinical and moral reasoning and judgement, considers all relevant knowledge
and circumstances, and makes decisions carefully, in good conscience, and with due regard for principles of
exemplary medical care.
The CMA Code of Ethics and Professionalism articulates the ethical and professional commitments and responsibilities of the
medical profession. The Code provides standards of ethical practice to guide physicians in fulfilling their obligation to provide
the highest standard of care and to foster patient and public trust in physicians and the profession. The Code is founded on
and affirms the core values and commitments of the profession and outlines responsibilities related to contemporary medical
In this Code, ethical practice is understood as a process of active inquiry, reflection, and decision-making concerning what
a physician’s actions should be and the reasons for these actions. The Code informs ethical decision-making, especially in
situations where existing guidelines are insufficient or where values and principles are in tension. The Code is not exhaustive;
it is intended to provide standards of ethical practice that can be interpreted and applied in particular situations. The Code and
other CMA policies constitute guidelines that provide a common ethical framework for physicians in Canada.
In this Code, medical ethics concerns the virtues, values, and principles that should guide the medical profession, while
professionalism is the embodiment or enactment of responsibilities arising from those norms through standards,
competencies, and behaviours. Together, the virtues and commitments outlined in the Code are fundamental to the ethical
practice of medicine.
Physicians should aspire to uphold the virtues and commitments in the Code, and they are expected to enact the professional
responsibilities outlined in it.
Physicians should be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that govern medical practice in their jurisdictions.
Trust is the cornerstone of the patient–physician relationship and of medical professionalism. Trust is therefore
central to providing the highest standard of care and to the ethical practice of medicine. Physicians enhance
trustworthiness in the profession by striving to uphold the following interdependent virtues:
A. VIRTUES EXEMPLIFIED BY THE ETHICAL PHYSICIAN
B. FUNDAMENTAL COMMITMENTS OF THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Consider first the well-being of the patient; always act to benefit the patient and promote the good of the patient.
Provide appropriate care and management across the care continuum.
Take all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize harm to the patient; disclose to the patient if there is a
risk of harm or if harm has occurred.
Recognize the balance of potential benefits and harms associated with any medical act; act to bring about
a positive balance of benefits over harms.
Commitment to the well-being of the patient
Promote the well-being of communities and populations by striving to improve health outcomes and
access to care, reduce health inequities and disparities in care, and promote social accountability.
Commitment to justice
Practise medicine competently, safely, and with integrity; avoid any influence that could undermine
your professional integrity.
Develop and advance your professional knowledge, skills, and competencies through lifelong learning.
Commitment to professional integrity and competence
Always treat the patient with dignity and respect the equal and intrinsic worth of all persons.
Always respect the autonomy of the patient.
Never exploit the patient for personal advantage.
Never participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.
Commitment to respect for persons
Contribute to the development and innovation in medicine through clinical practice, research, teaching,
mentorship, leadership, quality improvement, administration, or advocacy on behalf of the profession or
Participate in establishing and maintaining professional standards and engage in processes that support
the institutions involved in the regulation of the profession.
Cultivate collaborative and respectful relationships with physicians and learners in all areas of medicine
and with other colleagues and partners in health care.
Commitment to professional excellence
Value personal health and wellness and strive to model self-care; take steps to optimize meaningful
co-existence of professional and personal life.
Value and promote a training and practice culture that supports and responds effectively to colleagues in
need and empowers them to seek help to improve their physical, mental, and social well-being.
Recognize and act on the understanding that physician health and wellness needs to be addressed at
individual and systemic levels, in a model of shared responsibility.
Commitment to self-care and peer support
Value and foster individual and collective inquiry and reflection to further medical science and to
facilitate ethical decision-making.
Foster curiosity and exploration to further your personal and professional development and insight; be
open to new knowledge, technologies, ways of practising, and learning from others.
Commitment to inquiry and reflection
C. PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES
The patient–physician relationship is at the heart of the practice of medicine. It is a relationship of trust that recognizes the
inherent vulnerability of the patient even as the patient is an active participant in their own care. The physician owes a duty of
loyalty to protect and further the patient’s best interests and goals of care by using the physician’s expertise, knowledge, and
prudent clinical judgment.
In the context of the patient–physician relationship:
1. Accept the patient without discrimination (such as on the basis of age, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic
characteristics, language, marital and family status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, race,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status). This does not abrogate the right of the physician to refuse to
accept a patient for legitimate reasons.
2. Having accepted professional responsibility for the patient, continue to provide services until these services are no longer
required or wanted, or until another suitable physician has assumed responsibility for the patient, or until after the
patient has been given reasonable notice that you intend to terminate the relationship.
3. Act according to your conscience and respect differences of conscience among your colleagues; however, meet your
duty of non-abandonment to the patient by always acknowledging and responding to the patient’s medical concerns and
requests whatever your moral commitments may be.
4. Inform the patient when your moral commitments may influence your recommendation concerning provision of, or
practice of any medical procedure or intervention as it pertains to the patient’s needs or requests.
5. Communicate information accurately and honestly with the patient in a manner that the patient understands and can
apply, and confirm the patient’s understanding.
6. Recommend evidence-informed treatment options; recognize that inappropriate use or overuse of treatments or
resources can lead to ineffective, and at times harmful, patient care and seek to avoid or mitigate this.
7. Limit treatment of yourself, your immediate family, or anyone with whom you have a similarly close relationship to
minor or emergency interventions and only when another physician is not readily available; there should be no fee for
8. Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person who needs emergency medical care.
9. Ensure that any research to which you contribute is evaluated both scientifically and ethically and is approved by a
research ethics board that adheres to current standards of practice. When involved in research, obtain the informed
consent of the research participant and advise prospective participants that they have the right to decline to participate
or withdraw from the study at any time, without negatively affecting their ongoing care.
10. Never participate in or condone the practice of torture or any form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedure.
Physicians and patients
11. Empower the patient to make informed decisions regarding their health by communicating with and helping the patient
(or, where appropriate, their substitute decision-maker) navigate reasonable therapeutic options to determine the best
course of action consistent with their goals of care; communicate with and help the patient assess material risks and
benefits before consenting to any treatment or intervention.
12. Respect the decisions of the competent patient to accept or reject any recommended assessment, treatment, or plan of
13. Recognize the need to balance the developing competency of minors and the role of families and caregivers in medical
decision-making for minors, while respecting a mature minor’s right to consent to treatment and manage their personal
14. Accommodate a patient with cognitive impairments to participate, as much as possible, in decisions that affect them;
in such cases, acknowledge and support the positive roles of families and caregivers in medical decision-making and
collaborate with them, where authorized by the patient’s substitute decision-maker, in discerning and making decisions
about the patient’s goals of care and best interests.
15. Respect the values and intentions of a patient deemed incompetent as they were expressed previously through advance
care planning discussions when competent, or via a substitute decision-maker.
16. When the specific intentions of an incompetent patient are unknown and in the absence of a formal mechanism for
making treatment decisions, act consistently with the patient’s discernable values and goals of care or, if these are
unknown, act in the patient’s best interests.
17. Respect the patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion from a recognized medical expert.
Physicians and the practice of medicine
Patient privacy and the duty of confidentiality
18. Fulfill your duty of confidentiality to the patient by keeping identifiable patient information confidential; collecting,
using, and disclosing only as much health information as necessary to benefit the patient; and sharing information only
to benefit the patient and within the patient’s circle of care. Exceptions include situations where the informed consent of
the patient has been obtained for disclosure or as provided for by law.
19. Provide the patient or a third party with a copy of their medical record upon the patient’s request, unless there is a
compelling reason to believe that information contained in the record will result in substantial harm to the patient or
20. Recognize and manage privacy requirements within training and practice environments and quality improvement
initiatives, in the context of secondary uses of data for health system management, and when using new technologies in
21. Avoid health care discussions, including in personal, public, or virtual conversations, that could reasonably be seen as
revealing confidential or identifying information or as being disrespectful to patients, their families, or caregivers.
Medical decision-making is ideally a deliberative process that engages the patient in shared decision-making and is informed
by the patient’s experience and values and the physician’s clinical judgment. This deliberation involves discussion with the
patient and, with consent, others central to the patient’s care (families, caregivers, other health professionals) to support
In the process of shared decision-making:
22. Recognize that conflicts of interest may arise as a result of competing roles (such as financial, clinical, research,
organizational, administrative, or leadership).
23. Enter into associations, contracts, and agreements that maintain your professional integrity, consistent with evidenceinformed
decision-making, and safeguard the interests of the patient or public.
24. Avoid, minimize, or manage and always disclose conflicts of interest that arise, or are perceived to arise, as a result of
any professional relationships or transactions in practice, education, and research; avoid using your role as a physician to
promote services (except your own) or products to the patient or public for commercial gain outside of your treatment role.
25. Take reasonable steps to ensure that the patient understands the nature and extent of your responsibility to a third party
when acting on behalf of a third party.
26. Discuss professional fees for non-insured services with the patient and consider their ability to pay in determining fees.
27. When conducting research, inform potential research participants about anything that may give rise to a conflict of
interest, especially the source of funding and any compensation or benefits.
28. Be aware of and promote health and wellness services, and other resources, available to you and colleagues in need.
29. Seek help from colleagues and appropriate medical care from qualified professionals for personal and professional
problems that might adversely affect your health and your services to patients.
30. Cultivate training and practice environments that provide physical and psychological safety and encourage help-seeking
31. Treat your colleagues with dignity and as persons worthy of respect. Colleagues include all learners, health care partners,
and members of the health care team.
32. Engage in respectful communications in all media.
33. Take responsibility for promoting civility, and confronting incivility, within and beyond the profession. Avoid impugning
the reputation of colleagues for personal motives; however, report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional
conduct by colleagues.
34. Assume responsibility for your personal actions and behaviours and espouse behaviours that contribute to a positive
training and practice culture.
35. Promote and enable formal and informal mentorship and leadership opportunities across all levels of training, practice,
and health system delivery.
36. Support interdisciplinary team-based practices; foster team collaboration and a shared accountability for patient care.
Physicians and self
Physicians and colleagues
Managing and minimizing conflicts of interest
38. Recognize that social determinants of health, the environment, and other fundamental considerations that extend
beyond medical practice and health systems are important factors that affect the health of the patient and of
39. Support the profession’s responsibility to act in matters relating to public and population health, health education,
environmental determinants of health, legislation affecting public and population health, and judicial testimony.
40. Support the profession’s responsibility to promote equitable access to health care resources and to promote resource
41. Provide opinions consistent with the current and widely accepted views of the profession when interpreting scientific
knowledge to the public; clearly indicate when you present an opinion that is contrary to the accepted views of the
42. Contribute, where appropriate, to the development of a more cohesive and integrated health system through interprofessional
collaboration and, when possible, collaborative models of care.
43. Commit to collaborative and respectful relationships with Indigenous patients and communities through efforts
to understand and implement the recommendations relevant to health care made in the report of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
44. Contribute, individually and in collaboration with others, to improving health care services and delivery to address
systemic issues that affect the health of the patient and of populations, with particular attention to disadvantaged,
vulnerable, or underserved communities.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
37. Commit to ensuring the quality of medical services offered to patients and society through the establishment and
maintenance of professional standards.
Physicians and society
The CMA’s stance on intervention and judicial advocacy is to bring an evidence-based perspective to assist in relation to the decision-making of issues at hand.
CMA’s strategic plan and guiding principles opens the possibility that there may be circumstances when legal advocacy, and in particular judicial advocacy, may be leveraged strategically and proactively as a further tool in CMA’s advocacy toolbox to bring a non-partisan, evidence-based perspective to the courtroom that would further the organization’s vision for “a vibrant professional and a healthy population”.
Purpose and Scope of Policy
Given CMA 2020, and informed by knowledge of past experiences, the purpose of this policy is to provide guidelines to assist with decision making as to whether CMA should use legal action, as part of its advocacy toolbox, to move CMA’s work forward on a cause or issue.
Cases Deemed Appropriate for CMA Judicial Advocacy – General Principles
1. Stage and Venue of Proceedings
a) Generally, CMA will only engage in a proposed case at an appellate level or in the highest forum in which a matter is likely to be finally decided.
b) Exceptionally, the CMA may engage in a proposed case at a lower court or a court of first instance where:
i) circumstances justify engagement, such as an invitation from the court or where physicians’ expertise is necessary to create a trial record that supports the CMA’s policy position(s) or provides added relevant information that is not otherwise being provided or would highlight a critical issue that requires attention or would attract the attention of relevant parties.
c) Exceptionally, CMA may leverage international fora (e.g., United Nations treaty bodies) where involvement could help advance a specific cause or issue being championed by the CMA.
2. CMA’s Role in Proceedings
With some rare exceptions , , the CMA will only assume the role of intervener in a proposed case. The CMA will intervene where the CMA may bring a non-partisan, evidence-based analysis to an issue and where there are compelling reasons for doing so, considering the evaluation criteria contained in the Reference Guide in Appendix 1 of this policy.
3. Relevance to Existing CMA Policy
a) The CMA may engage in a proposed case where engagement would constitute a significant contribution to the consideration of the issue or issues involved and only when the position sought to be advanced is:
i. supported by and consistent with previously adopted policy of CMA; or
ii. a matter of compelling public or professional interest which the Board of Directors then adopts as CMA policy following appropriate consultation.
b) Where there is CMA policy that is clear, relevant to the proposed case and a matter of record, the policy should be cited and explained (e.g., in factum or affidavit).
c) If the CMA’s proposed stance in a case proceeding supports a position which the CMA has not previously adopted as policy, the CMA Board of Directors must adopt the position as policy before authorizing the activity.
4. Issue of National, Special and/or Unifying Significance to Profession
a) The CMA will generally only engage in a proposed case of special and unifying significance to the medical profession.
b) The CMA will not engage in a proposed case where the matter is only of local or regional concern or of a private nature with no public interest or compelling professional or public policy component.
5. Potential Case Outcome(s) and Effect(s)
Prior to engagement, the CMA must consider the potential impact(s) (both favourable and unfavourable) of the legal precedent that may set by the proposed case on members of the medical profession and patients.
