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
The Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Paediatric Society, Canadian Psychiatric Association, Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and College of Family Physicians of Canada are pleased to provide a joint supplementary submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology study on mental health, mental illness and addiction in Canada.
This submission provides advice on the areas that we believe require the most immediate attention from the federal government over the short term, and that will have the most direct benefit for those affected by mental illness, poor mental health and addiction.
The four areas are:
1. Federal Leadership &Capacity
2. Access Benchmarks and Surveillance Information
3. Best practices in mental illness, mental health and addiction
4. Human resource planning
This submission also provides recommendations for specific “priority tasks” under each of these four general areas.
1. Federal Leadership & Capacity
Federal leadership and capacity must be rapidly and significantly enhanced in order to address the existing deficiencies in the mental health system. This will signal and institutionalize a renewed commitment by the federal government and will ultimately provide support for Canadians impacted by mental illness, poor mental health and addictions.
Federal capacity can be enhanced through one of 3 models: a unit in an existing federal department, a federal arm’s length agency, or a pan-Canadian arm’s length agency.
Model 1: Unit within an existing federal department
Under this option, a new Branch led by an assistant deputy minister (ADM) would be created within Health Canada to provide policy leadership and deliver federal programs and services in the area of mental health, mental illness and addiction. The ADM would have general authority for its management and direction, be answerable to the deputy minister, and work with all other federal departments and agencies to develop and coordinate policies, programs and services in this area.
Model 2: Creation of a federal arm’s length Centre for Mental Illness, Mental Health and Addiction
This option would entail the creation of a more independent organization within the purview of the federal government. The ‘Centre for Mental Illness, Mental Health and Addiction’ would be structured as a federal agency in which decision-making powers are vested in a Board of Directors with a CEO responsible for the daily operations. This Board would be representative of all relevant stakeholders including health providers, health researchers, governments and affected populations. The Centre would remain under the health portfolio, with accountability through the Minister of Health. The Centre’s main function would be to deliver federal programs and services, working closely with Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Department of Justice and other organizations such as the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse. While the Centre would provide advice, the responsibility for federal policy development with respect to mental illness and mental health would continue to reside within Health Canada.
Model 3: Pan-Canadian arm’s length institute
This option consists of incorporating an Institute as a not-for-profit entity with the federal and provincial governments as shareholders. This model has been used in other areas where federal-provincial collaboration is essential, such as the Canadian Institute for Health Information. As in the previous model, the Institute for Mental Illness, Mental Health and Addiction would have a board, and a CEO. However, instead of direct accountability to the Minister of Health, the institute would be accountable to the Conference of F-P-T Ministers of Health. It would be responsible for delivering pan-Canadian programs and services that are complementary to provincial and territorial mental health/illness programs and services. Policy development responsibilities for mental health, mental illness and addiction would continue to reside with federal and provincial/territorial governments.
Each of the models outlined above has strengths and weakness. It is also possible that we could move from one model to another over time once the system is stabilized. However, for the short term, we contend that Model 1, a dedicated unit within Health Canada, would be the best fit with our objective of enhancing federal leadership and capacity to address mental illness, mental health and addiction issues.
The strength of Model 1 is that by elevating responsibility for mental health /illness issues to the branch level it raises the profile and importance of these issues. This would reinstate and indeed increase the capacity that had existed within Health Canada but was lost through numerous reorganizations and resource reallocations. In addition intra-departmental and inter-departmental synergies can be maximized with this model.
Should this model be chosen, it is important that the federal government demonstrate the kind of collaborative leadership that it has shown in the area of primary care through initiatives funded via the Primary Health Care Transition Fund. 1
The same leadership principles apply to reform of the mental health system in that while there are common problems and solutions across Canada there are also the needs of specific communities which must be addressed individually.
Of immediate priority for this unit are initiatives to reduce stigma and to address the mental health needs of First Nations and Inuit Peoples.
A stigma reduction strategy is an on-going function that must be core to the activities of the federal government. Stigma involves thoughts, emotions and behaviours, thus a comprehensive approach includes interventions to target each of these dimensions at both the individual and population level.
The strategy should include aspects of:
* Public awareness and education to facilitate understanding about the importance of early diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prevention;
* Enhanced provider/student education and support;
* Policy analysis and modification of discriminatory legislation;
* Support for a strong voluntary sector to voice the concerns of patients and their families;
* Exposure to positive spokespeople (e.g. prominent Canadians) who have mental illness and/or addiction in order to highlight success stories;
* Researching stigma.
The stigma associated with mental illness in children can hinder early identification and intervention and places them on a damaging path of suffering and pain. The effective treatment and community reintegration of people with mental illness and/or addiction will not only improve the lives of those directly affected but will also work to reduce stigma in the long term.
