That the government create a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund to resume health care services, bolster public health capacity and expand primary care teams, allowing Canadians wide-ranging access to health care.
That the government recognize and support the continued adoption of virtual care and address the inequitable access to digital health services by creating a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank and by expediting broadband access to all Canadians.
That the government act on our collective learned lessons regarding our approach to seniors care and create a national demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer and establish a Seniors Care Benefit.
That the government recognize the unique risks and financial burden experienced by physicians and front line health care workers by implementing the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, by extending eligibility of the Memorial Grant and by addressing remaining administrative barriers to physician practices accessing critical federal economic relief programs.
Five months ago COVID-19 hit our shores. We were unprepared and unprotected. We were fallible and vulnerable. But, we responded swiftly.
The federal government initiated Canadians into a new routine rooted in public health guidance.
It struggled to outfit the front line workers. It anchored quick measures to ensure some financial stability.
Canadians tuned in to daily updates on the health crisis and the battle against its wrath.
Together, we flattened the curve… For now.
We have experienced the impact of the first wave of the pandemic. The initial wake has left Canadians, and those who care for them, feeling the insecurities in our health care system.
While the economy is opening in varied phases – an exhaustive list including patios, stores, office spaces, and schools – the health care system that struggled to care for those most impacted by the pandemic remains feeble, susceptible not only to the insurgence of the virus, but ill-prepared to equally defend the daily health needs of our citizens.
The window to maintain momentum and to accelerate solutions to existing systemic ailments that have challenged us for years is short. We cannot allow it to pass. The urgency is written on the faces of tomorrow’s patients.
Before the onset of the pandemic, the government announced intentions to ensure all Canadians would be able to access a primary care family doctor. We knew then that the health care system was failing.
The pandemic has highlighted the criticality of these recommendations brought forward by the Canadian Medical Association. They bolster our collective efforts to ensure that Canadians get timely access to the care and services they need. Too many patients are succumbing to the gaps in our abilities to care for them. Patients have signaled their thirst for a model of virtual care. The magnitude of our failure to meet the needs of our aging population is now blindingly obvious. Many of the front line health care workers, the very individuals who put themselves and their families at risk to care for the nation, are being stretched to the breaking point to compensate for a crumbling system.
The health of the country’s economy cannot exist without the health of Canadians.
Long wait times have strangled our nation’s health care system for too long. It was chronic before COVID-19. Now, for far too many, it has turned tragic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a significant proportion of health care services came to a halt. As health services are resuming, health care systems are left to grapple with a significant spike in wait times. Facilities will need to adopt new guidance to adhere to physical distancing, increasing staff levels, and planning and executing infrastructure changes. Canada’s already financially atrophied health systems will face significant funding challenges at a time when provincial/territorial governments are concerned with resuscitating economies.
The CMA is strongly supportive of new federal funding to ensure Canada’s health systems are resourced to meet the care needs of Canadians as the pandemic and life continues. We need to invigorate our health care system’s fitness to ensure that all Canadians are confident that it can and will serve them.
Creating a new Health Care and Innovation Fund would focus on resuming the health care system, addressing the backlog, and bringing primary care, the backbone of our health care system, back to centre stage.
The CMA will provide the budget costing in follow-up as an addendum to this submission.
RECOMMENDATION 1 Creating a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund
It took a global pandemic to accelerate a digital economy and spark a digital health revolution in Canada. In our efforts to seek medical advice while in isolation, Canadians prompted a punctuated shift in how we can access care, regardless of our location or socio-economic situation. We redefined the need for virtual care.
During the pandemic, nearly half of Canadians have used virtual care. An incredible 91% were satisfied with their experience. The CMA has learned that 43% of Canadians would prefer that their first point of medical contact be virtual.
The CMA welcomes the $240 million federal investment in virtual care and encourages the government to ensure it is linked to a model that ensures equitable access.
A gaping deficit remains in using virtual care. Recently the CMA, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada established a Virtual Care Task Force to identify digital opportunities to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required across provincial/territorial boundaries. To take full advantage of digital health capabilities, it will be essential for the entire population, to have a functional level of digital health literacy and access to the internet.
The continued adoption of virtual care is reliant on our ability to educate patients on how to access it. It will be further contingent on consistent and equitable access to broadband internet service.
