Improving efficiency in the Canadian health care system

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11525
Date
2015-05-30
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Date
2015-05-30
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
IMPROVING EFFICIENCY IN THE CANADIAN HEALTH CARE SYSTEM Achieving value in health care systems is an important objective for all nations.1 Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. This policy statement puts forth recommendations for system sustainability and improving quality of care. All system stakeholders including providers, funders and patients bear responsibility to ensure the health care system is as efficient as possible. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation. 1. Introduction Health care systems in Canada and elsewhere are examining ways to address inefficiencies to make the system more cost-effective and sustainable while improving the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care. The concept of efficiency in health care has two applications. The most common is technical efficiency, which is defined as producing maximum output for a given level of inputs, or minimizing input for a given level of output.2 The difference between actual output and the maximum achievable output may be attributed to inefficiency within the system. The second is called allocative efficiency, which refers to optimizing resource allocation to produce maximum outputs that fulfill societal demands. Canadian research suggests that increasing technical and allocative efficiency rather than increasing spending could solve some of the current challenges regarding health care quality and sustainability. Based on a macro system-level approach to estimating efficiency among its member countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has estimated that all of its member countries could achieve better value from their health care spending-Canada could save 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product in public spending by 2017 if it were to become as efficient as the most efficient OECD countries.3 2. Health care inefficiencies The various inefficiencies in the Canadian health care system may be categorized and visualized using the conceptual framework developed by Bentley et al in 2008 for the U.S. health care system 4 (see Figure 1). In Canada, no such framework exists. The framework of Bentley et al contains three main categories of inefficiencies - clinical, operational, and administrative. Clinical inefficiencies relate to practice variation challenges including, the provision of inappropriate care. Operational inefficiencies include duplication of health care services, inefficient processes, overly expensive inputs, and errors in data collection and processing. Administrative inefficiencies may be generally thought of as excess transaction costs associated with claims payment and excess costs of administration and management over and above what is required to deliver front-line health care. Figure 1. Typology of health care inefficiencies Source: Adapted from Bentley et al, 2008. 2.1 Clinical Inefficiencies Clinical waste and inefficiencies refer to services that provide marginal or no health benefit compared with less costly alternatives. This may include practice variation and the provision of inappropriate and cost-ineffective care, or the underuse of more appropriate care. There is overlap between clinical inefficiencies (e.g., providing the wrong service) with operational inefficiencies (the inefficient production of services). The chief contributor to clinical inefficiencies or waste in the health care field is practice variation-the reduction of unwarranted care variation is the foundation of the quality movement. John Wennberg and colleagues have pioneered the main body of work in this area through their studies on small area variation in care delivery.5 Over the last quarter century, technical studies on clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) have been developed in increasing numbers to address issues of appropriateness of care and care variation. CPGs are defined as "systematically developed statements to assist practitioner and patient decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances".6 CPGs should contribute to better health, enhance the quality of care by reducing practice variation, and contribute to better value and lower costs by encouraging more appropriate use of resources by care providers.7 Although there has been no systematic approach in Canada to developing and disseminating CPGs, or to ensuring the quality of the CPGs produced, various organizations have developed initiatives to tackle this issue.8 Since the early 1990s, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has developed and maintained a CPG Infobase, which contains roughly 1,200 guidelines.9 The uptake of CPGs is a crucial component and insufficient resources are applied to necessary clinical practice change processes. Moreover, CPGs should be distillable to actionable points-of-care recommendations suited to the intended end user (e.g., family physicians). In January 2012, the Council of the Federation (CoF) established the Health Care Innovation Working Group, which comprises all provincial and territorial health ministers, to determine practical and innovative ways to increase the value and effectiveness of care.10 The group's CPG recommendations focused on cardiovascular disease and diabetes - two of the most prevalent and highest-costing chronic diseases in Canada (see Appendix A for list of CPGs). In accordance with the CoF, the CMA recommends: 1. Developing chronic disease management and other supportive strategies for vulnerable patients at risk of frequent readmission to the acute care system. 2. Integrating clinical practice guidelines with electronic medical records. 3. Implementing a pan-Canadian clinical practice guidelines strategy. 4. Using evidence-informed clinical practice guidelines to evaluate patient outcomes, appropriateness, and cost-effectiveness. 5. Developing deployment strategies to ensure maximum use of clinical practice guidelines by physicians. Clinical practice guidelines need regular updating as new evidence emerges. Therefore, a Pan-Canadian strategy should include a system of regular review and updating using development methods that would exclude the possibility of industry bias. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada (see below). 2.1.1 Appropriateness There is an increasing trend in health care utilization in areas such as medical procedures, drugs, and physician services.11 Questions remain about whether or not people are receiving care that is appropriate and based on the best available scientific information.12 Inappropriate care, such as the hospitalization of patients who need community-based services or prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory infections that are likely viral in origin, is another source of clinical inefficiency, using scarce resources for marginal or no health benefit. The CMA recently defined appropriate care as the right care, provided by the right provider, to the right patient, in the right venue, at the right time: * "right care" is based on evidence for effectiveness and efficacy in the clinical literature, and not only implies appropriateness of use, but inappropriateness of failure to use; * "right provider" is based on ensuring the provider's scope of practice adequately meets but does not far exceed the skills and knowledge to deliver the care; * "right patient" acknowledges that care choices must be matched to individual patient characteristics and preferences; * "right venue" emphasizes that some settings are better suited in terms of safety and efficiency to delivering a specific type of care than others; * "right time" indicates care is delivered in a timely manner consistent with agreed upon bench marks. As a corollary to this definition, if all five components are present, high quality care has been delivered with the optimal use of resources, that is, waste has been eliminated and the best value has been obtained. Appropriateness is primarily determined by analyses of the evidence of clinical effectiveness, safety, and other health system impacts.13 The practical application of appropriateness is made when these analyses are qualified by (a) clinician judgment, particularly in atypical circumstances14 and (b) societal and ethical principles and values, including patient preferences. There are a number of perverse incentives that can contribute to the delivery of inappropriate care across the system. These exist at the system level (e.g., patients staying in hospitals longer than needed due to the lack of community services), as well as at the individual encounter level (changes in fee codes for insured medical services such as new consult fees to see a patient every six months). Physicians and payers such as governments need to work together to eliminate perverse incentives based on available medical evidence. Physician incentives should align with system needs. The challenge is getting governments, health authorities and provincial and territorial medical associations, and individual providers agreeing on system goals and objectives. In the U.S., an innovative appropriateness initiative called Choosing Wisely was established in 2011 with the goal of improving care quality and reducing harm to patients by avoiding unnecessary interventions, with the added benefit of possible cost reductions.15 The initiative challenged specialty societies to identify five clinical activities in