First Nations and Inuit Peoples
All people with mental illness and/or addiction have a right to programs and services that facilitate recovery and/or improve their quality of life. It is clear that the First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada experience mental illness, addiction and poor mental health at rates exceeding that of other Canadians. Individual, community and population level factors contribute to this including socioeconomic status, social environment, child development, nutrition, maternal health, culture and access to health services. The urgent need to work with these communities, and identify the structures and interventions to reduce the burden of mental illness and addiction is critical to the health and wellness and future of First Nations and Inuit peoples. Enhanced federal capacity should be created through First Nations and Inuit Health that will provide increased funding and support for First Nations and Inuit community mental health strategies. The establishment of a First Nations and Inuit Mental Health Working Group that is comprised of First Nations and Inuit mental health experts and accountable to First Nations and Inuit leadership is essential for the success of this initiative. Both expert and resource supports are integral elements to facilitate and encourage culturally appropriate mental health strategies and programming in these communities.
We believe that as a population, the First Nations and Inuit peoples should be the priority for the federal government in the provision of much need treatment and support.
A. Establish a Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Branch at Health Canada.
B. Implement a Stigma Reduction Strategy
C. Improve the capacity of First Nations and Inuit peoples to address the mental health needs of their communities in a culturally appropriate manner.
2. Access Benchmarks and Surveillance Information
Access to services, both public and private, currently acts as a barrier to treatment and recovery from mental illness, poor mental health and addiction. Promotion of collaborative care models along with better coordination of services would greatly improve the quality of care received. Governments must facilitate integration and access to these services.
Recently, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Chaoulli and Zeliotis vs Quebec struck down two provisions in Quebec’s health insurance legislation that prohibit Quebec residents from purchasing private insurance for insured health services. This decision suggests that if Canadians wish to keep their “single-tier” system of universal, first dollar public coverage for health care, then governments must ensure that needed services are available to all Canadians at the time and to the extent of need, including mental health services. Governments must provide timely access to essential services within the public system in order to maximize potential for recovery and quality of life.
With the support of the federal government, and on behalf of the medical community, we (CMA, CPA, CPS, CSAM, CFPC) can coordinate and implement a process to develop medically acceptable wait time benchmarks for access to mental illness and addiction care for children and adults. The outcome of this process would be to provide all governments with performance goals to strive for in providing timely access to mental illness and addiction services.
With the establishment of benchmarks we will be able to measure how the system is performing. A basic mental illness surveillance system exists and the primary dissemination product is “A Report on Mental Illness in Canada”. However, there is agreement that the current information is limited for several reasons:
* There is limited data in the system regarding mental health, addiction and many mental illnesses;
* The quality of the data in the system has not been validated for many mental illnesses and addictions;
* Not all data sources have been accessed for the surveillance system;
* Since many supports and services for mental illness and addictions lie outside the formal health system, the collection of these data has not been possible with current constraints;
* There is a need for a broader dissemination system.
An expanded mental illness surveillance system should work closely with other chronic disease surveillance initiatives to ensure that indicators of common interest are obtained collaboratively and in an efficient manner.
A. Federal government financially support the coordination and implementation of a process to develop wait time benchmarks for accessing mental illness and addiction services developed by the CMA, CPA, CPS, CSAM, CFPC.
B. Creation of an enhanced mental illness surveillance system to produce:
* Information about the prevalence and incidence of mental illnesses, addiction and risk factors at the national, provincial/territorial and regional level.
* Progress on improving the availability and accessibility to services.
* The availability and accessibility of community resources to support people with mental illness and addiction.
* Progress on improving the availability and accessibility to community resources.
* Information about the cost of mental illness, poor mental health and addiction to people with the conditions, their families and the health system.
* Wait list information for mental health services.
3. Best practices in mental illness, mental health and addiction
There are numerous interventions that are effective for various mental illnesses and addiction but ensuring optimal use of effective interventions in the real world has been a challenge. Several factors including lack of use by physicians, failure to prescribe or implement in the recommended manner, costs associated with treatment, and undesirable side effects limit the effectiveness of proven therapies for individual patients. A key element in our capacity to prevent and offer treatment for mental illness and addiction rests with the application of evidence or the promotion of best practices. Therefore we are proposing a pan-Canadian program that can facilitate knowledge exchange across disciplines to optimize outcomes for this population.
We are aware that there is currently an initiative led by the Public Health Agency of Canada to establish a Consortium of Best Practices for Chronic Disease prevention. The goal of the Consortium is to create a Pan-Canadian forum for knowledge exchange between governments, researchers, non-governmental organizations and consumers. This initiative is a positive step and should be closely aligned with our proposed program for mental illness, mental health and addiction. The program we are proposing would go further than just prevention, to include treatment and policy alternatives, both within and outside the health domain.
The program would serve to enhance best practice approaches through activities such as:
* Development of a clearing house to hold evidence-based information for mental illness, mental health and addiction by searching, reviewing and summarizing the current literature and web resources;
* Identification of gaps in knowledge, and gaps between evidence and practice;
* Development of tools to promote best practices relating to mental illness, mental health and addiction, such as the Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Initiative Tool Kit.
A. Establish a program to specifically promote inter-disciplinary best practices in prevention, treatment, community interventions and social supports across the continuum of research, policy, to support practice for evidence-based decision making in the area of mental health, mental illness and addiction.
