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.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIANS RECOMMENDING MOBILE HEALTH APPLICATIONS TO PATIENTS
This document is designed to provide basic information for physicians about how to assess a mobile health application for recommendation to a patient in the management of that patient's health, health care, and health care information.
These guiding principles build on the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients.1
* Mobile health applications, distinct from regulated medical devices, may be defined as an application on a mobile device that is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The functions of these applications may include:
o The ability to store and track information about an individual or group's health or the social determinants thereof;
o Periodic educational information, reminders, or motivational guidance;
o GPS location information to direct or alert patients;
o Standardized checklists or questionnaires.2
* Mobile health applications can enhance health outcomes while mitigating health care costs because of their potential to improve a patient's access to information and care providers.3
* Mobile health applications are most commonly used on a smart phone and/or tablet. Some may also interface with medical devices.
* The use of mobile health applications reflects an emerging trend towards personalized medicine and patient involvement in the management of their health information. By 2016, 142 million health apps will have been downloaded.4 According to some industry estimates, by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded at least one mobile health application.5
* While mobile health application downloads are increasing, there is little information about usage and adherence by patients. It is believed that many patients cease to use a mobile health application soon after downloading it.
* Distributers of mobile health applications do not currently assess content provided by mobile health applications for accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, timeliness, or conformity to clinical practice guidelines.6 However, mobile applications may be subjected to certain standards to ensure critical technical requirements such as accessibility, reachability, adaptability, operational reliability, and universality.
* Increasingly there are independent websites providing reviews of medical apps and checklists for health care professionals. However, the quality criteria used by these sites, potential conflicts of interest, and the scope and number of mobile apps assessed are not always declared by these groups.
To date, randomized controlled trials are not usually employed to assess the effectiveness of mobile health applications. Some believe that the rigorousness of this type of assessment may impede the timeliness of a mobile health application's availability.7
* Some examples of the uses of mobile health applications include tracking fitness activities to supplement a healthy lifestyle; supported self-management of health and health information; post-procedure follow up; viewing of test results; and the virtualization of interaction between patients and providers, such as remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. Some mobile health applications may be linked to a patient profile or patient portal associated with a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization.
* Some mobile health applications may be an extension of an electronic medical records (EMR) platform.
* The objective of recommending a mobile health application to a patient must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or otherwise for the purpose of health promotion.
* A mobile health application is one approach in health service delivery. Mobile health applications should complement, rather than replace, the relationship between a physician and patient.
* No one mobile health application is appropriate for every patient. Physicians may wish to understand a patient's abilities, comfort level, access to technology, and the context of the application of care before recommending a mobile health application.
* Should a physician recommend a mobile health application to a patient, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to legislation and regulation (if existing) and/or professional obligations.
* If the mobile health application will be used to monitor the patient's condition in an ongoing manner, the physician may wish to discuss with the patient what they should watch for and the steps they should take in response to information provided.
* Physicians are encouraged to share information about applications they have found effective with colleagues.
* Physicians who require additional information about the competencies associated with eHealth and the use of health information technologies may wish to consult The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's (RCPSC) framework of medical competencies, CanMEDS.8
* Physicians may wish to enter into and document a consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information or information printed out from electronic management platforms like mobile health applications. This agreement may include a one-time conveyance of information and recommendations to cover the elements common to many mobile health applications, such as the general risk to privacy associated with storing health information on a mobile device.
Characteristics of a safe and effective mobile health application
A mobile health application does not need to have all of the following characteristics to be safe and effective. However, the more of the following characteristics a mobile health application has, the likelier it will be appropriate for recommendation to a patient:
1. Endorsement by a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization
As recommended by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), it is best to select mobile health applications that have been created or endorsed by a professional or recognized association or medical society.9 Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse applications for use in their clinical environments. There may also be mobile health applications associated with an EMR platform used by an organization or practice. Finally, some mobile health applications may have been subject to a peer review process distinct from endorsement by an association or organization.
There are a number of usability factors than can complicate the use of mobile applications, including interface and design deficiencies, technological restrictions, and device and infrastructure malfunction.
Many developers will release periodic updates and software patches to enhance the stability and usability of their applications. Therefore, it would be prudent for the physician recommending the mobile health application to also recommend to the patient that they determine if the application has been updated within the last year.
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application to a patient may wish to ask about the patient's level of comfort with mobile health technologies, their degree of computer literacy, whether or not the patient owns a mobile device capable of running the application, and whether or not the patient is able to bear potential one-time or ongoing costs associated with use of the application.
Physicians may consider testing the application themselves beforehand to understand whether its functionality and interface make it easy to use.
3. Reliability of information
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application may wish to understand how the patient intends to use the information, and/or review the information with the patient to understand whether it is current and appropriate.
Information presented by the mobile health application should be appropriately referenced and time-stamped with the last update by the application developer.
4. Privacy and security
In 2014, the Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta assessed approximately 1200 mobile applications and found nearly one-third of them required access to personal information beyond what should be required relative to their functionality and purpose, and that basic privacy information was not always made available.10
Physicians entering into and documenting a consent discussion with their patients may wish to include the electronic management of health information in the scope of these discussions, and make a notation of the discussion in the patient's health record.
Some mobile health applications may feature additional levels of authentication for use, such as an additional password or encryption protocols. If all other factors between applications are equal, physicians may wish to recommend that patients use mobile health applications adhering to this higher standard of security.
5. Avoids conflict-of-interest
Physicians may wish to recommend that patients learn more about the company or organization responsible for the development of the application and their mandate. There is a risk of secondary gains by mobile health application developers and providers where information about patients and/or usage is gathered and sold to third parties.
A standardized conflict of interest statement may be made available through the mobile health application or on the developer's website. If so, physicians may wish to refer the patient to this resource.
Physicians who develop mobile applications for commercial gain or have a stake in those who develop applications for commercial gain may risk a complaint being made to the College on the basis that the physician engaged in unprofessional conduct if they recommend mobile health applications to their patients in the course of patient care.
6. Does not contribute to fragmentation of health information
Some mobile health applications may link directly to an EMR, patient portal, or government data repository. These data resources may be standardized, linked, and cross-referenced.
However, health information entered into an application may also be stored on a mobile device and/or the patient's home computer, or developers of mobile health applications may store information collected by their application separately. While there may be short-term benefits to using a particular mobile health application, the range of applications and developers may contribute to the overall fragmentation of health information.
If all other factors between applications are considered equal, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications which contribute to robust existing data repositories, especially an existing EMR.