6. Collaboration with Provincial/Territorial Associations, Affiliates and other Organizations
a) In the spirit of community building and collaborating with those who share our vision, the CMA welcomes opportunities to collaborate with provincial or territorial associations, affiliates and other organizations provided that these Guidelines are followed and that the other organizations
i. share positions on the issues at stake in the case that are consistent with CMA policy.
ii. can follow through on tasks, deadlines and communication needs related to collaboration.
b) While not mandatory, CMA would expect mutual assistance in funds and in kind when it collaborates with another organization (in relation to a judicial proceeding) or is asked to intervene.
7. Reputational Risk and Stakeholder Relations Implications
The CMA will consider as a general principle whether involvement in a proposed case:
a) may present the CMA with reputational risk(s) (e.g., inconsistent with mission and values, controversial, too political).
b) may impact relations with other stakeholders, including provincial/territorial medical associations, associates, affiliates and other organizations.
8. Financial and Resource Implications
The CMA will consider as a general principle the financial and resource implications of involvement in a proposed case such as the affordability of the proceeding, or competing demands for limited resources and staff availability. To the extent possible, the CMA will seek pro bono external legal assistance.
Authorization to Engage in Judicial Advocacy
CMA’s Senior Management Team will generally perform a preliminary analysis of the proposal to engage in a proposed case and may use the Reference Guide appended to these guidelines as a decision-making tool (see Appendix 1). The decision to engage in a proposed case must be ultimately authorized by the CMA Board of Directors. Once the Board has authorized the application, CMA staff will follow established internal protocol and procedures in the preparation of the required documentation according to the appended Working Draft Protocol (see Appendix 3). CMA staff will regularly provide the CMA Board with updates of the Court proceeding.
Appendix 1: Reference guide for determining if appropriate for CMA to engage in judicial advocacy on a matter, in accordance with CMA Guidelines on Judicial Advocacy
Degree to which criterion favours proposed judicial advocacy initiative
(please provide reasons for choice)
Somewhat favours Mildly favours Does not favour
Stage and venue of proceedings
Court of highest level?
If yes, mark as “strongly favours”
If yes, mark as “somewhat favours”
If not court of highest level or other appellate court, indicate jurisdiction
Relevance of matter to existing CMA policy
Is matter consistent with previously adopted policy?
Is matter of compelling public interest that may be adopted as policy?
Is matter of compelling professional interest that may be adopted as policy?
Issue of National, Special or Unifying Significance to the Profession
Does matter have impact beyond local/regional level?
Does matter have special or unifying significance for medical profession?
Collaboration or Request for Involvement
Other request for involvement?
Stakeholder relations implications
Appendix 2: Contents of Request for CMA to Intervene
1. Requests for CMA to intervene in court proceedings can arrive from multiple sources (internally – CMA Board, CMA provincial or territorial associations, affiliates, another organization, an individual member, etc.). CMA’s Legal Services Department may also monitor judicial developments and identify cases of special interest to CMA.
2. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the request for CMA to intervene in a court proceeding shall contain the following:
(i) The style or caption of the case, identification of the last court to render a decision in the case and the court in which it is proposed to intervene. A copy of the decision or order appealed from, any accompanying reasons and other relevant documentation must be attached to (or linked from) the proposal;
(ii) The date by which the proposed application for leave to intervene and factum must be filed;
(iii) The issues before the Court and potential outcomes, dissenting views and likelihood of success, including policy implications for CMA depending on the various outcomes;
(iv) The position sought to be advanced on CMA’s behalf and how this position is consistent with existing CMA policy. If there is no existing CMA policy, the request should state why CMA should adopt the policy prior to intervention;
(v) If the request relates to a local or regional matter, an explanation of how the position to be taken is not inconsistent with CMA policy and the broader interests and concerns of CMA;
(vi) Consultations undertaken, if any, on why the matter warrants CMA intervention as a compelling issue of public policy and special interest to the medical profession;
(vii) A list of other organizations that might have an interest in the intervention or co-intervening with CMA;
(viii) Disclosure of any personal or professional interest, in the matter on the part of any individual or organization participating in the decision to seek the Board of Directors’ authorization to intervene; and
(ix) Budget development.
3. Where the request to intervene arises in a case where there is no existing CMA policy on the issue, the party making the request should demonstrate the urgency and importance of adopting the policy position to be advanced.
Appendix 3: Working Draft Protocol and Procedures for Court Intervention Document
CMA staff will prepare the application documents for leave to intervene in concert with expert litigation legal counsel.
Depending on the issues before the Court, the President or Chair or the CMA Board may review the contents of the application documents for leave to intervene and the actual factum prior to filing with the Court. Alternatively, the application documents and factum will be shared as information items with the CMA President and Board after filing. The decision to obtain the President and/or Chair and/or Board approval or not prior to filing lies with the CMA CEO.
CMA staff may also consult with the President and Chair on the choice of individual filing the affidavit (called the “affiant”) on CMA’s behalf. The affiant will in most circumstances be a physician, usually at the elected level, with experience and expertise on the issues before the Court.
All CMA Departments will consult with and co-ordinate with the CMA Legal Department. For example, the content of any Communication Strategy documents (e.g. press releases, media alerts, news articles, etc.) as part of the court proceeding must be consistent with the contents of CMA’s application for leave to intervene documents and factum.
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors Dec 2018
These Guidelines constitute an implementation tool of seven recommendations and are informed by Guidelines for CMA’s Activities and Relationships with Other Parties (aka CMA’s Corporate Relationships Policy) and CMA’s Advertising and Sponsorship Policy.
These Guidelines apply to the Canadian Medical Association (and not to its subsidiaries). As these are Guidelines, exceptions may be necessary from time to time wherein staff may use their discretion and judgment.
Endorsement is an umbrella term encompassing “policy endorsement”, “sponsorship1” and “branding”.
Policy endorsement includes:
(a) CMA considering upon request, non-pecuniary public approval, which may include the use of
CMA’s name and/or logo, of an organization’s written policy, on an issue that aligns with CMA policy, where there is no immediate expectation of return; or,
(b) CMA adopting the policy of another organization as our policy; or
(c) CMA asking another organization to publicly support our policy.
(a) Criteria: For policy endorsement requests from another organization to endorse their policy2 the following criteria shall be applied:
i) we have a policy on the subject-matter and
ii) we are actively working on advancing that policy position and
iii) the organization has a follow-up action plan associated with its request.
(b) Approval: Where policy exists, approval requires a policy staff member (with portfolio responsibility) and the VP of Medical Professionalism, or the policy staff member (with portfolio responsibility) and the Chief Policy Advisor. Where no policy exists, approval of the Board of Directors is required.
(c) Annual confirmation: Where CMA adopts the policy of another organization3, CMA staff shall confirm annually, or more frequently if circumstances dictate, that the policy has not been altered by the other organization.
(d) Requests: Pursuit of personal endorsement requests are not appropriate. Wherever possible, requests should come from an organization and not an individual.
(a) Where CMA adopts the policy of another organization, the adopted policy shall become CMA policy, and will include a notation on the document as being an adopted policy of [organization].
(b) All adopted policies will be housed in an accessible searchable database.
(c) All requests by organizations for CMA to endorse their policy will be tracked in a central location, along with any response.
1 Sponsorship means, to consider upon request, pecuniary public approval, which may include the use of CMA’s name and/or logo, of an organization’s event (eg., conference), on an issue that is supported by CMA policy or that promotes CMA brand awareness, where there is an immediate expectation of return.
2 That is, part (a) of the definition in Section 2.
3 That is, part (b) of the definition in Section 2.
What do we mean by "personal information"?
Throughout this policy, we discuss "personal information," and it is important from the outset to set out what we mean by this term. "Personal information" is information that reveals a distinctive trait about yourself and helps others identify you. Some personal information such as your business address may be found in the public domain by accessing publications like telephone or professional directories. The focus of this policy is personal information collected, used and disclosed by the CMA that is NOT in the public domain.
What types of personal information does the CMA collect and use?
Primarily, the CMA collects and uses personal information about its members. CMA also has personal information about individuals who purchase CMA products and services, attend CMA sponsored events and seminars and submit manuscripts to CMA publications. The CMA assigns a personal identifier called a "CMA ID" to each member or purchaser of a CMA product or service so that you can use this number when contacting the CMA, ordering CMA products and publications or registering for the cma.ca Web site.
The CMA collects personal information directly from individuals or receives it from one of its provincial or territorial medical associations ("PTMAs") or subsidiaries, the CMA group of subsidiary companies, including our primary financial services company, MD Physician Services Inc.
-If you are a CMA member, you might have provided on an application form or will provide to the CMA or a PTMA or a CMA subsidiary, personal information like your home address, date of birth and gender. If you are both a client of one or more of CMA's financial subsidiaries and a CMA member, the fact of your client status, but not detailed financial information, will be known to CMA. A circumscribed and limited number of CMA employees, all of whom receive enhanced privacy training and sign specific undertakings, will have access to more detailed MD PS information such as frequency of meetings about your MD client status (but still not specific financial transactional details) in order to perform statistical analysis.
- If you have attended an event organized through CMA's Meetings and Travel Department, you might have provided us with credit card data as well as information about certain travel preferences and food sensitivities.
- If you have purchased a CMA product (e.g., classified advertising) or attended a CMA seminar (e.g., Physician Manager Institute), you provided us with personal contact information such as your name and address. We might also have collected credit card information if you chose to pay for the product or service by this method.
- If you have submitted a manuscript for publication in a CMA journal, you provided us with contact information, financial disclosure and competing interests data and the manuscript itself.
Why does the CMA collect and use personal information?
The CMA will collect and use only the personal information necessary to achieve the following purposes or one consistent with them:
1. to determine an individual's eligibility for membership in the CMA or to serve as a potential contributor to a CMA publication
2. to determine an individual's eligibility to benefit from the services of one of CMA's subsidiaries or its preferred third-party suppliers
3. to provide and to communicate information about CMA member benefits and services (e.g., the delivery of publications and travel reservations, financial services, advocacy, etc.)
4. to develop and to market products and services tailored to the interests of CMA members and the purchasers of CMA products and services
5. to update contact information in the CMA database
6. to assist the CMA PTMAs and CMA's subsidiaries with the maintenance of their membership and client contact information
7. to provide individuals with the opportunity to benefit from supporting the Canadian Medical Foundation which provides CMA members and others with valuable educational programs and services
8. to conduct surveys and research studies of the physician population in order to analyze for statistical and research purposes such issues as the demographics of physician human resources
9.to engage members and physicians in CMA's policy development process
10.to broadcast urgent health alerts of national significance
When and to whom does the CMA disclose personal information?
The CMA does not sell personal information. The CMA will only disclose your personal information to an organization for a purpose outlined in this policy, unless we obtain your consent for a new purpose. For example, one purpose identified above is maintaining up-to-date membership and client contact information. The CMA and its subsidiariesshare a core data field for the purposes of updating addresses and confirming membership status.
In addition to a core data field for the purposes of updating addresses and confirming membership status, CMA shares with its wholly owned subsidiary, MDPS, information about a member's participation in CMA activities and products such as Physician Manager Institute events. MDPS, as the most highly rated provider of CMA products and services, is seeking to have a better understanding and appreciation of physicians' relationship and interaction with CMA. Knowledge of an individual's participation in CMA events and activities provides this complete or "integrated" picture. If a CMA member objects, a note will be entered in the database.
If you are both a CMA member and a client of a CMA subsidiary company, when you inform us of an address change, with your permission, this information will be changed for both organizations.
The CMA might also disclose personal information to third parties or to organizations or companies that are not CMA-affiliated companies or Divisions if these organizations have contracted or partnered with the CMA to help us provide products and services or do research. For example, the CMA might out-source the mailing list function for one of its publications or work with the Canadian Post-MD Education Registry to study physician resource planning.
We may, in certain instances, contract with a third party service provider located in other countries such as the United States. Your information may be processed and stored in the United States and the United States governments, courts or law enforcement or regulatory agencies may be able to obtain disclosure of your information under a lawful order made in that country. If you would like more information about the jurisdictions in which we our service providers may operate please contact us as noted in the What if you have a question... section of this policy.
Within the CMA itself, your personal information in the form of interactions with the CMA will be shared amongst CMA departments. This will enable CMA to have a better understanding of your interests and activities such that CMA might tailor its product and service offerings to your interests. For example, if a member has completed a number of Physician Manager Institute courses, we might send him or her information about our Physician Leadership Credential Program. If a member objects to a particular disclosure of an activity, for instance a particular CME course, a note will be entered into the database
What if you object to CMA's collection, use or disclosure of personal information?
The CMA seeks to respect and honour your privacy and communication preferences. For instance, if you indicate to the CMA that you do not wish to receive certain publications, participate in surveys or receive information about new or specific benefits and services such as communications from CMA's subsidiaries, your preference will be noted and you will no longer receive correspondence from us on these issues. Please contact the CMA Member Service Centre at 888-855-2555 to make such a request.
You may also at any time, subject to restrictions required by law, object to the CMA's collection, use or disclosure of personal information. You need only provide the CMA with reasonable notice in writing of your intention and the details of your objection. For instance, if you do not wish to have contact and demographic information shared with the Canadian Medical Foundation, we will respect your choice.
Please note, however, that your objection to the disclosure of other information might mean that the CMA is unable to continue to provide you with some products or services. For example, if you object to the sharing of your CMA membership status with CMA's financial subsidiaries, then you will not be eligible to benefit from their products or services. MD Physician Services has to confirm your CMA membership status in order to offer you financial services.
It is your responsibility to contact the CMA in order to determine how an objection to the collection, use and disclosure of personal information might affect the services supplied.
How accurate is the personal information held by the CMA?
The CMA makes every reasonable effort to ensure the accuracy and currency of your personal information so that we might fulfill the purposes for which it was first collected. Your personal information is subject to change so please advise us accordingly of such changes so that we might better meet your needs.
How do you access the personal information held by the CMA?
You may send a written request to the attention of the Chief Privacy Officer at 1867 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1G 5W8or to email@example.com to obtain the personal information held about you by the CMA. Within a reasonable time frame, the CMA will then advise you in writing whether it has such personal information and the nature of this information unless there is the rare occurrence that the release of such information is legally prohibited. If the CMA cannot release the personal information, we will provide you with the reasons for denying access.