4. Human resource planning
Improving access to specialized and primary mental health diagnostic and treatment services with psychosocial community services that support early intervention, prevention of further disability, rehabilitation, improvement of quality of life and recovery should be considered a fundamental underlying goal of a pan-Canadian action plan.
Several initiatives are currently under way in various parts of the country to enhance collaborative approaches to care among health care providers and to better integrate primary and secondary health care services. However, these efforts are taking place in a context of relative shortage of addiction specialists, psychiatrists, paediatricians, family physicians and other mental health care professionals.
Family doctor and specialist shortages and changing practice patterns have created serious gaps in the availability of mental health services for many Canadians. Health human resource planning needs to consider and address functionally sub-specialized areas of practice as growing numbers of family doctors are moving into these areas, for example general practice psychotherapy and addiction medicine. Health human resource planning must also continue to ensure sustainability of current initiatives and continued access to care.
Early interventions in general and with children specifically are critical to preventing long term disability and minimizing the devastating impact of mental illness. There are far too few mental health professionals to help children, insufficient resources allocated to support their mental health needs, and inadequate research being conducted to fill the gaps in knowledge which exist in this area. We believe that improving the mental health of Canada’s children, including strategies that increase the amount of health providers with expertise in this area must be a priority for the federal government.
* Establish a pan-Canadian mental health human resource infrastructure responsible for collecting data, monitoring, conducting research, reporting, and making recommendations related to Canada’s ongoing mental health human resources needs, with a priority focus on children’s services, in order to ensure a sustainable supply of health human resources;
* Introduce toolkits to assist health practitioners and consumers to implement best practices in collaborative care and develop new models of care in the area of mental health;
* Support the evaluation of new models of care in achieving patient centred objectives and improving outcomes;
* Increasing research capacity and resources in the area of children’s mental health.
Again, our organizations, representing the medical community, appreciate the opportunity to submit to the Committee further elaboration on key initiatives to ensure federal leadership is taken. We want to thank the committee not only for seeking our advice but also for bringing national attention to issues related to mental illness, mental health and addiction.
1 The Primary Health Care Transition fund supported provinces and territories in their efforts to reform the primary health care system in addition to supporting various pan-Canadian initiatives to address common barriers. Although the Primary Health Care Transition Fund itself was time-limited, the changes which it supported were intended to have a lasting and sustainable impact on the health care system.
On behalf of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) I would like to respond to Health Canada’s papers, released on October 7, 2005, “Developing a Drug Supply Network and an Export Restriction Scheme” and “Requiring a Patient-Practitioner Relationship as a Condition of Sale of Prescription Drugs in Canada,” which invite discussion on the Minister of Health’s June 29, 2005 proposals to control cross-border pharmacy and ensure that Canadians have a continued supply of prescription drugs.
The CMA agrees that Canadians must have a supply of drugs adequate to meet their needs. Currently the most serious threat to this supply appears to be the legislative proposals, currently before the United States Congress, that would allow Americans to purchase Canadian drugs in bulk. Proactive measures to protect our drug supplies are warranted to guard against this threat.
In summary, our response to the Minister’s three proposals is as follows:
* Supply monitoring network: We support supply monitoring as a necessary activity.
* Export restrictions: We believe that all Canadian drugs should be subject to export restriction, and the Government of Canada should grant itself the power to enact bans on export as needed.
* Requiring a patient-physician relationship: We do not believe this proposal can be enforced, or that it will contribute materially to securing an adequate drug supply for Canada. We recommend that Health Canada instead support the activities of medical and pharmacy regulatory authorities in ensuring that prescribing behaviour is appropriate.
Our detailed comments on the proposals are below.
1) Drug supply monitoring system
The CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive strategy and an adequately resourced system for monitoring domestic drug supply. Canada needs such a system to identify shortages and respond quickly to remedy them, and to ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are founded on accurate and reliable knowledge. We recommend that more careful consideration be given to the most effective design and functioning for a supply-monitoring network. It is our understanding that manufacturers and distributors currently monitor supply of their own products. Ideally, a mechanism should be found to unite these individual activities into a robust and effective network without creating a costly parallel effort. Specific comments follow:
* 2.1 Gathering Drug Shortage Information: Voluntary reporting is a preferred approach. In designing a voluntary scheme, it should be taken into account that soliciting reports from a wide variety of players, including the public, may result in a flood of anecdotal, poorly documented reports that will require expert analysis to verify and put into context. Regardless of who is solicited for shortage reports, the reporting process should be made as clear, simple and user-friendly as possible, and all stakeholders who might be in a position to make reports should be made aware of its existence.
* 2.2 Assessment and Verification: We agree that a baseline of drug inventory data is required, as are benchmarks for what constitutes an appropriate drug supply for Canada. These should be established as a first step, before the implementation of a voluntary reporting scheme.
* 2.3 Communication of Information: While physicians may seldom be in a position to report drug shortages, it is essential that they be informed at once when a shortage exists, and how long it is expected to last. Guidance for physicians on measures they might take while the shortage lasts (for example, other drugs they might prescribe as substitutes) is highly desirable. Medical associations could help Health Canada communicate this information to their members.
