The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has always recognized the unique requirements of those individuals suffering from a terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective and for whom cannabis may provide relief.
However, there are a number of concerns, primarily related to the limited evidence to support many of the therapeutic claims made regarding cannabis for medical purposes, and the need to support health practitioners in their practice.1,2,3,4
While the indications for using cannabis to treat some conditions have been well studied, less
information is available about many potential medical uses.
Physicians who wish to authorize the use of cannabis for patients in their practices should consult relevant CMPA policy5 and guidelines developed by the provincial and territorial medical regulatory authorities to ensure appropriate medico-legal protection. The CMA’s policy Authorizing Marijuana for Medical Purposes6, as well as the CMA’s Guidelines For Physicians In Interactions With Industry7 should also be consulted.
The CMA makes the following recommendations:
1. Increase support for the advancement of scientific knowledge about the medical use of cannabis. The CMA encourages the government to support rigorous scientific research into the efficacy for therapeutic claims, safety, dose-response relationships, potential interactions and the most effective routes of delivery, and in various populations.
2. Apply the same regulatory oversight and evidence standards to cannabis as to pharmaceutical products under the Food and Drug Act, designed to protect the public by the assessment for safety and efficacy.
3. Increase support for physicians on the use of cannabis for medical purposes in their practice settings. As such, CMA calls on the government to work with the CMA, The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons,
and other relevant stakeholders, to develop unbiased, accredited education options and licensing programs for physicians who authorize the use of cannabis for their patients based on the best available evidence.
In 2001, Health Canada enacted the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). These were in response to an Ontario Court of Appeal finding that banning cannabis for medicinal purposes violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.8 The MMAR, as enacted, was designed to establish a framework to allow legal access to cannabis, then an illegal drug, for the relief of pain, nausea and other symptoms by people suffering from serious illness where conventional treatments had failed.
While recognizing the needs of those suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease, CMA raised strong objections to the proposed regulations. There were concerns about the lack of evidence on the risks and benefits associated with the use of cannabis. This made it difficult for physicians to advise their patients appropriately and manage doses or potential side effects. The CMA believes that physicians should not be put in the untenable position of gatekeepers for a proposed medical intervention that has not undergone established regulatory review processes as required for all prescription medicines.
Additionally, there were concerns about medico-legal liability, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), encouraged those physicians that were uncomfortable with the regulations to refrain from authorizing cannabis to patients.
Various revisions were made to the MMAR, and then these were substituted by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2013/ 2014 and subsequently by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in 2016 and now as part of the Cannabis Act (Section 14)9. Healthcare practitioners that wish to authorize cannabis for their patients are required to sign a medical document, indicating the daily quantity of dried cannabis, expressed in grams.
For the most part, these revisions have been in response to decisions from various court decisions across the country.10,11,12 Courts have consistently sided with patients’ rights to relieve symptoms of terminal disease or certain chronic conditions, despite the limited data on the effectiveness of cannabis. Courts have not addressed the ethical position in which physicians are placed as a result of becoming the gate keeper for access to a medication without adequate evidence.
The CMA participated in many Health Canada consultations with stakeholders as well as scientific advisory committees and continued to express the concerns of the physician community. As previously noted, the Federal government has been constrained by the decisions of Canadian courts.
The current state of evidence regarding harms of cannabis use is also limited but points to some serious concerns. Ongoing research has shown that regular cannabis use during brain development (up to approximately 25 years old) is linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, especially if there is a personal or family history of mental illness. Long term use has also been associated with issues of attention, impulse control and emotional regulation. Smoking of cannabis also has pulmonary consequences such as chronic bronchitis. It is also linked to poorer pregnancy outcomes. Physicians are also concerned with dependence, which occurs in up to 10% of regular users. From a public and personal safety standpoint, cannabis can impact judgement and increases the risk of accidents (e.g. motor vehicle incidents). For many individuals, cannabis use is not without adverse consequences.3,13,14
Pharmaceutically prepared alternative options, often administered orally, are also available and regulated in Canada.15 These drugs mimic the action of delta-9-tetra-hydrocannabional (THC) and other cannabinoids and have undergone clinical trials to demonstrate safety and effectiveness and have been approved for use through the Food and Drug Act. Of note is that in this format, the toxic by-products of smoked marijuana are avoided.16 However, the need for more research is evident.
Approved by the CMA Board in December 2010.
Last reviewed and approved by the CMA Board in March 2019.
1 Allan GM, Ramji J, Perry D, et al. Simplified guideline for prescribing medical cannabinoids in primary care. Canadian Family Physician, 2018;64(2):111-120. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/64/2/111.full.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
2 College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC). Authorizing Dried Cannabis for Chronic Pain or Anxiety: Preliminary Guidance. Mississauga: CFPC; 2014. Available: https://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/_PDFs/Authorizing%20Dried%20Cannabis%20for%20Chronic%20Pain%20or%20Anxiety.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
3 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2017. 4 Whiting PF, Wolff RF, Deshpande S, et al. Cannabinoids for medical use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 2015;313(24):2456-73.
5 Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). Medical marijuana: considerations for Canadian doctors. Ottawa: CMPA; 2018. Available: https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2014/medical-marijuana-new-regulations-new-college-guidance-for-canadian-doctors (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
6 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Authorizing marijuana for medical purposes. Ottawa: CMA; 2014. Available: https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11514 http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-04.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
7 Canadian Medical Association. (CMA) Guidelines for Physicians In Interactions With Industry. Ottawa: CMA; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf. (accessed 2019 Jan22).
8 R. v. Parker, 2000 CanLII 5762 (ON CA). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/1fb95 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
9 Cannabis Act. Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes. Section 14. 2018. Available: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2018-144/page-28.html#h-81 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
10 Hitzig v. Canada, 2003 CanLII 3451 (ON SC). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/1c9jd (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
11 Allard v. Canada,  3 FCR 303, 2016 FC 236 (CanLII), Available: http://canlii.ca/t/gngc5 (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
12 R. v. Smith, 2014 ONCJ 133 (CanLII). Available: http://canlii.ca/t/g68gk (accessed 2019 Jan 8). 13 Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SRB. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2219–2227.