7. Demonstrates its impact on patient health outcomes
While not all mobile health applications will have an appropriate scale of use and not all developers will have the capacity to collect and analyze data, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications that have undergone validation testing to demonstrate impact of use on patient health outcomes. If mobile health applications are claiming a direct therapeutic impact on patient populations, physicians may wish to recommend that their patients seek out or request resources to validate this claim.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Physician guidelines for online communication with patients. Ottawa: The Association; 2005. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.pdf?_ga=1.32127742.1313872127.1393248073
2 US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and Food and Drug Administration staff. Rockville (MD): The Administration; 2015. Available:
3 Canada Health Infoway. Mobile health computing between clinicians and patients. White paper. Toronto: The Infoway; 2014 Apr. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/video-gallery/doc_download/2081-mobile-health-computing-between-clinicians-and-patients-white-paper-full-report
4 iHealthBeat. 44M mobile health apps will be downloaded in 2012, report predicts. Available: www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/12/1/44m-mobile-health-apps-will-be-downloaded-in-2012-report-predicts
5 Jahns R-G. 500m people will be using healthcare mobile applications in 2015. Research2guidance. Available: www.research2guidance.com/500m-people-will -be-using-healthcare-mobile-applications-in-2015/
6 Lyver, M. Standards: a call to action. Future Practice. 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
7 Rich P. Medical apps: current status. Future Practice 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The CanMEDS 2015 eHealth Expert Working Group report. Ottawa: The College; 2014. Available: www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/common/documents/canmeds/framework/ehealth_ewg_report_e.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Managing information to delivery safer care. Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/managing-information-to-deliver-safer-care
10 Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. Global privacy sweep rasies concerns about mobile apps [news release]. Available: www.oipc.ab.ca/downloads/documentloader.ashx?id=3482
HEALTH IN ALL POLICIES
Despite significant investments in health and improvements in medical treatment and technologies, health outcomes in Canada have not been moving in the right direction. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and the corresponding risk factors, among them obesity, continue to rise. This negative health status can undermine not only individual health but the productivity and prosperity of the country as well.1 As noted in the Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies, "Good health enhances quality of life, improves workforce productivity, increases the capacity for learning, strengthens families and communities, supports sustainable habitats and environments, and contributes to security, poverty reduction and social inclusion."2
Research suggests that 15% of population health is determined by biology and genetics, 10% by physical environments, 25% by the actions of the health care system, with 50% being determined by our social and economic environment.3 Many studies show that people low on the socio-economic scale are likely to carry a higher burden of just about any disease.4 Poverty accounts for 24% of person years of life lost in Canada (second only to 30% for neoplasms).5 These numbers demonstrate a need to rethink the way we work to improve the health of the Canadian population. While a strong health care system is vital, changes to our health system alone will not be sufficient to improve health outcomes or reduce the disparities that currently exist in disease burden and health risks.
Using health determinants as a focus means that most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the health and medical care service.6 Canadians must be supported to make the choices that keep them healthy and reduce their risks of injury and disease. However, many face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which make these healthy choices difficult. What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. As noted by the former Minister of Health and Welfare, Jake Epp, "it is not an overstatement to say that public policy has the power to provide people with the opportunities for health, as well as to deny them such opportunities... All policies having a direct bearing on health need to be coordinated."7
Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada. Not only will it help to reduce costs to the health system, it will also increase economic growth as healthier people lose fewer days of work and contribute to overall economic productivity.8 As laid out in the principles to Guide Health Care Transformation, "Coordinated investments in health promotion and disease and injury prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system.9"
The utilization of such an approach is not new. Governments from England to Finland to New Zealand have increasingly recognized the importance of the social determinants of health and have developed national strategies accordingly. These strategies, often referred to as 'health in all policies,' call for a whole of government approach where cross-departmental collaboration is established at the highest government level to increase the health of the population and reduce inequalities.10 The World Health Organization defines health in all policies as follows:
Health in all Policies (HiAP) is an approach to public policies across sectors that systematically takes into account the health and health systems implications of decisions, seeks synergies, and avoids harmful health impacts, in order to improve population health and health equity. A HiAP approach is founded on health-related rights and obligations. It emphasizes the consequences of public policies on health determinants, and aims to improve the accountability of policy-makers for health impacts at all levels of policy-making.11
This approach looks at all policies that have a health impact not just those in the health sector. Policies are reviewed for their potential impact on population health and health system utilization.12
There are many ways that a HiAP approach can be implemented. Examples include:
inter-ministerial and inter-departmental committees; community consultations and Citizens' Juries; cross-sector action teams; partnership platforms; integrated budgets and accounting; Health Lens Analyses; cross-cutting information and evaluation systems; impact assessments; joined-up workforce development; and legislative frameworks.13
A Plan for Canada
Role of the Federal Government:
While the provinces and territories have constitutional authority for the majority of health system delivery, the federal government has a significant role in health: through system oversight, Canada Health Act; delivery to certain populations, Canada's Aboriginal peoples; as well as accountability and pan-Canadian initiatives for the various health systems. Additionally, the federal government has significant control over areas such as taxation, food security and agriculture, justice, transportation safety and income security (eg child tax benefits, Old- Age Security). All of these can have a marked impact on both individual and population health.
As a result of these responsibilities the Canadian government needs to adopt a clear mandate to focus on the health of the population. Actions must be taken to provide Canadians with the ability to make healthy choices. All legislation must be subject to a health lens to determine potential health implications so as to minimize or mitigate any negative consequences and maximize opportunities for health benefits. Given the central coordinating function of Cabinet in policy setting and delivery, this would be an ideal place to incorporate a HiAP approach.
1. CMA recommends that the federal government acknowledge the relationship of the social determinants of health on the health of the population as well as the demands of the health care system and that it implement a Health in All Policies approach for all cabinet decision-making.
While Cabinet should serve as the central decision-making body for a HiAP approach, there must be formal and sustainable structures that allow timely analysis of the health consequences of policy decisions, which appropriately engage stakeholders, and which ensure that health impacts are actually considered in policy decision-making.14
Such an approach will require some form of enabling legislation as well as benefits for departments that conduct HiAP analysis. In Quebec, for example, all policies are required to undergo a review of health impacts under Section 54 of the 2002 Quebec Public Health Act.15
In addition, it is likely that a lead agency will need to be appointed to facilitate the necessary data collection/analysis to review policies. In the Netherlands health impact assessments are the responsibility of the Department of Intersectoral Policy at the Netherlands School of Public Health.16 Since 2000, the Swedish National Public Health Institute (SNIPH) has been tasked with developing methodology in strategically important areas and with supporting the application of health assessments on the central, regional and local level.17 In England, the Public Health Observatories play a key role in providing data and analysis for health impact assessments.18
A significant barriers to HiAP in Canada is the existing data infrastructure. Hundreds of major and minor publications speak to the volume of analyses undertaken on health and health systems every year in Canada. Despite this effort, Canadian policy makers and the public do not fully understand how health system vs. non-health factors contribute to the health outcomes observed or the picture of overall health. The available data tends to focus on the health care system, sickness and the measurement of sickness related risks. What is missing is a way of organizing the data which provides greater insight for planners and greater accountability for all Canadians. This capacity will need to be developed in order to properly implement a HiAP approach.
2. CMA recommends that the federal government provide the necessary enabling environment to allow for the application of a health in all policies approach in all new policy development.
As the experiences from other countries demonstrate there is some value in selecting a few Ministries to begin the process. Once selected the Ministries should be responsible for starting the process and screening any new policies. If there is a potential health impact they would then contact the centralized resource to conduct the analysis and produce a report with potential impacts and recommendations for change. This report would go back to the originating Ministry for review and modification of the policy as necessary. Changes should be highlighted and the revised policy should be sent with the health analysis report to Cabinet for final decision-making. This will help to improve the policy and will create greater awareness among all Cabinet members of the potential health implications of various policies.
3. CMA recommends that the Federal Minister of Health work with Cabinet to select appropriate Ministries to begin the implementation of the health in all policies approach.
Role of Health Care Sector:
Government is not the only group with a role in HiAP. The health sector, including Canada's physicians can work to ensure that the policy environment promotes health. By working with governments at all levels, physicians can uses their vast knowledge and expertise to provide evidence regarding potential health implications, and promote the development of evidence-informed decision making. In addition, they can work with partners both within and outside of the health sector to advocate as necessary for policy improvements.19
4. CMA recommends that physicians and other health care providers use their knowledge and expertise to support governments in the development of evidence-informed policy which promotes the health of the population.
