The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this pre-budget submission. It provides recommendations to address major pan-Canadian challenges to the health of Canadians: improve how we provide care to our growing elderly population; improve access to primary care across the country; increase digital health literacy to take advantage of the benefits of new health information technologies; and better prepare for and mitigate the health impacts of a changing climate on Canadians.
Health systems across the country are currently struggling to meet the needs of our aging population. People aged 85 years and over—many of whom are frail—make up the fastest growing age group in Canadai.
Provincial and territorial health care systems (as well as care systems for populations falling under federal jurisdiction) are facing many challenges to meet the needs of an aging population. Canadians support a strong role for the federal government in leading a national seniors strategy and working with the provinces to ensure that all Canadians have the same level of access and quality of services, no matter where they live.
The 2017 federal/provincial/territorial funding agreement involving $6 billion over 10 years to improve access to home care services is a welcomed building block. But without greater investment in seniors care, health systems will not keep up. To be truly relevant and effectively respond to Canadians’ present and future needs, our health care system must provide integrated, continuing care able to meet the chronic and complex care needs of our growing and aging population. This includes recognizing the increased role for patients and their caregivers in the care process.
The federal government must ensure transfers are able to keep up with the real cost of health care. Current funding levels clearly fail to do so. Health transfers are estimated to rise by 3.6% while health care costs are expected to rise by 5.1% annually over the next decade.ii
The federal government ensure provincial and territorial health care systems meet the care needs of their aging populations by means of a demographic top-up to the Canada Health Transfer.iii
Providing care often comes with a financial cost such as lost income due to the caregiver’s withdrawal from the workforce to provide care. There are also increasing out-of-pocket costs for both caregivers and care receivers for health care-related expenses—privately covered expenditures on home and long-term care for seniors are projected to grow by an average of 5.8 per cent annually—nearly 1.5 times the pace of household disposable income growth. While the federal government offers tax credits that can be claimed by care receivers/caregivers, they are significantly under-utilized. While representing a significant proportion of caregivers, those with low or no income receive little to no federal government support through these programs. Middle-income earners also receive less than those earning high incomes.
The federal government create a Seniors Care Benefit that would be an easier, fairer and more effective way to support caregivers and care receivers alike.iv
Access to Care
Since the mid-1990s, the federal and provincial/territorial governments (FPT) have provided sustained leadership in promoting and supporting the transformation of primary care in Canada. In 2000, the First Ministers concluded the first of three Health Accords in which they agreed to promote the establishment of primary health care teamsv supported by a $800 million Primary Health Care Transition Fund (PHCTF) funded by the federal government, but jointly governed. The PHCTF resulted in large-scale sustained change in primary care delivery models in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta with interest in other jurisdictions as well.
However, the job is far from finished. Across Canada, access to primary care is challenging for many Canadians with a persistent shortage of family physicians. In 2017, 4.7 million Canadians aged 12+ reported they did not have a regular health care provider.vi Even those who have a regular provider experience wait time issues.
There has been widespread interest in primary care models since the development of the College of Family Physicians of Canada’s (CFPC) vision document Family Practice: The Patient’s Medical Home (PMH), initially launched in 2011vii and recently re-launched.viii The model is founded on 10 pillars depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Patient’s Medical Home, 2019
The updated model places increased emphasis on team-based care and introduces the concept of the patient’s medical neighborhood that sets out connections between the primacy care practice and all delivery points in the surrounding community. While comprehensive baseline data are lacking, it seems
safe to conjecture that most Canadians are not enrolled in a primary care model that would measure up to the model’s 10 pillars.
The federal government, in concert with provinces and territories, establish a targeted fund in the amount of $1.2 billion to support a new time-limited Primary Health Care Transition Fund that would build on the success of the fund launched in 2000 with the goal of widely introducing a sustainable medical home model across jurisdictions. This would include the following key elements:
Age-sex-weighted per capita allocation across the provinces and territories;
Joint governance of the FPT governments with meaningful stakeholder engagement;
Respect for the Canada Health Act principles;
Common objectives (e.g., modeled on the CFPC Patient’s Medical Home framework);
Canada and most industrialized countries will experience a digital health revolution over the next decade with great potential to improve patient and population health. Digital health can be described as the integration of the electronic collection and compilation of health data, decision support tools and analytics with the use of audio, video and other technologies to deliver preventive, diagnostic and treatment services that promote patient and population health.
While most Canadian physicians’ offices and health care facilities are now using some form of electronic record keeping and most households have internet access, there remains a large deficit in using virtual care, both within jurisdictions and across provincial/territorial boundaries. 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 opportunities for digital health to improve health care delivery, including what regulatory changes are required for physicians to deliver care to patients within and across provincial/territorial boundaries.
To take full advantage of digital health capabilities it will be essential for the population to have a functional level of digital health literacy: the ability to seek, find, understand and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem.ix This also includes the capability of communicating about one’s health to health care professionals (e.g., e-consults), self-monitoring health (e.g., patient portals) and receiving treatment online (e.g., Web-based cognitive behavioral therapy).x
There are no current data available on health literacy in Canada, let alone digital health literacy. One basic barrier to achieving digital health literacy is access to, and usage of the Internet, which has been termed the “digital divide” (e.g., older Canadians and low income households are less likely to have Internet access).Error! Bookmark not defined.
In 2001 the federal government established the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). Its mandate includes informing consumers about their rights and responsibilities in dealing with financial institutions and providing information and tools to help consumers understand and shop for financial products and services.xi In 2014 the FCAC appointed a Financial Literacy Leader who has focused on financial literacy, including activities such as conducting financial capability surveys and the development of a National Strategy for Financial Literacy.xii
Considering the anticipated growth of digital/virtual care it would be desirable to understand and promote digital health literacy across Canada. What the federal government has done for financial literacy could serve as a template for digital health literacy.
The federal government establish a Digital Health Literacy Secretariat to:
Develop indicators and conducting surveys to measure and track the digital health literacy of Canadians;
Develop tools that can be used both by Canadians and their health care providers to enhance their digital health literacy; and
Assess and make recommendations on the “digital divide” that may exist among some population sub-groups due to a lack of access to information technology and lower digital health literacy.
Climate Change and Health
Climate change is the public health imperative of our time. There is a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate. A 2017 poll commissioned by Health Canada demonstrates a high level of concern among Canadians about their changing climate: 79% were convinced that climate change is happening, and of these, 53% accepted that it is a current health risk, with 40% believing it will be a health risk in the future.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified air pollution and climate change as one of the biggest threats to global health. Health care professionals see first-hand the devastating health impacts of our changing climate including increased deaths from fine particulate matter air pollution and increased heat-related conditions. Impacts are most common in vulnerable populations such as adults over 65 years, the homeless, urban dwellers and people with a pre-existing disease.
Canada’s health care system is already treating the health effects of climate change. A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of Canada’s health system, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services, not to mention the economic and social costs. The federal government must provide leadership to deal with the impact already being felt in Canada and around the world.
