The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present its brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study of "Best Practices and Federal Barriers: Practice and Training of Health Professionals".
The subject under discussion is relevant to both parts of the CMA's mission. The CMA has undertaken considerable activity on the issue. For example, in 2012 and 2013 we participated, with the Canadian Nurses Association and the Health Action Lobby (HEAL) on the Council of the Federation's (CoF) working group on Team-based Care. For many years, the CMA has conducted the National Physician Survey, which develops comprehensive information on physician demographics and practice patterns.
In the past decade a number of health professions have expanded their scopes of practice. In most provinces, for example, pharmacists can now renew prescriptions or provide emergency prescription refills. Ontario has established nurse-practitioner-led primary health care clinics which collaborate with family physicians and others in the community. Nova Scotia has experimented with using paramedics as first-contact primary caregivers in rural or remote areas. Governments expand scopes of practice for a number of possible reasons: cost-effectiveness (i.e. replacing one health professional with a less expensive one); improving access, particularly in areas underserviced by physicians; increasing convenience for patients (for example, allowing a neighbourhood pharmacist to give a flu shot may save the patient from taking time off work for a doctor's appointment): or responding to lobbying by health provider groups.
The CMA believes that ideally, every health care provider should have a scope of practice that is consistent with his or her education and training, and that the health care system should enable them to practice to the fullest extent of this scope. More importantly, the scope of practice of every health professional should enable them to contribute optimally to providing high quality patient-centered care without compromising patient safety. Indeed, the primary reason for expanding the scope of practice of a health professional should be to improve Canadians' health and health care.
In the following pages we will discuss several specific topics related to the Scope of Practice issue, and make recommendations for a possible federal role in supporting best practices among health professionals.
1. A Canada-Wide Approach to Scopes of Practice
Scopes of practice are determined largely by provincial and territorial governments, and each jurisdiction has developed its own regulations regarding what health professional groups may do and under what circumstances. This has led to inconsistency across the country. For example, about half the jurisdictions in Canada allow pharmacists to order laboratory tests and prescribe for minor ailments; provinces vary in the degree to which they fund nurse
practitioner positions; and there is wide variation in how, and even if, physician assistants are regulated.
While recognizing that the authority to determine scopes of practice rests with provincial/territorial governments, CMA believes that it is desirable to work toward consistency in access to health services across Canada.
Recommendation 1: that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and with health professional associations to promote a consistent national approach to scope-of-practice expansions
2. Promoting and Facilitating Team-Based Care
The scopes-of-practice issue is closely related to the development of models for team-based care, a development that CMA supports. When Canadians seek health care today, it is mainly to help them maintain their health or to manage chronic diseases. This trend is expected to continue as the population ages and the rate of chronic disease rises correspondingly. For patients who have multiple chronic diseases or disabilities, care needs can be complex and a number of different health and social-services professionals may be providing care to the same person. A patient might, for example, be consulting a family physician for primary health care, several medical specialists for different conditions, a pharmacist to monitor a complex medication regime, a physiotherapist to help with mobility difficulties, health care aides to make sure the patient is eating properly or attending to personal hygiene, and a social worker to make sure his or her income is sufficient to cover health care and other needs.
The complexity of today's health care requires that the system move away from the traditional "silo" method of delivering care and encourage health professionals to work collaboratively to effectively meet patients' needs. The CMA believes that the following factors contribute to the success of inter-professional care:
Patient access to a primary care provider who is familiar with the patient's needs and preferences, and has responsibility for the overall care of the patient, co-ordinating the various providers involved in this care. For more than 30 million Canadians, that primary care provider is a family physician. The College of Family Physicians of Canada believes that family practices can serve as patient's "medical home," in which care is anchored and co-ordinated by a family physician, with access to other health care providers as required.
Mechanisms that encourage collaboration and communication among providers. These include:
o Interdisciplinary primary care practices, such as Family Health Networks in Ontario, which permit patients to access a variety of different health professionals and their expertise from one practice setting;
Widespread use of the electronic health record, which can facilitate information sharing and communication among providers.
A smooth, seamless process for referral from one provider to another.
Role clarity and mutual trust. Each health professional on a care team should have a clear understanding of their own roles and the roles of other team members.
The CoF's Team-Based Care Working Group investigated the critical factors for successful team based care, and identified models in certain provinces that it believed should be considered for rollout across Canada. This rollout could be enhanced if it were encouraged by all governments, including the Government of Canada. In the past, Health Canada has supported demonstration projects in health system reform through the National Primary Care Research Group. The CMA believes that the federal government could take a similar role in future, in supporting and disseminating promising models of inter-professional practice. The dissemination process should be accompanied by a process to rigorously evaluate the effect of such models on health outcomes, quality of patient care, and health care costs.
Recommendation 2: that the Government of Canada support research into and evaluation of innovative models of team-based care, and actively promote the dissemination of successful models nationwide.
Recommendation 3: that Canada Health Infoway work with provinces and territories to increase the adoption of electronic medical records at the point of care and build connectivity among points of care.
3. A Health-Care System That Supports Best Practices in Team-Based Care
We have already discussed the part that governments could play in identifying, disseminating and evaluating models of inter-professional practice. The health care system's planners, funders and managers can also foster team-based care in other ways, such as:
Promoting education in inter-professional care. As the Committee has heard, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada's guiding principles for medical education include valuing inter-professionalism and incorporating it into residency learning and practice. CMA encourages the development of programs to help new physicians and other health professionals acquire the skills needed to function optimally an in inter-professional setting.
Improving access to health services not funded under the Canada Health Act. At present, patients who do not have private health care coverage must pay out of pocket for physiotherapy, dietitian services, mental health care and most social services. This works against the principles of inter-professional care by hindering access to necessary services; this could compromise patient health and safety.
Undertaking an open and meaningful consultation process when changes to scopes of practice are proposed. CMA's experience has been that physicians are more accepting of changes in other professions' scopes of practice if their medical associations have been involved in negotiation on these changes.
Ensuring that the supply of health professionals in Canada is sufficient to the needs of Canadian patients, by developing, implementing and monitoring human resource plans for all major health professions.
Recommendation 4: that the federal government work with provincial/territorial government and national health professional associations to develop and implement a health human resources plan that ensures Canadians' access to all appropriate health care providers.
In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association recognizes that the great majority of decisions regarding scopes of practice are made at the provincial/territorial level. But we believe that in order to encourage a Canadian health-care system in which all providers work together, contributing their unique skills and expertise to providing patient-centered, seamless, cost-effective care, the support and encouragement of the federal government will be extremely beneficial.