14 World Health Organization. The health and social effects of nonmedical cannabis use. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016. Available: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/msbcannabis.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
15 Ware MA. Is there a role for marijuana in medical practice? Can Fam Physician 2006;52(12):1531-1533. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1952544/pdf/0530022a.pdf (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
16 Engels FK, de Jong FA, Mathijssen RHJ, et.al. Medicinal cannabis in oncology. Eur J Cancer. 2007;43(18):2638-2644. Available: https://www.clinicalkey.com/service/content/pdf/watermarked/1-s2.0-S0959804907007368.pdf?locale=en_US (accessed 2019 Jan 8).
GUIDELINES FOR PHYSICIANS IN INTERACTIONS WITH INDUSTRY
The history of health care delivery in Canada has included interaction between physicians and the pharmaceutical and health supply industries; this interaction has extended to research as well as to education. Physicians understand that they have a responsibility to ensure that their participation in such collaborative efforts is in keeping with their primary obligation to their patients and duties to society, and to avoid situations of conflict of interest where possible and appropriately manage these situations when necessary. They understand as well the need for the profession to lead by example by promoting physician-developed guidelines.
The following guidelines have been developed by the CMA to serve as a resource tool for physicians in helping them to determine what type of relationship with industry is appropriate. They are not intended to prohibit or dissuade appropriate interactions of this type, which have the potential to benefit both patients and physicians.
Although directed primarily to individual physicians, including residents, and medical students, the guidelines also apply to relationships between industry and medical organizations.
1. The primary objective of professional interactions between physicians and industry should be the advancement of the health of Canadians.
2. Relationships between physicians and industry are guided by the CMA's
Code of Ethics and by this document.
3. The practising physician's primary obligation is to the patient. Relationships with industry are inappropriate if they negatively affect the fiduciary nature of the patient-physician relationship.
4. Physicians should resolve any conflict of interest between themselves and their patients resulting from interactions with industry in favour of their patients. In particular, they must avoid any self-interest in their prescribing and referral practices.
5. Except for physicians who are employees of industry, in relations with industry the physician should always maintain professional autonomy and independence. All physicians should remain committed to scientific methodology.
6. Those physicians with ties to industry have an obligation to disclose those ties in any situation where they could reasonably be perceived as having the potential to influence their judgment.
7. A prerequisite for physician participation in all research activities is that these activities are ethically defensible, socially responsible and scientifically valid. The physician's primary responsibility is the well-being of the patient.
8. The participation of physicians in industry sponsored research activities must always be preceded by formal approval of the project by an appropriate ethics review body. Such research must be conducted according to the appropriate current standards and procedures.
9. Patient enrolment and participation in research studies must occur only with the full, informed, competent and voluntary consent of the patient or his or her proxy, unless the research ethics board authorizes an exemption to the requirement for consent. In particular, the enrolling physician must inform the potential research subject, or proxy, about the purpose of the study, its source of funding, the nature and relative probability of harms and benefits, and the nature of the physician's participation and must advise prospective subjects that they have the right to decline to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time, without prejudice to their ongoing care.
10. The physician who enrolls a patient in a research study has an obligation to ensure the protection of the patient's privacy, in accordance with the provisions of applicable national or provincial legislation and CMA's Health Information Privacy Code. If this protection cannot be guaranteed, the physician must disclose this as part of the informed consent process.
11. Practising physicians should not participate in clinical trials unless the study will be registered prior to its commencement in a publicly accessible research registry.
12. Because of the potential to influence judgment, remuneration to physicians for participating in research studies should not constitute enticement. It may cover reasonable time and expenses and should be approved by the relevant research ethics board. Research subjects must be informed if their physician will receive a fee for their participation and by whom the fee will be paid.
13. Finder's fees, whereby the sole activity performed by the physician is to submit the names of potential research subjects, should not be paid. Submission of patient information without their consent would be a breach of confidentiality. Physicians who meet with patients, discuss the study and obtain informed consent for submission of patient information may be remunerated for this activity.
14. Incremental costs (additional costs that are directly related to the research study) must not be paid by health care institutions or provincial or other insurance agencies regardless of whether these costs involve diagnostic procedures or patient services. Instead, they must be assumed by the industry sponsor or its agent.
15. When submitting articles to medical journals, physicians must state any relationship they have to companies providing funding for the studies or that make the products that are the subject of the study whether or not the journals require such disclosure. Funding sources for the study should also be disclosed.
16. Physicians should only be included as an author of a published article reporting the results of an industry sponsored trial if they have contributed substantively to the study or the composition of the article.
17. Physicians should not enter into agreements that limit their right to publish or disclose results of the study or report adverse events which occur during the course of the study. Reasonable limitations which do not endanger patient health or safety may be permissible.
Industry-Sponsored Surveillance Studies
18. Physicians should participate only in post-marketing surveillance studies that are scientifically appropriate for drugs or devices relevant to their area of practice and where the study may contribute substantially to knowledge about the drug or device. Studies that are clearly intended for marketing or other purposes should be avoided.
19. Such studies must be reviewed and approved by an appropriate research ethics board. The National Council on Ethics in Human Research is an additional source of advice.
20. The physician still has an obligation to report adverse events to the appropriate body or authority while participating in such a study.
Continuing Medical Education / Continuing Professional Development (CME/CPD)
21. This section of the Guidelines is understood to address primarily medical education initiatives designed for practicing physicians. However, the same principles will also apply for educational events (such as noon-hour rounds and journal clubs) which are held as part of medical or residency training.
22. The primary purpose of CME/CPD activities is to address the educational needs of physicians and other health care providers in order to improve the health care of patients. Activities that are primarily promotional in nature, such as satellite symposia, should be identified as such to faculty and attendees and should not be considered as CME/CPD.
23. The ultimate decision on the organization, content and choice of CME/CPD activities for physicians shall be made by the physician-organizers.
24. CME/CPD organizers and individual physician presenters are responsible for ensuring the scientific validity, objectivity and completeness of CME/CPD activities. Organizers and individual presenters must disclose to the participants at their CME/CPD events any financial affiliations with manufacturers of products mentioned at the event or with manufacturers of competing products. There should be a procedure available to manage conflicts once they are disclosed.
25. The ultimate decision on funding arrangements for CME/CPD activities is the responsibility of the physician-organizers. Although the CME/CPD publicity and written materials may acknowledge the financial or other aid received, they must not identify the products of the company(ies) that fund the activities.
26. All funds from a commercial source should be in the form of an unrestricted educational grant payable to the institution or organization sponsoring the CME/CPD activity.
27. Industry representatives should not be members of CME content planning committees. They may be involved in providing logistical support.