Create a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank
Virtual care can’t just happen. It requires knowledge on how to access and effectively deliver it, from patients and health care providers respectively. It is crucial to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy, with the appointment of the Financial Literacy Leader within the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, can serve as a template for digital health literacy.
We recommend that the federal government establish a Digi-Health Knowledge Bank to develop indicators and measure the digital health of Canadians, create tools patients and health care providers can use to enhance digital health literacy, continually monitor the changing digital divide that exists among some population segments.
Pan-Canadian broadband expansion
It is critical to bridge the broadband divide by ensuring all those in Canada have equitable access to affordable, reliable and sustainable internet connectivity. Those in rural, remote, Northern and Indigenous communities are presently seriously disadvantaged in this way. With the rise in virtual care, a lack of access to broadband exacerbates inequalities in access to care. This issue needs to be expedited before we can have pride in any other achievement.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Embedding virtual care in our nation’s health care system
Some groups have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Woefully inadequate care of seniors and residents of long-term care homes has left a shameful and intensely painful mark on our record. Our health care system has failed to meet the needs of our aging population for too long.
The following two recommendations, combined with a focus on improving access to health care services, will make a critical difference for Canadian seniors.
A demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer
The Canada Health Transfer (CHT) is the single largest federal transfer to the provinces and territories. It is critical in supporting provincial and territorial health programs in Canada. As an equal per-capita-based transfer, it does not currently address the imbalance in population segments like seniors.
The CMA, hand-in-hand with the Organizations for Health Action (HEAL), recommends that a demographic top-up be transferred to provinces and territories based on the projected increase in health care spending associated with an aging population, with the federal contribution set to the current share of the CHT as a percentage of provincial-territorial health spending. A top-up has been calculated at 1.7 billion for 2021. Additional funding would be worth a total of $21.1 billion to the provinces and territories over the next decade.
Seniors care benefit
Rising out-of-pocket expenses associated with seniors care could extend from 9 billion to 23 billion by 2035. A Seniors Care Benefits program would directly support seniors and those who care for them. Like the Child Care Benefit program, it would offset the high out-of-pocket health costs that burden caregivers and patients.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Ensuring that better care is secured for our seniors
The federal government has made great strides to mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Amidst the task of providing stability, there has been a grand oversight: measures to support our front line health care workers and their financial burden have fallen short.
The CMA recommends the following measures:
1. Despite the significant contribution of physicians’ offices to Canada’s GDP, many physician practices have not been eligible for critical economic programs. The CMA welcomes the remedies implemented by Bill C-20 and recommends the federal government address remaining administrative barriers to physicians accessing federal economic relief program.
2. We recommend that the government implement the Frontline Gratitude Tax Deduction, an income tax deduction for frontline health care workers put at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. In person patient care providers would be eligible to deduct a predetermined amount against income earned during the pandemic. The Canadian Armed Forces already employs this model for its members serving in hazardous missions.
3. It is a devastating reality that front line health care workers have died as a result of COVID-19. Extending eligibility for the Memorial Grant to families of front line health care workers who mourn the loss of a family member because of COVID-19, as a direct result of responding to the pandemic or as a result of an occupational illness or psychological impairment related to their work will relieve any unnecessary additional hardship experienced. The same grant should extend to cases in which their work contributes to the death of a family member.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Cementing financial stabilization measures for our front line health care workers
Those impacted by COVID-19 deserve our care. The health of our nation’s economy is contingent on the health standards for its people. We must assert the right to decent quality of life for those who are most vulnerable: those whose incomes have been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, those living in poverty, those living in marginalized communities, and those doubly plagued by experiencing racism and the pandemic. We are not speaking solely for physicians. This is about equitable care for every Canadian impacted by the pandemic.
Public awareness and support have never been stronger. We are not facing the end of the pandemic; we are confronting an ebb in our journey. Hope and optimism will remain elusive until we can be confident in our health care system.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR PHYSICIANS RECOMMENDING MOBILE HEALTH APPLICATIONS TO PATIENTS
This document is designed to provide basic information for physicians about how to assess a mobile health application for recommendation to a patient in the management of that patient's health, health care, and health care information.