their field that are generally of little value or are potentially harmful to patients.16 In Canada, CMA's 2013 General Council called for the formation of a collaborative working group to develop specialty-specific lists of clinical tests/interventions and procedures for which benefits have generally not been shown to exceed the risks. Choosing Wisely Canada was launched on April 2, 2014 with the release of eight lists produced by nine specialty societies (one list was released jointly by the CMA's Forum on General and Family Practice Issues (GP Forum) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC)). Twelve additional medical specialty societies released lists in October 2014. The Choosing Wisely Canada campaign is endorsed and supported by over 35 national specialty societies representing a broad spectrum of physicians, as well as by all provincial medical associations, patient organizations, accrediting bodies and others (Website: www.choosingwiselycanada.org). Choosing Wisely Canada aims to promote physician-patient communication about unproductive care and conserve resources by eliminating unneeded activities. This initiative also serves as an example of the role of public education campaigns to help improve appropriate care. The development of a Canadian version of the Choosing Wisely initiative assists in operationalizing the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim concept of better care, better health, better value. Specific benefits include: * Improving accountability by providing transparent, evidence-informed care; * Facilitating patients to make the right care decisions; * Enhancing physician-patient relationships: improve communication and decision-making between patients and their physician; and * Reducing clinical inefficiencies. The ultimate objective and impetus for adopting a Choosing Wisely initiative must be to improve patient outcomes. Cost savings to the system should occur as a byproduct. Physicians are in the best position to identify which medical services are unnecessary. Both patients and providers need to be aware of the costs associated with each treatment option, recognizing there is a balance to strike between cost and value. To facilitate this process, the CMA recommends: 6. Making available data on the cost and cost-effectiveness of treatment options at the point of care. 7. Collecting information to evaluate cost-effective care. 8. Posting costs generated by requests for diagnostic and laboratory tests in electronic medical records. Evaluation should take place to ensure the posting of costs is targeted to areas where it will be most effective. 2.2 Operational inefficiencies Examples of operational waste include: undertaking tests or procedures more frequently than clinically necessary (e.g., duplication of tests); unnecessary time spent waiting for medical services or time wasted from processes that add little value; using brand drugs for patients who get equal benefit from generics; and health and cost consequences of medical errors or the use of defective medical devices. These system inefficiencies can amount to very significant costs to the health care system, patients and the economy. For instance, lengthy waits can have serious health consequences for patient outcomes and result in the substitution of additional health care services while waiting (e.g., use of pain medication). A 2008 study calculated the economic impact of excessive wait times for five procedures (hip and knee replacement surgery, MRIs, CABG surgery and cataract surgery) in all 10 provinces. It found that, in addition to the obvious emotional, physical and financial toll endured by patients and their families, lengthy waits for these medical treatments cost Canada's economy an estimated $14.8 billion overall in 2007 in reduced economic activity by patients ($16.9 billion in 2014 dollars). This included a $4.4 billion reduction in federal and provincial government revenues.17 Notwithstanding a shortage in health care infrastructure, there is general consensus that not all hospital infrastructure is used to its fullest capacity, contributing to lengthy wait times for many patients. This can include excessive turnover time between cases or limited operating room hours that can result in the last patient of the day being unable to receive their surgery at great cost to the patient and their family. In many instances, urban hospitals must cancel surgeries due to overbooked operating room time when in smaller and rural communities, operating rooms are not fully utilized. Strategies should be explored to enable greater use of health infrastructure resources in smaller community hospitals that will serve to enhance timely access to care for patients. This would also ensure that staff had a level of activity that would maintain their skills. There has been significant uptake of operations research and quality improvement processes to help eliminate operational waste and address unnecessary waiting by patients. To this end, CMA will continue to work with its partners in the Wait Time Alliance to identify strategies to improve timely access to care for patients across the continuum. The CMA will also study the potential health applications of the Theory of Constraints within the Canadian health care system.18 There can also be system-wide inefficiencies in the various health systems operating in the country and in terms of how health systems interact with other systems such as economic and social support systems (e.g., lack of services to address homelessness). Changes in one component of the health care system can negatively affect the efficiency in another component. For instance, cuts made to home care services can lead to a rise in the number of alternate-level-of care (ALC) patients in hospitals, increased wait times in emergency departments, and elective surgery cancelations. A more recent source of system inefficiency has been occurring due to the piecemeal adoption of electronic medical records and information systems (EMR) throughout the country. The multitude of systems adopted by different segments of the health care system has resulted in problems with system inter-operability that often exacerbate administrative and clinical inefficiencies such as preventing the electronic attachment of test results leading to the reordering of tests. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) developed a model to measure and evaluate "health system efficiency" within Canada. It measures the average efficiency of health systems in Canada's health regions and the factors that help explain variations in estimates of system efficiency (measured as the reduction in potential years of life lost (PYLL) from treatable causes of death). The study found that equitable access to physician care is positively associated with efficiency.19 Unfortunately, over 4 million Canadians still do not have a regular family physician.20 In addition, the CIHI study found that factors related to the social determinants of health can also affect system efficiency (e.g., missed prevention opportunities). Frequently, the health care system is relied on to address preventable health needs that are attributable to the social determinants of health (e.g., injuries or illnesses caused by lack of affordable housing or poverty). Furthermore, these factors can negatively affect the effectiveness of any treatment provided by the health care system.21 Governments and health administrators should focus on improving efficiencies where there is the highest volume of services as new models of efficiency do not always show results in low volume areas. 2.3 Administrative inefficiencies Health programs can be funded and administered at a variety of levels: local, regional, provincial and federal, as well as through employers. According to CIHI, administration accounted for $6.3 billion, or 3.1%, of health care costs in Canada in 2011-roughly middle of the pack among OECD countries22-but this is only the cost of providing public and private health insurance programs and the costs associated with health departments'operations.11 Generally, differences in the level of health administration can be explained in part by the type of health system and financing used such as whether multiple insurance providers exist or the extent that complex funding and billing procedures are in place.23 1 In terms of other administrative costs, we do not know how Canada has evolved over time in comparison to other sectors of the economy or how we compare internationally with respect to the effectiveness of administration expenditures.1 There have been questions about the expansion and contraction of regional health authorities in Canada over the past two decades. However, Canada does not have a detailed set of health accounts that would permit such analysis. CIHI has recently begun to report the percentage of administrative services expenses (general administration, finances, human resources and communications) as a percentage of total expenses for over 600 hospitals as part of its Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP).24 One source of administrative waste is the cost of duplicate collection and recording of health information. The health sector has been slow in adopting health information technology to help reduce this form of administrative waste. Another cause of inefficiency is the increase in administrative burden faced by Canadian physicians and their patients. A major contributor is the rise in requests for physicians to complete third party forms from insurance companies and governments (see Appendix B for a list of examples