Investments in the health system will only go so far in improving the health of the population. Population health approaches must tackle the wider social determinants of health. To do so the government must consider health in all the policies that it develops.
1 Reeves, Richard A Liberal Dose? Health and Wellbeing - the Role of the State: An Independent Report. 2010. Available: www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/@ps/documents/digitalasset/dh_111695.pdf
2 World Health Organizatio. Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies: moving toward a shared governance for health and well-being. Geneva:The Organization; 2010. Available: www.who.int/social_determinants/hiap_statement_who_sa_final.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 16).
3 Keon, WJ, Pépin L. (2008) Population Health Policy: Issues and Options. Ottawa: The Senate of Canada; 2008. Available at: www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/392/soci/rep/rep10apr08-e.pdf
4 Dunn JR. The Health Determinants Partnership Making Connections Project: Are Widening Income Inequalities Making Canada Less Healthy? Toronto :The Health Determinants Partnership; 2002 Available: http://en.healthnexus.ca/sites/en.healthnexus.ca/files/resources/widening_income_equalities.pdf (accessed 2015 Apr 16)
5 Wilkins R, Berthelot J-M, Ng E. Trends in mortality by neighbourhood income in urban Canada from 1971 to 1996. Statistics Canada.Health Rep. 2002:13(Supplement): 10.
6 Knutsson I, Linell A Health impact assessment developments in Sweden. Scand J Public Health. 2010;38:115-120.
7 Epp, J. Achieving health for all: a framework for health promotion. Ottawa: Health and Welfare Canada; 1986. Available: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hcs-sss/pubs/system-regime/1986-frame-plan-promotion/index-eng.php
8 Munro, D Healthy People, Healthy Performance, Healthy Profits: The Case for Business Action on the Socio-Economic Determinants of Health. Ottawa: Conference Board of Canada; 2008.Available: www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/NETWORK_PUBLIC/dec2008_report_healthypeople.sflb
9 Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursese Association. Principles for Health Care Transformation in Canada. Ottawa: The Associations; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-13.pdf
10 St-Pierre L. Governance Tools And Framework For Health In All Policies. Available: www.rvz.net/uploads/docs/Achtergrondstudie_-_Governance_tools_and_framework1.pdf
11 World Health Organization, Government of South Australia. Adapted from WHO Working Definition prepared for the 8Th Global Conference on Health Promotion, Helsinki, 10-14 June 2013.
12 Ollila E, Baum F, Pe ña S. Introduction to health in all policies and the analytical framework of the book. In Leppo K, Ollila E, Pera S, et al., editors. Health in all policies: seizing opportunities, implementing policies. Chap. 1. Finland: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; 2013. Available: www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/188809/Health-in-All-Policies-final.pdf.
13 World Health Organization, Government of South Australia. Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies: moving towards a shared governance for health and well-being. Geneva: The Organization; 2010. Available: www.who.int/social_determinants/hiap_statement_who_sa_final.pdf (accessed October 18, 2014)
14 Rudolph, L, Caplan J, Mitchell C, et al. Health in All Policies: Improving Health Through Intersectoral Collaboration. Washington(DC): Institute of Medicine. Available: www.phi.org/uploads/application/files/q79jnmxq5krx9qiu5j6gzdnl6g9s41l65co2ir1kz0lvmx67to.pdf (accessed October 21, 2014).
15 National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy. Implementation of Sectin 54 of Quebec's Public Health Act. Quebec: The Centre; 2012. Available at: www.ncchpp.ca/docs/Section54English042008.pdf
16 Wright, J, Parry J, Scully EInstitutionalizing policy-level health impact assessment in Europe: Is coupling health impact assessment with strategic environmental assessment the next step forward? Bull World Health Orga. 2005;83(6):472-7
17 Knutsson I, Linell A Health impact assessment developments in Sweden. Scand J Public Health. 2010;38(2):115-20
18 St-Pierre L. Governance Tools And Framework for health in all policies. Available: www.rvz.net/uploads/docs/Achtergrondstudie_-_Governance_tools_and_framework1.pdf
19 Leppo K, Tangcharoensathien V. The health sector's role in HiAP. In Leppo K, Ollila E, Pera S, et al., editors. Health in all policies: seizing opportunities, implementing policies. Chap. 14. Finland: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; 2013.
Available: www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/188809/Health-in-All-Policies-final.pdf. (accessed October 18, 2014)
IMPROVING EFFICIENCY IN THE CANADIAN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
Achieving value in health care systems is an important objective for all nations.1 Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. This policy statement puts forth recommendations for system sustainability and improving quality of care. All system stakeholders including providers, funders and patients bear responsibility to ensure the health care system is as efficient as possible. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation.
Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. The concept of efficiency in health care has two applications. The most common is technical efficiency, which is defined as producing maximum output for a given level of inputs, or minimizing input for a given level of output.2 The difference between actual output and the maximum achievable output may be attributed to inefficiency within the system.
The second is called allocative efficiency, which refers to optimizing resource allocation to produce maximum outputs that fulfill societal demands. Canadian research suggests that increasing technical and allocative efficiency rather than increasing spending could solve some of the current challenges regarding health care quality and sustainability. Based on a macro system-level approach to estimating efficiency among its member countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has estimated that all of its member countries could achieve better value from their health care spending-Canada could save 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product in public spending by 2017 if it were to become as efficient as the most efficient OECD countries.3
2. Health care inefficiencies
The various inefficiencies in the Canadian health care system may be categorized and visualized using the conceptual framework developed by Bentley et al in 2008 for the U.S. health care system 4 (see Figure 1). In Canada, no such framework exists.
The framework of Bentley et al contains three main categories of inefficiencies - clinical, operational, and administrative. Clinical inefficiencies relate to practice variation challenges including, the provision of inappropriate care. Operational inefficiencies include duplication of health care services, inefficient processes, overly expensive inputs, and errors in data collection and processing. Administrative inefficiencies may be generally thought of as excess transaction costs associated with claims payment and excess costs of administration and management over and above what is required to deliver front-line health care.
Figure 1. Typology of health care inefficiencies
Source: Adapted from Bentley et al, 2008.
2.1 Clinical Inefficiencies
Clinical waste and inefficiencies refer to services that provide marginal or no health benefit compared with less costly alternatives. This may include practice variation and the provision of inappropriate and cost-ineffective care, or the underuse of more appropriate care. There is overlap between clinical inefficiencies (e.g., providing the wrong service) with operational inefficiencies (the inefficient production of services).
The chief contributor to clinical inefficiencies or waste in the health care field is practice variation-the reduction of unwarranted care variation is the foundation of the quality movement. John Wennberg and colleagues have pioneered the main body of work in this area through their studies on small area variation in care delivery.5 Over the last quarter century, technical studies on clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have been developed in increasing numbers to address issues of appropriateness of care and care variation.
CPGs are defined as "systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances".6 CPGs should contribute to better health, enhance the quality of care by reducing practice variation, and contribute to better value and lower costs by encouraging more appropriate use of resources by care providers.7 Although there has been no systematic approach in Canada to developing and disseminating CPGs, or to ensuring the quality of the CPGs produced, various organizations have developed initiatives to tackle this issue.8
Since the early 1990s, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has developed and maintained a CPG Infobase, which contains roughly 1,200 guidelines.9 The uptake of CPGs is a crucial component and insufficient resources are applied to necessary clinical practice change processes. Moreover, CPGs should be distillable to actionable points-of-care recommendations suited to the intended end user (e.g., family physicians).