You may challenge the accuracy and completeness of the personal information that is maintained by the CMA. The CMA will amend personal information when an individual successfully demonstrates inaccuracy or incompleteness.
How secure is your personal information?
The CMA makes every reasonable effort to protect your personal information by implementing security safeguards against loss or theft, as well as unauthorized access, disclosure, copying, use or modification. The CMA uses physical, organizational and technological measures as methods of protection. For instance, only a limited number of staff have access to such sensitive information as credit card numbers. Moreover, the CMA will ensure that employees are aware of the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of personal information.
How long does the CMA retain personal information?
The CMA keeps personal information as long as it is needed to fulfill the purposes identified above. When personal information is no longer required to fulfill the identified purposes, it will be safely and securely destroyed. Moreover, the CMA will retain personal information that is the subject of an access request for as long as is necessary to allow an individual to exhaust any legal remedy that is provided for in applicable federal or provincial/territorial privacy legislation.
Industrialization and manufacturing have had enormous positive benefits for humankind, but the consequences of hazardous by-products (chemical contamination) to human health and the environment are less well recognized. A major incident such as Bhopal is an unequivocal example of catastrophic poisoning caused by industry. However, more subtle human health impacts can result from low levels of exposure to chemical and industrial by-products from agriculture, consumer products, manufacturing, and even medical sources. Chemicals from industrial sources have been found in the soil, water, air, food and human tissue. Due to improving technology, even minuscule amounts of potentially noxious substances can be detected.
Some exposures warrant remedial action, but in others the health impact may be negligible: the toxin, dose, route and duration of exposure must be considered. Of course, there are potentially toxic substances that have been found to pose little or no harm to human health, but there are many more for which the health effects are unknown. A substantial knowledge gap exists in that the effects of many chemical agents have not been fully studied. As a result, rigorous surveillance and assessment to ensure potential health impacts are reduced or avoided is necessary. Chemicals like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) can persist in the environment or in living beings long after the product was pulled from the market, making it essential that full and rigorous testing of new and existing chemicals is undertaken. Finally, research is needed to determine whether emerging issues, such as the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, pose a legitimate threat to human health.
Chemicals, properly managed, can and will continue to provide enormous benefits to society, but caution is warranted because of the potential health consequences. Provided below is a discussion of certain classes of chemicals that need to be regulated, monitored and properly researched.
Agriculture represents the largest component of the global economy. Rising pressures to meet the needs of a growing population have resulted in the mechanization of farming, and the widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides.1 Fertilizer and pesticide run-off has been found in soil, water and the human food supply.2 Approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens, are EPA registered pesticides available on the open market.3 Long-term low dose pesticide exposure has been linked to various cancers, immune suppression, hormonal disruption, reproductive abnormalities, birth defects, and developmental and behavioural problems.4 Certain pesticides are also known to be persistent in the human body.5 While many individual pesticides can be safely used, there is a lack of research on the effect of certain pesticides when used in combination.
Modern technologies have led to advances with a positive impact on the quality of human life. While newer consumer products have benefits over earlier materials, their use is not without side effects. Both the chemicals used to make these products and those that form key components of the products themselves may be harmful. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical added to many hard plastic bottles and to metal based food and beverage cans since the 1960s.6 In August 2010, Statistics Canada reported that measurable levels of BPA were found in the urine of 91 per cent of Canadians aged six to 79.7 Concerns have been raised about effects on the brain, behaviour, and prostate gland from exposure to this chemical, particularly in fetuses, infants, and children.8 In 2008, Canada banned BPA in infant bottles.9 In October 2010, Canada went a step further by becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to declare BPA toxic.10
With the growing demand for consumer products, there has been a corresponding growth in manufacturing. Manufacturing is one of the biggest contributors to outdoor air pollution, and contributes to soil and water pollution.11 In 2004, US industry released 1.8 billion pounds of potentially toxic chemicals. Exposure to some of these chemicals has been linked to severe health effects, including cancer. 12 One of the released chemicals, dioxin, can be harmful at very low levels. Dioxins accumulate in fats and break down slowly. This leads to contamination of the food supply, and human exposure through the consumption of meat, dairy, fish and shellfish.13 Even in the far north, animals have been found to contain dioxins.14 The EPA estimates that the cancer risk from dioxins already present in the general public is 1-per-1,000.15 In most cases the emissions pose minimal risk to human health. However, chemicals, and chemical combinations which remain unstudied should be properly assessed.16
Advancements in medical science and the use of pharmaceuticals, diagnostic equipment and other medical treatments have prolonged life expectancy. However, these interventions can also contribute to environmental contamination. In 2008, the Associated Press reported pharmaceuticals in the water of 24 major metropolitan areas in the United States, serving 41 million people.17 There is a concern that these pharmaceuticals could negatively impact male fertility, lead to birth defects, cause breast and testicular cancer in humans, and lead to antibiotic resistance.18 For many pharmaceuticals found in water sources, no concerted environmental impact surveys have been carried out.19
Mercury is used in fever thermometers, sphygmomanometers, gastrointestinal tubes, and oesophageal dilators20. Reports indicate that medical waste incinerators are among the largest sources of anthropogenic mercury emissions in both the United States and Canada.21 Medical waste, while not the principle source of mercury poisoning, contributes to the mercury levels present in the environment. In fetuses, infants and children, low-dose exposure to mercury can cause severe and lifelong behavioural and cognitive problems.22 At higher exposure levels, mercury may adversely affect the kidneys, the immune, neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and haematological systems of adults.23 It has also been linked to cancer.24
These examples highlight the major categories of human exposure to chemicals. As the review suggests, some of these chemicals have been linked to harmful human health impacts. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that the harm is conditional on the level and lengths of exposure. For most people, these chemicals pose no harm because the exposure is so low. In some cases, such as BPA, it has been determined that the potential harm is not worth the risk: the Canadian government has decided to declare BPA toxic and regulate it accordingly. In other cases, such as pharmaceuticals, the evidence simply warrants further study and surveillance. Given the potential harm to human health, surveillance and research are vitally important in all categories. The more information that is available to policy makers and health care professionals, the better the chance of limiting human health impacts.
What has been done?
Concerns regarding chemical contamination and human health have led to numerous interventions from the international community. These include the International Programme on Chemical Safety (1980), the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (1995), the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling (2002), and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, which was adopted by governments and stakeholders at the first International Conference on Chemicals held in Dubai in 2006. 25
Various conventions have also been passed, including the Stockholm Convention (2004) on persistent organic pollutants such as DDT, and the Rotterdam Convention (2004) which applies to pesticides and industrial chemicals.26 There is some concern about the continued effectiveness of the Rotterdam convention. In 2006, the Canadian government was instrumental in preventing the listing of asbestos as a toxic chemical. Given the persuasive evidence of the harm caused by asbestos, this action undermines the legitimacy of voluntary international conventions.27
In addition to being a signatory to all international agreements listed above, the Canadian government has programs for chemical management domestically. The main tool is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) 1999. Jointly administered by Environment Canada and Health Canada, it is intended to prevent pollution and address the potentially dangerous chemical substances to which Canadians are exposed.28 The plan calls for increased surveillance of certain chemicals to monitor exposure and health effects, and will increase focus on the management of the health and environmental risks of pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and chemical contamination in food.29
There were 23,000 chemical substances on the Domestic Substances List (DSL) in Canada in 1999. To date, only about 1,000 of these chemicals have been fully assessed. Of the remaining 22,000, 85% have been categorized as not requiring any additional action.30The most recent Canadian Chemicals Management Plan states that full assessments will be done on 550 substances identified as potentially harmful. Even with these additional assessments, more than 3,000 chemicals will not have been assessed.
Canadian Medical Association
In 2009, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association released a joint position statement on environmentally responsible activity for the health-care sector. Recommendations included the proper handling and disposal of toxic chemicals and the reduction of products using these substances. An adapted version of this position statement was then endorsed by a coalition of 12 national healthcare organizations and the David Suzuki Foundation.
In October 2010, the World Medical Association, of which CMA is a member, adopted a policy statement on environmental degradation and the management of chemicals. The statement calls for mercury-free health care, support for international efforts to restrict chemical pollution and to monitor harmful chemicals in humans and the environment, and mitigation of the health effects of toxic exposure to chemicals.
What needs to be done?
Research and Surveillance
Research on chemicals produced through man-made activities remains insufficient. While some of the more toxic chemicals have been reviewed and are now more closely regulated, thousands remain that have had neither health nor environmental assessments. The Domestic Substances List in Canada has 3,300 chemicals of concern that have not been assessed. There is limited research on the effect of these chemicals in combination or in different mediums. Finally, work must be done to ensure environmental and human surveillance of potential chemical exposure threats.
1. Urges the government to complete the health and environmental assessment of the chemicals on the Domestic Substances List.
2. Encourages research on the health impacts of chemical substances, as well as the combinations of these substances in different products (e.g. pesticides), and in different mediums (e.g. pharmaceuticals in drinking water). Long-term research programs are required to determine health impacts from prolonged low-dose exposures.
3. Encourages ongoing surveillance of chemicals in the environment.
4. Encourages ongoing research on the impact of regulations and monitoring of chemicals on human health and the environment.
Regulations have been developed both internationally and domestically to undertake chemical management. However, gaps remain, largely due to the voluntary nature of the frameworks. Canada can play a lead role by respecting its commitments, seeking continued adherence to these agreements and providing leadership in developing effective domestic programs and legislation.
5. Urges the government to continue to support international efforts to manage chemical pollution. In particular CMA urges the government to fully support the principles of the Rotterdam Convention and support the listing of Asbestos as an Annex III toxic chemical.
6. Supports government legislation and regulation which reduces dangerous chemical pollution, detects and monitors harmful chemicals in both humans and the environment, mitigates the health effects of toxic exposures, and requires an environmental and health impact assessment prior to the introduction of a new chemical. Regulatory frameworks should be favoured over voluntary frameworks in order to ensure a level playing field for all manufacturers and to secure rapid and equitable health protection for all Canadians. CMA encourages the government to advocate for similar legislation internationally.
Physicians can participate in the monitoring of patients for potential health effects from chemical exposure. Additionally, physicians can be leaders in encouraging greener health care practices. Finally, physicians can support national medical organizations in developing clinical tools to assess patient risk to chemical exposure.
7. Supports the phase out of mercury and other persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic chemicals in health care devices and products.
8. Supports the development of effective and safe systems to collect and dispose of pharmaceuticals that are not consumed.
9. Supports the development of clinical tools for physicians to help assess their patients' risk from chemical exposures.
Education and Professional Development
Physicians have a role to play in educating their patients, the public, and current and future colleagues about the potential human health consequences of chemical contamination. Medical education and continuing professional development in this area could have a significant impact on human health.
10. Should assist in building professional and public awareness of the impact of the environment and global chemical pollutants on personal health.
11. Supports the development of locally appropriate continuing medical education on the clinical signs, diagnosis and treatment of diseases that are introduced into communities as a result of chemical pollution.
12. Encourages physicians to inform patients about the importance of safe disposal of pharmaceuticals that are not consumed.
National and International initiatives have substantially reduced the incidence of harmful chemical contamination, but more work is needed. Evidence of health effects (or lack thereof) may be strong for certain chemicals, but for others it remains incomplete. Given the dangers of chemicals such as dioxin, which can cause severe effects with small doses, more comprehensive research is warranted. To ensure human health consequences are identified and risks are minimized, improved surveillance is essential.
Further policies and regulations are needed to ensure that chemicals utilized are as safe as possible. The Canadian BPA ban demonstrates the use of the precautionary principle in the presence of convincing if not complete evidence. While there are clear benefits associated with the use of chemicals, it is necessary to ensure that potential harmful effects are considered.'
Finally, public and health care provider information is sorely lacking. Physicians can play a role in correcting some of these deficiencies through their actions to support research and surveillance, advocacy, leadership, education, and professional development.
1 Ongley, Edwin D. (1996) Control of water pollution from agriculture- FAO irrigation and drainage paper 55.Chapter 1: Introduction to agricultural water pollution Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w2598e/w2598e00.HTM
2 Peters, Ruud J.B. (2006) Man-Made Chemicals in Food Products. TNO Built Environment and Geosciences. Available at: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/tno_report.pdf
3 Reuben, Suzanne H. (2010) Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now: 2008-2009 Annual Report. President's Cancer Panel. Available at: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf
4 Reuben, Suzanne H. (2010) Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk...; Shah, Binod P. & Bhupendra Devkota (2009) "Obsolete Pesticides: Their Environmental and Human Health Hazards." The Journal of Agriculture and Environment. Vol:10 June 2009. Available at: http://www.nepjol.info/index.php/AEJ/article/view/2130/1961 ; Kjellstrom, Tord et.al. (2006) Chapter 43: Air and Water Pollution: Burden and Strategies for Control in Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. Disease Control Priorities Project. Available at: http://files.dcp2.org/pdf/DCP/DCP43.pdf
5 California Environmental Protection Agency (2002) Environmental Protection Indicators for California: Chapter 3: Environmental Exposure Impacts Upon Human Health. Available at: http://oehha.ca.gov/multimedia/epic/2002reptpdf/Chapter3-7of8-HumanHealth.pdf
6 United States Food and Drug Administration (2010) Update on Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm064437.htm
7 CBC News (October 13, 2010) BPA declared toxic by Canada. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/10/13/bpa-toxic.html
8 States Food and Drug Administration (2010) Update on Bisphenol A...
9 Health Canada (2008) Government of Canada Protects Families with Bisphenol A Regulations Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/nr-cp/_2008/2008_167-eng.php
10 CBC News (October 13, 2010) BPA declared toxic by Canada...
11 Kjellstrom, Tord et.al. (2006) Chapter 43: Air and Water Pollution...
12 Cassady, Alison & Alex Fidis (2007) Toxic Pollution and Health: An Analysis of Toxic Chemicals Released in Communities across the United States. U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Available at: http://cdn.publicinterestnetwork.org/assets/KTfes5EXnCLOgG9eWTKU6g/ToxicPollutionandHealth2007.pdf
13 World Health Organization (2010) Dioxins and their effects on human health. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/index.html
14 Woolford, Julian & Noemi Cano Ed. (2006) Killing them softly...
15 Cassady, Alison & Alex Fidis (2007) Toxic Pollution and Health...
17 Natural Resources Defense Council (2010) Dosed Without Prescription: Preventing Pharmaceutical Contamination of Our Nation's Drinking Water. Available at: http://www.nrdc.org/health/files/dosed4pgr.pdf
18 Wright-Walters, Maxine & Conrad Volz (2009) Municipal Wastewater Concentrations of Pharmaceutical and Xeno-Estrogens: Wildlife and Human Health Implications. Available at: http://www.chec.pitt.edu/Exposure_concentration_of_Xenoestrogen_in_pharmaceutical_and_Municipal_Wastewater__Final8-28-07%5B1%5D.pdf; Daughton, Christian G. (N.D.) Pharmaceuticals and the Environment. Available at: www.epa.gov/osp/regions/emerpoll/daughton.ppt; Nikolaou, Anastasia; Meric, Sureyya & Despo Fatta (2007) "Occurrence patterns of pharmaceuticals in water and wastewater environments." Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 387: 1225-1234; Natural Resources Defense Council (2010) Dosed Without Prescription...