The paper makes reference to Health Canada’s preference for collaboration in this endeavour “without assuming responsibility for becoming the primary source of information for Canadians on drug shortages or for resolving all reported drug shortages.” This is not appropriate. Leadership responsibilities and public expectations preclude the Minister from shirking responsibility for these functions. Accountability for such a complex network must be vested in one authority, i.e. Health Canada.
* 2.4 Response measures: Though the paper lists response capacity as an element of drug supply monitoring, it does not contain practical suggestions for responding in the event of a shortage. This is a crucial element and needs to be developed. There is no point in monitoring supply without a plan for managing shortages.
2) Export Restriction
CMA supports this proposal. The power to restrict export of drugs offers Canada its best chance of protection should the U.S. legalize bulk purchasing. This power should be strong and far-reaching. Serious consideration should be given to the June 2005 motion from the House Standing Committee on Health motion to ban all bulk exports of prescription drugs. Specific comments follow:
* 3.4.2 Drug products deemed necessary for human health: The discussion paper proposes to restrict export only under certain circumstances, e.g. if the drug is deemed necessary to human health, and to establish criteria to determine whether a drug meets this condition. All prescription drugs are necessary for human health; certainly those who are taking them consider them so. For equity’s sake - and also because establishing and abiding by criteria may prove impossible - we believe every prescription drug in Canada should be considered a candidate for export restriction.
* 3.4.3 Implications for patient care: We acknowledge that in many cases, other effective therapies can be substituted for drugs in short supply. Many physicians will make these substitutions as needed; but they must first be made aware of the shortages. Physicians must be advised of available alternatives if an unavoidable shortage exists; however, we caution that the existence of alternatives should not be used as justification for not taking action if a drug is in shortage. The final decision as to the most appropriate available therapy should remain a matter to be determined by the patient and physician and consultation.
3) Requiring a Patient-Practitioner Relationship
The Minister has expressed his desire to ensure that physicians maintain high ethical and professional prescribing standards. The CMA shares this desire. As discussed in the attached CMA Statement on Internet Prescribing (Appendix I), we hold that prescriptions should be written in the context of an appropriate patient-physician relationship. However, we do not accept that the proposed option of requiring an established patient-practitioner relationship for every prescription issued in Canada will have a meaningful effect on ensuring adequate drug supply, for the following reasons:
* The proposal does not target the real problem. Most current drug shortages are caused by raw material shortages, inventory management disruptions, unexpected spikes in demand, and other conditions that have nothing to do with the clinical encounter. More important, targeting the patient-practitioner relationship will not protect Canadians from the impact of U.S. bulk purchasing should legislation pass Congress.
* Prescribing outside the context of the patient-physician relationship is already subject to sanction by medical regulatory authorities. The vast majorities of Canada’s physicians conduct themselves ethically and only prescribe for patients in the context of a professional relationship. Those who do not, contravene both the CMA’s policy and the standards of practice for provincial/territorial regulatory Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. These regulatory authorities, and the long and effective tradition of professional self-regulation they represent, should be respected and supported.
* The proposal is burdensome and will be difficult to enforce. The proposal places the onus for evaluating the patient-practitioner relationship on pharmacists. While pharmacists are required, as part of their professional responsibility, to ensure that a prescription has been written by a physician licensed to practice in that jurisdiction, they are not customarily familiar with the details of the interaction leading up to the prescription. Requiring them to formally screen for this will impose a heavy administrative burden, and will compromise patient confidentiality.
In addition, compliance monitoring by Health Canada will be complex, if feasible at all. For example, despite the Minister’s recent comment that prescriptions “can only be signed by a medical practitioner who actually sees and treats the patient in question”, it is generally accepted that perfectly legitimate prescribing can take place without a face-to-face encounter (e.g. through telemedicine) or an “ongoing” patient-physician relationship (e.g. in an emergency). While it is easy to detect flagrant infractions (such as a hundred prescriptions a day written for American patients by the same Canadian doctor) it will be much harder to precisely identify the boundary between what is legitimate prescribing behaviour and what is not. Many provincial regulatory authorities have already developed definitions of the patient-physician relationship, which Health Canada includes in the discussion document. It is unlikely that Health Canada will be able to improve on them.
* Determining an appropriate relationship may be more appropriately a provincial or territorial responsibility. The patient-physician interaction, like other scope-of-practice issues, is regulated at the provincial level. We do not believe the cross-border prescribing problem justifies Health Canada’s overarching federal-level intervention.
In conclusion, we support further exploration of the supply-monitoring and export-restriction options, and believe that existing medical and pharmaceutical regulatory authorities should be respected and supported in enforcing appropriate prescribing behaviour.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on your proposals. We look forward to further opportunities for input during the development of legislation.