In January 2012, the Council of the Federation (CoF) established the Health Care Innovation Working Group, which comprises all provincial and territorial health ministers, to determine practical and innovative ways to increase the value and effectiveness of care.10 The group's CPG recommendations focused on cardiovascular disease and diabetes - two of the most prevalent and highest-costing chronic diseases in Canada (see Appendix A for list of CPGs). In accordance with the CoF, the CMA recommends:
1. Developing chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system.
2. Integrating clinical practice guidelines with electronic medical records.
3. Implementing a pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines strategy.
4. Using evidence-informed clinical practice guidelines to evaluate patient outcomes, appropriateness, and cost-effectiveness.
5. Developing deployment strategies to ensure maximum use of clinical practice guidelines by physicians.
Clinical practice guidelines need regular updating as new evidence emerges. Therefore, a Pan-Canadian strategy should include a system of regular review and updating using development methods that would exclude the possibility of industry bias. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada (see below).
There is an increasing trend in health care utilization in areas such as medical procedures, drugs, and physician services.11 Questions remain about whether or not people are receiving care that is appropriate and based on the best available scientific information.12 Inappropriate care, such as the hospitalization of patients who need community-based services or prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory infections that are likely viral in origin, is another source of clinical inefficiency, using scarce resources for marginal or no health benefit.
The CMA recently defined appropriate care as the right care, provided by the right provider, to the right patient, in the right venue, at the right time:
* "right care" is based on evidence for effectiveness and efficacy in the clinical literature, and not only implies appropriateness of use, but inappropriateness of failure to use;
* "right provider" is based on ensuring the provider's scope of practice adequately meets but does not far exceed the skills and knowledge to deliver the care;
* "right patient" acknowledges that care choices must be matched to individual patient characteristics and preferences;
* "right venue" emphasizes that some settings are better suited in terms of safety and efficiency to delivering a specific type of care than others;
* "right time" indicates care is delivered in a timely manner consistent with agreed upon bench marks.
As a corollary to this definition, if all five components are present, high quality care has been delivered with the optimal use of resources, that is, waste has been eliminated and the best value has been obtained.
Appropriateness is primarily determined by analyses of the evidence of clinical effectiveness, safety, and other health system impacts.13 The practical application of appropriateness is made when these analyses are qualified by (a) clinician judgment, particularly in atypical circumstances14 and (b) societal and ethical principles and values, including patient preferences.
There are a number of perverse incentives that can contribute to the delivery of inappropriate care across the system. These exist at the system level (e.g., patients staying in hospitals longer than needed due to the lack of community services), as well as at the individual encounter level (changes in fee codes for insured medical services such as new consult fees to see a patient every six months). Physicians and payers such as governments need to work together to eliminate perverse incentives based on available medical evidence. Physician incentives should align with system needs. The challenge is getting governments, health authorities and provincial and territorial medical associations, and individual providers agreeing on system goals and objectives.
In the U.S., an innovative appropriateness initiative called Choosing Wisely was established in 2011 with the goal of improving care quality and reducing harm to patients by avoiding unnecessary interventions, with the added benefit of possible cost reductions.15 The initiative challenged specialty societies to identify five clinical activities in their field that are generally of little value or are potentially harmful to patients.16
In Canada, CMA's 2013 General Council called for the formation of a collaborative working group to develop specialty-specific lists of clinical tests/interventions and procedures for which benefits have generally not been shown to exceed the risks. Choosing Wisely Canada was launched on April 2, 2014 with the release of eight lists produced by nine specialty societies (one list was released jointly by the CMA's Forum on General and Family Practice Issues (GP Forum) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC)). Twelve additional medical specialty societies released lists in October 2014. The Choosing Wisely Canada campaign is endorsed and supported by over 35 national specialty societies representing a broad spectrum of physicians, as well as by all provincial medical associations, patient organizations, accrediting bodies and others (Website: www.choosingwiselycanada.org). Choosing Wisely Canada aims to promote physician-patient communication about unproductive care and conserve resources by eliminating unneeded activities. This initiative also serves as an example of the role of public education campaigns to help improve appropriate care.
The development of a Canadian version of the Choosing Wisely initiative assists in operationalizing the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim concept of better care, better health, better value. Specific benefits include:
* Improving accountability by providing transparent, evidence-informed care;
* Facilitating patients to make the right care decisions;
* Enhancing physician-patient relationships: improve communication and decision-making between patients and their physician; and
* Reducing clinical inefficiencies.
The ultimate objective and impetus for adopting a Choosing Wisely initiative must be to improve patient outcomes. Cost savings to the system should occur as a byproduct. Physicians are in the best position to identify which medical services are unnecessary.
Both patients and providers need to be aware of the costs associated with each treatment option, recognizing there is a balance to strike between cost and value. To facilitate this process, the CMA recommends:
6. Making available data on the cost and cost-effectiveness of treatment options at the point of care.
7. Collecting information to evaluate cost-effective care.
8. Posting costs generated by requests for diagnostic and laboratory tests in electronic medical records.
Evaluation should take place to ensure the posting of costs is targeted to areas where it will be most effective.
2.2 Operational inefficiencies
Examples of operational waste include: undertaking tests or procedures more frequently than clinically necessary (e.g., duplication of tests); unnecessary time spent waiting for medical services or time wasted from processes that add little value; using brand drugs for patients who get equal benefit from generics; and health and cost consequences of medical errors or the use of defective medical devices.
These system inefficiencies can amount to very significant costs to the health care system, patients and the economy. For instance, lengthy waits can have serious health consequences for patient outcomes and result in the substitution of additional health care services while waiting (e.g., use of pain medication). A 2008 study calculated the economic impact of excessive wait times for five procedures (hip and knee replacement surgery, MRIs, CABG surgery and cataract surgery) in all 10 provinces. It found that, in addition to the obvious emotional, physical and financial toll endured by patients and their families, lengthy waits for these medical treatments cost Canada's economy an estimated $14.8 billion overall in 2007 in reduced economic activity by patients ($16.9 billion in 2014 dollars). This included a $4.4 billion reduction in federal and provincial government revenues.17
Notwithstanding a shortage in health care infrastructure, there is general consensus that not all hospital infrastructure is used to its fullest capacity, contributing to lengthy wait times for many patients. This can include excessive turnover time between cases or limited operating room hours that can result in the last patient of the day being unable to receive their surgery at great cost to the patient and their family. In many instances, urban hospitals must cancel surgeries due to overbooked operating room time when in smaller and rural communities, operating rooms are not fully utilized. Strategies should be explored to enable greater use of health infrastructure resources in smaller community hospitals that will serve to enhance timely access to care for patients. This would also ensure that staff had a level of activity that would maintain their skills.