28. Generic names should be used in addition to trade names in the course of CME/CPD activities.
29. Physicians should not engage in peer selling. Peer selling occurs when a pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer or service provider engages a physician to conduct a seminar or similar event that focuses on its own products and is designed to enhance the sale of those products. This also applies to third party contracting on behalf of industry. This form of participation would reasonably be seen as being in contravention of the CMA's Code of Ethics, which prohibits endorsement of a specific product.
30. If specific products or services are mentioned, there should be a balanced presentation of the prevailing body of scientific information on the product or service and of reasonable, alternative treatment options. If unapproved uses of a product or service are discussed, presenters must inform the audience of this fact.
31. Negotiations for promotional displays at CME/CPD functions should not be influenced by industry sponsorship of the activity. Promotional displays should not be in the same room as the educational activity.
32. Travel and accommodation arrangements, social events and venues for industry sponsored CME/CPD activities should be in keeping with the arrangements that would normally be made without industry sponsorship. For example, the industry sponsor should not pay for travel or lodging costs or for other personal expenses of physicians attending a CME/CPD event. Subsidies for hospitality should not be accepted outside of modest meals or social events that are held as part of a conference or meeting. Hospitality and other arrangements should not be subsidized by sponsors for personal guests of attendees or faculty, including spouses or family members.
33. Faculty at CME/CPD events may accept reasonable honoraria and reimbursement for travel, lodging and meal expenses. All attendees at an event cannot be designated faculty. Faculty indicates a presenter who prepares and presents a substantive educational session in an area where they are a recognized expert or authority.
Electronic Continuing Professional Development (eCPD)
34. The same general principles which apply to "live, in person" CPD events, as outlined above, also apply to eCPD (or any other written curriculum-based CPD) modules. The term "eCPD" generally refers to accredited on-line or internet-based CPD content or modules. However, the following principles can also apply to any type of written curriculum based CPD.
35. Authors of eCPD modules are ultimately responsible for ensuring the content and validity of these modules and should ensure that they are both designed and delivered at arms'-length of any industry sponsors.
36. Authors of eCPD modules should be physicians with a special expertise in the relevant clinical area and must declare any relationships with the sponsors of the module or any competing companies.
37. There should be no direct links to an industry or product website on any web page which contains eCPD material.
38. Information related to any activity carried out by the eCPD participant should only be collected, used, displayed or disseminated with the express informed consent of that participant.
39. The methodologies of studies cited in the eCPD module should be available to participants to allow them to evaluate the quality of the evidence discussed. Simply presenting abstracts that preclude the participant from evaluating the quality of evidence should be avoided. When the methods of cited studies are not available in the abstracts, they should be described in the body of the eCPD module.
40. If the content of eCPD modules is changed, re-accreditation is required.
41. Physicians may be approached by industry representatives and asked to become members of advisory or consultation boards, or to serve as individual advisors or consultants. Physicians should be mindful of the potential for this relationship to influence their clinical decision making. While there is a legitimate role for physicians to play in these capacities, the following principles should be observed:
A. The exact deliverables of the arrangement should be clearly set out and put in writing in the form of a contractual agreement. The purpose of the arrangement should be exclusively for the physician to impart specialized medical knowledge that could not otherwise be acquired by the hiring company, and should not include any promotional or educational activities on the part of the company itself.
B. Remuneration of the physician should be reasonable and take into account the extent and complexity of the physician's involvement.
C. Whenever possible, meetings should be held in the geographic locale of
the physician or as part of a meeting which he/she would normally attend. When these arrangements are not feasible, basic travel and accommodation expenses may be reimbursed to the physician advisor or consultant. Meetings should not be held outside of Canada, with the exception of international boards.
Clinical Evaluation Packages (Samples)
42. The distribution of samples should not involve any form of material gain for the physician or for the practice with which he or she is associated.
43. Physicians who accept samples or other health care products are responsible for recording the type and amount of medication or product dispensed. They are also responsible for ensuring their age-related quality and security and their proper disposal.
44. Practising physicians should not accept personal gifts of any significant monetary or other value from industry. Physicians should be aware that acceptance of gifts of any value has been shown to have the potential to influence clinical decision making.
45. These guidelines apply to relationships between physicians and all commercial organizations, including but not limited to manufacturers of medical devices, nutritional products and health care products as well as service suppliers.
46. Physicians should not dispense pharmaceuticals or other products unless they can demonstrate that these cannot be provided by an appropriate other party, and then only on a cost-recovery basis.
47. Physicians should not invest in industries or related undertakings if this might inappropriately affect the manner of their practice or their prescribing behaviour.
48. Practising physicians affiliated with pharmaceutical companies should not allow their affiliation to influence their medical practice inappropriately.
49. Practising physicians should not accept a fee or equivalent consideration from pharmaceutical manufacturers or distributors in exchange for seeing them in a promotional or similar capacity.
50. Practising physicians may accept patient teaching aids appropriate to their area of practice provided these aids carry at most the logo of the donor company and do not refer to specific therapeutic agents, services or other products.
Medical Students and Residents
51. The principles in these guidelines apply to physicians-in training as well as to practising physicians.
52. Medical curricula should deal explicitly with the guidelines by including educational sessions on conflict of interest and physician-industry interactions.
This paper presents the position of the Canadian Medical Association on what physicians can do, working with others, to ensure that Canadians are prescribed the drugs that will give them the most benefit. It also makes recommendations for future action that physicians, governments and others might take to foster optimal prescribing practices.
CMA believes that optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is:
- The most clinically appropriate for the patient's condition;
- Safe and effective;
- Part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
- The most cost-effective drug available to meet the patient's needs.
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.
The CMA proposes a "prescription for optimal prescribing" that encompasses six elements, and makes the following recommendations:
A National Strategy
1) Governments at all levels should work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
Element 1: Relevant, Objective Information for Physicians
2) The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
- based on the best available scientific evidence;
-relevant to clinical practice;
- easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
3) The CMA encourages all medical educational bodies to support a comprehensive program of education in pharmaceuticals, pharmacology and optimal prescribing, at the undergraduate, residency and continuing medical education levels.
4) The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations call on governments to support and fund impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
5) The CMA calls on appropriate educational bodies to develop policies or guidelines to ensure the objectivity and impartiality of continuing medical education.
6) The CMA recommends that governments, research institutes and other stakeholders fund and conduct ongoing clinical research on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change behaviour, and allocate resources to those interventions that demonstrate the greatest effectiveness.