Briane Scharfstein, MD, CCFP, MBA
Associate Secretary General, Professional Affairs
cc: Ms. Meena Ballantyne, Director General, Health Care Strategies and Policy Directorate,
CMA Provincial/Territorial Divisional CEO’s
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to take part in the second phase of the study of prescription pharmaceuticals by the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. During the first phase, we presented the CMA's policy position regarding clinical trials and the process for approving new drugs for use. In this phase we will discuss our position and recommendations on post-approval surveillance of prescription drugs.
The Canadian Medical Association represents 76,000 physicians in Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Prescription drugs are a very important part of high quality and cost-effective health care. They can prevent serious disease, reduce the need for hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. Therefore, the CMA has developed a substantial body of policy on pharmaceutical issues, including on the post-approval surveillance of prescription drugs.
The essence of our position is contained in our first recommendation:
The CMA recommends that federal and provincial/territorial governments collaborate to develop and implement a national pharmaceutical strategy to ensure that every Canadian has timely access to an adequate supply of safe and effective prescription drugs.
This recommendation has two elements: "safe and effective" and "adequate supply," both of which we will discuss in this submission.
2) Ensuring Safety and Effectiveness
As we have previously told this Committee, the CMA supports a robust regulatory framework and system for researching and approving new pharmaceutical products. But however strong Canada's pre-approval system is, it will not identify all potential problems with a new drug. Pre-approval clinical trials tend to focus on small numbers of patients, and exclude vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. They also tend to be of short duration, whereas in the real world, patients may take these drugs for years. As a consequence, problems with a drug are often identified only after widespread, long-term use in the general population. For this reason, it is essential that Canada have in place a robust regulatory framework that includes a timely system to monitor the performance of prescription drugs after they come on the market.
The Government of Canada has taken several recent steps to enhance its drug surveillance system. In 2009, it established the Drug Safety and Effectiveness Research Network. In 2008, it introduced Bill C-51, An Act to Amend the Food and Drugs Act, to improve drug safety and effectiveness monitoring by Health Canada. Unfortunately, the bill died with the 2008 election call and has not been re-introduced. That is why we are pleased that the Senate has chosen to re-open this issue.
What would a comprehensive post-approval surveillance regulatory framework and system look like? In order to effectively monitor the safety and effectiveness of the country's drug supply, the CMA believes it should include:
a) Comprehensive processes for gathering drug safety and effectiveness data
In gathering data about adverse drug reactions (ADRs) in Canada, Health Canada has traditionally relied on spontaneous reports from manufacturers and health professionals. The government could enhance its capacity to gather information by:
* making it easier for physicians and other health professionals to report ADRs voluntarily. This can be accomplished by making the reporting system user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's busy schedule. Health Canada has improved the process by introducing online reporting, which may have contributed to the significant increase in the number of ADR reports over the past 10 years. The reporting process could be made even more efficient by incorporating it directly into the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) as this is developed.
* augmenting spontaneous reports with information gathered through other, more systematic means. These could include formal post-market studies of specific drugs, or recruitment of "sentinel" groups of health care providers who would contract to report ADRs in detail, and who, because of these contractual obligations, would be committed to assiduous reporting.
b) A capacity for rigorous and timely data analysis to identify significant threats to drug safety.
Information gathering does not in itself constitute post-market surveillance. In our opinion, the most important element of the process is the monitoring and analysis that occurs once an adverse drug reaction (ADR) report has been received.
Monitoring capacity requires rigorous data analysis that can sort "signal from noise" - in other words, sift through the reports, find the ones that indicate unusual events, investigate their cause, and isolate those that indicate a serious health risk. It also requires that the analysis be timely: we note that in 2011 the Auditor General was particularly critical of Health Canada's post-market surveillance timeliness, noting that it could take several years for reports to be reviewed internally.
Post-market monitoring should do more than identify safety risks. It should also provide information about a drug's efficacy and effectiveness. Does it achieve the health outcome for which it is being marketed? Does it perform better than other drugs or therapies for the same condition?
c) Communication of useful information to health care providers and the public.
When new information is uncovered about a prescription drug, it is important that physicians and other health professionals are made aware of it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, post-approval surveillance requires a system for communicating timely, reliable and objective information to physicians and other health professionals, which they can absorb quickly and incorporate into their everyday practice. Ideally, this communication would report not the safety problem alone but also its implications for their patients and practice: for example, whether some patients are particularly at risk, or whether therapeutic alternatives are available.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada continue to improve the capacity of its post-approval surveillance system to:
* Make it easier for health professionals to submit voluntary ADR reports;
* Analyze the data that has been gathered in a rigorous and timely manner; and
* Communicate essential information to health care providers and the public in a timely and user-friendly manner.
d) Increased regulatory authority for Health Canada
Drug safety is a serious issue; recent research has revealed that nearly a quarter of new drugs approved in Canada will eventually receive a serious safety warning1. Given the potential risks to patient safety we believe Health Canada should have the legal authority to take strong action when a safety problem is identified.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada should be given the authority to:
* require post-market studies of newly approved drugs if clinical trials identify possible safety risks;
* require manufacturers to disclose information if Health Canada thinks it germane to making a decision in the interest of patient safety; and
* take action if post-market research uncovers new safety concerns. This could mean ordering changes to product labels, or pulling a product off the market.