There has been significant uptake of operations research and quality improvement processes to help eliminate operational waste and address unnecessary waiting by patients. To this end, CMA will continue to work with its partners in the Wait Time Alliance to identify strategies to improve timely access to care for patients across the continuum. The CMA will also study the potential health applications of the Theory of Constraints within the Canadian health care system.18
There can also be system-wide inefficiencies in the various health systems operating in the country and in terms of how health systems interact with other systems such as economic and social support systems (e.g., lack of services to address homelessness). Changes in one component of the health care system can negatively affect the efficiency in another component. For instance, cuts made to home care services can lead to a rise in the number of alternate-level-of care (ALC) patients in hospitals, increased wait times in emergency departments, and elective surgery cancelations. A more recent source of system inefficiency has been occurring due to the piecemeal adoption of electronic medical records and information systems (EMR) throughout the country. The multitude of systems adopted by different segments of the health care system has resulted in problems with system inter-operability that often exacerbate administrative and clinical inefficiencies such as preventing the electronic attachment of test results leading to the reordering of tests.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) developed a model to measure and evaluate "health system efficiency" within Canada. It measures the average efficiency of health systems in Canada's health regions and the factors that help explain variations in estimates of system efficiency (measured as the reduction in potential years of life lost (PYLL) from treatable causes of death). The study found that equitable access to physician care is positively associated with efficiency.19 Unfortunately, over 4 million Canadians still do not have a regular family physician.20
In addition, the CIHI study found that factors related to the social determinants of health can also affect system efficiency (e.g., missed prevention opportunities). Frequently, the health care system is relied on to address preventable health needs that are attributable to the social determinants of health (e.g., injuries or illnesses caused by lack of affordable housing or poverty). Furthermore, these factors can negatively affect the effectiveness of any treatment provided by the health care system.21
Governments and health administrators should focus on improving efficiencies where there is the highest volume of services as new models of efficiency do not always show results in low volume areas.
2.3 Administrative inefficiencies
Health programs can be funded and administered at a variety of levels: local, regional, provincial and federal, as well as through employers. According to CIHI, administration accounted for $6.3 billion, or 3.1%, of health care costs in Canada in 2011-roughly middle of the pack among OECD countries22-but this is only the cost of providing public and private health insurance programs and the costs associated with health departments'operations.11 Generally, differences in the level of health administration can be explained in part by the type of health system and financing used such as whether multiple insurance providers exist or the extent that complex funding and billing procedures are in place.23 1
In terms of other administrative costs, we do not know how Canada has evolved over time in comparison to other sectors of the economy or how we compare internationally with respect to the effectiveness of administration expenditures.1 There have been questions about the expansion and contraction of regional health authorities in Canada over the past two decades. However, Canada does not have a detailed set of health accounts that would permit such analysis. CIHI has recently begun to report the percentage of administrative services expenses (general administration, finances, human resources and communications) as a percentage of total expenses for over 600 hospitals as part of its Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP).24
One source of administrative waste is the cost of duplicate collection and recording of health information. The health sector has been slow in adopting health information technology to help reduce this form of administrative waste.
Another cause of inefficiency is the increase in administrative burden faced by Canadian physicians and their patients. A major contributor is the rise in requests for physicians to complete third party forms from insurance companies and governments (see Appendix B for a list of examples of federal health programs and related medical forms). Different definitions of concepts are frequently used in these forms, but in many instances they are asking for similar information about the same patient. Physicians are also frequently requested to complete sick notes-the CMA believes such an absence does not require physician confirmation of illness and represents an inefficient use of scarce health care resources.25
The cumulative effect of a physician being requested to complete several forms each day can result in significant administrative burden and take away time that physicians can spend providing direct patient care. Standardizing definitions and wording on third-party forms can save time and reduce administrative errors. Physicians fully support any efforts by the private insurance industry and governments to standardize their medical forms. In addition, consideration should be given to instances where other designated providers can be tasked with completing particular forms. Where suitable, electronic medical records (EMRs) can improve the completion and timely submission of third-party forms to the benefit of patients, providers and third-parties.
To address these administrative inefficiencies, the following actions have been recommended by CMA:
9. Federal and provincial auditors general design and implement a protocol for detailed enumeration of administrative costs within their health care systems, including tracking of these costs over time, and issue an annual public report.
10. CIHI conduct a detailed study of administrative costs of Canadian hospitals and regional health authorities and report the findings.
11. Harmonize and centralize, in electronic and written format, all administrative forms that physicians must fill out on behalf of their patients.
3. Innovating for efficiency
Since the late 1990s, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and other granting bodies have provided considerable funding for applied health services research to aid the implementation of pilot projects to improve the quality of care delivered in Canada. However, Canada is frequently criticized for its inability to move beyond pilot projects to full implementation. One often-cited reason is the lack of communication about promising innovations from one jurisdiction to another. Other reasons include regulatory barriers such as funding silos, and pilot project funding for a limited duration to prevent meaningful outcome evaluation. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful and sustained system innovation.26
The CMA supports:
12. Developing and testing innovative structures or programs to demonstrate clear evidence of improvement in health care outcomes and fiscal sustainability before wide-spread adoption into the Canadian health delivery system.
13. Developing policy tools that provide criteria for identifying barriers to quality, efficiency and equity in emerging models of health care delivery.
14. Creating a registry of physician-managed health care transformation projects. This registry should outline the challenges and lessons learned associated with each project for those interested in adopting similar projects.
Addressing efficiency challenges in the Canadian health care system can improve the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care, while making the system more cost-effective and sustainable. Many components of the health care inefficiencies set out by Bentley et al are now being considered by governments. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation. Physicians should practice high quality, evidence-informed health care, and advocate for cost-effective allocation of scarce resources. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada.
Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) recommended by
The Health Care Innovation Working Group of the Council of the Federation
The group recommended each province and territory work with their health authorities to adopt the following CPGs:
* The C-CHANGE guidelines for cardiovascular disease published by the Canadian Cardiovascular Harmonization of National Guidelines Endeavour (C-CHANGE) to reduce guideline variations and confusion among care providers.
* Harmonized guidelines for diagnosis, which include:
o Laboratory testing (e.g., urine analysis, ECGs)
o Risk stratification strategies (e.g., family history, lifestyle choices, and diabetic patients).
* Harmonized guidelines for treatment, which include:
o Establishing treatment targets (e.g., limiting alcohol consumption, healthy body weight, glycemic or glucose targets)
o Health behavior interventions (e.g., balanced heart healthy diet, limiting salt intake, smoking cessation)
o Pharmacological therapy (e.g., assessment of drug and drug interactions, co-morbidities).
Examples of federal health programs and related medical forms
physicians are frequently requested to complete
* Canada Pension Plan Disability
* Disability Tax Credit
* Employment Insurance (Sickness Benefits Claim)
* Non-Insured Health Benefits (for First Nations people and Inuit)
* Veterans Disability Pension
* Compassionate Care Leave
* Exception/Limited Use Drug Request Form (to permit access to drugs not on provincial formularies)
* Interim Federal Health Program
* Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring forms
1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Health care systems: getting more value for money. OECD Economics Department Policy Note No. 2. Paris: The Organisation; 2010.
2 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Developing a model for measuring the efficiency of the health system in Canada. Ottawa: The Institute; 2012. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HS_Efficiency_Tech_Report_EN-web.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 30).
3 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD economic surveys: Canada 2012. Paris: OECD Publishing; 2012. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-can-2012-enOECD
4 Bentley T, Effros R, Palar K, et al. Waste in the U.S. health care system: a conceptual framework. Milbank Q. 2008;86(4):629-59.
5 Wennberg J, Gittelson A. Small area variations in health care delivery. Science. 1973;182:1102-8.
6 Field MJ, Lohr KN. Clinical practice guidelines: directions for a new program. Washington (DC): National Academy Press; 1990. p. 38.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Handbook on clinical practice guidelines. Ottawa: The Association; 2007.
8 The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has launched a Strategy for Patient Oriented Research and one of its core elements is the improvement of guideline development, dissemination and uptake through support for guideline development and dissemination. Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Canada's strategy for patient-oriented research: improving health outcomes through evidence-informed care. Ottawa: The Institutes; 2011. Available: www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/documents/P-O_Research_Strategy-eng.pdf (accessed 2012 Feb 22).
9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Infobase: clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Available: www.cma.ca/En/Pages/clinical-practice-guidelines.aspx (accessed 2012 Feb 22).