19 Daughton, Christian G. (N.D.) Pharmaceuticals and the Environment...
20 Environment Canada. (N.D.)Mercury and the Environment. Available at: http://www.ec.gc.ca/MERCURY/SM/EN/sm-mcp.cfm#MD
21 Health Care Without Harm (2007) The Global Movement for Mercury Free Health Care. Available at: http://www.noharm.org/lib/downloads/mercury/Global_Mvmt_Mercury-Free.pdf; World Health Organization (2005) Mercury in Health Care: Policy Paper. Available at: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/medicalwaste/mercurypolpaper.pdf
22 Environmental Working Group (N.D.) Chemical Pollution: The Toll on America's Health. Available at: http://www.ewg.org/files/EWG-kid-safe-toll-on-health.pdf
23 California Environmental Protection Agency (2002) Environmental Protection Indicators...
24 Reuben, Suzanne H. (2010) Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk...
25 World Health Organization (N.D.) International Programme on Chemical Safety: About us. Available at: http://www.who.int/ipcs/en/; World Health Organization (N.D.) Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals. Available at: http://www.who.int/iomc/brochure/brochure_english.pdf; United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (N.D.) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Available at: http://www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/ghs/ghs_welcome_e.html; Weinberg, Jack (2008) An NGO Guide to SAICM: The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. Available at: http://www.ipen.org/ipenweb/documents/book/saicm%20introduction%20english.pdf
26 Eskenazi, Brenda et.al. (2009) "The Pine River Statement: Human Health Consequences of DDT Use." Environmental Health Perspectives. 117:1359-1367 Available at: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Human_Health_Consequences_of_DDT_Use#gen4; World Health Organization (N.D.) Rotterdam Convention: Share Responsibility. Available at: http://www.pic.int/home.php?type=t&id=5&sid=16
27 Kazan-Allen, Laurie (2007) Rotterdam Treaty Killed by Chrysotile Asbestos! International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Available at: http://www.ibasecretariat.org/lka_rott_meet_geneva_oct_06.php
28 Government of Canada (2007) The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). Available at: http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/about-apropos/cepa-lcpe-eng.php
29 Government of Canada (2010) Chemicals Management Plan. Available at: http://www.chemicalsubstanceschimiques.gc.ca/plan/index-eng.php
Ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services is one strategy which can help to mitigate health inequities resulting from differences in the social and economic conditions of Canadians.
Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity of patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care. This necessitates consideration of not only availability of services but quality of care as well.1
There is far ranging evidence indicating that access to care is not equitable in Canada. Those with higher socio-economic status have increased access for almost every health service available, despite having a generally higher health status and therefore a decreased need for health care. This includes insured services (such as surgery), as well as un-insured services such as pharmaceuticals and long-term care.
Those from disadvantaged groups are less likely to receive appropriate health care even if access to the system is available. They are more likely to report trouble getting appointments, less testing and monitoring of chronic health conditions, and more hospitalizations for conditions that could be avoided with appropriate primary care.
There is a financial cost to this disparity in equitable care. Reducing the differences in avoidable hospitalizations alone could save the system millions of dollars.
Barriers to equitable access occur on both the patient and health care system or supply side. Common barriers include:
(see pdf for correct display of table)
Demand Side or Patient Barriers
Supply Side or System Barriers
Services not located in areas of need
Cultural beliefs and norms
Patients lack family physicians
Lack of management of chronic disease
Cost of transportation
Long waits for service
Time off work for appointments
Payment models which don't account for complexity of patients
Access to child care
Coordination between primary care and speciality care and between health care and community services
Payment for medications or other medical devices/treatments
Standardization of referral and access to specialists and social services
Immobility- due to physical disabilities, and/or mental health barriers
Lack of needs based planning to ensure that population has necessary services
Cognitive issues, ie. Dementia, that adversely affect ability to access and comply with care
Attitudes of health care workers
To tackle barriers on the patient side there is a need to reduce barriers such as transportation and the prohibitive cost of some medically necessary services. Further, there is a need to increase the health literacy of patients and their families/caregivers as well as providing support to health care providers to ensure that all patients are able to be active participants in the management of their care.
On the system side the strategies for action fall into four main categories: patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management; better care coordination and access to necessary medical services along the continuum of care; quality improvement initiatives which incorporate considerations of equity as part of their mandate; and health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care.
Recommendations are provided for CMA and national level initiatives; health care planners; and physicians in practice.
Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. By removing barriers on both the patient and system side it is hoped that greater access to appropriate care will follow.
In Canada as in many countries around the world there are major inequities in health status across the population. Those lower on the socio-economic scale face higher burdens of disease, greater disability and even shorter life expectancies.2 Many of these disparities are caused by differences in social and economic factors such as income and education known as the social determinants of health.3,1 While many of these factors are outside of the direct control of the health care system, ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services can help to mitigate some of these disparities. The alternative can also be true. In health systems where access to care and appropriateness are unequal and skewed in favour of those of higher socio-economic status, the health system itself can create further inequities and add greater burden to those already at an increased risk of poor health. Physicians as leaders in the health care system can play a role in ensuring equitable access to care for all Canadians.
Equitable Access to Health Care in Canada:
Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity for patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care. This necessitates consideration of not only availability of services but quality of care as well.4
Due to burden of disease and therefore need, those with lower socio-economic status should be utilizing more services along the continuum.5 That, however, is not the case. Individuals living in lower income neighbourhoods, younger adults and men are less likely to have primary care physicians than their counterparts.6
Primary care physicians deliver the majority of mental illness treatment and they are the main source of referrals to psychiatrists or other specialists. However, much of the care for people with mental illnesses, especially on the lower socio-economic end of the scale, is delivered in emergency rooms, which is both costly and episodic. This is due not only to a lack of primary care access but to a lack of community mental health services.7
Those with higher socio-economic status are much more likely to have access to and utilize specialist services.8 Examples include greater likelihood of catheterization and shorter waits for angiography for patients with myocardial infarction9; and greater access to in-hospital physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech language therapy for those hospitalized with acute stroke10. Low income men and women with diabetes were just as likely to visit a specialist for treatment as high income individuals despite a significantly greater need for care.11
There is a correlation between higher income and access to day surgery.12 A Toronto study found that inpatient surgery patients were of much higher income than medical inpatients.13 Additionally, utilization of diagnostic imaging services is greater among those in higher socio-economic groups.14 Access to preventive and screening programs such as pap smears and mammography are lower among disadvantaged groups.15
Geography can cause barriers to access. In general rural Canadians have higher health care needs but less access to care.16 People in northern and rural communities typically have to travel great distances to obtain health services as many, especially specialist services, cannot be obtained in their home community.17 Those living in the most rural communities in Canada are the least likely to have a regular family doctor, or to have had a specialist physician visit.18 According to data from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, 21% of the Canadian population is rural while only 9.4% of family physicians and 3% of specialists are considered rural.19 This lack of access to specialists and other medically necessary services can lead to delays in treatment and harm to health including unnecessary pain and permanent disability.20 Further, travel for necessary treatment often comes with a significant financial cost.21
It is not just access to insured services that is a problem in Canada. Many Canadians do not have access to needed pharmaceuticals. Researchers have reported that those in the lowest income groups are three times less likely to fill prescriptions, and 60% less able to get needed tests because of cost.22 The use of appropriate diabetes preventative services, medication, and blood glucose testing, has been shown to be dependent on out of pocket expenditures.23
Rehabilitation services are difficult for some Canadians to access as well. Services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy are often not covered unless they are provided in-hospital or to people on certain disability support programs. This leads to long wait times for services that are covered or no access at all.24 Adding to these inequities is the fact that different programs are covered in different provinces and territories.25
Access to mental health services is a major challenge for Canadians. According to data from Statistics Canada, more than half a million Canadians who had a perceived need for mental health care services, reported that their needs were unmet. Access to counselling services was the most frequent unmet need reported.26 A number of important mental health professionals - notably psychologists and counsellors - are not funded through provincial health budgets, or are funded only on a very limited basis. Access to psychologists is largely limited to people who can pay for them, through private insurance or out of their own pockets.27,2
Access to subsidized residential care, long-term care, home care and end-of-life care is problematic as well. Those with means can access high quality long-term care services within their community, while those with inadequate resources are placed in lower quality facilities sometimes hours away from family and friends.28 Even with expansions promised by governments, home care will not be able to meet the needs of underserved groups such as those living in rural and remote areas.29 Finally, only a fraction of patients have access to or receive palliative and end-of-life care. Those living in rural or remote areas or living with disabilities have severely limited access to formal palliative care.30
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Aboriginal peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care.31 Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems. While geography is a significant barrier for Aboriginal peoples, it is not the only one. Aboriginals living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on Aboriginal programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve.32 Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate. Finally, Canada's Aboriginal peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status.33
However, these examples are only part of the story as accessing care which is inappropriate cannot be considered equitable access.34 Those of lower socio-economic status are more likely to use inpatient services; show an increased use of family physician services once initial contact is made;35 and have consistently higher hospitalization rates; 36 This could be due to the higher burden of need or could demonstrate that the services that are received are not addressing the health care needs of those lower on the socio-economic scale.37
Women and men from low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to report difficulties making appointments with their family doctors for urgent non-emergent health problems. They were also more likely to report unmet health care needs.38 In terms of hospitalizations, people with lower socio-economic status were much more likely to be hospitalized for ambulatory care sensitive conditions (ACSC) and mental health39; admissions which could potentially be avoided with appropriate primary care.40 They were also found to have on average longer lengths of stay.41 According to a study of hospitals in the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, patients considered to be Alternate Level of Care were more likely to have a low-income profile.42
Further, people with ACSC in low-income groups, those living in rural areas, or those with multiple chronic conditions were twice as likely to report the use of emergency department services for care that could have been provided by a primary care provider.43
There is a financial cost to this disparity. According to a 2011 report, low-income residents in Saskatoon alone consume an additional $179 million in health care costs than middle income earners.44 A 2010 study by CIHI found increased costs for avoidable hospitalizations for ambulatory care sensitive conditions were $89 million for males and $71 million for females with an additional $248 million in extra costs related to excess hospitalizations for mental health reasons.45
Areas for Action:
As the background suggests, equitable access is about more than just utilization of services. There are patient characteristics as well as complex factors within the health system which determine whether equitable access is achieved. Recent work has categorized access as having considerations on the supply of services and demand of patients for care. On the demand or patient side we must consider: ability to perceive; ability to seek, ability to reach, ability to pay, and ability to engage. On the supply side or health system considerations include: approachability; acceptability, availability and accommodation, affordability, and appropriateness. 46 The following table highlights some of the current barriers to equitable access.
(See PDF for correct display of table)
Demand Side or Patient Barriers
Supply Side or System Barriers
Services not located in areas of need
Cultural beliefs and norms
Patients lack family physicians
Lack of management of chronic disease
Cost of transportation
Long waits for service
Time off work for appointments
Payment models which don't account for complexity of patients
Access to child care
Coordination between primary care and speciality care and between health care and community services
Payment for medications or other medical devices/treatments
Standardization of referral and access to specialists and social services
Immobility- due to physical disabilities, and/or mental health barriers
Lack of needs based planning to ensure that population has necessary services
Cognitive issues, ie. Dementia, that adversely affect ability to access and comply with care
Attitudes of health care workers
Patient based actions for improving equitable access:
Low health literacy can lead to difficulties for some Canadians in perceiving a need for care.47 Evidence suggests that more than half of Canadian adults (60%), lack the capacity to obtain, understand and act upon health information and services in order to make health decisions on their own.48 Many physicians are undertaking strategies to minimize this lack of health literacy among their patients. Examples include plain language resources as well as teach-back exercises which allow physicians to determine whether patients have fully understood the information provided.49 These efforts should continue to be supported.
Understanding how the health system works and where to access services can be a problem for some individuals.50 Beliefs about the need and value for certain services can also undermine the ability of patients in seeking care.51 Work needs to be done to ensure that disadvantaged groups are aware of the services that are available to them and the benefits of taking preventative steps in their health.
Low-income Canadians are ten times more likely to report unmet needs of health care due to the cost of transportation.52 Other barriers include a lack of child care, and ability to get time off work to attend necessary health appointments.53 Strategies that provide patients with transportation to appointments or subsidies for such travel have seen some success. Extended office hours and evening appointments can increase access for those unable to take time off work. Additionally, programs that provide patients with home visits from health care providers can help to eliminate this barrier. Further support and expansion of these programs should be explored.
There is also the inability to pay for services not covered by provincial plans such as pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services.54 According to a 2005 report on diabetes in Canada, affordability and access to medical supplies was the biggest challenge for those Canadians living with diabetes.55 Access to services such as mental health counselling, subsidized residential care, and long-term care are also hindered by the inability to pay.