These guiding principles build on the Canadian Medical Association's (CMA) Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients.1
* Mobile health applications, distinct from regulated medical devices, may be defined as an application on a mobile device that is intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The functions of these applications may include:
o The ability to store and track information about an individual or group's health or the social determinants thereof;
o Periodic educational information, reminders, or motivational guidance;
o GPS location information to direct or alert patients;
o Standardized checklists or questionnaires.2
* Mobile health applications can enhance health outcomes while mitigating health care costs because of their potential to improve a patient's access to information and care providers.3
* Mobile health applications are most commonly used on a smart phone and/or tablet. Some may also interface with medical devices.
* The use of mobile health applications reflects an emerging trend towards personalized medicine and patient involvement in the management of their health information. By 2016, 142 million health apps will have been downloaded.4 According to some industry estimates, by 2018, 50 percent of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users worldwide will have downloaded at least one mobile health application.5
* While mobile health application downloads are increasing, there is little information about usage and adherence by patients. It is believed that many patients cease to use a mobile health application soon after downloading it.
* Distributers of mobile health applications do not currently assess content provided by mobile health applications for accuracy, comprehensiveness, reliability, timeliness, or conformity to clinical practice guidelines.6 However, mobile applications may be subjected to certain standards to ensure critical technical requirements such as accessibility, reachability, adaptability, operational reliability, and universality.
* Increasingly there are independent websites providing reviews of medical apps and checklists for health care professionals. However, the quality criteria used by these sites, potential conflicts of interest, and the scope and number of mobile apps assessed are not always declared by these groups.
To date, randomized controlled trials are not usually employed to assess the effectiveness of mobile health applications. Some believe that the rigorousness of this type of assessment may impede the timeliness of a mobile health application's availability.7
* Some examples of the uses of mobile health applications include tracking fitness activities to supplement a healthy lifestyle; supported self-management of health and health information; post-procedure follow up; viewing of test results; and the virtualization of interaction between patients and providers, such as remote patient monitoring for chronic disease management. Some mobile health applications may be linked to a patient profile or patient portal associated with a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization.
* Some mobile health applications may be an extension of an electronic medical records (EMR) platform.
* The objective of recommending a mobile health application to a patient must be to enhance the safety and/or effectiveness of patient care or otherwise for the purpose of health promotion.
* A mobile health application is one approach in health service delivery. Mobile health applications should complement, rather than replace, the relationship between a physician and patient.
* No one mobile health application is appropriate for every patient. Physicians may wish to understand a patient's abilities, comfort level, access to technology, and the context of the application of care before recommending a mobile health application.
* Should a physician recommend a mobile health application to a patient, it is the responsibility of the physician to do so in a way that adheres to legislation and regulation (if existing) and/or professional obligations.
* If the mobile health application will be used to monitor the patient's condition in an ongoing manner, the physician may wish to discuss with the patient what they should watch for and the steps they should take in response to information provided.
* Physicians are encouraged to share information about applications they have found effective with colleagues.
* Physicians who require additional information about the competencies associated with eHealth and the use of health information technologies may wish to consult The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada's (RCPSC) framework of medical competencies, CanMEDS.8
* Physicians may wish to enter into and document a consent discussion with their patient, which can include the electronic management of health information or information printed out from electronic management platforms like mobile health applications. This agreement may include a one-time conveyance of information and recommendations to cover the elements common to many mobile health applications, such as the general risk to privacy associated with storing health information on a mobile device.
Characteristics of a safe and effective mobile health application
A mobile health application does not need to have all of the following characteristics to be safe and effective. However, the more of the following characteristics a mobile health application has, the likelier it will be appropriate for recommendation to a patient:
1. Endorsement by a professional or recognized association or medical society or health care organization
As recommended by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), it is best to select mobile health applications that have been created or endorsed by a professional or recognized association or medical society.9 Some health care organizations, such as hospitals, may also develop or endorse applications for use in their clinical environments. There may also be mobile health applications associated with an EMR platform used by an organization or practice. Finally, some mobile health applications may have been subject to a peer review process distinct from endorsement by an association or organization.
There are a number of usability factors than can complicate the use of mobile applications, including interface and design deficiencies, technological restrictions, and device and infrastructure malfunction.
Many developers will release periodic updates and software patches to enhance the stability and usability of their applications. Therefore, it would be prudent for the physician recommending the mobile health application to also recommend to the patient that they determine if the application has been updated within the last year.
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application to a patient may wish to ask about the patient's level of comfort with mobile health technologies, their degree of computer literacy, whether or not the patient owns a mobile device capable of running the application, and whether or not the patient is able to bear potential one-time or ongoing costs associated with use of the application.