Element 2: Electronic Prescribing
7) The CMA, provincial/territorial medical associations and affiliates encourage governments to give active support to physicians in their transition to electronic prescribing, through a comprehensive strategy that includes financial support for acquisition of hardware and software, and dissemination of appropriate training and knowledge transfer tools.
8) The CMA calls on governments to incorporate into electronic prescribing the following principles:
- Measures to ensure patients' privacy and confidentiality, as well as confidentiality of physician prescribing information;
- A link with a formulary, to provide physicians with best practice information including drug cost data;
- Guidelines for data sharing among health professionals and others;
- Standards for electronic signature that are not overly restrictive.
Element 3: Programs by Payers
9) The CMA recommends that formularies, in both the public and private sectors, simplify administrative requirements on patients and physicians, reducing paperwork to the minimum necessary to ensure optimal patient care.
Element 4: Collaboration among Health Care Providers
10) The CMA recommends that formalized and clearly articulated collaborative arrangements be in place for practitioners who jointly manage a patient's drug therapy.
Element 5: Impartial, Evidence-based Information for Patients
11) The CMA calls on governments to fund and facilitate the development and provision of unbiased, up-to-date, practical information to consumers about prescription drugs and their appropriate use, and support physicians and pharmacists in disseminating this information to patients.
12) The CMA calls on the Government of Canada to continue to enforce the current ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada, and close the loopholes that currently allow a limited amount of drug promotion.
Element 6: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
13) The CMA calls on those who fund and produce research on drug safety and effectiveness, prescribing guidelines and programs to enhance prescribing practices, to include physicians and medical organizations meaningfully in this activity.
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the drugs that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm, at the most appropriate cost to the patient and the health care system. It is generally agreed that we have not yet achieved that ideal. But the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the physicians of Canada believe it is a goal worth striving to attain.
The CMA has a long-standing commitment to fostering high-quality health care. One of the key elements of the long-term Health Care Transformation project, in which CMA is currently involved, is ensuring that systems are in place to foster health care that is of high quality. One such system would be the active encouragement of optimal prescribing.
This paper presents the CMA's position and recommendations on what physicians can do, working with others, to ensure that Canadians are prescribed the drugs that will give them the most benefit. It looks at prescribing mainly from the perspective of the practicing physician who is seeking the most appropriate treatments for individual patients. However it also comments on the effects of prescribing on the broader health care system, both on Canadians' overall health status and on the costs of delivering health care.
2) Optimal Prescribing: CMA's Definition and Principles
a) What is Optimal Prescribing?
Prescribing is not an exact science; the choice of a particular drug to treat a particular patient depends on that patient's unique circumstances. CMA's proposed definition and principles for optimal prescribing is as follows:
Optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is
- the most clinically appropriate drug for the patient's condition;
- safe and effective;
- part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
- the most cost-effective drug available to best meet the patient's needs.
b) Principles for Optimal Prescribing
CMA believes that in an optimal prescribing environment, the following principles should apply:
Principles for Optimal Prescribing
1) The primary goal of prescribing should be to improve or maintain the health of the patient.
2) Prescribing should take place in the context of overall patient care which involves diagnosis of the condition, other forms of treatment including rehabilitation, counselling and lifestyle adjustments, ongoing monitoring and re-evaluation of the patient's condition and treatment to make sure the patient is responding appropriately, ensuring patient adherence to medication regimen, and discontinuation of drug treatment when it is no longer needed.
3) Patients should be actively involved in decisions regarding their drug treatment; for this, useful and practical patient information is required.
4) Prescribing decisions should be based on the best available scientific evidence, which is continually evaluated and updated as need arises.
5) Physicians should retain clinical autonomy in deciding which drugs to prescribe.
6) Prescribing decisions should take into account the cost to the patient, and strive to achieve cost-effectiveness as long as this does not conflict with the goal of optimal patient care.
7) Physicians should be updated on new developments in pharmacotherapy, through an ongoing process of relevant, objective continuing education.
8) Health professionals should take a leadership role in developing and evaluating strategies and tools to enhance best practices in prescribing. Though these principles may also apply to the optimal use of medical devices, prescription drugs are the primary focus of the paper.
3 Why Optimal Prescribing is Important
Prescription drugs are an increasingly important part of patient care in Canada. Fifty years ago, they were used mainly for short periods of time to treat acute conditions, and their contribution to overall health care costs was small. But in 2005, Canadians received 14 prescriptions per capita; that number rose to 74 for people 80 years and over.i Many Canadians now take prescription drugs over the long term to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis or high cholesterol.
Increased drug utilization, and the high prices of many new drug therapies, have increased the cost of prescription drugs to Canadians and to the health care system. In 2008 Canadians spent about $25.4 billion on prescription drugs. This, in constant dollars, is roughly triple what was spent in 1985.ii Together, prescription and over-the-counter drugs consume a larger portion of overall costs than do physicians' services; in fact, only hospitals consume a larger share.
In many cases prescription drugs have reduced reliance on hospitalization and surgical procedures. For example, over the past decades drugs to treat peptic ulcer disease have changed its treatment profile from one based mainly on surgery to a largely medical one. On the other hand, patients may take certain medications or classes of medications for many years, and this long-term use may have health consequences that are currently unknown.
As their role in health care increases, there is increasing public scrutiny over whether the prescription drugs Canadians use are safe and effective, whether they give good value for money, and whether they are being prescribed and taken optimally for maximum patient benefit.
As mentioned before, prescribing is not an exact science; what in some cases might be considered "suboptimal" is in other cases quite appropriate. In most instances, drugs are prescribed appropriately. However, evidence suggests that in some areas there is room for improvement. Prescribers can enhance patient care and improve Canadians' health by adopting strategies such as the following:
- Reducing overprescribing of certain drugs. For example, overuse of antibiotics is a worldwide concerniii since it may hasten the development of antibiotic resistance, thereby reducing the physician's therapeutic arsenal.
- Reducing underprescribing of certain drugs. A study of primary care practices in Ontario found that while 14% of adult patients had dyslipidemia, 63.2 % were untreated and, of those treated, 47.2% were not adequately controlled .iv
- Prescribing drugs according to generally accepted clinical practice guidelines to ensure that first-line drugs are used where indicated. Second-line therapies are frequently newer and less established than first-line ones, and are thus more likely to have unidentified safety risks.