of federal health programs and related medical forms). Different definitions of concepts are frequently used in these forms, but in many instances they are asking for similar information about the same patient. Physicians are also frequently requested to complete sick notes-the CMA believes such an absence does not require physician confirmation of illness and represents an inefficient use of scarce health care resources.25 The cumulative effect of a physician being requested to complete several forms each day can result in significant administrative burden and take away time that physicians can spend providing direct patient care. Standardizing definitions and wording on third-party forms can save time and reduce administrative errors. Physicians fully support any efforts by the private insurance industry and governments to standardize their medical forms. In addition, consideration should be given to instances where other designated providers can be tasked with completing particular forms. Where suitable, electronic medical records (EMRs) can improve the completion and timely submission of third-party forms to the benefit of patients, providers and third-parties. To address these administrative inefficiencies, the following actions have been recommended by CMA: 9. Federal and provincial auditors general design and implement a protocol for detailed enumeration of administrative costs within their health care systems, including tracking of these costs over time, and issue an annual public report. 10. CIHI conduct a detailed study of administrative costs of Canadian hospitals and regional health authorities and report the findings. 11. Harmonize and centralize, in electronic and written format, all administrative forms that physicians must fill out on behalf of their patients. 3. Innovating for efficiency Since the late 1990s, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, and other granting bodies have provided considerable funding for applied health services research to aid the implementation of pilot projects to improve the quality of care delivered in Canada. However, Canada is frequently criticized for its inability to move beyond pilot projects to full implementation. One often-cited reason is the lack of communication about promising innovations from one jurisdiction to another. Other reasons include regulatory barriers such as funding silos, and pilot project funding for a limited duration to prevent meaningful outcome evaluation. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful and sustained system innovation.26 The CMA supports: 12. Developing and testing innovative structures or programs to demonstrate clear evidence of improvement in health care outcomes and fiscal sustainability before wide-spread adoption into the Canadian health delivery system. 13. Developing policy tools that provide criteria for identifying barriers to quality, efficiency and equity in emerging models of health care delivery. 14. Creating a registry of physician-managed health care transformation projects. This registry should outline the challenges and lessons learned associated with each project for those interested in adopting similar projects. 4. Conclusion Addressing efficiency challenges in the Canadian health care system can improve the quality, continuity, and comprehensiveness of care, while making the system more cost-effective and sustainable. Many components of the health care inefficiencies set out by Bentley et al are now being considered by governments. Physician input is a necessary condition for meaningful system improvement and innovation. Physicians should practice high quality, evidence-informed health care, and advocate for cost-effective allocation of scarce resources. Canada's physicians are taking a leading role on this matter through such initiatives as Choosing Wisely Canada. Appendix A Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) recommended by The Health Care Innovation Working Group of the Council of the Federation The group recommended each province and territory work with their health authorities to adopt the following CPGs: * The C-CHANGE guidelines for cardiovascular disease published by the Canadian Cardiovascular Harmonization of National Guidelines Endeavour (C-CHANGE) to reduce guideline variations and confusion among care providers. * Harmonized guidelines for diagnosis, which include: o Laboratory testing (e.g., urine analysis, ECGs) o Risk stratification strategies (e.g., family history, lifestyle choices, and diabetic patients). * Harmonized guidelines for treatment, which include: o Establishing treatment targets (e.g., limiting alcohol consumption, healthy body weight, glycemic or glucose targets) o Health behavior interventions (e.g., balanced heart healthy diet, limiting salt intake, smoking cessation) o Pharmacological therapy (e.g., assessment of drug and drug interactions, co-morbidities). Appendix B Examples of federal health programs and related medical forms physicians are frequently requested to complete * Canada Pension Plan Disability * Disability Tax Credit * Employment Insurance (Sickness Benefits Claim) * Non-Insured Health Benefits (for First Nations people and Inuit) * Veterans Disability Pension * Compassionate Care Leave * Exception/Limited Use Drug Request Form (to permit access to drugs not on provincial formularies) * Interim Federal Health Program * Canadian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring forms References 1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Health care systems: getting more value for money. OECD Economics Department Policy Note No. 2. Paris: The Organisation; 2010. 2 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Developing a model for measuring the efficiency of the health system in Canada. Ottawa: The Institute; 2012. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HS_Efficiency_Tech_Report_EN-web.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 30). 3 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD economic surveys: Canada 2012. Paris: OECD Publishing; 2012. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eco_surveys-can-2012-enOECD 4 Bentley T, Effros R, Palar K, et al. Waste in the U.S. health care system: a conceptual framework. Milbank Q. 2008;86(4):629-59. 5 Wennberg J, Gittelson A. Small area variations in health care delivery. Science. 1973;182:1102-8. 6 Field MJ, Lohr KN. Clinical practice guidelines: directions for a new program. Washington (DC): National Academy Press; 1990. p. 38. 7 Canadian Medical Association. Handbook on clinical practice guidelines. Ottawa: The Association; 2007. 8 The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has launched a Strategy for Patient Oriented Research and one of its core elements is the improvement of guideline development, dissemination and uptake through support for guideline development and dissemination. Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Canada's strategy for patient-oriented research: improving health outcomes through evidence-informed care. Ottawa: The Institutes; 2011. Available: www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/documents/P-O_Research_Strategy-eng.pdf (accessed 2012 Feb 22). 9 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Infobase: clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). Available: www.cma.ca/En/Pages/clinical-practice-guidelines.aspx (accessed 2012 Feb 22). 10 Council of the Federation Working Group. From innovation to action - the first report of the Health Care Innovation Working Group. Available: www.canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/publications/health_innovation_report-e-web.pdf (accessed 2013 Apr 25). 11 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends, 1975 to 2013. Ottawa: The Institute; 2013. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/NHEXTrendsReport_EN.pdf. 12 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Health care in Canada 2010. Ottawa: The Institute; 2010. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HCIC_2010_Web_e.pdf (accessed 2014 Oct 7). 13 Canadian Medical Association. Appropriateness. Ottawa: The Association; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-05.pdf. 14 Goldberger JJ, Buxton AE. Personalized medicine vs guideline-based medicine. JAMA. 2013;309(24):2559-60. 15 Siwek J. Choosing wisely: top interventions to improve health and reduce harm, while lowering costs. Am Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):128-33. 16 The Good Stewardship Working Group. The "top 5" lists in primary care. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(15):1385-90. 17 Centre for Spatial Economics. The economic cost of wait times in Canada. Ottawa: The Centre; 2008. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/EconomicReport-e.pdf (accessed 2014 Apr 14). 18 Knight A. The theory of constraints in health and social care. Aldbury (UK): QFI Consulting; 2011. 19 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Measuring the level and determinants of health system efficiency in Canada. Ottawa: The Institute; 2014 Apr. Available: https://secure.cihi.ca/free_products/HSE_TechnicalReport_EN_web.pdf (accessed 2014 Feb 5). 20 Statistics Canada. Access to a regular medical doctor, 2012. Available: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2013001/article/11832-eng.htm (accessed 2014 Jan 5). 21 Canadian Medical Association. Health care in Canada: What makes us sick? Town hall report. Ottawa: The Association; 2013 Jul. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/fr/advocacy/What-makes-us-sick_en.pdf. 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Guidelines to improve estimates of expenditure on health administration and health insurance. Paris: The Organisation; 2013 Dec. 23 Himmelstein DU, Jun M, Busse R, et al. A comparison of hospital administrative costs in eight nations: U.S. costs exceed all others by far. Health Aff (Millwood). 2014;33(9):1586-94. 24 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Canadian Hospital Reporting Project (CHRP). Available: www.cihi.ca/CIHI-ext-portal/internet/EN/Home/home/cihi000001 (accessed 2014 Mar 20). 25 Canadian Medical Association. Short-term illness certificate. Ottawa: The Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-06.pdf 26 Lee TH, Cosgrove T. Engaging doctors in the health care revolution. Harv Bus Rev. 2014;92(6):104-11, 138. --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------