Even if patients are able to obtain care they may not be able to fully engage. Language difficulties, low health literacy, cognitive challenges (ie. Dementia), cultural mores and norms, and discrimination or insensitivity of health care workers, may all act as barriers to full participation in care.56 Efforts should be made to develop teaching methods to improve engagement of patients and their families/caregivers from disadvantaged groups.57 Strategies to remove or minimize the barriers created by a lack of health literacy should be developed and shared with physicians and other health care providers. Further, programs which facilitate access to services including interpretation and translation of key health information should be supported.58
Finally, an understanding of a patient's cultural and social context is important. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada have developed training modules for physicians who will be working with Canada's Aboriginal peoples.59 Similar programs have been developed by the Canadian Paediatric Society, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. More of this training is needed and should focus on groups who are likely to experience disadvantage in health care access and appropriateness.
Recommendations for action:
CMA and National Level Initiatives
The CMA recommends that:
1. Governments develop a national strategy for improving the health literacy of Canadians which takes into account the special needs of different cultures.
2. Governments provide accessible and affordable transportation options for patients requiring medical services when such services are unavailable locally.
3. Governments, in consultation with the life and health insurance industry and the public, establish a program of comprehensive prescription drug coverage to be administered through reimbursement of provincial/territorial and private prescription drug plans to ensure that all Canadians have access to medically necessary drug therapies.
4. Governments examine methods to ensure that low-income and other disadvantaged Canadians have greater access to needed medical interventions such as rehabilitation services, mental health, home care, and end-of-life care.
5. Governments explore options to provide funding for long-term care services for all Canadians.
6. Governments ensure that necessary interpretation and translation services are provided at all points of care.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that
7. Physicians be supported in addressing the health literacy of their patients and their families/caregivers.
8. Physician education programs continue to emphasize the important cultural and social contexts in which their patients live.
System based actions for improving equitable access:
On the system side there are two main areas that need to be addressed: making sure that people can access the services that they need (approachability, availability and accommodation, and affordability); and ensuring that once they have accessed the system that services are appropriate for their health needs (acceptability and appropriateness). Strategies for action include: patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management; better care coordination and greater access to necessary medical services along the continuum; quality improvement initiatives which incorporate equity as part of their mandate; and health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care.
1. Patient-centred primary care which focuses on chronic disease management and which includes programs to increase access to those most at need.
Comprehensive primary care offers the biggest possibility for increasing equitable access and reducing health disparities. Data from a large population study in Ontario indicates that inequities in access to primary care and appropriate chronic disease management are much larger than inequities in the treatment of acute conditions.60
Currently many primary care services are located outside of the neighbourhoods with the greatest need for care. While some are accessible through public transportation, there is still a need for more convenient access for these communities. Community health centres (CHC) offer a good model for addressing this challenge through location in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the provision of culturally appropriate care.61 Additionally, CHCs offer a number of different health, and sometimes social services, under one roof making access to many different types of care more convenient for patients.
More work needs to be done to to reduce barriers in access to Canadians living in rural and remote communities. Telemedicine is one strategy that has increased access for rural Canadians. The Ontario Telemedicine Network is one example of this innovative approach. Patients in rural communities can have access to specialists in urban centres through their local health providers. Examples include cardiac rehab follow-up, tele-homecare to support lifestyle changes, and psychiatric or mental health consultations.62
Programs which encourage recruitment and training of health professionals from rural and disadvantaged populations have been found to increase access as these individuals are more likely to return to their home communities to practice.63
Medical schools have been attempting to increase the diversity in their schools for a number of years. However, work still needs to be done. Data from the 2012 student component of the National Physician Survey shows that 278 of the 2000 students who responded to the survey (13.9%) come from families considered to be in the top 1% of earners in Canada. This is compared to only 46 (2.3%) of students whose family incomes place them in the bottom quintile of earners. 64
One of the suggested strategies for increasing diversity in medical schools is increasing the knowledge about the medical profession among rural and disadvantaged young people. An innovative program in Alberta called Mini Docs allows children between the ages of six and 12 to learn about being a doctor and how to stay healthy. The children get to wear medical scrubs for the day and use harmless medical tools such as stethoscopes and bandages. The day long program is run by medical students.65
Strategies to remove financial barriers to access, such as scholarships, should be expanded. Further, there is a need to modify the admissions process to recognize the differences in access to programs such as MCAT preps and overseas volunteer experiences based on the availability of financial resources as well as the necessity of employment for some students while in medical school. This necessary employment may limit the time available for volunteer and community service.66
Another strategy that can be effective in increasing access is programs that seek to link primary care providers with unattached and underserved patients. Programs such as Health Care Connect in Ontario and the GP and Me program in British Columbia actively seek to link sometimes hard to serve patients to appropriate primary care.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada has developed a blueprint for comprehensive primary care for Canadians. The concept, a 'patient's medical home' seeks to link Canadians with a comprehensive health care team led by a family physician. These medical homes will take many forms but will be designed to increase both access and the patient-centredness of care.67
Another barrier to access is timeliness of service. Many patients are forced to use walk in clinics or emergency departments as they cannot receive the required care from their primary care providers. Use of walk-in clinics or emergency departments for primary care may lead to lost opportunities for prevention and health promotion.68 Advanced access programs can help to improve equitable access to care by facilitating timely appointments for all patients.69 The AIM (Access improvement measures) program in Alberta uses a system designed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to redesign practice to focus on same day appointments and elimination of unnecessary delays.70
Primary care which prioritizes chronic disease management offers the greatest potential for increasing appropriateness of care and reducing system costs. Those most likely to have chronic diseases are also those who face the biggest barriers to equitable access.71 Currently many people with ACSC do not receive the appropriate tests to monitor their conditions, management of their medications, or supports to self-manage their disease.72 Some programs do exist to encourage more effective management of chronic disease. The Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ontario has developed a cardiovascular disease prevention network to improve care through the use of evidence based practices and better integration between all areas of the health care continuum.73 Primary Care networks in Alberta have similar goals designed to connect multiple physicians, clinics and regions together to support the health needs of the population.74
Further work is necessary to expand these types of programs and to provide appropriate compensation models for complex patients. Payment models in some jurisdictions undermine access by failing to take morbidity and co-morbidity into consideration in designing rates such as equal capitation.75
Finally, there is a need to encourage greater self-management of disease. Practice support programs in British Columbia are providing training to support physicians in increasing patient self-management and health literacy.76 Additional programs of this nature are necessary in all jurisdictions.
2. Better care coordination and greater access to necessary medical services along the continuum of care.
Patient-centred care which integrates care across the continuum and which includes community services will be necessary to ensure not only greater access but greater acceptability of care.77 Innovative programs focused on increasing the coordination in terms of transition from hospital to home have shown some success in preventing readmissions particularly when vulnerable populations are targeted.78 Health Links in Ontario aims to reduce costs, based on the assumption that much of the utilization of high cost services, such as emergency department visits, could be prevented with better coordinated care. One of the pilot sites in Guelph aims to assign one person in primary care, likely a doctor or a nurse, to be the primary contact for patients deemed high need and to intervene on behalf of these patients to ensure better care coordination.79
Further work is needed to ensure greater coordination in speciality care. As the evidence demonstrates, access to specialist services are skewed in favour of high-income patients. To reduce this inequity it may be necessary to standardize the referral process and facilitate the coordination of care from the primary care providers' perspective.80 A new program in British Columbia is designed to reduce some of these barriers by providing funding and support to rapid access programs which allow family physicians to access specialist care through a designated hotline. If no specialist is available immediately there is a commitment that the call will be returned within two hours. Specialists available through this program include cardiology, endocrinology, nephrology, psychiatry, and internal medicine among others.81 Similar programs in other jurisdictions could help to increase coordination between primary and speciality care.
Care coordination is only part of the problem, however. There is also a need to increase the access to services that are medically necessary across the care continuum. These include a lifetime prevention schedule82, diagnostic testing, specialty services, and access to appropriate rehabilitation services, mental health, long-term care and end of life care.
3. Quality improvement initiatives which incorporate considerations of equity as part of their mandate.
Equity has become a key component of many quality improvement initiatives around the world. The Health Quality Council Ontario identified nine attributes of a high-performing health system: safe, effective, patient-centred, accessible, efficient, equitable, integrated, appropriately resourced, and focused on population health.83
The POWER study, a large study of Ontario residents found that where there were targeted programs for quality improvement fewer inequities were observed. In particular they referred to the actions of Cancer Care Ontario and the Ontario Stroke Network. Both of these groups had undergone large quality improvement initiatives to standardize care and increase coordination of services through evidence-based guidelines and ongoing performance measurement. Considerations of accessibility and equity were specifically included. As a result of these efforts, the POWER study found that acute cancer and stroke care in Ontario were quite equitable.84
Similar efforts are underway in other jurisdictions. The Towards Optimized Practice initiative in Alberta supports efforts in medical offices to increase the use of clinical practice guidelines for care as well as quality improvement initiatives.85 Encouraging more health services and programs to undertake such quality improvement initiatives could help to reduce the inequities in access for all Canadians.
4. Health system planning and assessment which prioritizes equitable access to care
Considerations of equity must be built specifically into all planning considerations. Too often services are designed without adequate consideration of the specific needs of disadvantaged groups. Planners need to do a better job of understanding their practice populations and tailoring programs to those most in need of care.86 This planning should be done in consultation with other sectors that play a role in influencing the health of their practice populations.
Further, assessments of the equity and use of services is also needed. Some services may be designed in a way that is more appropriate for some than others, resulting in higher utilization among some groups and a lack of access for others.87 Innovative work is taking place in the Saskatoon Health Region to try and understand these barriers. Health care services are undergoing specific health equity assessments to ensure that all services meet the needs of diverse populations. This includes looking at the full spectrum of services from preventative care and education programs to tertiary level care such as dialysis. In Ontario, the local health integration networks (LHIN) have now been tasked with developing equity plans for their services. Clear goals and performance measurements are part of this work.88
One of the tools available to support this work is a health equity impact assessment tool developed by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This tool is intended for use by organizations within the health system as well as those outside the system who will impact on the health of Ontarians. The main focus of the tool is to reduce inequities that result from barriers in access to quality health services. Additionally, it is designed to identify unintended health impacts, both positive and negative, before a program or policy is implemented.89 Further work is needed to ensure that equity is included in the deliverables and performance management of health care organizations and provider groups across the country.90
To support these planning programs appropriate data will need to be collected. This data needs to be comprehensive for all services and needs to include specific data points which will allow planners as well as providers to understand the composition of their populations as well as measure and report on considerations of equity.91
Recommendations for action:
CMA and National Level Initiatives
The CMA recommends that:
9. Governments continue efforts to ensure that all Canadians have access to a family physician.
10. Appropriate compensation and incentive programs be established in all jurisdictions to support better management of chronic disease for all Canadians.
11. Governments provide funding and support to programs which facilitate greater integration between primary and speciality care.
12. With support from government, national medical organizations develop programs to increase standardization of care and the use of appropriate clinical practice guidelines.
13. Appropriate data collection and performance measurement systems be put in place to monitor equitable distribution of health services and greater appropriateness of care.
Health System Planners
The CMA recommends that:
14. Needs based planning be mandated for all health regions and health system planning. Equity impact assessment should be part of this planning to ensure that services meet the needs of all Canadians.
15. Chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system be prioritized in all health systems.
16. Quality improvement initiatives be mandated in all care programs. These programs should include a specific focus on standardization of care and continuous quality improvement and should include equity of access as part of their mandate.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that:
17. Physicians be supported in efforts to offer timely access in primary care settings.
18. Physicians be supported in continued efforts to include all patients in decisions about their care and management of their illnesses.
19. Physicians be supported in continued efforts to standardize care and utilize evidence based clinical practice guidelines with a particular emphasis on the management of chronic disease.
20. Physicians be encouraged and adequately supported to participate in community-based interventions that target the social determinants of health.
Despite a commitment to equal access to health care for all Canadians there are differences in access and quality of care for many groups. For those that are most vulnerable, this lack of access can serve to further exacerbate their already increased burden of illness and disease. The strategies discussed above offer some opportunities for the health sector and the medical profession to intervene and mitigate this inequity. By removing barriers on both the patient and system side it is hoped that greater access to appropriate care will follow. While these strategies offer some hope, these actions alone will not be sufficient to increase the overall health of the Canadian population. Action is still required to tackle the underlying social and economic factors which lead to the disparities in the health of Canadians.
1 This paper represents a focus on equitable access to care. For a more general policy statement on the role of physicians in addressing the social determinants of health please see: Canadian Medical Association. Health Equity and the Social Determinants of Health: A Role for the Medical Profession. Ottawa, ON; 2012. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD13-03.pdf
2 The Canadian Medical Association is currently developing a policy paper on access to mental health services in Canada. It is anticipated that this policy statement will be completed in 2014.
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75 Glazier RH. Balancing Equity Issues in Health Systems: Perspectives of Primary Healthcare. Healthcare Papers 2007; 8(Sp):35-45.
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This paper discusses the current state of the professional relationship between physicians and the health care system. A review of the concept of medical professionalism, and the tensions that can arise between the care of individual patients and a consideration of the broader needs of society, provides some basic groundwork. Our understanding of what it means to be a physician has evolved significantly over the years, and the medical profession is now being challenged to clarify the role it is willing to play in order to achieve transformation of our health care system.
We have arrived at this point due to a convergence of several factors. Regionalization of health care has led to a change in the leadership roles played by practising physicians and to the opportunities they have for meaningful input into system change. Physicians are now also less likely to be involved in hospital-based care, which has resulted in a loss of collegiality and interactions with peers. Changing models of physician engagement status and changing physician demographics have also presented new and unique issues and challenges over the past few years.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests that its physician members and other stakeholders employ a "AAA" lens to examine the challenges and opportunities currently facing Canadian physicians as they attempt to engage with the health care system: Autonomy, Advocacy and Accountability. These important concepts are all underpinned by strong physician leadership. Leadership skills are fundamentally necessary to allow physicians to be able to participate actively in conversations aimed at meaningful system transformation.
KEY CMA RECOMMENDATIONS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
Physicians should be provided with the leadership tools they need, and the support required, to enable them to participate individually and collectively in discussions on the transformation of Canada's health care system.
Physicians need to be provided with meaningful opportunities for input at all levels of decision-making, with committed and reliable partners, and must be included as valued collaborators in the decision-making process.