- Ensuring that drugs are prescribed and taken safely, to reduce the harm caused by adverse interactions with other drugs, natural health products, alcohol or other agents in the patient's system.
Activities in support of the above strategies should be included in any program or initiative aimed at improving health care in Canada. CMA believes they will contribute to Canadians' overall health status, and may have the additional benefit of reducing health care costs if the prescribed drugs are the most cost-effective available to appropriately treat patients' conditions.
4) Many Factors Affect Prescribing
Prescribing does not occur in a vacuum, but is the result of a number of factors that influence physicians. It may be questioned whether these factors provide the necessary support to physicians as they seek to prescribe optimally. Some of these influences are discussed below:
a) The Challenge Of Acquiring Information
Our knowledge of prescription drugs and their effects is continually being updated, and physicians are required to absorb new information throughout their careers. But are physicians receiving the information they most need, in such a way that they can easily and painlessly incorporate it into their practices? CMA's answer is: there is room for improvement. The major information sources available to physicians are discussed below:
i) Physician Education
Medical school and residency training - Medical schools vary in how they discuss pharmacological issues, and critics have questioned whether Canada's current medical school curriculum is training future physicians adequately in the art and science of prescribing.v In some cases, pharmacotherapy is taught in the context of each individual body system - cardiac, renal, etc. - rather than as a discrete subject. With this approach, some valuable unifying elements of pharmacology may go untaught.
Continuing medical education (CME) - For physicians, CME is an important source of information on new drugs and new indications for existing drugs. But is it imparting the most necessary or appropriate information? Concerns have been raised as to its impartiality; it is estimated that pharmaceutical industry sponsorship accounts for 65% of the total revenue of CME programs in the U.S. and the figure is assumed to be much the same in Canada.vi
ii) Point-of-care information
With increasingly heavy patient loads, the time at physicians' disposal for research is limited. Often new information is required at the point of care; for example, in the examination room during a patient encounter, when the physician requires an answer quickly. The clinical practice guidelines and point of care reference guides in common use may not be readily accessible in a concise, user-friendly format when needed. In addition, it is of concern that some experts who develop practice guidelines have ties to pharmaceutical manufacturers, which could affect the guidelines' impartiality.
To compound the problem, widely used sources of information may not be giving physicians the material they most need. Physicians often receive new safety information, such as warnings of recently discovered drug risks, in the form of advisories from Health Canada or elsewhere. These advisories may not provide physicians with prescribing advice, or information about other treatment options if the drug is considered too dangerous for use.
iii) Drug promotion and marketing
Much of physicians' information about drugs and prescribing comes from the pharmaceutical industry representatives who visit them in their offices. Drugs promoted in this manner tend to be newer; consequently they are often more expensive than established medications and less is known about their efficacy and possible side effects. Drug promotion might help instil in some physicians' minds the perception that when it comes to medication, "new" equals "better," when this is not always the case.
Industry marketing also comes in more subtle forms, such as:
- Free drug samples provided to physicians; since samples tend to be mainly for new drugs, it has been suggested that they encourage these drugs' use at the expense of possibly cheaper and safer alternatives.
- Collection, by commercial data management companies, of information on physicians' prescribing patterns , which is then sold to pharmaceutical companies to help tailor sales messages to individual physicians.
- Manipulation of the medical publication process, through: design of clinical trials so as to get the most positive results; selective publication of clinical trial results; or "ghostwriting" of scholarly research articles by pharmaceutical industry contractors.vii
b) Patient education and participation
When considering a patient's drug therapy, the physician must consider the possible effect of the patient's behaviour on treatment. A patient may require counselling on the impact of natural health products, alcohol and other substances when mixed with their prescribed medications; on the importance of adherence to the prescribed treatment; or on the need for changes in behaviour (improved diet, increased physical activity) to augment the medication's benefits. This requires open and honest dialogue between patient and physician.
Patient knowledge and preferences can influence both over- and under-prescribing. Some patients may not feel that they have been "treated" unless they leave the doctor's office with a prescription. A physician may prescribe a drug if a patient requests it, despite feeling ambivalent about the choice of treatment.viii On the other hand, a physician may not prescribe a needed medication because a patient insists he or she does not want to be "on drugs."
The pharmaceutical industry directs promotional activities at patients as well as physicians. Though direct-to consumer advertising (DTCA) or prescription drugs is technically illegal in Canada, loopholes in the law permit a limited amount of Canadian-based drug promotion, and drug ads are often beamed across the border from the United States, one of only two countries (the other being New Zealand) where DTCA is legal. DTCA has a strong influence on patient behaviour; according to one survey by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, 27% of people who saw prescription drug advertisements, requested and received these drugs from their physicians.ix DTCA has been widely criticized for overstating drugs' benefits, playing down their risks, and contributing to a "pill for every ill" mindset and the "medicalization" of conditions that could be more appropriately managed by lifestyle changes or other non-drug therapies.
In addition, the pharmaceutical industry can exert indirect influence on patient attitudes through funding of patient advocacy groups and disease-specific web sites.
A patient's social context may also motivate a physician to prescribe a drug that may not be clinically indicated. For example, an antipsychotic may be prescribed to calm a patient with dementia, not so much for the patient's benefit as for that of tired and stressed-out caregivers, despite growing evidence of the drugs' health and safety risks and lack of efficacyx. Ideally, prescribing recommendations and guidelines should take into account the broader context in which a drug is prescribed.
c) Drug cost and coverage
The physician's prescribing of a drug and the patient's purchase of it are separate and unconnected acts. As a result, physicians may not have access to reliable, convenient information on drug costs; or if they do, they may have little reason to use this information if the patient has insurance coverage. However, rising drug prices, and the increased use of drug therapy, may require them to take cost into consideration more often.
Provincial and territorial governments, and increasingly, private insurers as well, can influence physician and patient choice of drugs by restricting what medications are covered on their formularies. In addition, many payers have programs to encourage the prescribing of certain drugs such as generics. If, as not infrequently happens, a patient's condition requires a drug not on the formulary, obtaining coverage for this drug requires time-consuming paperwork. The administrative burden this imposes can be a barrier to optimal prescribing.
d) The policy context
Canadian decision makers have already recognized that action on prescribing is needed. One of the original nine elements of the federal/provincial/territorial National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), announced in 2004, was "Enhance action to influence the prescribing behaviour of health care professionals so that drugs are used only when needed and the right drug is used for the right problem." However, this was not considered a priority, and the entire NPS is now dormant.