10 Council of the Federation Working Group. From innovation to action - the first report of the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Available: www.canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/publications/health_innovation_report-e-web.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 25).
11 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2013. Ottawa: The Institute; 2013. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/NHEXTrendsReport_EN.pdf.
12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Health care in Canada 2010. Ottawa: The Institute; 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2010_Web_e.pdf (accessed 2014 Oct 7).
13 Canadian Medical Association. Appropriateness. Ottawa: The Association; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-05.pdf.
14 Goldberger JJ, Buxton AE. Personalized medicine vs guideline-based medicine. JAMA. 2013;309(24):2559-60.
15 Siwek J. Choosing wisely: top interventions to improve health and reduce harm, while lowering costs. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):128-33.
16 The Good Stewardship Working Group. The "top 5" lists in primary care. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(15):1385-90.
17 Centre for Spatial Economics. The economic cost of wait times in Canada. Ottawa: The Centre; 2008. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/EconomicReport-e.pdf (accessed 2014 Apr 14).
18 Knight A. The theory of constraints in health and social care. Aldbury (UK): QFI Consulting; 2011.
19 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Measuring the level and determinants of health system efficiency in Canada. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014 Apr. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HSE_TechnicalReport_EN_web.pdf (accessed 2014 Feb 5).
20 Statistics Canada. Access to a regular medical doctor, 2012. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11832-eng.htm (accessed 2014 Jan 5).
21 Canadian Medical Association. Health care in Canada: What makes us sick? Town hall report. Ottawa: The Association; 2013 Jul. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/fr/advocacy/What-makes-us-sick_en.pdf.
22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Guidelines to improve estimates of expenditure on health administration and health insurance. Paris: The Organisation; 2013 Dec.
23 Himmelstein DU, Jun M, Busse R, et al. A comparison of hospital administrative costs in eight nations: U.S. costs exceed all others by far. Health Aff (Millwood). 2014;33(9):1586-94.
24 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP). Available: www.cihi.ca/CIHI-ext-portal/internet/EN/Home/home/cihi000001 (accessed 2014 Mar 20).
25 Canadian Medical Association. Short-term illness certificate. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-06.pdf
26 Lee TH, Cosgrove T. Engaging doctors in the health care revolution. Harv Bus Rev. 2014;92(6):104-11, 138.
When physicians believe their patients may require the expertise of another physician, effective, timely and informative communication between all physicians is essential to ensure appropriate use of specialty care services. The results of physician surveys indicate a lack of informative referral communication exists in Canada. Significant variation exists in referral request processes*. This is contributing to the poor access to specialty care that many patients are experiencing.
Some of this variation is necessary, however, which means that a single, standardized solution to improve the entire referral and consultation process is not feasible. Nonetheless, while communication processes and information requirements for referral requests vary considerably, the communication and information needs in consultant responses is essentially the same for all referring physicians. Unfortunately, provision of this information is often lacking. This problem can be addressed through standard communication protocols because all referring physicians benefit from receiving the same types of information in response to referral requests; for example, acknowledgement of referral receipt or patient consult reports.
Furthermore, when referrals are initiated, specific types of requests can benefit from standardization of communication methods and information requirements. Such activities are already underway in Canada in select areas. These successful initiatives, used together as complementary approaches to address the varying needs of referral requests, should be adopted throughout the country. Visit CMA's Referral and Consultation Process Toolbox1 for examples.
Recognition, in the form of appropriate compensation, must also be given to the time spent preparing and analyzing referral requests as well as conducting consultations. Support for the use of information technology infrastructure, where available, will also facilitate efforts to streamline referral and consultation processes.
It should be noted that, while the language of this policy statement has a focus on primary to specialty care referrals, the concepts and recommendations apply to referrals between all specialties.
* All stakeholders, especially physicians, but also, where appropriate, office assistants, nurses, other health care providers as well as patients, must be engaged in an early and meaningful way regarding any initiative that has a goal to improve referral or consultation processes.
* There is no single best way to access specialist expertise; as a result, a combination of complementary initiatives (e.g., formal consultation systems, standardized referral processes with central intake systems and/or physician directories) should be implemented to reduce variation in the approaches that are used and to facilitate more timely access to specialty care for patients.
* While acknowledging the referring physician's ability to interpret certain test results, the referral must be accompanied by appropriate information to allow the consulting specialist to fully assess the request, and the referring physician must be informed of what is "appropriate".
* The referring physician (and family physician if different), as well as the patient, should be kept informed, in a timely fashion, of the status of the referral request, using standardized procedures, minimum information requirements and timelines.
* Physician and/or physician practices should receive compensation and support in recognition of the time and effort undertaken to communicate appropriate information regarding referral requests as well as to conduct electronic or real-time consultations.
When a physician decides that a patient requires the expertise of another specialist, the most appropriate next step can range from the specialist answering a question to assessing the need for a particular procedure or treatment. No matter how simple or complex the specialist's involvement may be, successful communication between all physicians is critical. Unfortunately, this does not occur as often as it should. In October 2012, a survey of physicians on the topic of referrals found that while over half of both family physicians (52%) and other specialists (69%) agree that referral communication is effective, two-thirds of family physicians noted that some kind of communication problem was a main source of frustration for them; for example not being informed about: referral receipt, the patient's appointment, a treatment plan, or that the specialist does not do the service requested. A similar proportion of specialists noted a lack of basic or supporting information (e.g., reason for referral or lab test results) as a main frustration with referral requests.2
The most appropriate method of communication differs depending on the degree of specialist involvement that is required. There are no standards about which method of communication is the most appropriate or effective, or what information is required, for each situation. Referral request processes† vary significantly; not only across specialties but among specialists within a particular specialty and even within a geographic region. Examples of this variation include: some consulting specialists will accept referrals only if the referring physician has used their specific referral form; others accept referrals using only one particular communication method (e.g., by fax); and others accept referrals on just one day each month. Such variation creates inefficiencies because referring physicians must familiarize themselves with each request process that is required by each consulting specialist. The range and quality of information provided in a referral request also varies considerably; for example, too little information (i.e. no reason for referral provided), insufficient information (i.e. out-of-date or a lack of lab or imaging tests), or to too much information (i.e. non-contributory family history).
This lack of standardization is problematic. In this context, standardization means simplification rather than obligation. Standardized processes facilitate communications for referrals by removing ambiguities about which method is most appropriate for each situation. Communication methods and the types of information that are transferred between referring physicians and consulting specialists vary based on numerous factors, ranging from those beyond the control of physicians such as regulations and available technology, to those completely within their control such as their own individual preferences.
An effective way to facilitate appropriate and timely access to specialty care that is within the control of the health care profession is to explore the rationale behind these varying communication and information preferences and address these variations by developing, with meaningful participation and approval from physicians and their administrative staff, standard processes for requesting a specialist referral and for communicating back to the referring physician.
Some of the provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons have guidelines or standards of practice specifically about referrals and consultations. The most comprehensive of these are the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Nova Scotia's (CPSNS) Guidelines for Physicians Regarding Referral and Consultation3 and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta's (CPSA) Standard for Practice on The Referral Consultation Process.4 In addition, the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College) developed collaboratively a guide to enhancing referrals and consultations between physicians.5 While these documents do not discuss which method of communication should be used for each referral request scenario, they do provide guidance in a number of areas, including:
* minimum requirements for information that should be provided with all referral requests
* information that should be conveyed to patients (e.g., why they are being referred, information about the specialist appointment, etc) as well as who should be providing this information
* processes that should be followed for patients requiring ongoing care from the consulting physician
While standardization of the minimum information requirements that should be included in communications between referring and consulting physicians is essential for finding efficiencies with referral processes, these efficiencies will not be fully realized without proper consideration of the information technology infrastructure that is used to convey this information. The way in which the information is provided should not require additional effort for either the sender or the receiver. Electronic referral systems, where all data necessary for an informative referral can be easily obtained by the appropriate physician from the patient's electronic health record, would be the best way to ensure that this occurs. However, until this becomes a reality, a suitable compromise can be found by allowing flexibility in the format in which the information is provided.