The federal government make strong commitments to minimize the impact of climate change on the health of Canadians by:
Ensuring pan-Canadian and inter-jurisdictional coordination to standardize surveillance and reporting of climate-related health impacts such as heat-related deaths, develop knowledge translation strategies to inform the public, and generate clinical and public health response plans that minimize the health impacts;
Increasing funding for research on the mental health impacts of climate change and psychosocial adaptation opportunities; and
Ensuring funding is provided to the health sector to prepare for climate change impacts through efforts to increase resiliency (i.e., risk assessments, readiness to manage disease outbreaks, sustainable practice).
i Statistics Canada. The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2014: Public Health in the Future. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2015. Available: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cphorsphc-respcacsp/2014/chang-eng.php; (accessed 2016 Sep 19).
ii The Conference Board of Canada. Meeting the care needs of Canada’s aging population. Ottawa: The Conference Board; 2018.
iii Canadian Medical Association. Meeting the demographic challenge: Investments in seniors care. Pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. August 3, 2018. https://policybase.cma.ca/documents/Briefpdf/BR2018-16.pdf
iv The Conference Board of Canada. Measures to Better Support Seniors and Their Caregivers. March 2019. https://www.cma.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/health-advocacy/Measures-to-better-support-seniors-and-their-caregivers-e.pdf
v Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. News release – First Ministers’ meeting communiqué on health. September 11, 2000. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/news-release-first-ministers-meeting-communique-on-health/. Accessed 04/22/19.
vi Statistics Canada. Primary health care providers, 2017. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00001-eng.pdf?st=NGPiUkM5. Accessed 04/21/19.
vii College of Family Physicians of Canada. A vision for Canada. Family Practice: the patient’s medical home. http://www.cfpc.ca/uploadedFiles/Resources/Resource_Items/PMH_A_Vision_for_Canada.pdf. Accessed 04/22/19.
viii College of Family Physicians of Canada. The patient’s medical home 2019. https://patientsmedicalhome.ca/files/uploads/PMH_VISION2019_ENG_WEB_2.pdf. Accessed 04/21/19.
ix Norman C, Skinner H. eHealth literacy: essential skills for consumer health in a networked world. J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e9. Doi:10.2196/jmir.8.2.e9.
x Van der Vaart R, Drossaert C. Development of the digital health literacy instrument: measuring a broad spectrum of health 1.0 and health 2.0 skills. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(1):e27. Doi:10.2196/jmir.6709.
xi Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. About FCAC.
xii Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. National Strategy for Financial Literacy. Phase 1: strengthening seniors’ financial literacy. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/financial-consumer-agency/migration/eng/financialliteracy/financialliteracycanada/documents/seniorsstrategyen.pdf. Accessed 06/24/19. https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/corporate/about.html. Accessed 07/01/19.
Antimicrobials (which include antibiotics) are a precious public resource and an essential tool for fighting infections in both humans and animals. Their importance to human medical, nutritional and economic security cannot be understated. Yet globally, antimicrobials are losing their effectiveness more quickly than new such drugs, treatments and therapies are being identified and introduced to market.1 Over time, this dynamic has eroded the human antimicrobial arsenal, placing the lives and futures of an unacceptable number of people at risk.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites come into contact with antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, antimalarials and anthelmintics, and undergo changes. The drugs are rendered ineffective and cannot eradicate infections from the body.
AMR is an international challenge that threatens to reverse over a century of progress in public health, health care and human development attributable to antimicrobial use. Indeed, the effects of AMR are already being felt across Canada’s health care system. Currently, Canada’s dedicated investment in solutions to militate against encroaching AMR in the AMR and antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) fields (both federally and provincially/territorially) can only be viewed as wholly inadequate to address the scope of the problem and the risks it poses for the health of Canadians.
Therefore, to: (1) promote awareness of AMR; (2) incentivize investment in AMR mitigation strategies; and (3) support the mobilization of an effective suite of more clinically effective management/treatment practices and policies, the following target audience recommendations are offered.a
a All the policy recommendations made in this document are not meant to be interpreted as clinical practice guidelines. Any individual who suspects they may have an infection should promptly consult a physician.
Key AMR principle — the “One Health” approach
a) The complexity of AMR underscores the need for coordinated action known as the “One Health” approach. The term implies integrated strategies that span the human, animal/agricultural and environmental sectors. Thus, cooperation across a wide variety of stakeholders is necessary to address the collective nature of AMR. These stakeholders include governments, health professionals, private and public partners, and the public at large.
b) The One Health approach will require attention and investment in the following domains: (1) surveillance of antimicrobial prescribing and usage; (2) infection prevention and control practices that mitigate the spread of resistant pathogens; (3) stewardship programs and practices that educate health professionals, the public, and the private sector and nudge each into more appropriate patterns of supply and demand; and (4) a program of innovation, research and development focused on diagnostics, vaccines and alternative treatments to reduce reliance on antimicrobials. This includes the development of novel antimicrobials that expand the currently available arsenal.
c) Given the global dimensions of AMR, a successful One Health approach will require ambitious investments in global AMR mitigation. Given that health infrastructure and resources are limited in low- to middle-income countries, the impacts of AMR will primarily be felt in those settings.
1. Physicians and allied health professionals
a) Be aware that AMR is a serious public health crisis.
b) Know that various Canadian prescribing aides/guidelines are available to assist physicians in choosing appropriate antibiotics and improving practice (e.g., Choosing Wisely Canada).
c) Know that using antibiotics appropriately can help combat AMR and that diagnosis and laboratory testing play a key role. This includes only prescribing antibiotics for conditions that are clinically infectious and of a non-viral nature. Viral infections are the greatest source of antibiotic misuse.
d) Consider delayed prescriptions and/or prioritize follow-up for patients when diagnosis is initially undifferentiated or when symptoms worsen, progress or are prolonged.
e) Know that prevention of infections through hand hygiene, vaccination and appropriate use of antibiotic prophylaxis is evidence based and effective
f) Know that durations of therapy and dosage rates for treating many infections change with time and that you should prescribe antimicrobials for the shortest effective duration (using the narrowest spectrum possible).
g) Consider the potential side effects of antibiotics (including C. difficile and allergic reactions) in prescribing and when counselling patients as to their potential side effects.
h) Engage in conversations with patients about antimicrobials regarding:
i. their appropriate use;
ii. their potential risks;
iii. when to delay, begin or end an antimicrobial prescription (e.g., delayed prescriptions); and
iv. when to seek medical reassessment if symptoms worsen or persist.
i) Ask your local hospital or specialty organization about educational initiatives related to antibiotic prescribing.
j) Collaborate where possible with colleagues in other prescribing professions to reduce unnecessary antimicrobial use.
2. Patients and the Canadian public
a) Be aware that AMR is a significant problem that is linked to the inappropriate use of antimicrobials like antibiotics. Therefore, commit to only taking antibiotics if they are prescribed and only as directed by an authorized health professional.
i. Never share, or use, the antibiotics of others as it may contribute to AMR and have serious consequences for your health.
b) Consider that your expectations about antimicrobials may unduly pressure physicians, and other prescribers, to provide you a prescription when an antimicrobial would not be appropriate or helpful.
c) Engage in a conversation with prescribers about:
i. whether an antimicrobial is necessary;
ii. the risks associated with taking an antimicrobial;
iii. whether there are simpler and safer options to pursue; and
iv. when you should take further actions if your symptoms worsen or do not improve.
d) Rather than keeping antimicrobials in your medicine cabinet, throwing them in the garbage/toilet or sharing them with family or friends, practise a One Health mindset. Dispose of all unused and expired antimicrobials at your local pharmacy. This will limit the spread of resistance and prevent antimicrobials from finding their way into the environment.
e) Help limit resistance by staying up to date with all recommended vaccinations, and practise good hand hygiene.
f) If you or a family member have had personal experiences with AMR, consider sharing them with local politicians (provincial/territorial and federal).