In 2009, the Health Council of Canada recommended that optimal prescribing be a priority element in a revived pharmaceutical strategy, noting the need for easily accessible, evidence-based information on the proper use and risks of each medication, and for national co-ordination of efforts toward improved prescribing.xi
5. The CMA's Prescription
The previous sections have described the problems that currently exist with prescribing in Canada, and factors that contribute to these problems. In this section the CMA discusses what can be done to make prescribing optimal. Even as a variety of factors influence prescribing, so a variety of elements can contribute to optimizing it.
What should be done to encourage optimal prescribing in Canada? The CMA believes that optimal prescribing should be addressed through the development and implementation of a national strategy comprising the six elements discussed in the following pages:
Governments at all levels should work with prescribers, the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to encourage optimal prescribing and medication use.
Element 1: Relevant, Objective Information for Prescribers
As our knowledge base on prescription drugs expands, it is communicated to physicians by many different means. The CMA believes it is possible to improve these communications and make them more relevant and useful to prescribing physicians.
The CMA supports the development and dissemination of prescribing information that is:
o based on the best available scientific evidence
o relevant to clinical practice
o easy to incorporate into a physician's workflow.
a) Undergraduate medical education and residency training
A basic grounding in pharmacology is a vital part of undergraduate medical education. Appendix 1, which was taken from a 2009 report prepared by Britain's Royal College of Physicians, contains a specific proposal for a core undergraduate curriculum in therapeutics.
Basic education in pharmacology should, among other things, help prepare future physicians for the challenge of maintaining their knowledge base in practice. The academic community has a role to play, during undergraduate training and residency, in providing impartial advice on pharmaceutical matters, and ensuring that students and residents can appraise drug research and prescribing guidance critically.
The CMA encourages all medical educational bodies to support a comprehensive program of education in pharmaceuticals, pharmacology and optimal prescribing, at the undergraduate, residency and continuing medical education levels.
b) Continuing medical education (CME)
Traditionally, CME meant face-to-face seminars or conferences; however, studies are demonstrating that Internet-based learning is as effective as face-to-face CME.xii Developers and practitioners are increasingly looking at delivering CME online. Of particular promise are formats that deliver information electronically in short, summary bullet points, presenting the most pertinent information on a single screen where feasible.
As mentioned before, a large proportion of CME is sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Like pharmaceutical detailing, industry-sponsored CME might steer physicians toward newer drugs which may not be first-line therapies, and which are often less thoroughly evaluated and more expensive than established treatments. Therefore, in order that physicians can be assured of receiving objective information, there is an urgent need for objective funding sources for CME, that are as distant as possible from potential sources of bias.
The CMA and provincial/territorial medical associations call on governments to support and fund objective and impartial continuing medical education programs on optimal prescribing.
The CMA calls on appropriate educational bodies to develop policies or guidelines to ensure the objectivity of continuing medical education.
CMA's Guidelines for Physicians in Interaction with Industry (2007) proposes ways in which physicians, medical associations and medical educational bodies can minimize bias when collaborating with industry on CME and continuing professional development programs.
c) New Forms of Education
Besides formal CME, there are many ways of conveying information to physicians with the intent of influencing prescribing behaviour. One promising intervention is academic detailing, in which trained physicians or pharmacists use the personalized, one-on-one techniques employed by pharmaceutical detailers to encourage adoption of a desired behaviour (e.g., prescribing of a particular drug or treatment regimen) rather than specific drugs, to counterbalance marketing by pharmaceutical representatives. Academic detailing has demonstrated some success. Because it is expensive and labour intensive, it has often been difficult to persuade governments to invest in it. However, a growing number of provinces have developed, or are considering, academic detailing programs.
Another promising intervention is physician self-directed learning. In Alberta two medical schools are preparing to perform an analysis of physicians' perceived and unperceived learning needs with the intention of developing individualized learning programs to address the needs of physicians in their practices.
The effectiveness of various learning programs in changing behaviour is being studied on an ongoing basisxiii, through means such as the Rx for Change database, a collaborative effort between two Cochrane Collaboration groups and the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. This database summarizes current research evidence, regularly updated, about the effects of strategies to improve drug prescribing practice and drug use.
Because different physicians have different needs, goals and styles of learning, multiple formats are required to address them. Though one intervention in and of itself may not produce widespread, immediate or dramatic changes in behaviour, the cumulative effect of multiple messages over time can be very strong.
The CMA recommends that governments, research institutes and other stakeholders fund and conduct ongoing research on the effectiveness of interventions designed to change clinical behaviour, and allocate resources to those interventions that demonstrate the greatest effectiveness.
d) Point-of-care information
In addition to formal education programs, information on pharmaceuticals and prescribing is also available to physicians at the point of care. Physicians' preference is for brief summaries of key points, which can be absorbed quickly and be accessed at point of care through hand-held personal digital assistants (PDA's) or, increasingly, through electronic health and prescription records.
Drug information compendia are available in electronic and print format. For example, cma.ca provides information about prescription drugs through a program called Lexi-Drugs Online. e-Therapeutics+, developed by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, is another online resource for prescribing and managing drug therapy at the point of care.
Online programs are also available that monitor physicians' prescribing habits and compare them to those of their peers. Such programs are to be encouraged if their purpose is to educate rather than to enforce a certain behaviour. However, they will require additional investment, particularly in information technology and software development.
Element 2: Electronic Prescribing
Electronic prescribing has the potential to dramatically improve drug therapy. For example an effective e-prescribing system has the potential to:
- list all the drugs a patient is taking. It could also identify duplicate prescriptions for the same drug from different providers, thus helping to reduce prescription fraud and prescription drug abuse;
- provide decision-support tools; for example, a warning could appear on the screen if the physician proposes to prescribe a drug that interacts harmfully with another the patient is already taking. This decision support should ideally be updated in real time so the physician has access to the most current information.
- Enable the improvement of patient adherence to drug therapy, perhaps by generating reminders to patients to refill and take prescriptions.
- Transmit prescriptions to pharmacies electronically, increasing convenience for the patient and eliminating a major cause of medication errors, illegible handwriting.
- Automatically link to a formulary to enable the prescriber to see whether the patient's insurer has approved the medication, or to find the lowest-cost drug in a class. Two-way electronic communication with formulary managers may also help reduce some of the administrative paperwork which is a barrier to optimal prescribing.