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It's Still About Access - Medicare Plus: CMA Policy Statement July 2007

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy8828
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2007-05-29
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2007-05-29
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
It's Still About Access Medicare Plus: CMA Policy Statement July 2007 Toward a Sustainable Publicly Funded Health Care System in Canada Medicare is now 40 years old in Canada, and by all accounts it continues to be highly valued by Canadians. However, there is evidence suggesting that in its present state, Medicare will not be able to effectively deliver timely access to high quality care that reflects the needs of our changing health care landscape. In order to sustain Canada's health care system for the next generation, changes need to be made to bring about a new vision for Medicare. The CMA identifies this future vision as "Medicare Plus." This policy statement expresses the views of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) at the present time and reflects, in the CMA's opinion, a future vision of Medicare which respects the current Canadian values, legislative frameworks and commitments from government. Three key steps must be undertaken to implement this vision: a) the current Medicare program must be shored up to deliver timely access to care; b) a guarantee that provides individual recourse to timely treatment must be put in place; and c) the basket of services must be expanded along the continuum of care through a variety of means. a) The public system must commit to timely access to care according to relative need for all necessary hospital and medical services. Governments have made a good start by providing for a stable funding base and by making strategic investments in medical equipment and health information technology. They have begun to deliver on their 2004 wait-time commitments by establishing national benchmarks in 2005 and by agreeing to implement a wait-time guarantee in at least one of the five priority areas by 2010. However, the job is far from finished. Governments have yet to set out the timelines for achieving their benchmarks, and there are many other procedural areas beyond the initial five for which benchmarks need to be established. Moreover the benchmark approach now needs to be expanded beyond the specialist-patient decision to treat to include access to primary care and specialist consultation. Delivering on timely access will not be achievable without an adequate supply of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. Canada must adopt a pan-Canadian planning approach to health human resources with a goal of national self-sufficiency that engages key stakeholders on an early, meaningful and ongoing basis. Just as the 1966 Health Resources Fund Act was instrumental in expanding the health education and research infrastructure in the 1960s and 70s, further federal and provincial/territorial investments are critical now, in light of the recent expansion of medicine, nursing and other health professional enrolment and the establishment of new health disciplines. Considerable further investment is also required in health information technology. While the establishment of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research has been a positive step, further investment is necessary, particularly in the area of knowledge transfer - from bench to bedside. b) It is essential to implement a means of guaranteeing that Canadians can obtain timely access to care. As the Supreme Court found in the Chaoulli decision, the Canada Health Act and provincial/territorial health insurance legislation provide for a virtual monopoly for public health insurance, which "on the evidence, results in delays in treatment that adversely affect the citizen's security of the person," hence it does not conform to the principles of fundamental justice. The CMA has called for a Canada Health Access Fund that would provide for a means of individual recourse to patients facing waits that exceed benchmark thresholds. When the wait time is exceeded the patient and their physician would be able to seek timely treatment where it is available, ideally close to home, but potentially in another city, another province/territory, or country. The $612 million Patient Wait Times Guarantee Trust established in the 2007 budget is a step in this direction. To the extent that the current public infrastructure constrains capacity, governments should consider contracting publicly funded services to the private sector. Failing the enactment of a publicly funded safety valve, the Chaoulli decision has established that patients cannot be denied a private sector insurance and treatment option. The Quebec government has since made provisions in its legislation to comply with the decision, however it has so narrowly circumscribed the terms and conditions under which private insurance contracts might be offered and delivered that it is highly unlikely private coverage will be offered. Nonetheless the Chaoulli decision put governments on notice, as evidenced by their progress on benchmarks and reduced wait times. Governments may be further stimulated by the fact that a case similar to Chaoulli has been filed in Alberta and another is about to be filed in Ontario. c) Medicare must be modernized to reflect the current reality of the delivery of care. In 1975, just after Medicare was fully adopted, hospital and physician expenditures represented 60% of total health expenditures; as of 2006, this share has dropped by almost one-third to 43%. Over the past two decades, prescription drugs as a proportion of total health spending have doubled from 7% in 1986 to an estimated 14.2% in 2006. While a majority of Canadians have prescription drug coverage from either private or public plans, it is estimated that some 3.5 million are either uninsured or underinsured for prescription drug costs. Looking ahead, we can expect to continue to see a mix of public and private plans and out-of-pocket payments (e.g., co-payments) and greater use of tax policy. This is the experience of most European and other industrialized countries. In Canada and internationally, the prospects for additional health programs funded on a first-dollar basis out of general taxation revenues are slim. However, there is a clear consensus as reflected in the Romanow and Kirby reports on the need for catastrophic prescription drug coverage and a growing concern about how to address the issue of very costly "orphan" drugs for rare diseases, and expensive treatments for common diseases such as breast cancer. In 2003, first ministers committed to having catastrophic drug coverage in place by the end of 2005-06, and while this is one of the elements of the National Pharmaceutical Strategy, little collective action has taken place beyond further study. Similarly a 2003 commitment by first ministers to first-dollar coverage for a basket of short-term acute home care, community mental health and end-of-life care services remains unmet. The issue of long-term care (LTC) of the elderly looms on the horizon as the first cohort of the baby boom generation turns 65 in 2011. Indeed hospitals are already feeling the pinch of a lack of alternative level of care beds. International experience suggests that LTC cannot nor should not be financed on the same pay-as-you-go basis as medical/hospital insurance. Germany has implemented a social insurance approach to pre-funding LTC. In its 2007 budget, the federal government introduced a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) to help parents of children with a severe disability to ensure their children's future financial security by investing after-tax income on which the investment income will accumulate tax-free. Consideration should be given to implementing a similar program for LTC. (NOTE - to see "Medicare Plus" table -- see PDF) In summary, we must first ensure that the current Medicare system is on sustainable footing for future generations. Second, Canadians must have a measure of certainty that not only will they receive quality care, but that they will receive it in a timely fashion. Third, recognizing the boundaries of our current Medicare program, we must address the terms and conditions under which Canadians will be able to access the broader continuum of care. Finally, it must be recognized that the health policy landscape is not static, a fact of which governments are aware. For example, in its 2007 budget, Quebec announced that former health minister Claude Castonguay will chair a task force to address sustainable health funding. In addition, British Columbia has been holding a "Conversation on Health" with its citizens that will wrap up in the fall of 2007. As the debate on the future of Medicare changes over time, the CMA's policy will continue to be redeveloped and redefined. CMA Board of Directors May 2007