3. Governments (federal, provincial/territorial)
a) (Including internationally) immediately make substantial, long term, coordinated and directly dedicated financial investments in AMR and AMS. Specific areas to prioritize include:
i. AMR and AMS awareness campaigns targeted to the public;
ii. campaigns that support health professionals to incorporate AMS principles into their everyday practice;
iii. detailed, and integrated, action plans based on clear metrics of success and that address the needs of communities, primary care practitioners, patients and health care organizations (including long-term care facilities);
iv. practical surveillance of antimicrobial resistance, purchasing, prescribing and use that maximizes the opportunity to respond to changing landscapes;
v. studying in detail the links, and associated risks, between animal health and agricultural practices and human health;
vi. scaling up local AMS initiatives at the provincial/territorial and national health care delivery levels;
vii. pharmaceutical development pipelines and non-pharmacological treatment options for AMR infections;
viii. inexpensive, accurate and timely point-of-care diagnostic tests (usable in the community, at the bedside or in a clinic) to optimize prescribing; and
ix. fostering clinical research, development and innovation in the fields of AMR and AMS.
b) Scale up coordination between federal and provincial/territorial AMR and AMS activities.
c) Hold regular, high-level meetings of ministers of health, agriculture and finance (both federally and provincially/territorially) to discuss the implications of unchecked AMR and how best to mobilize public finances to address it.
d) Strongly consider an arms-length, national-level taskforce to address AMR and AMS.
e) Strengthen the roles of the chief public health officer and the provincial/territorial chief medical officers in addressing AMR and AMS.
f) Undertake a timely review of the Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (CARRS) with an emphasis on:
i. scaling up the system;
ii. standardizing all AMR reporting metrics across the country; and
iii. injecting adequate resources into AMR surveillance and tracking antimicrobial usage rates.
g) Establish a permanent review body on infectious disease, including pharmacists, microbiologist and other experts, to evaluate the forthcoming Pan-Canadian Action Plan on AMR and release regular progress reports.
4. Health care institutions and organizations
a) Implement strategic AMR plans that are coordinated, cross-departmental and adopted institution wide. These should be premised on:
i. standardized and comprehensive reporting metrics for AMR and antimicrobial usage;
ii. tailored infection prevention and control programs to screen for and effectively prevent new AMR infections;
iii. improving public and professional awareness of AMR organization wide;
iv. improving conservation measures such as prescribing practices (audit and feedback, incentives programs, etc.); and
v. supporting and incentivizing appropriate prescribing of antimicrobials.
b) Evaluate whether existing policies and procedures, diagnostics and testing capacities, and multidisciplinary and organizational cultures are strategically geared toward combatting AMR.
c) Where possible, develop collaborations with other local health institutions, clinical researchers and community, public and private partners to promote AMS.
5. Accreditation and regulatory bodies
a) Regularly review and establish meaningful criteria for accreditation, ethical codes and regulatory practice standards surrounding AMR and AMS so that practitioners and health institutions can be informed, supported and kept up to date on emerging AMR trends, practices and issues.
b) Adopt profession-specific mandatory requirements for AMR and AMS (proper credentialing and training, regular updating of knowledge and competence for prescribing antimicrobials, appropriate data collection regarding antimicrobial usage, etc.) as part of credentialing.
c) Work to promote, support and enhance existing AMS practices and programs.
d) Collaborate with health institutions, professional health associations and other accreditation and regulatory bodies to implement AMS goals/plans.
6. Colleges and faculties for medicine and allied health professions
a) Promote and support more educational resources for AMS and AMR, throughout the continuum of education (undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education).
i. Topics for these resources should include (1) awareness of AMR and AMS, (2) appropriate diagnostic testing, (3) strategies to minimize antimicrobial use and (4) personal prescribing practices.
b) Promote and support research on AMR and the implementation and dissemination of effective AMS strategies.
1 Public Health Agency of Canada. Tackling antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial use: a pan-Canadian framework for action. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2017. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/services/publications/drugs-health-products/tackling-antimicrobial-resistance-use-pan-canadian-framework-action/tackling-antimicrobial-resistance-use-pan-canadian-framework-action.pdf (accessed 2018 Aug 10).
BACKGROUND TO CMA POLICY
See also CMA Policy Antimicrobial Resistance PD19-08
The world is at the tipping point of a post-antibiotic era. “Worldwide, we are relying more heavily on antibiotics to ensure our medical, nutritional, and economic security; while simultaneously causing the decline of their usefulness with overuse and ill-advised use.” It is estimated that the world’s use of antimicrobials increased by 65% between 2000 and 2015 — mainly in low- to middle-income countries.
Dr. Margaret Chan, the former head of the World Health Organization (WHO), described antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a slow-moving tsunami for public health. Other experts have characterized AMR as a looming “antibiotic apocalypse,” warning that all countries “will face disastrous consequences if the spread of AMR is not contained.” Others are now calling AMR the “climate change” of health care. According to the UK’s review on AMR, an estimated 10 million people globally will die annually by 2050, and AMR will surpass cancer to become the leading cause of death.
AMR occurs when “microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics). … As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.” Microorganisms that develop antimicrobial resistance are sometimes referred to as “superbugs.” “Nightmare bacteria,” as they have been dubbed, are bacterial strains that no conventional antimicrobial can effectively treat; their incidence is on the rise.
AMR represents a unique challenge for the medical profession as it is estimated that as many as 50% of current antibiotic prescriptions are either inappropriate or unnecessary. In addition, taking an antimicrobial involves potentially considerable exposure to side effects or risk. At stake are many currently routine, and lifesaving, forms of medical treatment. Critically, these include many medications for currently treatable bacterial infections, and many forms of surgery (including cesarean delivery), radiation therapy, chemotherapy and neonatal care.4
THE UNDERLYING DYNAMICS OF AMR
AMR is driven by a complex set of interlocking factors. These include: (1) increased global travel and medical tourism; (2) inappropriate, and unnecessarily high, use of antimicrobials in the agrifood sector; (3) poor medical prescribing practices; (4) inadequate implementation of infection prevention and control measures; (5) lack of knowledge, inappropriate expectations and misuse of antimicrobials on the part of the general public; (6) availability of poor-quality antimicrobials; (7) lack of access to rapid, affordable and accurate rapid diagnostic tools and infrastructure; (8) inadequate and underused surveillance data from AMR surveillance systems; (9) international travel rates; and (10) low commercial interest in, or support for, new antimicrobial research and development.
To make progress on AMR, we need to carefully think about how to address its various drivers. Antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) is a term describing coordinated efforts, at any program level, to: (1) promote the appropriate use of antimicrobials; (2) improve patient outcomes; (3) reduce microbial resistance and preserve the effectiveness of antimicrobials; and (4) decrease the spread of infections caused by multidrug-resistant organisms. AMS efforts are based on the “One Health” approach. These include: (1) surveillance; (2) conservation of existing AM effectiveness; (3) innovation through research and development; and (4) infection prevention and control.
Fundamentally, AMR can be thought of as a collective action problem, similar in character to the problem of climate change.3, While all stakeholders have a role to play in combatting AMR, each has very different resources, abilities and perspectives on AMR. Canada and much of the developed world have the luxury of health infrastructures, finances and regulatory frameworks that can make AMR mitigation possible. But in low- to middle-income countries — places where antibiotics might be the only real health care available — the very discussion of AMS can be perceived as threatening. Simply put, this illustrates the fact that solutions to AMR need to mobilize and leverage a collective strategy that is as broad and as connected as possible. To be successful, these solutions will need to do so in a manner that acknowledges the local reality of health care delivery.
Global investment in antimicrobial research and development is underwhelming, a dynamic described as a “drying up” of the pharmaceutical pipeline.8 This is evidenced by the recent large-scale withdrawal of major pharmaceutical companies from antimicrobial research and development, reflecting the lack of profitability in this area. On the pharmaceutical side, there are clear barriers to companies investing in the development of novel antimicrobials. Underlying factors include: (1) 10-year timelines, and an estimated minimum $1 billion price tag for development; (2) high development failure rates for new antimicrobials; (3) the inevitable emergence of resistance to any newly developed antimicrobial; (4) antimicrobials being offered at relatively cheap dosage rates over shorter durations of use; and (5) the need to preserve the efficacy of any antimicrobial’s future use, which limits their economic viability.8
WHAT ARE THE CANADIAN CONTEXTS?