Physicians may consider testing the application themselves beforehand to understand whether its functionality and interface make it easy to use.
3. Reliability of information
Physicians considering recommending a mobile health application may wish to understand how the patient intends to use the information, and/or review the information with the patient to understand whether it is current and appropriate.
Information presented by the mobile health application should be appropriately referenced and time-stamped with the last update by the application developer.
4. Privacy and security
In 2014, the Officer of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta assessed approximately 1200 mobile applications and found nearly one-third of them required access to personal information beyond what should be required relative to their functionality and purpose, and that basic privacy information was not always made available.10
Physicians entering into and documenting a consent discussion with their patients may wish to include the electronic management of health information in the scope of these discussions, and make a notation of the discussion in the patient's health record.
Some mobile health applications may feature additional levels of authentication for use, such as an additional password or encryption protocols. If all other factors between applications are equal, physicians may wish to recommend that patients use mobile health applications adhering to this higher standard of security.
5. Avoids conflict-of-interest
Physicians may wish to recommend that patients learn more about the company or organization responsible for the development of the application and their mandate. There is a risk of secondary gains by mobile health application developers and providers where information about patients and/or usage is gathered and sold to third parties.
A standardized conflict of interest statement may be made available through the mobile health application or on the developer's website. If so, physicians may wish to refer the patient to this resource.
Physicians who develop mobile applications for commercial gain or have a stake in those who develop applications for commercial gain may risk a complaint being made to the College on the basis that the physician engaged in unprofessional conduct if they recommend mobile health applications to their patients in the course of patient care.
6. Does not contribute to fragmentation of health information
Some mobile health applications may link directly to an EMR, patient portal, or government data repository. These data resources may be standardized, linked, and cross-referenced.
However, health information entered into an application may also be stored on a mobile device and/or the patient's home computer, or developers of mobile health applications may store information collected by their application separately. While there may be short-term benefits to using a particular mobile health application, the range of applications and developers may contribute to the overall fragmentation of health information.
If all other factors between applications are considered equal, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications which contribute to robust existing data repositories, especially an existing EMR.
7. Demonstrates its impact on patient health outcomes
While not all mobile health applications will have an appropriate scale of use and not all developers will have the capacity to collect and analyze data, physicians may wish to recommend mobile health applications that have undergone validation testing to demonstrate impact of use on patient health outcomes. If mobile health applications are claiming a direct therapeutic impact on patient populations, physicians may wish to recommend that their patients seek out or request resources to validate this claim.
1 Canadian Medical Association. Physician guidelines for online communication with patients. Ottawa: The Association; 2005. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/PolicyPDF/PD05-03.pdf?_ga=1.32127742.1313872127.1393248073
2 US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Mobile medical applications: guidance for industry and Food and Drug Administration staff. Rockville (MD): The Administration; 2015. Available:
3 Canada Health Infoway. Mobile health computing between clinicians and patients. White paper. Toronto: The Infoway; 2014 Apr. Available: www.infoway-inforoute.ca/index.php/resources/video-gallery/doc_download/2081-mobile-health-computing-between-clinicians-and-patients-white-paper-full-report
4 iHealthBeat. 44M mobile health apps will be downloaded in 2012, report predicts. Available: www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2011/12/1/44m-mobile-health-apps-will-be-downloaded-in-2012-report-predicts
5 Jahns R-G. 500m people will be using healthcare mobile applications in 2015. Research2guidance. Available: www.research2guidance.com/500m-people-will -be-using-healthcare-mobile-applications-in-2015/
6 Lyver, M. Standards: a call to action. Future Practice. 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
7 Rich P. Medical apps: current status. Future Practice 2013 Nov. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/about-us/FP-November2013-e.pdf
8 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The CanMEDS 2015 eHealth Expert Working Group report. Ottawa: The College; 2014. Available: www.royalcollege.ca/portal/page/portal/rc/common/documents/canmeds/framework/ehealth_ewg_report_e.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Protective Association. Managing information to delivery safer care. Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: https://oplfrpd5.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/duties-and-responsibilities/-/asset_publisher/bFaUiyQG069N/content/managing-information-to-deliver-safer-care
10 Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. Global privacy sweep rasies concerns about mobile apps [news release]. Available: www.oipc.ab.ca/downloads/documentloader.ashx?id=3482