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Joint position statement: Principles to guide health care transformation in Canada

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy10218
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2011-07-27
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2011-07-27
Replaces
PRINCIPLES TO GUIDE HEALTH CARE TRANSFORMATION IN CANADA
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association put forward the following principles to guide the transformation of the health care system in Canada toward one that is sustainable and adequately resourced, and provides universal access to quality, patient-centred care delivered along the full continuum of care in a timely and cost-effective manner. Such a system promotes health, effectively manages illness and focuses on outcomes, thereby contributing to a country's social and economic development and well-being.1 Canada's health care system is in need of transformation to better meet the health needs of Canadians. First, while it is recognized that elements of transformation are already taking place across the country, it is important that regional or jurisdictional change be guided by a common framework. Second, health care transformation must build on the five principles of the Canada Health Act (universality, accessibility, portability, comprehensiveness and public administration) that currently apply only to hospital and physician services. Moving beyond these services, a common set of principles is required to guide a national transformation toward a more effective and comprehensive medicare system. A transformed Canadian health care system demands national standards for service quality and outcomes, for which both federal and provincial/territorial governments share responsibility. PRINCIPLES The principles below have been organized according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim Framework, which describes the three goals of "better care for individuals, better health for populations and lower per capita costs."2 It has been IHI's experience that all three must be addressed; where organizations address only one or two, results may be achieved to the detriment of the other(s). ENHANCE THE HEALTH CARE EXPERIENCE PATIENT-CENTRED The patient must be at the centre of health care. Patient-centred care is seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner, based on need and not the ability to pay, that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family, and treats the patient with respect and dignity.3 Improving the patient experience and the health of Canadians must be at the heart of any reforms. A strong primary health care foundation as well as collaboration and communication within and between health professional disciplines along the continuum are essential to achieving patient-centred care. QUALITY Canadians deserve quality services that are appropriate for patient needs, respect individual choice and are delivered in a manner that is timely, safe, effective and according to the most currently available scientific knowledge. Services should also be provided in a manner that ensures continuity of care. Quality must encompass both the processes and the outcomes of care. More attention needs to be given to ensuring a system-wide approach to quality. IMPROVE POPULATION HEALTH HEALTH PROMOTION AND ILLNESS PREVENTION The health system must support Canadians in the prevention of illness and the enhancement of their well-being. The broader social determinants of health (e.g., income, education level, housing, employment status) affect the ability of individuals to assume personal responsibility for adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyles and minimizing exposure to avoidable health risks. Coordinated investments in health promotion and disease prevention, including attention to the role of the social determinants of health, are critical to the future health and wellness of Canadians and to the viability of the health care system. This is a responsibility that must be shared among health care providers, governments and patients, who must be actively engaged in optimizing their health and be involved in decisions that affect their overall health. EQUITABLE The health care system has a duty to Canadians to provide and advocate for equitable access to quality care and multi-sectoral policies to address the social determinants of health.4 In all societies, good health is directly related to the socio-economic gradient - the lower a person's social position, the worse his or her health. The relationship is so strong that it is measurable within any single socio-economic group, even the most privileged. It is due to the sum of all parts of inequity in society - material circumstances, the social environment, behaviour, biology and psychosocial factors, all of which are shaped by the social determinants of health.5 Some health inequities are preventable; failure to address them will result in poorer health and higher health care costs than necessary. Improved health literacy (defined as the ability to access, understand and act on information for health) would help to mitigate these inequalities. IMPROVE VALUE FOR MONEY SUSTAINABLE Sustainable health care requires universal access to quality health services that are adequately resourced and delivered along the full continuum in a timely and cost-effective manner. Canada's health care system must be sustainable in the following areas: * Resourcing: Health services must be properly resourced based upon population needs, with appropriate consideration for the principles of interprovincial and intergenerational equity and pan-Canadian comparability of coverage for and access to appropriate health services. - Financing: The health care system needs predictability, certainty and transparency of funding within the multi-year fiscal realities of taxpayers and governments, and funding options that promote risk-pooling, inter-provincial and inter-generational equity and administrative simplicity. - Health human resources: Health care will be delivered within collaborative practice models; pan-Canadian standards/licensure will support inter-provincial portability of all health care providers; health human resource planning will adjust for local needs and conditions. - Infrastructure: Health care in the 21st century demands a fully functional health care information technology system as well as buildings and capital equipment. * Research: Health research in Canada will inform adjustments to health service delivery and to the resourcing of health services. * Measuring and reporting: Outcome data are linked to cost data; comparable and meaningful performance measures are developed and publicly reported; outcomes are benchmarked to high-performing, comparable jurisdictions. * Public support: The health care system must earn the support and confidence of the users and citizens of Canada, who ultimately pay for the system. ACCOUNTABLE All stakeholders - the public/patients/families, providers and funders - have a responsibility for ensuring the system is effective and accountable. This includes: * Good governance: Clear roles, lines of authority and responsibilities are necessary for the funding, regulation and delivery of health care services, even where these may be shared between levels of government and among health care providers. Patients, families and providers must be partners in the governance of the system. * Responsible use: Services should be funded, offered and used responsibly. * Strong public reporting: Timely, transparent reporting at the system level on both processes and outcomes that can be used and understood by stakeholders and the public are necessary. * Enforceability and redress: Mechanisms are in place to enforce accountability and provide redress when the system does not fulfill its obligations. * Leadership/stewardship: Long-term strategic planning and monitoring is necessary to ensure the system will be sustainable. * Responsive/innovative: The system is able to adapt based on reporting results. APPLICATION OF PRINCIPLES AND NEXT STEPS Over the next several months, a number of health care initiatives will be considered at both the provincial/territorial and federal levels. This will include discussions aimed at signing a new health care accord between the federal government and the provinces/territories. Any such agreements or initiatives must be consistent with the principles set out in this document. Approved by the CMA and CNA Boards of Directors, June 2011 ENDNOTES 1 World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe. The Tallinn Charter: Health systems for health and wealth. Copenhagen, Denmark, 2008. http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/88613/E91438.pdf. 2 See http://www.ihi.org/IHI/Programs/StrategicInitiatives/IHITripleAim.htm. 3 Canadian Medical Association. Health care transformation in Canada: Change that works. Care that lasts. Ottawa, 2010. http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Advocacy/HCT/HCT-2010report_en.pdf. 4 Canadian Nurses Association. Social justice: A means to an end; an end in itself. Ottawa, 2010. http://www.cna-nurses.ca/CNA/documents/pdf/publications/Social_Justice_2010_e.pdf. 5 The Marmot Review. Fair Society, Healthy Lives, February, 2010. http://www.marmotreview.org/AssetLibrary/pdfs/Reports/FairSocietyHealthyLives.pdf.