AMR is already a major costly public health challenge in both the US and Canada. AMR infections are clearly linked to poorer health outcomes, longer hospital stays and higher mortality rates.3 The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) estimates that roughly 18,000 hospitalized Canadians contract drug-resistant infections per year. The Canadian Patient Safety Institute estimates that 8,000 Canadian patients die annually with an AMR-related infection. It is estimated that close to 23 million antibiotic prescriptions are written annually for patients in Canada, the approximate equivalent to 1.6% of the population being on an antimicrobial on any given day.
An action plan in Canada is being developed by PHAC. On the surface, the action plan appears comprehensive in that it outlines a One Health approach.10 However, despite commitments to take comprehensive, measurable action on AMS, Canadian leadership on AMR has historically lagged because of a lack of concrete coordination between PHAC and the provinces and because it has been challenging to implement local initiatives systemically.
Previous shortcomings were highlighted in the Auditor General of Canada’s 2015 report and again in a 2017 issue brief by HealthCareCAN.18 Although efforts continue and the action plan is set for release at some point in 2019, concerns remain that: (1) the scope of coordinated efforts with the provinces and territories requires an interest in cooperation that may not exist between the two levels of government; (2) relative to the scope of the problem, sufficient and dedicated resources won’t be allocated; and (3) efforts on the industrial and agricultural fronts may not be sufficiently coordinated with AMR efforts for human health.
In the spring of 2018 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) released a report outlining 10 recommendations for action on AMR in Canada. Although the federal government “accepted” most of the committee’s recommendations, no meaningful (and dedicated) AMR funding has been announced in advance of the action plan’s launch. Indeed, the federal government’s response to the HESA report sought to downplay the need for either urgent action or additional resources. This was done by pointing to nominal federal AMR efforts over the span of more than a decade.
It should be noted that a small number of excellent localized AMS initiatives exist and have begun yielding promising local AMS results in Canada. AMR and AMS champions such as Choosing Wisely Canada, Do Bugs Need Drugs, and the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada have long argued that with proper resourcing, localized initiatives can be scaled up to a systemic level of application within provincial health care systems.
GLOBALLY, WHERE DOES AMR STAND?
Urgent action is required at an international level to combat AMR. Although AMR remains a complex public health challenge, the benefits of AMS are clear. The preservation of these precious resources will save lives and can positively affect both quality of care and health care delivery costs.7,14 Globally, many higher income nations and, increasingly, middle-income countries have now developed AMR/AMS action plans. Like the situation in Canada, these emerging and existing global action strategies remain largely unimplemented. Initial cash infusions into the AM drug development pipeline are beginning to emerge.8
Despite this, experts warn that such investments are too short term and wholly inadequate to address the scope of the looming AMR crisis.8, This reflects the many complexities that exist in the implementation of AMR action plans, owing in large part to: (1) a general lack of resources or prioritization; (2) complacency about AMR as a pressing public health concern; (3) difficulties in generalizing local AMS efforts; (4) coordination between sectorial actors; and (5) a lack of tangible AMR metrics and evidence.
If AMS gains are to be made in low- and middle-income countries, the impact of limited resources in those settings will need to be considered.13 Realistically these countries will require various forms of monetary incentives and assistance to be able to effectively adopt AMR programs. If such support is not provided, human health rights will be affected and global AMS efforts will be undermined. Finally, there are now well-established calls for an international model, even a treaty, to be implemented on AMR/AMS.12,
Concussions and head injuries are a common occurrence in sport and leisure activities, and frequently occur in occupational settings as well. While the majority of individuals who suffer from a concussion will recover with time, others may be at risk for serious and lasting complications. These include (1) children; (2) previous history of head injury or concussion; (3) prior mental health symptoms; and (4) missed diagnosis and management.
This aim of this advocacy and policy document is to improve safety during activity by raising awareness of concussions, and by working to improve the detection and safe management of concussions when they occur. It is not a clinical practice guideline. It should not be perceived as a plea to avoid sports or leisure activities, but rather as a call for safer sporting, leisure, and occupational practices. The documented health benefits that result from establishing an active lifestyle in youth and maintaining it throughout life cannot be overstated.
Achieving balance of safe play in sport, leisure and occupational activities while promoting greater physical activity levels for Canadians would have the effect of reducing health care costs in Canada, while promoting a healthier concussion recovery culture for all Canadians.
Therefore, to promote better concussion and head trauma awareness and prevention, as well as better management/treatment practices, the following policy recommendations for key target audiences across all levels of sport, leisure, and occupational activity are made.
Key Concussion & Head Injury Principles:
a) The detection of concussions and head injury should be a shared responsibility and any stakeholder/observer to such an injury should verbally raise their concerns that a concussion may have occurred.
i. It is important to understand that individuals with a possible concussion, or head injury, may not be able to recognize that they are suffering from a concussion;
ii. It is important to recognize that engrained within popular culture are dangerous notions (e.g., to minimize, ignore, downplay, or play through the pain, etc.) that cause individuals/observers to ignore the real, often hidden, dangers of such injuries.
b) Broadly speaking, access to the latest edition of the internationally recognized Concussion Recognition Tool (CRT) should be promoted/available to help identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion;
c) Any individual who sustains more than a minor head injury should be immediately removed from play, activity, or occupation, and not permitted to return on the same day3 (regardless of whether a concussion is later suspected).
i. These individuals should be the subject of observation for developing/evolving concussion symptoms or emergency warning signs (especially within the first 4 hours post-injury, but also up to 48 hours when red-flag symptoms are present).
d) Following first aid principles, where an individual displays signs of a serious head or spinal injury, that individual should lie still (not moving their head or neck) until a qualified individual has performed an evaluation; to determine whether emergency evacuation for medical assessment is necessary.
e) Any individual with a suspected concussion (especially where red-flag symptoms are present), or more severe traumatic brain injury, should be promptly evaluated by a physician to:
i. Either rule-out or confirm a diagnosis via an appropriate medical assessment; and
ii. Institute the provision of an age-appropriate follow-up care plan (including progressive return to school, work, and play protocols) if such an injury is confirmed.1
f) Ideally, a physician knowledgeable in concussion management determines when, and how, a concussed individual should progressively return to both cognitive (school or work) and physical activities.
g) Following a suspected, or diagnosed concussion, an individual should not return to play, or resume any activity associated with a heightened risk of head trauma, until cleared by a physician to do so.1
a) Where possible, encourage safe play practices in sports, and where appropriate, educate patients about the risks of head injuries (associated with high-risk behavior in sports, leisure and occupational activities).
b) Gain/maintain, through relevant continuous medical education, competencies related to the assessment, diagnosis and management of concussion according to most current clinical practice recommendations (e.g., latest edition of the CRT, SCAT, Child SCAT, Acute Concussion Evaluation Tool, etc.).
c) Be aware that clinical practice guidelines and assessment tools exist to assist in assessing and treating concussed individuals (e.g., Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, Parachute Canada, etc.).
d) When assessing a patient with a potential concussion:
i. Rule out the presence of more severe traumatic brain and musculoskeletal injury;
ii. Assess for any previous concussion history, risk factors and newly arising complications;
iii. Educate and instruct parents, athletes and any individual that sustains a concussion about what to do, and what to expect, in the post concussive phase. (This should be based on the most current age-appropriate concussion management guidelines);4
iv. Provide individualized recommendations on how to optimally apply the progressive return-to-school, work, and play strategies with consideration for the specificities of the patient’s usual activities and responsibilities;4
v. Work to provide concussed patients timely access for medical reassessment in the event of worsening or persistent symptoms (including mental health); and
vi. In the presence of persistent or worsening symptoms (including mental health), consider what external, evidence based, concussion resources may be necessary as well as referral.