Physicians have to recognize and acknowledge their individual and collective obligations (as one member of the health care team and as members of a profession) and accountabilities to their patients, to their colleagues and to the health care system and society.
Physicians must be able to freely advocate when necessary on behalf of their patients in a way that respects the views of others and is likely to bring about meaningful change that will benefit their patients and the health care system.
Physicians should participate on a regular and ongoing basis in well-designed and validated quality improvement initiatives that are educational in nature and will provide them with the feedback and skills they need to optimize patient care and outcomes.
Patient care should be team based and interdisciplinary with smooth transition from one care setting to the next and funding and other models need to be in place to allow physicians and other health care providers to practise within the full scope of their professional activities.
The concept of medical professionalism, at its core, has always been defined by the nature and primacy of the individual doctor-patient relationship, and the fiduciary obligation of physicians within this relationship. The central obligation of the physician is succinctly stated in the first tenet of the CMA Code of Ethics:
Consider first the well-being of the patient.1
Since the latter half of the 20th century, however, there has been a growing emphasis on the need for physicians to also consider the collective needs of society, in addition to those of their individual patients. As stated in the CMA Code of Ethics:
Consider the well-being of society in matters affecting health.
This shift in thinking has happened for at least two reasons. First, there have been tremendous advances in medical science that now enable physicians to do much more to extend the length and quality of life of their patients, but these advances inevitably come at a cost which is ultimately borne by society as a whole. Second, since World War II, Canadian governments have been increasingly involved in the financing of health care through taxation revenues. As a result, there have been growing calls for physicians to be prudent in their use of health care resources, and to be increasingly accountable in the way these resources are employed.
The 2002 American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation Charter on Medical Professionalism calls for physician commitment to a just distribution of finite resources: "While meeting the needs of individual patients, physicians are required to provide health care that is based on the wise and cost-effective management of limited clinical resources."2 This has also been described as civic professionalism.
Lesser et al have put forward a systems view of professionalism that radiates out from the patient-physician relationship to broader interactions with members of the health care team, the training environment and to the external environment, dealing with payers and regulators and also addressing the socio-economic determinants of health.3 Understandably, given that the resources available for health care are finite, tensions will arise between the care of individual patients and the collective needs of society, and these tensions can at times be very difficult to resolve for individual medical practitioners.
As stated in the CMA policy Medical Professionalism (Update 2005):
Medical professionalism includes both the relationship between a physician and a patient and a social contract between physicians and society. Society grants the profession privileges, including exclusive or primary responsibility for the provision of certain services and a high degree of self-regulation. In return, the profession agrees to use these privileges primarily for the benefit of others and only secondarily for its own benefit. 4
Over time the delivery, management and governance of health care have become more complex, and as a result the health care sector now accounts for roughly one in 10 jobs in Canada. There are more than two dozen regulated health professions across Canada, as well as numerous professional managers employed in various capacities, many of whom have had little or no exposure to the everyday realities of the practice of clinical medicine. Notwithstanding the acknowledgement of the very real and important need for inter-professional collaboration and teamwork, inevitably this creates competition for influence in the health care system.
The CMA 2005 update of its policy on medical professionalism acknowledges the need for change.
While maintaining responsibility for care of the patient as a whole, physicians must be able to interact constructively with other health care providers within an interdisciplinary team setting. The relationship of physicians with their colleagues must be strengthened and reinforced. Patient care benefits when all health care practitioners work together towards a common goal, in an atmosphere of support and collegiality.
Now, physicians are being challenged to clarify exactly what it is that they are prepared to do in order to advance the much-needed transformation of our health care system, and how they will partner with patients, other care providers and the system in order to achieve this common goal. This provides a significant opportunity for physicians to continue their leadership role in the health care transformation initiative in the interests of their patients, while at the same time redefining their relationship with the system (understood in this context as health care administrators, governments and their representatives, health districts, health care facilities and similar organizations) in order to ensure that they have a meaningful and valued seat at the decision-making table, now and in the future.
The common refrain among health administrators, health ministry officials and health policy analysts for the past decade and longer has been that physicians are "not part of the health care system", that they are independent contractors and not employees, and that they are too often part of the problem and not the solution.
Over this period of time, several developments have resulted in a diminished role of physicians in clinical governance in Canada and have, to varying degrees, transformed the professional and collegial relationship between physicians and their health regions, health care facilities and communities to one that is increasingly governed by legislative fiat or regulation.
Beginning with New Brunswick in 1992, all jurisdictions except Ontario, the Yukon Territory and Nunavut have adopted a regional governance model. This change has eliminated all hospital and community services boards within a geographic region and replaced them with a single regional board. Clinical governance is now administered through a regional medical advisory committee (MAC). Some provinces such as Saskatchewan recognize the role of the district (regional) medical staff association. This has had a profound impact in reducing the number of physicians engaged in the clinical governance of health care institutions.
Another by-product of regionalization is that in virtually all jurisdictions, physicians no longer sit on governing boards. While physicians continue to serve as department heads and section chiefs within regions and/or individual hospital facilities, the level of support and financial compensation to do so varies greatly, particularly outside major regions and institutions, and there has been a lack of physician interest in such positions in some places.
In addition to a diminished presence in clinical governance, physicians are less likely to be actively involved in hospitals than they were previously. Anecdotally, many physicians, particularly in larger urban communities, describe having been "pushed out" of the hospital setting, and of feeling increasingly marginalized from the decision-making process in these institutions. Another result of the diminished engagement with hospitals has been the loss of the professional collegiality that used to be fostered through interaction in the medical staff lounge or through informal corridor consultations.
In the community setting, there have been some positive developments in terms of physician leadership and clinical governance. Ontario and Alberta have implemented new primary care funding and delivery models that promote physician leadership of multidisciplinary teams, and at least two-thirds of the family physicians in each of these jurisdictions have signed on. British Columbia has established Divisions of Family Practice, an initiative of the General Practice Services Committee (a joint committee of the BC Ministry of Health and the BC Medical Association), in which groups of family physicians organize at the local and regional levels and work in partnership with the Health Authority and the Ministry of Health to address common health care goals.
Looking ahead, regionalization is also likely to affect physicians in community-based practice. There is a clear trend across Canada to require all physicians within a region to have an appointment with the health region if they want to access public resources such as laboratory and radiology services. In the future this may also result in actions such as mandated quality improvement activities which may be of variable effectiveness and will not necessarily be aligned with the learning needs of physicians.
Physician engagement status
Traditionally physicians have interfaced with hospitals through a privileges model. This model, which has generally worked well, aims to provide the physician with the freedom to reasonably advocate for the interests of the patient.5 In this model, legislation and regulations also require that there are minimum procedures in place for renewing, restricting, and terminating privileges, and that procedures are set out to ensure that this takes place within a fair and structured framework. The hospital's MAC generally reviews physician privileges applications and recommends appointment and reappointment. The MAC thus plays an integral role in ensuring the safety of care within the region or hospital.5
There has been increasing attention recently on engaging in other types of physician-hospital relationships, including employment or contractual arrangements. This type of arrangement can vary from an employment contract, similar to that used by other professional staff such as nurses and therapists, to a services agreement whereby the physician provides medical services to the hospital as an independent contractor.5 However, there are concerns, expressed by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) and others, that many of the procedural frameworks and safeguards found in hospital bylaws pertaining to the privileges model may not necessarily extend to other arrangements, and that physicians entering into these contractual agreements may, in some cases, find their appointment at the hospital or facility terminated without recourse. Under such arrangements the procedural fairness and the right of appeal available under the privilege model may not be available to physicians.
One relatively new approach is the appointment model, which aims to combine many of the protections associated with the privileges model with the advantages of predictability and specificity of the employment model. It generally applies the processes used to grant or renew privileges to the resolution of physician performance-related issues.5
It has been argued that changes in appointment status and relationship models can have a detrimental impact on the relationship between practitioners and health care facilities.6 While this has been reported specifically within the context of Diagnostic Imaging, the same may hold true for other specialties as well.
It should also be noted that the issues raised in this paper are applicable to all members of the profession, regardless of their current or future practice arrangements or locations.
Changing physician demographics and practice patterns
It is well recognized that physician demographics and practice patterns have changed significantly over the past several years. Much has been written about the potential impact of these changes on medicine, and their impact on patient care, on waiting lists and on the ability of patients to access clinical services.7 It is also acknowledged that "lifestyle factors," that is to say the attempt by many physicians to achieve a healthier work-life balance, may play a role in determining the type and nature of clinical practice chosen by new medical graduates, the hours they will work and the number of patients they will see.
All of these changes mean that clinical practices may have smaller numbers of patients and may be open shorter hours than in the past. Physicians are being increasingly challenged to outline their understanding of their commitment to ensuring that all patients have timely access to high quality health care within the Canadian public system, while balancing this with their ability to make personal choices that are in their best interests.
Put another way, how can we assist physicians in adjusting their clinical practices, at least to some extent, based on the needs of the population?
While there are clearly challenges and barriers to physician participation in meaningful transformation of the health care system, there are also opportunities for engagement and dialogue, particularly when the doctors of Canada show themselves to be willing and committed partners in the process. Health care transformation cannot be deferred just because it involves difficult decisions and changes to the status quo. Regardless of how we have reached the current situation, relationships between physicians and other parties must evolve to meet future needs. Physicians need to be assisted in their efforts in this regard, both by local health boards and facilities, and by organizations such as the CMA and its provincial and territorial counterparts.
Physicians, individually and collectively, need to demonstrate what they are willing to do to assist in the process and what they are willing to contribute as we move forward, and they need to commit to having the medical profession be an important part of the solution to the challenges currently facing the Canadian system.
We examine some of these challenges through the "AAA" lens of Autonomy, Advocacy and Accountability, which are underpinned by the concept of Physician Leadership.
To a large extent, physicians continue to enjoy a significant degree of what is commonly termed clinical or professional autonomy, meaning that they are able to make decisions for their individual patients based on the specific facts of the clinical encounter. In order to ensure that this autonomy is maintained, physicians need to continue to embrace the concept of clinical standards and minimization of inter-practice variations, where appropriate, while also recognizing the absolute need to allow for individual differences in care based on the requirements of specific patients. Professional autonomy plays a vital role in clinical decision-making, and it is at the heart of the physician-patient relationship. Patients need to feel that physicians are making decisions that are in the best interest of the patient, and that physicians are not unduly limited by external or system constraints. As part of this decision-making, physicians may also need to consider carefully the appropriate balance between individual patient needs and the broader societal good.
In recent years, governments have sometimes made use of the "legislative hammer" to force physicians to conform to the needs of the health system, thus undermining physicians' individual or personal autonomy. Historically, physicians have organized themselves to provide 24-hour coverage of the emergency room and other critical hospital services. This has proven increasingly challenging in recent years, particularly in the case of small hospitals that serve sparsely populated areas where there are few physicians.
Physicians need to continue to make sure that they do not confuse personal with professional autonomy and that they continue to ensure that health care is truly patient-centred. Physicians have rights but also obligations in this regard and they need to make sure that they continue to use a collaborative approach to leadership and decision-making. This includes an ongoing commitment to the concept of professionally-led regulation and meaningful physician engagement and participation in this system.
While physicians will continue to value and protect their clinical and professional autonomy, and rightly so as it is also in the best interests of their patients, they may need to consider which aspects of personal and individual autonomy they may be willing to concede for the greater good.
For example, physicians may need to work together and collaboratively with administrators and with the system to ensure that call coverage is arranged and maintained so that it need not be legislatively mandated, or imposed by regions or institutions. They may need to consider changing the way they practice in order to serve a larger patient population so that patients in need of a primary care physician do not go wanting, and so that the overall patient care load is more evenly balanced amongst colleagues. New primary care models established in Ontario and Alberta over the past decade that provide greater out-of-hours coverage are one example of such an initiative.
By working collaboratively, both individually and collectively, physicians are finding creative ways to balance their very important personal autonomy with the needs of the system and of their patients. These efforts provide a solid foundation upon which to build as the profession demonstrates its willingness to substantively engage with others to transform the system.
To paraphrase from the discussion at the CMA's General Council meeting in August 2011: Physicians need to carefully examine their individual and collective consciences and show governments and other partners that we are willing to play our part in system reform and that we are credible partners in the process.
All parties in the discussion, not only physicians, must be able to agree upon an appropriate understanding of professional autonomy if the health care system is to meet the current and future needs of Canadians.
Physician advocacy has been defined as follows:
Action by a physician to promote those social, economic, educational and political changes that ameliorate the suffering and threats to human health and well-being that he or she identifies through his or her professional work and expertise.8
This can consist of advocacy for a single patient to assist them in accessing needed funding for medications, or lobbying the government for changes at a system level. How and when individual physicians choose to undertake advocacy initiatives depends entirely on that individual practitioner, but physicians as a collective have long recognized their obligation to advocate on behalf of their individual patients, on behalf of groups of patients, and at a societal level for changes such as fairer distribution of resources and adequate pandemic planning.
Traditionally, physicians have served as advocates for their patients in a number of arenas; however, various factors such as provincial/territorial legislation, regulatory authorities, and hospital contracts have combined to make them more reluctant to take on this important role and as a result overall patient care may suffer and the patient-physician relationship may be threatened. Increasingly, hospital bylaws urge or require physicians to consult with their institution or health region before going public with any advocacy statements, and in at least one health region physicians are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Because of this, many physicians fear reprisal when they decide to act as an advocate.
The ability to undertake advocacy initiatives is a fundamental concept and principle for Canadian physicians. Indeed, the CMA Code of Ethics encourages physicians to advocate on behalf of the profession and the public. Patients need to feel that their concerns are heard, and physicians need to feel safe from retribution in bringing those concerns forward.
A well-functioning and respectful advocacy environment is essential to health care planning. Health care is about making choices every day. Governments struggling to balance budgets should be aware that the public can accept that hard choices must and will get made - but they are less likely to be supportive if physicians and their patients do not feel that their opinions are sought and considered as part of the process.
Frontline health care providers, many of whom work in relative isolation in an office or community setting, also need to feel that they have a voice. The CMA supports the need for a forum where primary care physicians can speak with one voice (and make sure that this voice is heard and respected) in a community setting.