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Operational principles for the measurement and management of wait lists (Update 2011)

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy10322
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
2011-10-23
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
2011-10-23
Replaces
Operational principles for the measurement and management of waiting lists
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
This policy statement provides operational principles for the measurement and management of wait list systems that support timely access to necessary care for patients. This statement is based on the understanding that in order for wait list systems to be effective in improving timely access to medically necessary care for patients, physicians and other providers must be centrally involved and appropriately supported to assist in their development, measurement and management. Since the late 1990s, Canadians have become increasingly concerned over lengthening wait times to access medically necessary care. As a result, a major focus of the 2004 Health Care Accord (10-Year Agreement to Strengthen Health Care) was to improve timely access to necessary medical care. Since then, provinces and territories have taken steps to measure, monitor and manage patient wait times. However, most efforts thus far to improve wait times have been focused on the wait between the specialist consultation and the scheduled date for treatment. Patients may also experience waits in accessing a family physician (many Canadians do not have a family physician) and waiting to see a specialist following a referral by a family physician. Canadians deserve timely access to medically necessary care. Governments must ensure that patients are treated within established wait-time benchmarks for all major diagnostic, therapeutic, and surgical services. Physicians recognize that it is desirable to minimize waits and to properly prioritize and manage patients' wait for care by accurately capturing and utilizing wait-time data. However, there remain serious concerns over the quality of wait-time data and who has the primary responsibility for capturing the data. Physicians and other providers are increasingly being requested to input wait-time data (e.g., length of wait for consultation or for start of treatment). Yet, in many instances, they are expected to do so without the necessary resources and supports. Outlined below are Operational Principles for the Measurement and Management of Wait Lists developed originally through CMA's Access to Quality Health Care Project(1) with input from public opinion research as well as stakeholder groups, including CMA Core Committees, Provincial-Territorial Medical Associations and CMA Affiliates. Goals 1. To maintain or enhance patients' quality of life and health status through effective development, measurement and management of wait lists. 2. To ensure that the development, measurement and management of wait lists are based on the best available evidence of clinical appropriateness, clinical effectiveness, rational use of resources, clinical need and patient quality of life. Principles A. Stakeholder Involvement 1. Physicians in clinical practice must have a leadership role: - in identifying clinically relevant data elements through consensus; - in developing standard definitions and measures for prioritization for wait lists; and - in developing wait-time benchmarks. 2. Health care providers and other stakeholders should be involved in the development, measurement, maintenance, monitoring, management and evaluation of wait list systems, and should be appropriately compensated for their time and effort. B. Database Development and Management Systems 1. Systems for developing and managing wait lists must require and provide reliable, current, useful and valid data and information. 2. Database development and wait list management requires involvement of multidisciplinary panels. 3. Systems for managing wait lists should: - provide accurate, reliable, timely, publicly accessible and real-time information in a cost-effective manner. Deadlines for inputting data should be reasonable and implemented without the use of threats or penalties; - collect and assess data on need, quality of life and health outcomes; be flexible and dynamic so that they can adapt over time with the development of new technologies and approaches to treatment; and - require policies and procedures on confidentiality, so that patients' and providers' privacy are protected. C. Investment 1. Systems for managing wait lists require initial and sustained investment in dedicated human resources, sophisticated information systems and information technology infrastructure at all levels (e.g., medical offices, hospitals, health regions). D. Accountability 1. The parties involved in managing wait lists must accept their responsibilities and obligations to each other and to the public. 2. Privacy and confidentiality of patient and provider information must be respected. 3. The systems, processes and results for managing wait lists should be widely communicated to obtain stakeholder involvement and support. E. Evaluation 1. Systems for managing wait lists must: - be continually monitored and evaluated to identify opportunities for improvement; and - regularly undergo independent data audits and evaluations of process and outcome. F. Governance 1. An independent, stakeholder-based, non-governmental organization with an advisory committee should be responsible for overseeing and administering systems for managing wait lists. (1) Canadian Medical Association, Access to Quality Health Care Project, January 1998. Ottawa.
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Policy Summary: Managing the Public-Private Interface to Improve Access to Quality Health Care

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy8826
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2007-05-29
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2007-05-29
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) supports the concept of a strong publicly funded health care system where access to medical care is based on need and not on the ability to pay. Health care services in Canada have historically been funded and delivered by a mix of the public and private sectors. At the present time, approximately 70% of health expenditures are publicly funded from general tax revenues; the remaining 30% are privately funded either through private insurance or out-of-pocket payment. The public-private interface occurs in two key areas: the private delivery of publicly funded services, and the delivery of privately funded services in publicly owned facilities. Drawing on the key issues raised in the CMA's June 2006 discussion paper, It's About Access, this policy summary sets out guidelines for decision-making and policy development for managing the public-private interface within Canada's health care system in order to optimize timely access to high-quality care. Policy Principles The following principles provide a framework for guiding future strategies for managing the public-private interface. 1. Timely access: Canadians should have timely access to medically necessary care and individual recourse should wait times be unreasonably long. 2. Equity: Access to medically necessary care must be based on need and not on ability to pay. 3. Choice: Canadians should have choice of physician; and physicians should have choice with respect to their practice environment. 4. Comprehensiveness: Canadians should have access to a full spectrum of medically necessary care. 5. Clinical autonomy: Any care model should respect the autonomous decision-making within the patient-physician relationship. Physicians must be free to advocate on behalf of their patients. 6. Quality: The public and private health care sectors must be held to the same high quality standards and be independently monitored. To ensure professional accountability, any facility providing medical services must be subject to medical supervision. 7. Professional responsibility: The medical profession has a responsibility to promote the strongest possible health care system that best meets patients' needs. Both public and private sectors have a responsibility to train the next generation of health professionals and to advance knowledge through teaching and research. 8. Transparency: Decisions affecting the mix of public-private funding and delivery must be made through an open and transparent process. Providers faced with potential conflicts of interest have a duty to recognize and disclose them and to resolve them in the best interest of patients. 9. Accountability: The public and private health sectors should be held to the same high accountability standards including clinical outcomes, full cost accounting and value-for-money. 