2. Medical Colleges & Faculties:
a) Promote/support medical education regarding; awareness, detection/diagnosis; and the appropriate management of concussions, throughout the continuum of medical education (undergraduate, post-graduate, and continuing medical education).
b) Support research in concussion prevention, detection, and treatment or management.
3. Athletes in Contact/Collision Sports:
a) (Prior to the commencement of the sporting season) be given age-appropriate instruction2 to understand:
i. How to identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion using the latest edition of the internationally recognized CRT (e.g. Concussion Recognition Tool, or Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT));
ii. The risks associated with concussion (including long term and mental health); especially, the risks of potentially life-threatening complications associated with continued sport participation, while presenting with signs or symptoms of a possible concussion;
iii. What to do/expect if a concussion is ever suspected (including for teammates), and the expected role of the athlete and team members;
iv. Removal and progressive returns to school, work and play policies/procedures, and the expected role of the athlete in the recovery process; and
v. How to foster a healthy sporting culture (that promotes: safe play practices; fosters concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support; and combat injury stigmatization).
b) Have such instruction reinforced periodically throughout the sporting season as needed.
c) Be aware of, and seek treatment for, potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
4. Parents with Minors in Contact/Collision Sports:
a) Prior to the commencement of a sporting season, request and be open to receiving instruction2 on:
i. How to identify the signs and symptoms of a possible concussion using the latest edition of the internationally recognized CRT (e.g. Concussion Recognition Tool, or Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT));
ii. The risks associated with concussion; especially, the risks of potentially life-threatening complications associated with continued sport participation, while presenting with signs or symptoms of a possible concussion;
iii. What to do/expect if a concussion is ever suspected for an athlete;
iv. Removal and progressive returns to school, work and play policies/procedures, and the expected role of the parent(s) in the recovery process; and
v. How to foster a healthy sporting culture that promotes: safe play practices; fosters concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support; and combats injury stigmatization.
b) Have such instruction reinforced periodically throughout the sporting season as needed.
c) Be prepared to address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
5. Individuals Who Sustain a Head Injury Outside of Organized Sports:
a) Be aware of possible signs and symptoms of a possible concussion, and immediately withdraw from activity and seek medical assessment a possible concussion is suspected.1
i. Refer to the latest addition of the internationally recognized CRT (Concussion Recognition Tool) for further guidance on signs and symptoms.3
b) Understand the risks associated with concussion; including the risks of potentially life-threatening complications associated with repeated head injury if signs or symptoms of a possible concussion are present.
c) In the event of a diagnosis of concussion, judiciously implement the medical recommendations received regarding their gradual return to cognitive and physical activity (including the need for medical reassessment in the presence of persistent symptoms).
d) Openly communicate their recovery needs and work with any group or individual who might support them in their recovery process (e.g., employers, family members, school, etc.).
e) Be aware of, and seek treatment for, potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
6. Coaches, Trainers, Referees, & First Responders:
a) Receive certified emergency first aid training.
b) Receive periodic education (ideally annually) on national standards regarding the signs and symptoms, potential long-term consequences, appropriate steps for initial intervention, and immediate management (including: athlete removal-from-play; observation; determining when medical assessment is necessary; and progressive return to school, work and play procedures).
c) Be trained in the use of the latest edition of the internationally recognized CRT (Concussion Recognition Tool) – to detect whether an injured individual is suffering from a concussion.2
d) Be knowledgeable and responsible to ensure safety and safe play practices are applied throughout the sporting season.
e) Be responsible for fostering a healthy sporting culture (promote safe play practices, foster concussion/injury prevention and reporting, peer-to-peer support and combat injury stigmatization).
f) Be prepared to address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
7. Licensed Health Care Providers Involved as Therapists in Sport Environments:
a) Be fully licensed in their professional field and pursue continuing professional development to maintain competencies related to concussion and head injuries.
b) Promote the implementation of properly adapted concussion management protocols (that comply with the most current clinical recommendations, based on consideration for the specificities of each sport environment and available resources).
c) Work with qualified physicians to initiate/implement tailored medically supervised concussion management protocols that define:
i. Mutual and shared health professional responsibilities to optimize the quality, and safety of patient care (within one’s scope of practice); and
ii. The optimal corridors for timely access to medical (re)assessment with due consideration for available resources.
d) Be prepared to address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
8. Educational Institutions & Sports Organizations:
a) (Especially in the cases involving minors) implement, and keep updated, prevention strategies to include:
i. Safety standards that include safe play policies; and
ii. Mandatory safety gear/equipment (tailored to individual sport settings).
b) Mandatory concussion and head injury protocols that work to:
i. Reduce the occurrence of concussions and head injury by promoting: safe play practices; fostering concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support, and combatting injury stigmatization;
ii. Ensure the prompt detection, and standardized early management of concussion and head injuries, by informing all potential stakeholders (in the preseason phase) about the nature/risks of concussion and head injury, and how any such occurrence will be dealt with should they occur;
iii. Enshrine into practice removal-from-play, and post-injury observation of athletes;
iv. Progressively reintegrate students back into symptom guided educational and physical activities based on the most current recommendations;2
v. Reintegrate injured athletes back into unrestricted training activities and sport once medical clearance has been obtained; and
vi. Foster better lines of communication for injury management/recovery between: parents, athletes, coaches, school personnel, therapists and physicians.
vii. Address potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
9. Employers (Occupational Considerations)
a) Comply with workplace safety laws and implement safety standards to reduce the incidence of head injuries in the work environment.
b) Integrate considerations for concussion and head injury in health and safety protocols that work to:
i. Reduce the occurrence of concussions and head injury by promoting: safe practices; concussion/injury prevention and reporting; peer-to-peer support, and combats injury stigmatization;
ii. Ensure prompt detection and standardized early management of concussion and head injuries by informing potential stakeholders about the nature/risks of concussion and head injury, and how occurrences will be dealt with should they occur;
iii. Enshrine into practice/ workplace culture the removal-from-work, and post-injury observation of workers;
iv. Progressively reintegrate workers back into symptom guided cognitive and physical activities based on the most current recommendations;
v. Reintegrate injured workers with a confirmed diagnosis of concussion, progressively back into work activities only once medical clearance has been obtained; and
vi. Foster better lines of communication, and support for, injury management between: employees, employers, medical professionals and insurances.
vii. Address the potentially serious mental health issues that may arise post-concussive injury.
10. Governments & Professional Regulatory Bodies:
a) Implement comprehensive public health strategies for the Canadian population to:
i. Increase awareness that concussions can be sustained in accidents, sports, leisure and occupational contexts;
ii. Inform head injuries should be taken seriously; and
iii. Explain how and why concussions should be prevented and promptly assessed by a physician where they are suspected to have occurred.
b) Define appropriate scopes of practice for all health professionals involved in the field of concussion detection, management, and treatment.
c) Work with key stakeholders to develop compensation structures to support physicians to allocate the time necessary to: (1) conduct appropriate assessments to rule out concussions, (2) provide ongoing concussion management, and (3) develop detailed medical clearance plans.
d) Work with key stakeholders to develop standardized educational tools for physicians to provide to patients with concussions.
i. Ideally this would include contextualized tools for sports teams, schools, and employers.
e) Adopt legislation or regulation for educational institutions and community-based sport associations to establish clear expectations/obligations regarding concussion awareness and management for youth in sports (e.g., Ontario’s Rowan’s law).
i. To have meaningful impact, such initiatives must also be accompanied by: implementation funding to support the development and implementation of sport specific concussion management protocols; and monitoring/compliance programs.
f) Establish a national concussion and sports injury surveillance system (with standardized metrics) to collect detailed head and sport injury related information. Thus, providing the ability to research such injuries in an ongoing and timely manner.
g) Provide research opportunities/funding on concussions. Specific examples of research areas to prioritize include:
i. Effective prevention strategies for both adults and children in a range of sport, leisure, or occupational environments;
ii. The incidence and impact of concussions in children, and how to reduce their occurrence (inside and outside of sport);
iii. Address knowledge gaps for concussion identification, management, and medical clearance for physicians not specialized in concussion care;
iv. Explore all health professionals’ participation in concussion management providing for respective: competency, expertise, interdisciplinary collaboration, and appropriate roles;
v. Evaluate how emerging point of care diagnostics and biomarker testing will be incorporated into sport, leisure and work environments;
vi. Continued development of effective, user-friendly, and age appropriate management strategies/tools for physicians regarding concussion identification, management, and medical clearances; and
vii. Develop a harmonized understanding of “concussion” and “mild traumatic brain injury” (MTBI) constructs/concepts, so that adults with concussion signs or symptoms, who do not meet the more restrictive MTBI criteria, are properly managed.
McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvorak J, et al. Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport - the 5th International Conference on Concussion in Sport Held in Berlin. Br J Sports Med 2017, 51: 838-847.
Parachute Canada. Canadian Guideline on Concussion in Sport. 2017. Available: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/canadian-guideline-on-concussion-in-sport (accessed 2018 Jul 31).
Concussion in Sport Group. Concussion Recognition Tool 5. Br J Sports Med 2017 51: 872. Available: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/early/2017/04/26/bjsports-2017-097508CRT5.full.pdf (accessed 2018 July 31st). (accessed 2018 Jul 31).
Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation. Guidelines for Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury & Persistent Symptoms. Health Care Professional Version. 3rd Ed, Adults (18 + years of age). Toronto: Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation; 2018. Available: http://braininjuryguidelines.org/concussion/fileadmin/media/adult-concussion-guidelines-3rd-edition.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 31).
Concussion in Sport Group. Sport Concussion Assessment Tool – 5th Ed. Br J Sports Med 2017, 0:1-8. Available: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/early/2017/04/26/bjsports-2017-097508CRT5.full.pdf (accessed 2018 July 31).
Approved by the CMA Board of Directors March 2019
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to appear before the Sub-Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities to discuss issues related to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC). This tax measure, which is recognition by the federal government that persons with a severe disability may be affected by having reduced incomes, increased expenses or both, compared to those who are not disabled i, helps to account for the intangible costs associated with a severe and prolonged impairment. It also takes into account disability-related expenses that are not listed in the medical expense deduction or which are excluded by the 3% threshold in the Medical Expense Tax Credit.
Physicians are a key point of contact for applicants of the DTC and, given the way the program is structured, a vital participant in its administration. It is for these reasons that we come before you today to address specific concerns related to the program’s performance. In addition, we would like to discuss the broader issue of developing a coherent set of tax policies in support of health and social policy.
The Integration of Tax Policy with Health Policy and Social Policy
The federal government, through a variety of policy levers such as taxation, spending, regulation and information, has played a key role in the development of our health care and social systems. To date however, discussion about the federal role in these areas has centered largely on federal transfers to the provinces and territories and the Canada Health Act.
However, in looking at how to renew Canada’s health and social programs, we should not limit ourselves to these traditional instruments. Today we have a health system that is facing a number of pressures that will challenge its sustainability. These pressures range from an aging and more demanding population in terms of the specialty care services and technology they will seek; the cry for expanding the scope of medicare coverage to include homecare and pharmacare; and a shortage of health personnel. These are only some of the more immediate reasons alternative avenues of funding health care, and thus ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens, must be explored.
In our pre-budget consultation document to the Standing Committee on Finance ii, the CMA recommended that the federal government establish a blue ribbon National Task Force to study the development of innovative tax-based mechanisms to synchronize tax policy with health policy. Such a review has not been undertaken in over 25 years since the Royal Commission on Taxation in 1966 (Carter Commission).
The CMA is echoing its call for a National Task Force to develop new and innovative ways to synchronize tax policy with health policy and social policy. A study of this nature would look at all aspects of the taxation system, including the personal income tax system, in which the DTC is a component.
The remainder of our brief addresses issues specific to the DTC.
Physician Involvement in the DTC Program
The CMA has in the past provided input with respect to the DTC program. Our working relationship on the DTC program with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) has been issue-specific, time-limited and constructive.
Our first substantive contact in regard to the DTC program was in 1993 when the CMA provided Revenue Canada with a brief review of the program and the T2201form. It is interesting to note what our observations were in 1993 with regard to this program because many of them still hold true today.
Here are just some of the issues raised by the CMA in 1993 during our initial review of the program:
* The tax credit program may not address the needs of the disabled, it is too hit and miss. The DTC program should be evaluated in a comprehensive way to measure its overall effectiveness in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.
* The program should be called the “Severe Disability Tax Credit Program” – or something equivalent to indicate that not everyone with a disability is eligible.
* The program puts physicians in a potential conflict with patients—the responsibility of the physician to advocate for the patient vs. gate-keeper need for Revenue Canada. The physician role should be to attest to legitimate claims on the patients’ behalf.
* Revenue Canada should clarify the multiplicity of programs. There are numerous different federal programs and all appear to have varying processes and forms. These overlapping efforts are difficult for patients and professionals.
* A major education effort for potential claimants, tax advisers and physicians should be introduced.
* A suitable evaluation of claimant and medical components of the process should be undertaken.
The CMA does not have a standardized consultative relationship with the CCRA in regard to this program. An example of this spotty relationship is the recent letter sent by the CCRA Minister asking current DTC recipients to re-qualify for the credit. The CMA was not advised or consulted about this letter. If we had been advised we would have highlighted the financial and time implications of sending 75 to 100 thousand individuals to their family physician for re-certification. We also would have worked with the CCRA on alternative options for updating DTC records. Unfortunately, we cannot change what has happened, but we can learn from it. This clearly speaks to the need to establish open and ongoing dialogue between our two organizations.
Policy Measure: The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patients’ advocacy groups.
We would now like to draw the Sub-committee’s attention to three areas that, at present, negatively impact on the medical profession participation in the program, namely program integrity, program standardization (e.g., consistency in terminology and out-of-pocket costs faced by persons with disabilities) and tax advisor referrals to health care providers.
A primary concern and irritation for physicians working with this program is that it puts an undue strain on the patient-physician relationship. This strain may also have another possible side effect, a failure in the integrity of the DTC program process.
Under the current structure of the DTC program, physicians evaluate the patient, provide this evaluation back to the patient and then ask the patient for remuneration. This process is problematic for two reasons. First, since the patient will receive the form back immediately following the evaluation, physicians might receive the blame for denying their patient the tax credit—not the DTC program adjudicators. Second, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he or she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit.
For the integrity of the DTC program, physicians need to be free to reach independent assessment of the patient’s condition. However, due to the pressure placed by this program on the patient-physician relationship, the physician’s moral and legal obligation to provide an objective assessment may conflict with the physician’s ethical duty to “Consider first the well-being of the patient.
There is a solution to this problem it’s a model already in use by government, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Program. Under the CPP Disability Program, the evaluation from the physician is not given to the patient but, it is sent to the government and the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself. Under this system, the integrity of patient-physician relationship is maintained and the integrity of the program is not compromised.
Policy Measure: The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
Fairness and Equity
The federal government has several programs for people with disabilities. Some deal with income security (e.g., Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits), some with employment issues (e.g., Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities), and some through tax measures (e.g., Disability Tax Credit). These government transfers and tax benefits help to provide the means for persons with disabilities to become active members in Canadian society.
However, these programs are not consistent in terms of their terminology, eligibility criteria, reimbursement protocols, benefits, etc. CMA recommends that standards of fairness and equity be applied across federal disability benefit programs, particularly in two areas: the definition of the concept of “disability”, and standards for remuneration to the physician. These are discussed in greater detail below.