- Automatically notify physicians of drug shortages, recalls or other urgent situations.
In the U.S., e-prescribing is being actively encouraged. Since January 2009, the American Medicare system provides financial incentives for its physicians who adopt e-prescribing. In Canada adoption has been slow;xiv it is estimated that fewer than 10% of physicians e-prescribe. This may be due partly to the expense, and partly because of issues which remain to be addressed, such as:
- How do we assure that the confidentiality of patients' health information, and of physicians' prescribing information, is protected?
- What information should be shared with other health professionals?
- What legally constitutes a "signature," or other means of authenticating a prescription?
- Can we ensure that pharmacies as well as physicians' offices are equipped to receive electronic prescriptions?
- Can we ensure that e-prescribing software is designed so as to be practical and user-friendly for physicians; for example, that pop-up warnings contain the most important and relevant information?
- Can we ensure that e-prescribing protocols simplify a physician's workload rather than adding to it - for example, that they eliminate duplication of prescription writing?
E-prescribing is in its early stages, and knowledge and policy in this area are developing rapidly. CMA will continue to study the issue in the coming years.
Several provinces maintain electronic prescription databases and others are in development. For example, BC PharmNet provides drug-to-drug interaction checking and patient medication profiles to pharmacists, emergency rooms and physicians with controlled access. In most provinces and territories, medical associations are working with governments on standards to implement e-prescribing.
The CMA, provincial/territorial medical associations and affiliates encourage governments to give active support to physicians in their transition to electronic prescribing, through a comprehensive strategy that includes financial support for acquisition of hardware and software, and dissemination of appropriate training and knowledge transfer tools.
The CMA calls on governments to incorporate into electronic prescribing the following principles:
- measures to ensure patients' privacy and confidentiality, as well as confidentiality of physician prescribing information
- a link with a formulary, to provide physicians with best practice information including drug cost data
- guidelines for data sharing among health professionals and others
- standards for electronic signature that are not overly restrictive.
Element 3: Programs by Payers
Government drug plans and, increasingly, private insurance companies, have instituted programs to encourage prescription of certain drugs. Such programs, which are often motivated by the desire to control rising drug costs, can include the following:
There are 18 public drug formularies in Canada managed by federal or provincial/territorial governments. These formularies often use various means to help control drug costs. For example, if a generic drug is available to treat a given condition, a payer may reimburse patients only for the generic rather than for brand-name equivalents. Or if several related drugs exist in the same class, a formulary could reimburse only for the lowest-priced drug in that class, as British Columbia's reference-based drug pricing (RDP) program does for five drug categories that contain several drugs with equal efficacy; if patients want to purchase a higher-priced drug they must pay the difference out of pocket. Such programs are not confined to Canada; Britain's National Health Services funds specific treatments only if recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) which assesses new drugs for efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Under New Zealand's PHARMAC system the government reimburses only for one drug in each class.
A formulary's cost-control objectives can sometimes conflict with the goal of physician and patient to obtain the care they believe will be most optimal. For example, formulary rules limiting the length of chronic prescriptions can make it difficult for physicians to prescribe over the long term to patients who manage their conditions well. It is important that formulary rules be based on the best available scientific evidence. The ideal formulary will be designed to improve clinical care, optimize patients' health outcomes, promote patient safety, and reduce the administrative burden on the physician.
The CMA recommends that formularies, in both the public and private sectors, simplify administrative requirements on patients and physicians, reducing paperwork to the minimum necessary to ensure optimal patient care.
b) Prescribing incentives
Sometimes, payers may provide incentives such as reward payments for physicians who prescribe in a desired way (for example, who prescribe more than a certain percentage of a given drug class as generics), or impose a financial penalty for physicians who do not exhibit the desired behaviour. Financial incentives to physicians to provide preventive care services have been used effectively but their effect on prescribing practices is only beginning to be evaluated. A study of U.K. prescribing incentive schemes concluded that reward payments may have contributed to cost control, but their effect on prescribing quality remained uncertain. xv
CMA's ongoing Health Care Transformation initiative will provide decision makers with blueprint for a high-performing, patient-centered health care system. Among its other activities over the next few years, this initiative will be examining in greater detail the effect of pay-for-performance schemes on the quality of care in Canada.
Element 4: Collaboration Among Health Care Providers
No health professional is an island. Increasingly health care providers are working in collaborative teams to manage drug therapy and other forms of patient care. In such teams, for example, pharmacists may perform a variety of functions, such as reviewing patients' medication profiles to catch medication related problems such as inappropriate dosing, duplicate or unnecessary therapies; or managing long-term drug therapy for patients with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
At their most effective, such collaborative arrangements could greatly improve drug therapy, and patient care in general, by allowing the team to draw on a common pool of expertise. However, if improperly implemented, they could lead to breakdown of communication and fragmentation of care.
To ensure that collaborative management of a patient's drug therapy functions smoothly, it is important that clearly articulated arrangements be in place. CMA's position statement Achieving Patient-Centered Collaborative Care (2007), includes the following principles:
- Patient-centered care. Patient care (including drug therapy) must be aligned around the values and needs of the patient.
- Clear communication. Effective communication is essential to ensure safe and coordinated drug therapy and to ensure that the patient is receiving timely, clear and consistent messaging. For example, if a physician and pharmacist are both managing and monitoring a patient with asthma, it is essential that they notify each other if a change is made to a prescription, such as a new drug or a new dosage. Electronic health records have the potential to greatly improve communication among providers.
- Clinical leader. CMA's position statement defines a clinical leader as "the individual who, based on his or her training, competency and experience, is best able to synthesize and interpret the evidence and data provided by the patient and the team, make a differential diagnosis and deliver comprehensive care for the patient." In most cases the physician, by virtue of training, knowledge, background and patient relationship, is best positioned to assume this role.
The CMA recommends that formalized and clearly articulated collaborative arrangements be in place for practitioners who jointly manage a patient's drug therapy.
The CMA, recognizing the need for and value of collaboration in the management of drug therapy, will continue to explore and encourage the most effective models for collaborative practice among health professionals.
Element 5: Impartial, Evidence-based Information for Patients
Canadians have the right to accurate, reliable information on prescription drugs and their uses, so that they can become knowledgeable partners in their care.