Communication from Primary Care to Specialty Care
When the extent of a specialist's involvement in patient care is simply providing a second opinion or advice about appropriate next steps, standardizing the process for this kind of communication is relatively straightforward. This is because the variation that exists in this situation is primarily due to the availability of the consulting specialist and the methods of communication that each referring physician can use to contact the specialist.
Certain regions of the country have established consultation services whereby specialists participating in the program must respond to consult requests within a specified time frame. Examples of effective consultation systems include the telephone advice line known as Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise (RACE)6 in BC or the secure electronic consultation system known as Building Access to Specialist Care through e-Consultation (BASE)7 in the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ontario. Such services have proven quite effective at reducing the number of unnecessary referrals8,9; thereby ensuring more appropriate use of specialty care and helping to reduce wait times for this care. Through both of these systems, specialists ensure that they are available to respond to the consult question in a timely manner and each system uses only one form of communication.
At the other end of the spectrum of specialist involvement in patient care, when the patient sees the specialist, there is a much greater degree of variation in what is required of the specialist - from one-time interventions such as surgical procedures, to chronic care. The best approach for streamlining the referral process in these more complex situations varies, depending on the type of specialist care that is required.
With central intake referral systems, the referring physician sends a referral request to one location. This central location can be organized in two ways; central triage or pooled referrals. With central triage, referrals are assigned to specialists based on their level of urgency. With pooled referrals, each referral is allocated to the next available specialist, who then does the triaging. The differences in where the triaging occurs exist due to a number of factors; including the type of care the specialty provides as well as the number of specialists in the geographic region. However, for both types of central intake systems, the referring physician follows a standard process regardless of the specialist who assumes care of the patient.
Regardless of the type of central intake method that is used, the option to choose a particular specialist must always be available. However, even with this option in place, a central intake system of any kind is not necessarily the most appropriate solution for all specialties. This is often the case when ongoing patient-specialist relationships are quite common. For example, a woman might prefer that the same obstetrician cares for her during all of her pregnancies, or patients with chronic conditions such as arthritis or diabetes and require continuous care throughout their lifetime. In these situations, coordinating a central intake program where a significant proportion of specialist appointments are repeat visits is difficult.
A physician directory might be a more useful referral tool in situations where specialties do not have sufficient numbers of specialists in one geographic region or for those that have a high degree of sub-specialization. Such directories provide, at a minimum, details of the services each specialist provides and does not provide. Those that provide information regarding wait times, especially those with information on the wait for the first specialist visit, are extremely useful for referring physicians as it allows them to select a specialist with the most appropriate wait time for their patient and, where relevant, it also allows the referring physician to develop an appropriate care plan based on the time the patient must wait for specialty care.
Despite the fact that the complexities with specialty referrals mean that there is no one solution that is appropriate for all types of specialties, the extreme variation in processes that currently exists is also unnecessary.
Standard referral information requirements for specialty groups with similar needs, such as most surgical specialties, have been effectively established in some areas of the country. For example, in Calgary, Alberta, a major initiative known as Medical Access to Service10, has, among other things, successfully developed a standard referral form and process for central intake for multiple specialties. While most of these specialties also request additional information, each specialty has agreed on a standard set of minimum requirements. These standards were developed collaboratively with physicians and could be expanded nationwide, while taking regulatory and technological differences into account.
When establishing the requirements for an informative referral, consulting specialists must acknowledge that the referring physician may not have the expertise necessary to appropriately interpret certain test results. In such cases it is the consulting specialists who should order these tests.
Communication from Specialty Care to Primary Care
What must not be overlooked is that referral communication is bilateral. Informative and timely communication from the consulting specialist to the referring physician is also critical for a successful referral. Such a referral can be defined as one where the patient receives appropriate and timely specialty care where all parties - patient, specialist(s), referring physician and family physician (when the referring physician is not the patient's family physician) - are aware of all of the patient's relevant interactions with the health care system as well as any follow-up care that may be required. To ensure this occurs, after the referral request is initiated, the referring physician (and family physician if different) should be informed, in a timely manner, of the status of the referral at all stages:
* referral receipt
* request for more information
* referral acceptance/rejection (with explanation and suggested alternatives)
* patient appointment has been scheduled
* patient consult notes (including recommended treatment plan and follow-up)
A definition of what is considered "timely" is required. Standards must be established based on what is considered to be an acceptable response time at each stage. The patient must also be promptly informed of the status of the referral request throughout the entire process.
Examples of the types of information that should be conveyed include (where appropriate):
* how the referral request will be processed; e.g., pooled referral or central triage
* expected wait time or when the appointment has been scheduled
* whether another specialist has been contacted
* whether a repeat visit is required
* whether the patient has been contacted about anything that is relevant to them; e.g., referred elsewhere, wait time, appointment(s) scheduled
The information and communication that the referring physician requires from the consulting specialist for all referrals is much more homogeneous. In addition, there are no regulatory or technological barriers preventing the provision of this information at the appropriate stages of the referral process. This is one area where communication between physicians is within their control. Therefore, improved communication for responses to referral requests through standardized processes can be much more easily established. Unfortunately this is not the case, causing considerable effort to be undertaken by referring physicians and/or their office staff to track the status of referrals.
Considerably less attention has been given to this part of the process; however, some activities described in the CMA's Referral and Consultation Process Toolbox1 do address problems regarding the referral response. Central Intake systems are an example. These often include standard response times for at least the first three stages noted above, as well as information about the specialist who has received the referral request.
The previously cited guidelines developed by the CPSNS 3, the standard of practice by the CPSA4 and the guide to enhancing referrals and consultations between physicians developed by the CFPC and the Royal College5 also have recommendations for consulting specialist responses to referral requests (including information requirements and timelines). These resources can be used as a starting point for establishing referral communication standards in both directions and with patients. As an important example, the guidelines for both provincial colleges specifically indicate that the consulting specialist is responsible for arranging appointments with the patient and notifying the referring physician of the date(s).
Compensation and Support
Another aspect of the referral process that is not given sufficient consideration is the time and effort that is involved in preparing and responding to a referral request. Both preparing an informative referral request and responding to one is time-consuming; very little recognition is given towards this work. In some areas of the country, physicians receive compensation for participating in electronic or telephone consultation programs. This form of recognition has successfully helped avoid unnecessary referrals and should be expanded nation-wide; however, much more should be done to acknowledge this effort, especially when a specialist visit is necessary.
The time referring physicians spend gathering the necessary data for a referral request, or the time consulting specialists spend analyzing this data, triaging the referrals accordingly and preparing patient consult notes, is almost never acknowledged as part of a physician compensation package. In most jurisdictions this work is considered to be just a component of a typical patient visit. Since many primary care group practices employ administrative staff who are "referral coordinators"; whose main role is to assist physicians in the data gathering and preparation that is required for an informative referral request, as well as following up on referral requests; the process of referring a patient to specialty care is much more than "just a component of a typical patient visit".