1) Defining “disability”
One of the problems with assessing disability is that the concept itself is difficult to define. In most standard definitions the word “disability” is defined in very general and subjective terms. One widely used definition comes from the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) which defines disability as “any restriction or inability (resulting from an impairment) to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”
The DTC and other disability program application forms do not use a standard definition of “disability”. In addition to the inconsistency in terminology, the criteria for qualification for these programs differ because they are targeted to meet the different needs of those persons with disabilities. To qualify for DTC, a disability must be “prolonged” (over a period of at least 12 months) and “severe” i.e. “markedly (restrict) any of the basic activities of daily living” which are defined. Though CPP criteria use the same words “severe” and “prolonged” they are defined differently (i.e., “severe” means “prevents applicant from working regularly at any job” and “prolonged” means “long term or may result in death”). Other programs, such as the Veterans Affairs Canada, have entirely different criteria.
This is confusing for physicians, patients and others (e.g., tax preparers/advisors) involved in the application process. This can lead to physicians spending more time than is necessary completing the form because of the need to verify terms. As a result if the terms, criteria and the information about the programs are not as clear as possible this could result in errors on the part of physicians when completing the forms. This could then inadvertently disadvantage those who, in fact, qualify for benefits.
Policy Measures: The CMA would like to see some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not mean that eligibility criteria must become uniform.
In addition, the CMA would like to see the development of a comprehensive information package for health care providers that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
The remuneration for assessment and form completion is another area where standardization among the various government programs would eliminate the difficulties that some individuals with disabilities currently face. For example, applicants who present the DTC Certificate Form T2201 to their physicians must bear any costs associated with its completion out of their own pockets. On the other hand, if an individual is applying to the CPP Disability Program, the cost to have the eligibility form completed by a physician is subsumed under the program itself.
Assessing a patient’s disabilities is a complex and time-consuming endeavour on the part of any health professional. Our members tell us that the DTC Certificate Form T2201 can take as much time and effort to complete as the information requested for CPP Disability Program forms depending, of course, on the patient and the nature of the disability. In spite of this fact, some programs acknowledge the time and expertise needed to conduct a proper assessment while other programs do not.
Although physicians have the option of approaching the applicant for remuneration for the completion of the DTC form, they are reluctant to do so because these individuals are usually of limited means and in very complex cases, the cost for a physician’s time for completing the DTC Form T2201 can reach as much as $150. In addition, physicians do not feel comfortable asking for payment when he/she knows the applicant will not qualify for the tax credit. Synchronizing funding between all programs would be of substantial benefit to all persons with disabilities, those professionals completing the forms and the programs’ administrators.
Policy Measure: We strongly urge the federal government to place disability tax credit programs on the same footing when it comes to reimbursement of the examining health care provider.
Tax Advisor Referrals
With the complexity of the income tax system today, many individuals seek out the assistance of professional tax advisors to ensure the forms are properly completed and they have received all the benefits they are entitled to. Tax advisors will very often refer individuals to health professionals so that they can be assessed for potential eligibility for the DTC. The intention of the tax advisors may be laudable, but often, inappropriate referrals are made to health professionals. This not only wastes the valuable time of health care professionals, already in short supply, but may create unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient seeking the tax credit.
The first principle of the CMA’s Code of Ethics is “consider first the well-being of the patient.” One of the key roles of the physician is to act as a patient’s advocate and support within the health care system. The DTC application form makes the physician a mediator between the patient and a third party with whom the patient is applying for financial support.
This “policing” role can place a strain on the physician-patient relationship – particularly if the patient is denied a disability tax credit as a result a third-party adjudicator’s interpretation of the physician’s recommendations contained within the medical report. Physicians and other health professionals are not only left with having to tell the patient that they are not eligible but in addition advising the patient that there may be a personal financial cost for the physician providing this assessment.
Policy Measure: Better preparation of tax advisors would be a benefit to both patients and their health care providers. The CMA would like CCRA to develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax preparers and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability. This would provide some guidance as to whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to see a health professional for a professional assessment.
As raised in a previous meeting with CCRA, the CMA is once again making available a physician representative to accompany DTC representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies, prior to each tax season, to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and initial assessment, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
The DTC is a deserving benefit to those Canadians living with a disability. However, there needs to be some standardization among the various programs to ensure that they are effective and meet their stated purpose. Namely, the CMA would like to make the following suggestions:
1. The CMA would like established a senior level advisory group to continually monitor and appraise the performance of the DTC program to ensure it is meeting its stated purpose and objectives. Representation on this advisory group would include, at a minimum, senior program officials preferably at the ADM level; those professional groups qualified to complete the T2201 Certificate; various disability organizations; and patient advocacy groups.
2. The CMA recommends that the CCRA take the necessary steps to separate the evaluation process from the determination process. The CMA recommends the CPP Disability Program model to achieve this result.
3. That there be some consistency in definitions across the various government programs. This does not circumvent differences in eligibility criteria.
4. That a comprehensive information package be developed, for health care providers, that provides a description of each program, its eligibility criteria, the full range of benefits available, copies of sample forms, physical assessment and form completion payment information, etc.
5. That the federal government applies these social programs on the same footing when it comes to their funding and administration.
6. That CCRA develop, in co-operation with the community of health care providers, a detailed guide for tax advisors and their clients outlining program eligibility criteria and preliminary steps towards undertaking a personal assessment of disability.
7. That CCRA employ health care providers to accompany CCRA representatives when they meet the various tax preparation agencies to review the detailed guide on program eligibility criteria and personal assessment of disability, and to highlight the implications of inappropriate referral.
These recommendations would certainly be helpful to all involved - the patient, health care providers and the programs’ administrators, in the short term. However what would be truly beneficial in the longer term would be an overall review of the taxation system from a health care perspective. This could provide tangible benefits not only for persons with disabilities but for all Canadians as well as demonstrating the federal government’s leadership towards ensuring the health and well being of our population.
i Health Canada, The Role for the Tax System in Advancing the Health Agenda, Applied Research and Analysis Directorate, Analysis and Connectivity Branch, September 21, 2001
ii Canadian Medical Association, Securing Our Future… Balancing Urgent Health Care Needs of Today With The Important Challenges of Tomorrow”, Presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance Pre-Budget Consultations, November 1, 2001.
HEALTH OF ABORIGINAL PEOPLES 2002
A CMA Policy Statement
That the federal government adopt a comprehensive strategy for improving the health of Aboriginal peoples that involves a partnership among governments, non-governmental organizations, universities and the Aboriginal communities.
2) The Need to Address Health Determinants
The health status of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples is a result of a broad range of factors: social, biological, economic, political, educational and environmental. The complexity and interdependence of these health determinants suggest that the health status of Aboriginal peoples is unlikely to be improved significantly by increasing the quantity of health services. Instead, inequities within a wide range of social and economic factors should be addressed; for example:
interactions with the justice system
racism and social marginalization
water supply and waste disposal
housing quality and infrastructure
cultural identity, (for example, long-term effects of the residential school legacy.)
That all stakeholders work to improve provision for the essential needs of Aboriginal peoples and communities that affect their health (e.g. housing, employment, education, water supply).
3) The Importance of Self-Determination
One characteristic of successful Aboriginal communities is a high degree of self-efficacy and control over their own circumstances. This empowerment can take many forms, from developing community-driven health initiatives to determining how to use lands.
It is increasingly recognized that self-determination in cultural, social, political and economic life improves the health of Aboriginal peoples and their communities, and that Aboriginal peoples can best determine their requirements and the solutions to their problems. Therefore, the CMA encourages and supports the Aboriginal peoples in their move toward increasing self-determination and community control. A just and timely settlement of land claims is one means by which Aboriginal communities can achieve this self-determination and self-sufficiency.