Granting Health Canada this regulatory authority is only the first step. Health Canada should not hesitate to use this authority if the situation warrants.
3) Ensuring an Adequate Drug Supply
In the past few years Canada's doctors have become deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of drugs that they and their patients are encountering. In a survey of physicians conducted by the CMA in September 2012, two-thirds of respondents said that the shortage of drugs was a significant issue in terms of its impact on patient care and outcomes. Of these physicians, 70 per cent indicated that their patient received a less effective medication, and 20 per cent had patients who had suffered clinical deterioration because an alternate drug was substituted. This in turn leads to a greater demand on the health care system, whether in physician visits or emergency room treatments. Twenty-three per cent reported that their patient suffered financially due to the cost of the substituted medication, since many of the drugs in short supply are older, low-cost generics.
The lack of information about shortages compounds the stress of dealing with them. When physicians prescribe a medication, unaware that it is in short supply, they later have to provide the patient with a new prescription, which often requires an additional patient visit. Physicians have expressed their frustration at the time it takes to find an appropriate substitute drug - time which could better be spent in patient care.
As a consequence, the CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring domestic shortages of medically necessary drugs. To be of greatest benefit to doctors, such a system should include:
* Information about the product in short supply;
* Expected duration of the shortage;
* Therapeutic alternatives;
* Regions affected;
* Notification of the end of the shortage.
Although pharmaceutical industry associations and drug manufacturers are now supporting a drug shortage reporting website (http://www.drugshortages.ca/drugshortages.asp), there is room for improvement. The reporting website does not yet capture all of the drug product shortages. It must become more user friendly for health practitioners and the public, with search and sort functions to easily find product listings. In addition, a mechanism to obtain information on possible therapeutic substitutions would be of value to practitioners.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada work with provincial and territorial governments, industry groups and health professionals to enhance the current system for reporting drug shortages and ensure its sustainability.
Finally, while a reporting system to provide information to health professionals and Canadians on drug shortages is valuable, it is essential that Canada address the root causes of drug shortages. A review of the supply processes, both domestic and international, is strongly recommended.
While the CMA acknowledges that provinces are responsible for purchasing drugs, we believe that solutions will be stronger if all provinces, and the federal government, work together on them. And since drug shortages are an international concern, it is the responsibility of the Government of Canada to work with other countries in seeking solutions.
The CMA supports an investigation into the underlying causes of prescription drug shortages in Canada.
4) Other Important Elements of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy
As Recommendation 1 states, the CMA believes that Canada's federal and provincial/territorial governments should implement a national pharmaceutical strategy, one of whose objectives would be to ensure an adequate supply of prescription drugs. The strategy should address other important objectives, as well, notably:
* ensuring comprehensive prescription drug coverage for all Canadians. According to a recent CMA survey, one in 10 Canadians has gone without a prescription drug because they couldn't afford it. Governments should work with private insurers and other stakeholders to develop a system to provide equitable, comprehensive prescription drug coverage to all Canadians.
* encouraging optimal prescribing by health professionals. To accomplish this, the CMA has recommended a strategy that includes education, user-friendly guidelines and practice tools, and the provision of impartial information to health professionals and the public.
Once again, we commend the Senate Social Affairs Committee for bringing this issue to your table. Canada's physicians are prepared to work with governments, health professionals and the public in strengthening Canada's post-approval surveillance system, to ensure that the prescription drugs Canadians receive are safe and effective and in adequate supply.
1 Lexchin J. New drugs and safety: what happened to new active substances approved in Canada between 1995 and 2010? Arch Intern Med. 2012;():1-2. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.4444.
Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Maura Ricketts and I am the Director of Public Health for the Canadian Medical Association. The CMA appreciates the opportunity to appear before this Committee today as part of your study of clinical trials and drug approvals.
The CMA represents more than 76,000 physicians in Canada. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with all Canadians, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Because prescription drugs are an essential component of health care, the CMA has developed a considerable body of policy on pharmaceutical issues. This work can be distilled into one fundamental principle: The CMA believes that our country requires a National Pharmaceutical Strategy to ensure every individual has timely access to safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs. Despite the commitment in the 2004 Health Accord to the creation of such a strategy, Canadians continue to wait for government leadership on this issue. Drugs replace more costly and invasive medical interventions. They are an essential tool in the physician's tool box.
To ensure safety and effectiveness, the CMA also believes in the need for a strong, unbiased, evidence-based system for research and approval. This is at the heart of our commitment to patient-centred care.
In evaluating whether to prescribe a new drug to a patient, a physician will weigh several factors: Does this product offer any benefits over what I am prescribing now? Will it be more effective? Will this new drug be safer? Will it solve any tricky clinical problems, such as drug interactions, or reduce side effects that prevent a medication from being used properly? The physician may also ask: What is the evidence that this new drug is an improvement? Can I trust the evidence? Where can I get access to accurate, reliable information and data on this drug?
Pre-approval drug research must provide answers to these fundamental questions.