Support for widespread implementation of effective information technology infrastructure can facilitate the preparation of appropriate referral requests and responses and can also encourage timely and informative communication between referring physicians and consulting specialists.
The high degree of variability in both the methods of communication and the information transferred between physicians is a significant barrier to timely access to specialty care for patients. Significant effort by physicians and their office staff is expended unnecessarily in the referral process, not only in initiating or responding to the request, but also in tracking and follow-up.
While there is no single solution that will address all referral communication problems, several complementary solutions exist that can reduce this variability and wasted effort, thereby simplifying the process and facilitating appropriate, timely and informative communication between referring physicians and consulting specialists. Examples of such initiatives can be found in the CMA's Referral and Consultation Process Toolbox.1
* For the purposes of this policy statement, this term applies to all situations where another physician is contacted regarding patient care.
† For the purposes of this policy statement, this term applies to all situations where another physician is contacted regarding patient care.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Referral/Consultation Process. Available at: http://www.cma.ca/referrals. Accessed 29 Nov 2013.
2 Canadian Medical Association. Challenges with patient referrals - a survey of family physicians and other specialists; October 2012 (Unpublished).
3 College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. Guidelines for Physicians Regarding Referral and Consultation. Available at: http://www.cpsns.ns.ca/Portals/0/Guidelines-policies/guidelines-referral-consultation.pdf. Accessed 15 Nov 2013.
4 College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta. The Referral Consultation Process. Available at: http://www.cpsa.ab.ca/Libraries/standards-of-practice/the-referral-consultation-process.pdf?sfvrsn=0. Accessed 16 Sep 2014.
5 College of Family Physicians of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Guide to enhancing referrals and consultations between physicians. Available at: http://www.cfpc.ca/ProjectAssets/Templates/Resource.aspx?id=3448. Accessed 27 Nov 2013.
6 Rapid Access to Specialist Expertise. Available at: www.raceconnect.ca. Accessed 27 Nov 2013.
7 Liddy C, Rowan MS, Afkham A, Maranger J, Keely E. Building access to specialist care through e-consultation. Open Med. 2013 Jan 8;7(1):e1-8. Available at: http://www.openmedicine.ca/article/view/551/492. Accessed 27 Nov 2013.
8 Wilson M. Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise: An innovative model for shared care. Available at: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/RACE-Overview-March-2014.pdf. Accessed 16 Sep 2014.
9Afkham A. Champlain BASE project: Building Access to Specialists Through e-Consultation. Available at: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Champlain-BASE-Dec2013-e.pdf. Accessed 16 Sep 2014.
10 Alberta Health Services, University of Calgary Department of Medicine. Medical Access to Service (MAS). Available at: http://www.departmentofmedicine.com/MAS/ Accessed 15 Nov 2013.
Vision for e-Prescribing: a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association
By 2015, e-prescribing will be the means by which prescriptions are generated for Canadians.
e-Prescribing is the secure electronic creation and transmission of a prescription between an authorized prescriber and a patient's pharmacy of choice, using clinical Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and pharmacy management software.
Health Information Technology (HIT) is an enabler to support clinicians in the delivery of health care services to patients. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) each have identified e-prescribing as a key tool to deliver better value to patients. The integration of HIT into clinics and health care facilities where physicians and pharmacists provide care is a priority for both associations1.
As part of its Health Care Transformation initiative, the CMA highlighted the need to accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing. In its policy on optimal prescribing the CMA noted that one of the key elements was the introduction of electronic prescribing. The CPhA, as part of its Blueprint for Pharmacy Implementation Plan, highlights information and communication technology, which includes e-prescribing, as one of five priority areas.
We applaud the ongoing efforts of Canada Health Infoway, provinces and territories to establish Drug Information Systems (DIS) and the supporting infrastructure to enable e-prescribing. We urge governments to maintain e-prescribing as a priority and take additional measures to accelerate their investments in this area.
It is our joint position that e-prescribing will improve patient care and safety. e-Prescribing, when integrated with DIS, supports enhanced clinical decision-making, prescribing and medication management, and integrates additional information available at the point of care into the clinical workflow.
The following principles should guide our collective efforts to build e-prescribing capability in all jurisdictions:
* Patient confidentiality and security must be maintained
* Patient choice must be protected
* Clinicians must have access to best practice information and drug cost and formulary data
* Work processes must be streamlined and e-prescribing systems must be able to integrate with clinical and practice management software and DIS
* Guidelines must be in place for data sharing among health professionals and for any other use or disclosure of data
* The authenticity and accuracy of the prescription must be verifiable
* The process must prevent prescription forgeries and diversion
* Pan-Canadian standards must be set for electronic signatures
Benefits of e-Prescribing
A number of these benefits will be realized when e-prescribing is integrated with jurisdictional Drug Information Systems (DIS).
o Improves patient safety and overall quality of care
o Increases convenience for dispensing of new and refill prescriptions
o Supports collaborative, team-based care
o Supports a safer and more efficient method of prescribing and authorizing refills by replacing outdated phone, fax and paper-based prescriptions
o Eliminates re-transcription and decreases risk of errors and liability, as a prescription is written only once at the point-of-care
o Supports electronic communications between providers and reduces phone calls and call-backs to/from pharmacies for clarification
o Provides Warning and Alert systems at the point of prescribing, supporting clinician response to potential contraindications, drug interactions and allergies
o Facilitates informed decision-making by making medication history, drug, therapeutic, formulary and cost information available at the point of prescribing
* Health Care System:
o Improves efficiency and safety of prescribing, dispensing and monitoring of medication therapy
o Supports access to a common, comprehensive medication profile, enhancing clinical decision-making and patient adherence
o Increases cost-effective medication use, through improved evidence-based prescribing, formulary adherence, awareness of drug costs and medication management
o Improves reporting and drug use evaluation
While evidence of the value of e-prescribing is established in the literature, its existence has not fostered broad implementation and adoption. In Canada, there are a number of common and inter-related challenges to e-prescribing's implementation and adoption. These include:
* Improving access to relevant and complete information to support decision-making
* Increasing the level of the adoption of technology at the point of care
* Focusing on systems-based planning to ensure continuum-wide value
* Integrating e-prescribing into work processes to gain support from physicians, pharmacists and other prescribers
* Increasing leadership commitment to communicate the need for change, remove barriers and ensure progress
* Updating legislation and regulation to support e-prescribing
Enabling e-Prescribing in Canada
CMA and CPhA believe that we can achieve the vision that is set out in this document and address the aforementioned challenges by working collectively on five fronts:
* Health care leadership in all jurisdictions and clinical organizations must commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015
* Provinces and territories, with Canada Health Infoway, must complete the building blocks to support e-prescribing by increasing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) adoption at the point of care, finishing the work on the Drug Information Systems (DIS) in all jurisdictions and building the connectivity among the points of care and the DIS systems
* Pharmacist and medical organizations in conjunction with provinces, territories and Canada Health Infoway must identify clear benefits for clinicians (enhancing the effectiveness of care delivery and in efficiencies in changing workflows) to adopt e-prescribing and focus their efforts on achieving these benefits in the next three years
* Provinces, territories and regulatory organizations must create a policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing which facilitates the role of clinicians in providing health care to their patients
* Provinces and territories must harmonize the business rules and e-health standards to simplify implementation and conformance by software vendors and allow more investment in innovation.
1 Health Care Transformation in Canada, Canadian Medical Association, June 2010; Blueprint for Pharmacy Implementation Plan, Canadian Pharmacists Association, September 2009