In addition to advocating for issues related directly to patient care, physicians, as community leaders, may also be called upon to advocate for other issues of societal importance, such as protection of the environment or social determinants of health. These advocacy undertakings can also be of great importance.
There can be a fine line between advocacy that is appropriate and is likely to affect important and meaningful change, and advocacy that others will perceive as being obstructive or counterproductive in nature. To further complicate matters, what might be seen as appropriate advocacy in one circumstance might not be in a different setting. Physicians should be clear on whose behalf they are speaking and whether they have been authorized to do so. If they have any questions about the possible medicolegal implications of their advocacy activities, they may also wish to contact their professional liability protection provider (e.g., CMPA) for advice in these instances.
Depending on the facts of the individual circumstances, physicians may need to consider other factors as well when deciding if, when and how to undertake advocacy activities. They should also be aware that their representative medical organizations, such as national specialty societies, provincial and territorial medical associations and the CMA, may be able to assist them with their initiatives in certain situations.
Physicians should not feel alone when advocating for their patients, particularly when this is done in a reasonable manner and in a way that is likely to effect meaningful and important change.
Physician accountability can be seen to occur at three levels: accountability to the patients they serve, to society and the health care system and to colleagues and peers.
Accountability to patients
The physician-patient relationship is a unique one. Based on, optimally, absolute trust and openness, this relationship allows for a free exchange of information from patient to physician and back again. Physicians often see patients at their most vulnerable, when they are struggling with illness and disease. While other health care providers make essential contributions to patient care, none maintain the unique fiduciary relationships that are at the heart of the physician's role and which are recognized by law.
Physicians are accountable to their individual patients in a number of important ways. They provide clinical services to their patients and optimize their availability so that patients can be seen and their needs addressed in a timely fashion. They follow up on test results. They facilitate consultations with other physicians and care providers and follow up on the results of these consultations when needed. They ensure that patients have access to after hours and emergency care when they are not personally available.
Physicians can also fulfill their obligation to be accountable to patients in other ways. They can participate in accreditation undertakings to ensure that their practices meet accepted standards. They can ensure, through lifelong learning and maintenance of competency activities, that they are making clinical decisions based on the best available evidence. They can undertake reviews of their prescribing profiles to ensure that they are consistent with best current standards. All of these activities can also be used to maximize consistencies within and between practices and minimize inter-practice variability where appropriate.
Accountability to society and the health care system
Physician accountability at this level is understandably more complex. In general, society and the health care system in Canada provide physicians with financial compensation, with a significant degree of clinical autonomy as reflected by professionally-led regulation, and with a high level of trust. In some cases, physicians are also provided with a facility in which to practice and with access to necessary resources such as MRIs and operating rooms.
In return, physicians agree to make their own individual interests secondary in order to focus on those of their patients, and they agree to provide necessary medical services. Accountability then can be examined based on the extent that these necessary services are provided (i.e. patients have reasonable access to these services) and also the level of quality of those services. Clearly, neither access nor quality can be considered in isolation of the system as a whole, but for the purposes of this paper the focus will be on the role of the physician.
The issue of level and comprehensiveness of service provision has been considered to some extent above under the concept of physician autonomy. Physicians as individuals and as a collective need to ensure that patients have access to timely medical care and follow up. They also need to make sure that the transition from one type of care to another (for example, from the hospital to the community setting) is as seamless as possible, within the current limitations of the system.
Collectively and individually, physicians also have an obligation to make sure that the quality of the care they provide is of the highest standard possible. They should strive for a "just culture of safety", which encourages learning from adverse events and close calls to strengthen the system, and where appropriate, supports and educates health care providers and patients to help prevent similar events in the future.9
Thousands of articles and hundreds of books have been published on the subjects of quality assurance and quality improvement. From a physician perspective, we want to be able to have access to processes and resources that will provide us with timely feedback on the level of quality of our clinical care in a way that will help us optimize patient outcomes and will be seen as educational in nature rather than punitive. As a self-regulated profession, medicine already has strong accountability mechanisms in place to ensure the appropriate standards of care are maintained.
To ensure that physicians are able to meet their obligation to be accountable to the health care system for high quality care, the CMA has developed a series of recommendations for Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) activities (see box below).
Physicians need to take ownership of the quality agenda. New medical graduates are entering practice having come from training systems where they have access to constant feedback on their performance, only to find themselves in a situation where feedback is non-existent or of insufficient quality to assist them in caring for their patients. While regulators and health care facilities have a legitimate interest in measuring and improving physician performance, ultimately physicians themselves must take responsibility for ensuring that they are providing their patients with the highest possible standard of care, and that mechanisms are in place to ensure that this is in fact the case.
Accountability to colleagues
Physicians are also accountable to their physician peers and to other health care providers. While much of this accountability is captured by the concept of "collegiality," or the cooperative relationship of colleagues, there are other aspects as well.
Anecdotal evidence suggests strongly that many physician leaders find themselves marginalized by their peers. They describe being seen as having "gone over to the other side" when they decide to curtail or forego their clinical practices in order to participate in administrative and leadership activities. Physicians should instead value, encourage and support their peers who are dedicating their time to important undertakings such as these. As well, physicians should actively engage with their administrative colleagues when they have concerns or suggestions for improvement. Collaboration is absolutely vital to the delivery of safe and quality care.
Physicians also need to make sure that they do everything they can to contribute to a "safe" environment where advocacy and CQI activities can be undertaken. This can mean encouraging physician colleagues to participate in these initiatives, as well as serving as a role model to peers by participating voluntarily in CQI undertakings.
Physicians are also accountable to ensure that transition of care from one physician to another occurs in as seamless a manner as possible. This includes participating in initiatives to improve the quality and timeliness of both consultation requests and results, as well as ensuring professional and collegial communications with other physicians and with all team members.
Finally, physicians need to support each other in matters of individual health and well-being. This can include support and care for colleagues suffering from physical or psychological illness, as well as assisting with accommodation and coverage for duty hours and professional responsibilities for physicians who are no longer able to meet the demands of full-time practice for whatever reason.
"You will not find a high performing health system anywhere in the world that does not have strong physician leadership."
Dan Florizone, Deputy Minister of Saskatchewan Health
As we can see from the discussion above, having strong physician leaders is absolutely critical to ensuring that the relationship between physicians and the health care system is one of mutual benefit. Physicians as a collective have an obligation to make sure that they support both the training required to produce strong physician leaders, as well as providing support for their colleagues who elect to undertake this increasingly important role.
Physicians are well-positioned to assume leadership positions within the health care system. They have a unique expertise and experience with both the individual care of patients, as well as with the system as a whole. As a profession, they have committed to placing the needs of their patients above those of their own, and this enhances the credibility of physicians at the leadership level as long as they stay committed to this important value. Leadership is not just about enhancing the working life of physicians, but is about helping to ensure the highest possible standard of patient care within an efficient and well-functioning system.
As part of their leadership activities, physicians need to ensure that they are consistently engaged with high quality and reliable partners, who will deliver on their promises and commitments, and that their input is carefully considered and used in the decision-making process. These partners can include those at the highest level of government, and must also include others such as medical regulators and senior managers. Without ensuring that they are speaking with the right people, physicians cannot optimize their leadership initiatives.
Physician leadership activities must be properly supported and encouraged. Many physicians feel increasingly marginalized when important meetings or training opportunities are scheduled when they are engaged in direct patient care activities. Non-clinician administrators have time set aside for these activities and are paid to participate, but physicians must either miss these discussions in order to attend to the needs of their patients, or cancel clinics or operating room times. This means that patient care is negatively impacted, and it presents a (sometimes significant) financial disincentive for physicians to participate. Some jurisdictions have recognized this as a concern and are ensuring that physicians are compensated for their participation.
Patients want their physicians to be more involved in policy-making decisions and this must be enabled through the use of proper funding mechanisms, reflective learning activities, continuing professional development credits for administrative training and participation, assisting in the appropriate selection of spokespersons including guidelines on how to select them, and guidelines for spokespersons on how to provide meaningful representation of the profession's views.
Physician leadership training must take place throughout the continuum of medical education, from the early days of medical school through to continuing professional development activities for those in clinical practice. Physicians with an interest in and aptitude for leadership positions should ideally be identified early on in their careers and encouraged to pursue leadership activities and training through means such as mentorship programs and support from their institutions to attend training courses and meetings where they will be able to enhance and refine their leadership skills.
There has been action on several fronts to support the organized professional development of physicians in leadership roles. Since the 1990s the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) has been implementing its CanMEDs framework of roles and competencies in the postgraduate medical training programs across Canada, and this has also been adopted by the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC). The CanMEDs framework sets out seven core roles for physicians. Two that are most pertinent to the relationship between physicians and the health care system are those of manager and health advocate.10 These roles highlight the importance of physician involvement in leadership and system engagement activities, and are relevant for physicians in training as well as those in practice.
As managers, physicians are integral participants in health care organizations, organizing sustainable practices, making decisions about allocating resources, and contributing to the effectiveness of the health care system.
As health advocates, physicians responsibly use their expertise and influence to advance the health of individual patients, communities and populations.
A number of key enabling competencies have been identified for each role, and the RCPSC has developed a variety of resource materials to support the framework.
For almost 30 years, the CMA has been offering the Physician Manager Institute (PMI) program in order to provide training for physicians pursuing leadership and management positions. PMI is offered in "open enrolment" format in major cities across Canada, and also "in house" through longstanding associations with hospitals and health regions (e.g., Calgary zone of Alberta Health Services [AHS]). In 2010 the CMA and the Canadian Society of Physician Executives introduced the Canadian Certified Physician Executive (CCPE) Program. The CCPE is a peer-assessed credential that can be attained either through an academic route that is based on completion of PMI courses or through a practice-eligibility route based on formal leadership experience.11
The CMA also partners with several provincial and territorial medical associations to provide leadership training. Currently CMA has agreements with the Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec medical associations and this will extend to the four Atlantic medical associations and the Alberta Medical Association/AHS in 2012.
In addition, a number of university business schools have developed executive program offerings for health leaders. During the past decade, a number of physicians have taken up CEO positions in Canada's major academic health organizations.
Internationally, it has been recognized that physician leadership is critical to the success of efforts to improve health services.12, 13
Having well trained and qualified physicians in leadership roles is critical in making sure that physicians continue to play a central role in the transformation of the Canadian health care system. The CMA and its membership unreservedly support our physician colleagues who dedicate their time and energies to these leadership activities and the CMA will continue to play an integral part in supporting and training the physician leaders of the future.
CONCLUSION: THE CMA'S VISION OF THE NEW PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CANADIAN PHYSICIANS AND OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
We have explored the factors that have brought us to this point, as well as the issues that must be examined and addressed to enable us to move forward. It is now time for the physicians of Canada to commit to meaningful participation in the process of transforming our health care system. This can only be achieved through the concerted efforts of all parties, including governments, health authorities, health care facilities, physicians and other health care providers. It will not be easy, and it is not likely that this transformation will take place without commitment and sacrifice on our part.
However, now is the time for physicians to demonstrate to their patients, to their colleagues and to society that they are willing to do their share and play their role in this critically important process, at this critically important time. Doing so will help them to achieve the CMA's vision of the new professional relationship between Canadian physicians and the health care system.
In this vision:
Physicians are provided with the leadership tools they need, and the support required, to enable them to participate individually and collectively in discussions on the transformation of Canada's health care system.
Physicians are provided with meaningful opportunities for input at all levels of decision-making, with committed and reliable partners, and are included as valued collaborators in the decision-making process.
Physicians recognize and acknowledge their individual and collective obligations (as one member of the health care team and as members of a profession) and accountabilities to their patients, to their colleagues and to the health care system and society.
Physicians are able to freely advocate when necessary on behalf of their patients in a way that respects the views of others and is likely to bring about meaningful change that will benefit their patients and the health care system.
Physicians participate on a regular and ongoing basis in well-designed and validated quality improvement initiatives that are educational in nature and will provide them with the feedback and skills they need to optimize patient care and outcomes.
Patient care is team based and interdisciplinary with seamless transition from one care setting to the next and funding and other models are in place to allow physicians and other health care providers to practise within the full scope of their professional activities.
1. Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics. http://policybase.cma.ca/PolicyPDF/PD04-06.pdf. Accessed 05/20/11.
2. ABIM Foundation. Medical professionalism in the new millennium: a physician charter. Annals of Internal Medicine 2002; 136(3): 243-6.
3. Lesser C, Lucey C, Egener B, Braddock C, Linas S, Levinson W. A behavioral and systems view of professionalism. JAMA 2010; 304(24): 2732-7.
4. Canadian Medical Association. Medical professionalism 2005 update. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD06-02.pdf. Accessed 06/03/11.
5. Canadian Medical Protective Association. Changing physician : hospital relationships. Managing the medico-legal implications of change. 2011. https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/cmpapd04/docs/submissions_papers/com_2011_changing_physician-e.cfm. Accessed 02/07/12.
6. Thrall JH. Changing relationship between radiologists and hospitals Part 1: Background and major issues. Radiology 2007; 245: 633-637.
7. Reichenbach L, Brown H. Gender and academic medicine: impact on the health workforce. BMJ. 2004; 329: 792-795.
8. Earnest MA, Wong SL, Federico SG. Perspective: Physician advocacy: what is it and how do we do it? Acad Med 2010 Jan; 85(1): 63-7.
9. Canadian Medical Protective Association. Learning from adverse events: Fostering a just culture of safety in Canadian hospitals and health care institutions. 2009. http://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/cmpapd04/docs/submissions_papers/com_learning_from_adverse_events-e.cfm. Accessed 02/07/12.
10. Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. CanMEDS 2005 Framework. http://rcpsc.medical.org/canmeds/bestpractices/framework_e.pdf. Accessed 05/20/11.
11. Canadian Society of Physician Executives and Canadian Medical Association. Canadian Certifies Physician Executive. Candidate Handbook. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Leadership/CCPE/2012CCPE-Handbook_en.pdf. Accessed 05/20/11.