I will now focus on two particular issues of concern to practising physicians with regard to clinical trials:
* First, what is being compared to what? Clinical trials may be sufficient for Health Canada's regulatory purposes, but may provide only part of the information a physician needs. For example, is a new cholesterol drug effective on all patients, or only on some of them? Would other patients derive equal benefit from an already existing drug, or from a lifestyle change such as diet or exercise? The CMA recommends that researchers compare a new product to other drugs on the market - and to other interventions, as well.
* Second, is timely, reliable and objective information available on all clinical trial results, not just the positive ones? Canadians need to be informed when a drug has performed disappointingly in trials if they are to make informed decisions about their health care. The CMA, therefore, recommends the results of all clinical trials, not just those with positive results, be made available to health professionals and the public.
I would like to add that the current documentation is not very user-friendly. We recommend that Health Canada prepare summaries of the most essential data, not only for physicians, but for all Canadians to be able to access this information.
The Drug Approval Process
Turning now to the drug approval process, the CMA believes the following principles should apply:
* The primary criteria for approval should be whether the drug improves health outcomes and offers an improvement over products currently on the market.
* The review process should be as timely as is consistent with ensuring optimal health outcomes and the safety of the drug supply.
* The review process should be impartial and founded on the best available scientific evidence.
* The review process should be open and transparent.
* Finally, approval of a drug is not an endpoint, but rather one step in that drug's life cycle. It is not uncommon to identify serious safety hazards after a drug has been approved, because that's when it first goes into wide use. It is important that the approval process be complemented by a rigorous and vigilant post-market surveillance process. We look forward to presenting our recommendations on this subject to your Committee at a future session.
Before closing, I would like to briefly address two other matters:
First, the issue of drugs for rare disorders. We are aware that the current clinical trial and approval processes, which place a high value on studies with large population samples, may be unable to adequately capture the value of drugs that are prescribed to only a handful of people. Some patient groups active in the area of rare disorders, such as the Canadian MPS Society and Alpha-1 Canada, have shared their concerns about this with us. These groups, along with the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, have been advocating for years for a fair process for evaluating drugs for rare diseases. Because Canada doesn't have a rare disorders strategy, Canadian patients have access to fewer therapies than patients in other developed countries. The issue of how to approve drugs for rare disorders merits closer consideration. The CMA recommends that the federal government develop a policy on drugs for rare disorders that encourages their development, call for ongoing evaluation of their effectiveness, and ensures fairness so that all patients who might benefit have reasonable access to them.
The second matter is that Health Canada's review process provides little guidance on another question which physicians are increasingly asking: Can my patient afford this drug? It is not sufficient that the Common Drug Review conducts reviews of the cost effectiveness of drugs and that provincial/territorial formularies undertake similar studies, as the fact remains that cost is one of the factors physicians need to consider when deciding whether to prescribe a new drug. This is especially true in the case of new biologics, which are very expensive. Canadian doctors believe that the difficulty of making effective prescribing decisions without information about cost needs to be overcome. This only underscores the necessity of a National Pharmaceutical Strategy.
Thank you. We would be happy to answer your questions.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to the House of Commons Health Committee for consideration as part of its study on drug supply in Canada. The severe impact of the disruption in production at one pharmaceutical company's manufacturing facility has demonstrated the significant shortcomings in how drug shortages are managed in Canada. This submission focuses on what is needed to ensure Canada's health care system delivers patient-centred care.
In order to deliver the best possible care to patients, physicians require timely, comprehensive and accurate information about current and anticipated drug supply shocks and constraints. With this objective in mind, we have provided input to the government and to the pharmaceutical industries. Further, Canada requires an uninterrupted supply of medically necessary medication for patients.
Impacts on Patients and the Health Care System
Canada's doctors are deeply concerned about the persistent shortages of drugs that they and their patients are encountering. Prescription drugs can prevent serious disease, reduce hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. Pharmaceuticals benefit the health care system by reducing costs in other areas such as hospital stays and disability payments. Disruptions in the supply of pharmaceuticals can impact patient care, patient health and the efficiency of the overall health care system.
At the CMA, patient organizations are telling us about the anxiety, pain and harm that drug shortages are inflicting on patients. Below are excerpts of these experiences:
* According to the Brain Injury Association of Canada: "Any drug medication shortage endangers Canadian patients. In the brain injury community, anti-depressants are prescribed to some, as is pain medication, so if there is a shortage some members in the community will be endangered even if the medication is altered."
* The interim-president of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance, Louise Bergeron, wrote CMA to say: "Actually, I have had this happen to me on three occasions and it is quite scary when you know you will not have access to certain drugs for an extended period of time, since you know your health will be on the line."
* Sharon Baxter, Executive Director, of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, says: "All are encouraging the government to find a solution very quickly as pain medication at the end of life is essential and urgent. I don't think we are at the stage where people are dying without access, but getting to that end is totally unacceptable in a country like Canada."