A good deal of information is already available to patients, and there are ways in which it could be improved and made more accessible and relevant. One way would be to improve its clarity and readability, to address the needs of the estimated 6 in 10 Canadians who lack the health literacy necessary to properly manage their health and engage in preventive practices.xvi
Another way would be to provide more information from impartial sources, to reduce the impact of direct-to-consumer advertising. The CMA believes that in general, brand specific advertising is a less than optimal way of providing drug information, and that the laws currently banning direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada should remain in effect, and tightened to eliminate existing loopholes.
Physicians and other health care providers can also play an important role in providing patients with guidance and with accurate information on the medications they take. CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association have collaborated with Canada's Research-based Drug Companies (Rx&D) to produce a pamphlet called "Knowledge is the Best Medicine" which provides consumers with advice on safe medication use, and guidance on how to interact effectively with their physician or pharmacist.
The CMA calls on governments to fund and facilitate the development and provision of unbiased, up-to-date, practical information to consumers on prescription drugs and their appropriate use, and support physicians and pharmacists in disseminating this information to their patients.
The CMA calls on the Government of Canada to continue to enforce the current ban on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in Canada, and close the loopholes that currently allow a limited amount of drug promotion.
Element 6: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
Drug development is an ongoing process, and the evaluation of drugs and their prescribing should be ongoing as well.
Canada already supports a certain amount of research activity in this area. For example, Health Canada funds the Canadian Optimal Medication Prescribing and Utilization Service (COMPUS), a collaborative, pan-Canadian service to identify and promote optimal drug therapy.
COMPUS collects and evaluates relevant existing evidence, and provides advice, tools, and strategies to implement and support the adoption of optimal drug therapy. COMPUS has produced, or is producing, evidence-based recommendations for prescribing proton pump inhibitors and drugs for diabetes management. COMPUS has established links to university-based providers of CME, and with academic detailing groups, who help to disseminate its recommendations and materials. It also manages the Rx for Change database previously mentioned.
The federal government has recently established and funded a national Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network. This network will link researchers to help coordinate and fund independent research on the risks and benefits of drugs that are on the market. We hope that this signifies a long-term commitment on the country's part to optimal drug therapy.
CMA believes Canada should build on this activity by encouraging research on an ongoing basis on:
- prescribing guidelines and what drugs work best for which conditions
- dissemination of prescribing information - what interventions most effectively influence practice?
- effect of changes in prescribing on patient health outcomes, and on utilization of health services;
- the safety and effectiveness of drugs, building on what currently exists (such as Health Canada's system for reporting adverse drug reactions and communicating drug safety advisories), so that information derived from post-market surveillance quickly reaches health care providers and patients and becomes part of our body of knowledge.
Since the great majority of prescriptions in Canada are written by physicians, it is essential that the medical community participate actively in evaluation of prescribing practices, and disseminating and implementing the results of research.
The CMA calls on those who fund and produce research on drug safety and effectiveness, prescribing guidelines and programs to enhance prescribing practices, to include physicians and medical organizations meaningfully in this activity.
It is likely that drug therapy will continue to increase in importance as a component of patient care and that it will continue to become more complex and, in many cases, more costly. As a result, we expect that health professionals and the Canadian public will continue to need readily available and up-to-date information on prescription drugs: the availability of new products; the results of safety and effectiveness studies; and advice on how to prescribe and take these medications for the best health outcome. It is also likely that electronic prescribing systems, formularies and other monitoring methods will continue to be developed, and that these will influence physicians' prescribing habits.
To deliver evidence-based prescribing information effectively, and encourage its smooth incorporation into clinical practice, Canada needs a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary strategy in which physicians and other health care providers, governments, patients, industry and other stakeholders work together to encourage and support optimal prescribing, in the interest of achieving the best possible health for Canadians with the most effective use of resources.
The CMA is ready to join with others in developing and implementing such a strategy, in the hope that eventually, all patients will receive the prescription drugs they need, when they need them.
A core undergraduate curriculum for prescribers in therapeutics
Core knowledge and understanding
Monitoring drug therapy
Adverse drug reactions
Prescribing for patients with special requirements (e.g., the elderly, children, women of childbearing potential, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and patients with renal or liver disease)
Legal aspects of prescribing drugs
Developing new drugs
Ethics of prescribing
Commonly used drugs
Common therapeutic problems
Complementary and alternative medicine
Integration of therapeutics into understanding of disease management.
Taking a drug history
Prescribing drugs in special groups
Prescribing drugs to relieve pain and distress
Adverse drug reactions and interactions
Monitoring drug therapy
Analysing new evidence
Obtaining accurate objective information to support safe and effective prescribing
Obtaining informed consent to treatment
A rational approach to prescribing and therapeutics
Recognizing the responsibilities of a physician as part of the prescribing community
Recognizing personal limitations in knowledge
Responding to the future
SOURCE: Maxwell S, Walley T. Teaching safe and effective prescribing in UK medical schools: a core curriculum for tomorrow's doctors. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2003;55:496-503.100. Cited in Innovating For Health: Patients, physicians, the pharmaceutical industry and the NHS. A report from the Royal College of Physicians (UK) February 2009
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v Dr. Jean Gray, speaking at the Health Council of Canada symposium, "Safe and Sound: Optimizing Prescribing Behaviours"; Montreal, June 2007
vi Steinman MA, Baron RB. Is continuing medical education a drug promotion tool? Yes. Can Fam Phys 2007: 53(10); 1650-53.
vii Angell M. Industry-sponsored clinical research: a broken system. JAMA 2008: 300 (Sept. 3); 1069-1071.
viii Mintzes B, Barer ML, Kravitz RL et al. Influence of direct to consumer pharmaceutical advertising and patients' requests on prescribing decisions: a two-site cross-sectional survey. BMJ 2002; 324 (2 February): 278-279.
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xii Cook DA, Levinson AJ, Garside S et al. Internet-based learning in the health professions: a meta-analysis. JAMA 2008; 300 (10): 1181-1196.
xiii Rx for Change database; accessed at http://www.acmts.ca/index.php/en/compus/optimal-ther-resources/interventions.
xiv Canadian Medical Association. "Information technology and health care in Canada: 2008 status report."
xv Ashworth M, Lee R, Gray H et al. How are primary care organizations using financial incentives to influence prescribing? J Public Health 2004: 26(1); doi: 10.1093.
xvi Canadian Council on Learning. Health literacy in Canada: initial results from the International Adult Literacy and Health Skills Survey (September 2007). Accessed at http://www.ccl-cca.ca/ccl/Reports/HealthLiteracy/HealthLiteracy2007.html.