12. Ham C. Improving the performance of health services: the role of clinical leadership. Lancet 2003; 361: 1978-80.
13. Imison C, Giordano R. Doctors as leaders. BMJ 2009; 338: 979-80.
In 2010, 14% of Canada's population was 65 or older. With the aging of the baby boom generation, this proportion is estimated to rise to about 25% in 2036 (1). The aging of Canada's population is expected to have a major impact on the country's economy, society and health care system over the next 25 to 30 years.
Though age does not automatically mean ill health or disability, the risk of both does increase as people age. In 2006, 33% of Canadians aged 65 or older had a disability; the proportion climbed to 44% among people aged 75 or older (2). Nearly three-quarters of Canadians over 65 have at least one chronic health condition (3). Because of increasing rates of disability and chronic disease, the demand for health services is expected to increase as Canada's population ages. Currently Canadians over 65 consume roughly 44% of provincial and territorial health care budgets (4), and governments are concerned about the health care system's capacity to provide quality services in future.
The CMA believes that to provide optimal care and support for Canada's aging population, while taking care to minimize pressure on the health-care system as much as possible, governments at all levels should invest in:
* programs and supports to promote healthy aging;
* a comprehensive continuum of health services to provide optimal care and support to older Canadians; and
* an environment and society that is "age friendly."
This policy describes specific actions that could be taken to further these three goals. Its recommendations complement those made in other CMA policies, including those on "Funding the Continuum of Care" (2009), Optimal Prescribing (2010) and Medication Use and Seniors (Update 2011).
2) Providing Optimal Health and Health Care for Older Persons:
This section discusses in detail the three general areas in which the CMA believes governments should invest:
a) Promotion of "Healthy Aging"
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) defines healthy aging as "the process of optimizing opportunities for physical, social and mental health to enable seniors to take an active part in society without discrimination and to enjoy independence and quality of life." It is believed that initiatives to promote healthy aging, and enable older Canadians to maintain their health, will help lower health-care costs by reducing the overall burden of disability and chronic disease. Such initiatives could focus on:
Physical activity. Being physically active is considered the most important step that older Canadians can take toward improving health, even if they do not start being active until later in life. However in 2008, 57% of seniors reported being physically inactive (5).
Injury prevention. Falls are the primary cause of injury among older Canadians; they account for 40% of admissions to nursing homes, 62% of injury-related hospitalizations, and almost 90% of hip fractures (6). The causes of falls are complex, and both physiology (e.g. effect of illness) and environment (e.g. poorly maintained walkways) can contribute. Most falls can be prevented through a mix of interventions: for the person (such as strength and balance training); and for the person's environment, (such as grab bars and railings, slip-proof floor surfaces, walkways that are cleared of snow and ice in winter.)
Nutrition. In 2008, 28% of men and 31% of women over 65 were obese (BMI = 30); this is higher than the population average. Underweight is also a problem among seniors, 17% of whom report a BMI of 20 or less (7). The reasons for nutrition problems among older Canadians are complex; they may be related to insufficient income to purchase healthy foods, or to disabilities that make shopping or preparing meals difficult.
Mental health. An estimated 10-15% of seniors report depression, and the rate is higher among those with concomitant physical illness, or those living in long-term care facilities (8). Depression among older people may be under-recognized and under-treated, since it might be dismissed as a normal consequence of aging. Poor mental health is often associated with social isolation, a common problem among seniors.
Governments and National Associations
The CMA recommends that:
1. Governments at all levels support programs to promote physical activity, nutrition, injury prevention and mental health among older Canadians.
Health Service Delivery
The CMA recommends that:
2. Older Canadians have access to high-quality, well-funded programs and supports to help them achieve and maintain physical fitness and optimal nutrition.
3. Older Canadians have access to high-quality, well-funded programs aimed at determining the causes and reducing the risk of falls.
4. Older Canadians have access to high-quality, well-funded programs to promote mental health and well-being and reduce social isolation.
Physicians and Patients
The CMA recommends that:
5. Older Canadians be encouraged to follow current guidelines for healthy living, such as the 2012 Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults 65 and over.
6. Physicians and other health care providers be encouraged to counsel older patients about the importance of maintaining a healthy and balanced life style.
7. All stakeholders assist in developing health literacy tools and resources to support older Canadians and their families in maintaining health.
b) A Comprehensive Continuum of Health Services
Though, as previously mentioned, age does not automatically mean ill health, utilization of health services does increase with increasing age. Patients over 65 have more family physician visits, more hospital admissions and longer hospital stays than younger Canadians (the overall length of stay in acute inpatient care is about 1.5 times that of non-senior adults) (9).
In addition, seniors take more prescription drugs per person than younger adults; 62% of seniors on public drug programs use five or more drug classes, and nearly 30% of those 85 and older have claims for 10 or more prescription drugs (10). Heavy medication use by people over 65 has a number of consequences:
* The risk of adverse drug reactions is several-fold higher for seniors than for younger patients.
* Medication regimes, particularly for those taking several drugs a day on different dosage schedules, can be confusing and lead to errors or non-adherence.
* Patients may receive prescriptions from multiple providers who, if they have not been communicating with each other, may not know what other medications have been prescribed. This increases the risk of harmful drug interactions and medication errors.
For seniors who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex and vary greatly from one person to another. This could mean that a number of different physicians, and other health and social-services professionals, may be providing care to the same person. A patient might, for example, be consulting a family physician for primary health care, several medical specialists for different conditions, a pharmacist to monitor a complex medication regime, a physiotherapist to help with mobility difficulties, health care aides to clean house and make sure the patient is eating properly, and a social worker to make sure his or her income is sufficient to cover health care and other needs.
Complex care needs demand a flexible and responsive health care system. The CMA believes that quality health care for older Canadians should be delivered on a continuum from community based health care, (e.g. primary health care, chronic disease management programs), to home care (e.g. visiting health care workers to give baths and footcare), to long-term care and palliative care. Ideally, this continuum should be managed so that the patient can remain at home, out of emergency departments, hospitals and long term care unless appropriate, can easily access the level of care he or she needs, and can make a smooth transition from one level of care to another when needed.
Care managers are an essential part of this continuum, working with caregivers and the patient to identify the most appropriate form of care from a menu of alternatives. Care managers can co-ordinate the services of the various health professionals who deliver care to a given patient, and facilitate communication among them so that all work to a common care plan. A family physician who has established a long-standing professional relationship with the patient and is familiar with his or her condition, needs and preference is ideally placed to serve as manager of a patient's overall care, supported by geriatric and other specialists as appropriate.
Not all of the patient's caregivers may be health professionals; more than 75% of the care of older Canadians is delivered by unpaid informal caregivers, usually relatives. The role of the family caregiver can be demanding financially, physically and emotionally. Though governments have instituted tax credits and other forms of support for caregivers, more may be required. The Special Senate Committee on Aging has called for a National Caregiving Strategy to help put in place the supports that caregivers need. (11)
Finally, many of the services required by seniors, in particular home care and long-term care, are not covered by the Canada Health Act. Funding of these services varies widely from province to province. Long-term care beds are in short supply; as a result more than 5,000 hospital beds are occupied by patients waiting for long-term care placement (12), making them unavailable for those with acute-care needs. CMA's Health Care Transformation Framework (2010) makes a number of recommendations aimed at improving access to continuing care in Canada.
Governments and National Associations
The CMA recommends that:
8. Governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement models of integrated, interdisciplinary health service delivery for older Canadians.
9. Governments continue efforts to ensure that older Canadians have access to a family physician, supported by specialized geriatric services as appropriate.
10. Governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a National Caregiver Strategy, and expand the support programs currently offered to informal caregivers.
11. All stakeholders work together to develop and implement a national dementia strategy.
12. Governments and other stakeholders work together to develop and implement a pan-Canadian pharmaceutical strategy that addresses both comprehensive coverage of essential medicines for all Canadians, and programs to encourage optimal prescribing and drug therapy.
13. Governments work with the health and social services sector, and with private insurers, to develop a framework for the funding and delivery of accessible and sustainable home care and long-term care services.
The CMA recommends that:
14. Medical schools enhance the provision, in undergraduate education and in residency training for all physicians, of programs addressing the clinical needs of older patients.
15. Medical students and residents be exposed to specialty programs in geriatric medicine and other disciplines that address the clinical needs of older patients.
16. Continuing education programs on care for older patients be developed and provided to physicians of all specialties, and to other health care providers, on a continuous basis.
Health System Planners
The CMA recommends that:
17. Health systems promote collaboration and communication among health care providers, through means such as:
a. Interdisciplinary primary health care practice settings, that bring a variety of physicians and other health professionals and their expertise into a seamless network;
b. Widespread use of the electronic health record; and
c. A smooth process for referral between providers.
18. All stakeholders work toward integration of health care along the continuum by addressing the barriers that separate:
a. acute care from the community;
b. health services from social services; and
c. provincially-funded health care services such as physicians and hospitals, from services funded through other sources, such as pharmacare, home care and long term care.
19. Programs be developed and implemented that promote optimal prescribing and medication management for seniors.
20. Research be conducted on a continuous basis to identify best practices in the care of seniors, and monitor the impact of various interventions on health outcomes and health care costs.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that:
21. Continuing education, clinical practice guidelines and decision support tools be developed and disseminated on a continuous basis, to help physicians keep abreast of best practices in elder care.
c) An Age-Friendly Environment:
One of the primary goals of seniors' policy in Canada is to promote the independence of older Canadians in their own homes and communities, avoiding costly institutionalization for as long as feasible. To help older Canadians successfully maintain their independence, it is important that governments and society ensure that the social determinants of health care addressed when developing policy that affects them. This includes assuring that the following supports are available to older Canadians:
* Adequate Income: Poverty among seniors dropped sharply in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2008, 6% of Canada's seniors were living in low income, as opposed to nearly 30% in 1978. However, there has been a slight increase in poverty levels since 2007, and it may be necessary to guard against an upward trend in future (13). Raising the minimum age for collecting Old Age Security, as has been proposed, may weigh heavily on seniors with lower incomes, and make prescription drugs, dental care and other needed health services unaffordable.
* Employment Opportunities: it has been recommended that seniors be encouraged to work beyond age 65 as a means of minimizing a future drain on pension plans (14). Many older Canadians who have not contributed to employee pension plans may be dependent on employment income for survival. However, employment may be difficult to find if workplaces are unwilling to hire older workers.
* Housing. Nearly all of Canada's seniors live in their own homes; fewer than 10% live in long-term care facilities. Options are available that permit older Canadians to live independently even with disabilities and health care needs, such as:
o Home support for services such as shopping and home maintenance; and
o Assisted-living facilities that provide both independent living quarters and support services such as nursing assistance, and cafeterias if desired.
* An Age-friendly built environment. To enable seniors to live independently, the World Health Organization's "Age-Friendly Communities" initiative recommends that their needs be taken into consideration by those who design and build communities. For example, buildings could be designed with entrance ramps and elevators; sidewalks could have sloping curbs for walkers and wheelchairs; and frequent, accessible public transportation could be provided in neighbourhoods where a large concentration of seniors live.
* Protection from Abuse. Elder abuse can take many forms: physical, psychological, financial, or neglect. Often the abuser is a family member, friend, or other person in a position of trust. Researchers estimate that 4 to 10% of Canadian seniors experience abuse or neglect, but that only a small portion of this is reported (15). CMA supports awareness programs to bring the attention of elder abuse to the public, as well as programs to intervene with seniors who are abused, and with their abusers.
* A Discrimination-Free society. Efforts to boost income and employment security, health care standards and community support for older Canadians are hampered if the pervasive public attitude is that seniors are second-class citizens. An age-friendly society respects the experience, knowledge and capabilities of its older members, and accords them the same worth and dignity as it does other citizens.
Governments and National Associations
The CMA recommends that:
22. Governments provide older Canadians with access to adequate income support.
23. Governments devote a portion of national infrastructure funding to providing an adequate supply of accessible and affordable housing for seniors.
24. Older Canadians have access to opportunities for meaningful employment if they desire.
25. Communities take the needs and potential limitations of older Canadians into account when designing buildings, walkways, transportation systems and other aspects of the built environment.
Health System Planners
The CMA recommends that:
26. The health system offer a range of high-quality, well-funded home care and social support services to enable older Canadians to remain independent in the community for as long as possible.
27. Physicians receive advice and education on optimal community supports and resources to keep seniors independent and/or at home.
Physicians in Practice
The CMA recommends that:
28. Training and programs be provided to physicians and other care providers to enable them to identify elder abuse, and to intervene with abused people and their abusers.
Aging is not a disease, but an integral part of the human condition. To maximize the health and well-being of older Canadians, and ensure their continued functionality and independence for as long as possible, CMA believes that the health care system, governments and society should work with older Canadians to promote healthy aging, provide quality patient-centered health care and support services, and build communities that value Canadians of all ages.
1 Public health Agency of Canada. "Growing Older: Adding Life to Years. Annual report on the state of public health in Canada, 2010." Accessed at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cphorsphc-respcacsp/2010/fr-rc/index-eng.php
2 Statistics Canada: A Portrait of Seniors in Canada (2008). Accessed at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-519-x/89-519-x2006001-eng.htm
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. "Seniors and the health care system: What is the impact of multiple chronic conditions?" (January 2011.) Accessed at https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/air-chronic_disease_aib_en.pdf
4 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2010. Accessed at http://www.cihi.ca/cihi-ext-portal/internet/en/document/spending+and+health+workforce/spending/release_28oct10
5 PHAC 2010
6 PHAC 2010
7 PHAC 2010
8 Mood Disorders Society of Canada. "Depression in Elderly" (Fact sheet). Accessed at http://www.mooddisorderscanada.ca/documents/Consumer%20and%20Family%20Support/Depression%20in%20Elderly%20edited%20Dec16%202010.pdf
9 Canadian institute for Health Information. Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging. Accessed at https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2011_seniors_report_en.pdf
10 CIHI 2011
11 Special Senate Committee on Aging. "Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity." (April 2009). Accessed at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/402/agei/rep/AgingFinalReport-e.pdf
12 CIHI 2009
13 PHAC 2010
14 Department of Finance Canada. Economic and fiscal implications of Canada's Aging Population (October 2012). Accessed at http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/eficap-rebvpc/report-rapport-eng.asp#Toc01.
15 PHAC 2010