Among the impacts of drug shortages are:
* delays in access to needed medication;
* delays or disruptions to clinical treatment;
* delayed or cancelled surgeries;
* loss of therapeutic effectiveness when an appropriate alternate therapy is not available;
* increased risk of side effects when alternate therapies are used; and
* increased non-compliance when patients, particularly those on long-term therapy, find it harder to comply with a new medication regime.
Any one of these situations can impact patient health, particularly in patients with complex problems. In many instances, this in turn leads to a greater demand on the health care system, whether in physician visits or emergency room treatments.
In a survey of physicians conducted by the CMA in 2011, two-thirds of respondents said that the shortage of generic drugs had had negative consequences for their patients or practice.
Of these physicians, 22 per cent indicated that the consequences were that their patient suffered clinical deterioration because an alternate drug was substituted. Similarly, in a survey of pharmacists by the Canadian Pharmacists Association in 2011, 69 per cent of respondents indicated that they believed that patients' health outcomes had been adversely affected by drug shortages.
Notably, of the physicians who indicated the shortage of generics resulted in consequences to their patients or practice, 28 per cent reported that their patient did not fill the substitution prescription due to the cost of the medication. Numerous respondents raised concerns about the financial impact of substitute medications on patients.
Survey responses also shed light on the increased demand on the health care system created by the lack of information on drug shortages provided to physicians. When physicians are not made aware of a drug shortage, and prescribe that medication, they later have to provide the patient with a new prescription, which often requires an additional patient visit. Better informing physicians about drug shortages can reduce demand on the health care system by eliminating the inefficiencies associated with drug shortages.
Scope of Drug Shortages
In an attempt to outline the scope of the problem, the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) stated that:
"It is difficult to quantify and determine the extent of drug shortages in Canada because manufacturers are not required to report disruptions in drug supply to Health Canada and because there is no single accountable Canadian organization that provides system-wide drug distribution oversight."i
Surveys by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPA) shed light on the lack of drug shortages management in Canada. Taken together, the results of these surveys paint an alarming picture of drug shortages management in Canada and underscore the need to improve our system.
In terms of notification, the majority of physicians and pharmacists indicated they never (51 per cent and 29 per cent) or infrequently (32 per cent and 33 per cent) receive advance notice of shortages. Ironically, given the high proportion of pharmacists reporting they never or infrequently receive notice, 65 per cent of physicians indicated that they receive notification from pharmacists. Meanwhile, 30 per cent of physicians also indicated that they were notified of drug shortages by their patients.
Alarmingly, 81 per cent of the pharmacists surveyed indicated they had trouble locating medications to fill a prescription during their last shift prior to completing the survey and 93 per cent had difficulty over the week prior.
This is not a new problem, but since we surveyed CMA members in the fall of 2011, the situation has worsened. Currently about 250 medications are listed on Canadian drug shortage websites. Before the dire impact of the loss of production at Sandoz, Canadian hospitals were already dealing with shortages in the supply of sterile injectables - critical in specialties like surgery, oncology and anesthesia.
What Canada's Doctors Require to Provide Care
Physicians have expressed their frustration at the time it takes to find an appropriate drug for substitution - time taken from the physician, the pharmacy and the patient. Time better spent with patients is being used by physicians to work with pharmacists to identify alternative drugs and therapies.
Of greatest concern are those drugs that are single sourced. When single source medications are in short supply, there are no clear substitutes. The impact of this is being felt now in hospitals across the country as they grapple with the loss of numerous Sandoz products and are forced to ration the remaining stock.
The majority of physicians surveyed by the CMA indicated that greater knowledge of drug supply issues would allow them to deliver better patient care.
To this end, the CMA strongly supports the development of a comprehensive system for monitoring and responding to domestic shortages of medically necessary drugs. Canada needs a sustainable, adequately resourced system to: identify shortages, rapidly and proactively inform health care professionals, and respond quickly to allocate supply as needed to resolve shortages.
The CMA has provided input to both industry and government on the key information needs of doctors. These are:
* Information about the product in short supply;
* Expected duration of the shortage;
* Therapeutic alternatives;
* Regions affected;
* Notification of the end of the shortage.
While the recent establishment of the online inventories by the pharmaceutical industry associations marks an improvement in Canada's management of drug shortages, significant issues remain to be addressed. These include the need for: complete and more consistent information; automatic notifications to alert physicians, pharmacists and other health care providers; a mechanism to prevent potential disruptions; and a mechanism to seek new or interim sources of supply during a shortage.
The CMA recognizes that other countries are also grappling with drug shortages. Canada must also work with its partners abroad to find an international solution to this phenomenon.
Drug shortages management in Canada has significant shortcomings that impact patients, doctors and the health care system. With the current shortage of injectable drugs teetering on the verge of a crisis, quick action and cooperation are required to address the supply shock.
The CMA calls on Members of Parliament to exercise leadership to ensure that Canada's health care providers have access to the information necessary for them to care for their patients, and that Canadians have access to medically necessary drugs.
i Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. (2011) "Environmental Scan: Drug Supply Disruptions." Ottawa: CADTH, accessed online at: http://www.cadth.ca/media/pdf/Drug_Supply_Disruptions_es-18_e.pdf, 1.