10. Efficiency: The public and private sectors should be structured to optimize the use of human and all other resources. Public-Private Interface Issues In light of the foregoing principles, the CMA has identified several key issues where improved management of the public-private interface could lead to better access to high-quality health care services for Canadians. Implementing a wait-time care guarantee Canadians face increasingly long wait times for necessary medical care, frequently beyond recommended maximum wait times. In the 2004 first ministers' agreement, wait time benchmarks were established for five priority areas in the publicly funded system: cardiac care, cancer care, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration. When care is not delivered within benchmarks, there is no effective "safety valve" to provide recourse. Patients are forced to wait for care in Canada or seek it within the private sector or in other jurisdictions at their own expense. A safety valve is needed to enable Canadians to obtain required care where wait time guarantees cannot be met. Ideally, Canadians would never have to use the safety valve, but its inclusion in Canadian health policy would help restore confidence in the public health system and focus governments upon meeting commitments to provide timely access to care. The Patient Wait Times Guarantee Trust announced in the 2007 federal budget is a positive first step. The CMA recommends that: * Governments work with the CMA and other medical organizations to establish clinically appropriate wait-time benchmarks for all major diagnostic, therapeutic, surgical and emergency services. * Where wait-time benchmarks can be established, governments implement them nationally. * If national wait-time benchmarks are not met, Canadians should be entitled to a publicly funded safety valve whereby the government would reimburse payment for treatment, travel and other appropriate costs if the service is provided outside the home jurisdiction or within the private sector. * When access to timely care cannot be provided in the publicly funded system, Canadians should be able to use private health insurance to reimburse the cost of care obtained in the private sector. Private insurance contracts are now permissible in Quebec for hip replacement and cataract surgery, with the stipulation that the insurer must fund all aspects of the treatment including rehabilitation. At present, it is not clear how this could work in practice in terms of risk rating of either the patient or on the performance of the public system. * In the interest of providing timely care within the publicly funded system, governments must ensure that Canada has sufficient health professionals and infrastructure to meet need. Improving performance measurement, quality assurance and accountability in the public-private interface It is essential that the health care system be accountable to Canadians, in particular with respect to the roles and responsibilities of different levels of government and their delegated agents, such as regional health authorities and specialty boards. Accountability becomes all the more pressing as public-private collaboration expands. There may be a growing role for the private sector in the delivery of publicly funded health care provided that it delivers services in a cost-effective manner. As with the public sector, any private sector involvement in health care must be patient-centered as well as transparent and accountable. Health care services in both sectors must be delivered to the same high standards of quality. In order to achieve this, solid means of quality assurance must be in place to ensure that value-for-money is being received where public funds are used to contract for service delivery in public and private settings and to monitor the impact of privately funded services on the public system. There are currently a number of data gaps that need attention. For example, there is a lack of formal comparative studies of the cost-effectiveness and quality of public and private delivery in Canada based on primary data; there is confusion surrounding the monitoring of quality for uninsured services; and there is uncertainty about the extent of voluntary accreditation of health care facilities in the public and private sectors. The CMA recommends that: * Governments establish uniform requirements and regulation where appropriate for measuring quality of care in both public and private settings, including: a) collection of data on process and outcomes of care; b) reporting of such data on all publicly insured services to regulatory bodies; c) accreditation standards for both public and private service delivery equivalent to those of the Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation; and d) protection of health information privacy. * Governments and regional health authorities that enter into public-private partnerships do so through an open and transparent tendering process. * Where governments include public-private delivery mechanisms to expand system capacity, they do so with regulation to evaluate quality and cost-effectiveness. * Governments conduct ongoing evaluation of the quality and cost-effectiveness of public-private delivery options. Defining the public health care system and the basket of publicly insured services The delineation of publicly insured services is a fundamental policy issue for governments, health care providers and patients. The publicly-funded health system cannot be expected to meet all needs for all patients; choices must be made and trade-offs negotiated. However, decisions about the basket of insured services have typically been ad hoc and made behind closed doors. The system has also been slow to respond to emerging technologies and shifts in the delivery of care. At the present time the national medicare basket includes hospital and medical services. The provinces/territories also fund additional services at their discretion (e.g., seniors' drug coverage, home care). While this widens the scope of public coverage, it creates disparities in access across jurisdictions, and Canada is often referred to as a "patchwork quilt" in this regard. The CMA recommends that: * There should be ongoing periodic monitoring and reporting of the comparability of Canadians' access to a full range of medically necessary health services across the country. * In keeping with the CMA's 1994 document Core and Comprehensive Health Services: A Framework for Decision-making, there is a need to define a set of nationally comparable, publicly funded core services. The nature of these services should be continually assessed in an evidence-based and transparent manner. The mode of delivery for these services should be at the discretion of local jurisdictions and may involve both the public and private sectors. * Government health insurance plans should give adequate notice when services are to be delisted. Transparency and accountability in the regulation of physician activity within the public-private interface The ability of physicians to choose whether or not to participate in the public health insurance plan has been a key feature of Medicare since its inception. Physicians are willing to accept reasonable limits on their ability to opt in or out of the public health plan to ensure that adequate access to medical services is maintained. In order to achieve this, an effective regulatory framework is required to govern the intersection of public and private health care and there must be concerted effort on the part of stakeholders to investigate the implications of and opportunities to minimize conflicts of interest. When considering options for the delivery of publicly insured services by the private sector, it is critical that the integrity of the public system is maintained and that Medicare remain the cornerstone of Canadian health care. The reality for many physicians is that they must concurrently deal with multiple payers - patients covered by provincial/territorial health insurance plans, injured workers covered by workers' compensation boards and various groups of individuals covered by third-party insurers. Whatever the funding arrangement, the following fundamental characteristics of the physician-patient relationship cannot be altered: * Patients should be able to choose their physician. * Physicians must have freedom to advocate on behalf of their patients. * Physicians should be allowed to have choice in their practice environments, including the right to opt out of the publicly funded system. * It is the duty of providers to recognize and disclose potential conflicts of interest and to resolve them in the best interests of patients. The CMA will work with its divisions and affiliates to develop a code of conduct for physicians who provide services in the private sphere and for those who provide services in both sectors. The CMA recommends that: * Governments should allow physicians to have choice in their practice environments, including the right to opt out of the public health insurance program provided that patient access to publicly funded care is not compromised. This is presently permitted in all jurisdictions except Ontario. * Governments should examine practice arrangements where physicians are able to work in both the public and private sectors so as to maximize the availability of medical services, particularly in situations where there are budget constraints resulting in inefficient use of health human resources and physical infrastructure. * Governments should remove bans preventing physicians from opting out or preventing them from practising in both the public and private sectors where it can be shown that this would improve access to services for the entire population, increase the capacity of the health care system and reduce wait times. Medical education and training Physicians collectively have a responsibility to train future generations. Looking ahead, we may expect to see a continued trend toward the delivery of diagnostic, medical and surgical procedures in specialized facilities that are privately owned and operated. From the standpoint of medical education and training, this raises two issues. First, a significant number of the current complement of clinical teachers may perform an increasing proportion of their work in such facilities, which may have implications for public teaching hospitals. Second, to the extent that the delivery of services may migrate from teaching hospitals to specialized facilities, this may potentially limit the education and training exposure of medical residents. The CMA recommends that: * Physicians must be appropriately trained for the scope of practice in which they are engaged, whether in the public or private sector. * Medical trainees need exposure to all types of practice arrangements across the public-private interface. * Medical trainees need exposure to all areas of clinical medicine, including those areas predominately delivered by either the public or private sectors. * Governments that choose to contract out services to private delivery must ensure that training opportunities include exposure to both sectors. * The CMA, in partnership with medical student organizations, will promote education about the public-private interface and health care funding and delivery issues. Conclusion Canada's health care system is the product of a long-standing partnership between public and private funding and delivery. The interaction between both sectors will continue to be an important dimension of medicare that must be carefully managed. The framework of decision-making principles and recommendations set out in this policy will hopefully enhance debate among stakeholders and the public about future directions for how to best manage the public-private interface. CMA Board of Directors May 2007