That governments and other stakeholders:
Settle land claims and land use issues expeditiously;
Work toward resolving issues of self-determination for Aboriginal peoples and their communities in areas of cultural, social, political and economic life.
4) Community Control of Health Services
Control by Aboriginal peoples of health and social services is increasing across Canada as part of a broader transfer of control of political power, resources and lands. This transfer has not progressed at the same pace across all Aboriginal communities; the needs of Urban Aboriginal peoples, for example, are only beginning to be addressed.
CMA supports the development of community-driven models for delivery of health care and health promotion, responsive to the culture and needs of individual communities. Successful community-driven models of health care delivery generally recognize that the Aboriginal concept of health is holistic in nature, incorporating mental, emotional and spiritual as well as physical components. Translating this concept into practice may involve:
Development of primary care models that are grounded within Aboriginal culture at a local level;
Integration of disease treatment services with health promotion and health education programs, and with traditional healing practices;
Integration of health and social services;
Interprofessional collaboration within a multi-disciplinary team.
CMA also supports programs to increase the involvement of Aboriginal peoples in professional and other decision-making roles affecting the health of their community – for example, increased representation in health-care management positions, and on health facility boards where there is a significant Aboriginal population.
That all stakeholders actively encourage the development of integrated, holistic primary care service delivery relevant to the needs and culture of Aboriginal communities and under community control.
5) Cultural Responsiveness in the Patient/Physician Relationship
As mentioned above, the concept of “health” in Aboriginal culture is holistic and incorporates many components. The concepts of continuity, wholeness and balance within and among people are important to Aboriginal culture, as is a close affinity with the natural environment – both in practical and spiritual senses , which emphasises the importance of stewardship of the land as a component of individual and community health maintenance for present and future generations.
Physicians should work in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples and groups to promote a greater understanding and acceptance of their respective philosophies and approaches. This could include:
an openness and respect for traditional medicine and traditional healing practices (e.g. sweat lodges, herbal medicines, healing circles). This should be balanced with a recognition that not all Aboriginal people, whether First Nation, Métis or Inuit, adhere to or understand their traditional ceremonial practices.
improved cross-cultural awareness in physicians, which could be facilitated by greater contact with their local Aboriginal communities, better understanding of local Aboriginal cultures, history and current setting,
development of cross-cultural patient-physician communication skills.
a) That educational initiatives in cross-cultural awareness of Aboriginal health issues be developed for the Canadian population, and in particular for health care providers,
b) that practice tools and resources be developed to support physicians (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) and other health care professionals practicing in Aboriginal communities.
6) Access to Health Services
Canada is often considered to have one of the best health care systems in the world and is typically described as providing “universal access”. However, our system does not provide equal access to services for all people living in Canada – the most underserviced being those in northern Canada, which contains many Aboriginal communities.
Several kinds of access problems exist in Aboriginal communities:
Lack of access to employment, adequate housing, nutritious food, clean water and other social or economic determinants of health.
Factors that impede access to health care services, particularly in remote locations; for example, language and cultural differences, and the difficulty of transporting patients to tertiary centres.
Lack of specific services (for example, mental health services) for Aboriginal peoples in many regions of Canada. Specific groups, such as women and the elderly, have unique and distinct needs that should be addressed.
Program delivery that involves multiple federal, provincial and municipal funding agencies. Physicians and patients alike have trouble obtaining information about and entry into existing programs and funding for new programs because of jurisdictional confusion.
CMA has previously recommended that the Canadian health system develop and apply agreed-upon standards for timely access to care. This includes the need to increase timely and appropriate access by Aboriginal peoples to health care and health promotion services, geared to different segments of the population according to their needs.
a) That governments and other stakeholders simplify and clarify jurisdictional responsibilities with respect to Aboriginal health at the federal, provincial and municipal level, with a goal of simplifying access to service delivery.
b) That strategies be explored to increase access to health services by remote communities; for example, through the use of technology (e.g. Web sites, telemedicine) to connect them with academic medical centres.
7) Health Human Resources
There is an urgent need to increase the training, recruitment and retention of Aboriginal health care providers. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that a cadre of 10,000 Aboriginal health care and social service workers be trained to meet the needs of a complex and diverse community. While progress has been made in recent years, an intensive focus on recruitment, training and retention is required in order to achieve this goal.
A comprehensive health human resource strategy should be developed, to increase the recruitment, training and retention of Aboriginal students in medicine and other health disciplines. Such a strategy could include:
Outreach programs to interest Aboriginal young people in the health sciences.
Access and support programs for Aboriginal medical students.
Residency positions for recently graduated Aboriginal physicians or physicians wishing to practice in Aboriginal populations, including re-entry positions for physicians currently in practice.
Mentoring and leadership-development programs for Aboriginal medical students, residents and physicians.
Programs to counter racism and discrimination in the health-care system.
Initiatives to recruit and train Community Health Representatives/ Workers, birth attendants and other para-professionals within Aboriginal communities.
a) That CMA and others work to develop a health human resource strategy aimed at improving the recruitment, training, retention of Aboriginal physicians and other health-care workers;
b) That medical and other health faculties increase access and support programs to encourage enrollment of Aboriginal students.
8) Health Information
Information about the health status and health care experience of Aboriginal peoples, is essential for future planning and advocacy. For Aboriginal peoples to effectively develop self-determination in health care delivery, they should have access to data that can be converted into useful information on their population. The “OCAP” principle (ownership, control, access to and possession of health data) is seen as integral to First Nation community empowerment, but may prove acceptable to other Aboriginal groups as well.
A considerable amount of data currently exists, though there are gaps in coverage, particularly regarding Métis, Inuit and urban and rural off-reserve First Nations populations. This data can come from a variety of federal and provincial/territorial sources, including periodic surveys, federal censuses, Aboriginal Peoples Survey data holdings, and also regional physician and hospital utilization statistics. However, jurisdictional and ownership issues have hindered Aboriginal people from accessing and making use of this data.
CMA supports the development and maintenance of mechanisms to systematically collect and analyze longitudinal health information for Aboriginal people, and the removal of barriers that prevent Aboriginal organizations from fully accessing information in government databases. Aboriginal health information should be subject to guarantees of privacy and confidentiality. The CMA urges relevant government departments to ensure that revisions to the Indian Act do not infringe on the privacy of health information of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
That the Government of Canada support the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey Process, and the First Nations and Inuit Health Information System, and parallel interests for the Métis and Inuit. These programs should be operated under the control of their respective Aboriginal communities
The CMA supports culturally relevant research into the determinants of Aboriginal health and effective treatment and health-promotion strategies to address them. Specifically, the CMA supports the efforts of the Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health at the Canadian Institute for Health Research, in addressing the needs of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.
Aboriginal peoples should be involved in research design, data collection and analysis; research should support the communities as they build capacity and develop initiatives to address their health needs. Ideally, research should address not only determinants of ill health but also the reasons for positive health outcomes.
The CMA also acknowledges the need to communicate research results to Aboriginal communities to help them develop and evaluate health programs. In particular there is an urgent need among Aboriginal communities for the sharing of successes.
That government and other stakeholders
Support Aboriginal peoples and communities in the development of Aboriginal research and the means of interpreting its findings.
Make public communication of health research results a priority in order to facilitate its use by Aboriginal communities.
CMA’S CONTINUED COMMITMENT
The Canadian Medical Association, consistent with its mandate to advocate for the highest standards of health and health care in Canada, will continue to work with the Aboriginal community and other stakeholders on activities addressing the following issue areas:
Research and Practice Enhancement:.
Public and Community Health Programming:.
Advocacy for healthy public policy.
November 15, 2002