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Principles for health system governance

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy10320
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
2011-10-23
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2019-03-03
Date
2011-10-23
Replaces
Regionalization (Update 2001)
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
Principles for Health System Governance This policy provides principles and recommendations for developing, implementing and evaluating health system governance models such as regionalized health care for the purposes of delivering high quality care to patients. Since the 1990s, health care systems in many countries including Canada have been searching for more effective health system governance models to accomplish a variety of health policy objectives. These objectives include funding health care based on population health needs and improving service delivery integration. In Canada, most provinces and territories moved to a regionalized model of health system governance during the 1990s. This "regionalization" approach involved both decentralizing and centralizing specific elements of the health care system. Decentralizing involved moving planning, budgeting and decision making authority from the provincial or territorial level to certain regional bodies. Centralizing involved moving the planning and governance of health care and medical services from individual institutions or agencies to a regional body. In terms of the delivery of health care services, centralization often occurred through the consolidation of several programs into a single program for a region and through the merger and closure of individual institutions. Since 2003, several provincial governments initiated new changes to their approach to health system governance ranging from vertical integration involving a range of health agencies under a single board (e.g., Quebec) to the creation of boards that oversee the delivery of care for larger portions of a jurisdiction or even the entire jurisdiction itself (e.g., Alberta Health Services). Many of these new models involve an arm's length authority governed by an appointed board that is mandated to manage and integrate the operations of the health system across the province/territory while leaving the ministry of health to set the overall plan and priorities for the health system as well as set standards and monitor outcomes. No doubt, governments will continue to search for an ideal health system governance and delivery model as part of an effort to develop "high performing health systems". Examples of high performing health systems exist at all levels such as at regional levels within countries (e.g., Jonkoping, Sweden) or at the client group level (e.g., US Veterans Health Administration). Health system governance models, such as health regions or health agencies, must have an overall goal of ensuring the delivery of high quality, timely and accessible care to its citizens. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement's (IHI) Triple Aim concept identifies three objectives for health systems: improve the health of the population; improve the health care experience for patients; and improve the value for money spent on health and health care. Many previous health system reforms have not resulted in improved care for patients. The CMA's 2010 action plan, Health Care Transformation in Canada: Change that Works. Care that Lasts, calls for patient-centred health care that puts the patients and their families' interests first. From the health provider perspective, previous regionalization efforts have raised several issues of concern, including whether these models translate into improved delivery of care for patients. There is also concern with the prospect that new models will limit provider involvement in health system governance and that health human resource planning will be localized when mobility of labour transcends local borders. The CMA is committed to playing a positive role in the debate on the future of health care reform in Canada. It recognizes that health system governance models are subject to change. However, this CMA policy on health system governance identifies fundamental principles that should guide any model under consideration. These guiding principles draw upon previous CMA work starting in 1991 with its Working Group on Regionalization, leading to its Language of Health System Reform report. Guiding principles Patient-centred: Any consideration of governance models must begin with an overall goal of providing patient-centred care-seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner, based on need and not the ability to pay, that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family, and treats the patient with respect and dignity. Defined objectives: The development and implementation of health system governance models/strategies must begin with a clear statement of objectives. The objectives should reflect the changes that need to be made to the health care system to address specific problems and, whenever possible, must be defined in measurable terms so that health system governance policies can be evaluated. Accountability/authority: Aligning accountability and authority is essential to effective and sustainable high performing health systems. Accountability is affected by the degree of authority and the scope of responsibilities (i.e., planning, administration, organization and funding of health care services) transferred to the governing units (e.g., regions). Who is accountable, and for what, need to be defined. There needs to be a clear statement of the roles of government, governing boards, physicians and all health care stakeholders. Physicians have a unique contribution to make and their views should be taken into account in any restructuring of the health care delivery system. Needs based planning/Responsive to regional needs: The definition of the region(s) or sub-regions should reflect the natural, socio-political and geographic divisions of the population. Once regions are defined, the health care needs of the population served by regional units should be determined through epidemiological studies, input from communities and other needs assessment. In addition to local planning, there is also the need for broader based planning to address medical and scientific research, new technologies and procedures. Regional health needs can vary requiring flexible delivery models. Credentialing that meets jurisdictional standards should be maintained at the regional level in order to effectively respond to regional needs and issues. Informed choice: Any form of health system governance should not restrict patients' mobility between providers or regions, physicians' mobility between and within regions, or physicians' choice of practice setting by limiting employment to community health centres or other forms of group practice. Participatory democracy Both patients/public and providers should be involved in determining governance models and participating in the ongoing governance of health systems. If providers are to be encouraged to get involved, they need to have ready access to the planning and administrative skills needed to participate effectively and make a valuable contribution to management and leadership. Three key areas in which providers must become knowledgeable and involved include governance and credentialing, health care needs assessment and health economics. Clinical autonomy: Physicians have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their patients to ensure the availability of needed care. This responsibility should not be hindered by a physician's practice setting, mode of remuneration or paying agency. Evaluation: Evaluation protocols must be built into health system governance models at the outset, and the results of evaluation must be used to "fine tune" and improve the strategies. These protocols should address cost effectiveness, population health status, patient access to health care services and the interests of government, the profession and the public. Standards for reasonable access: Certain areas and cultural groups do not have the same level of access to health care services as the national norm. All health system governance models should address these shortcomings to ensure that the entire population of any given region has reasonable access to primary, secondary and tertiary care. Balancing access and affordability: One of the implicit objectives of new models of health system governance appears to be achieving both control over health care costs and redirecting expenditures from health care to community and social services. Governing authorities must be careful to maintain a balance between access to health care services and affordability allowing for a variety of methods to achieve this (e.g., internal markets). They must also maintain a comprehensive accounting of the cost of implementing any new model. Balancing curative with preventive and sustaining care: All health system governance models must support not only the system's ability to provide curative care but also an ability to provide effective preventive and sustaining care. Governance models should ensure funds can be allocated toward a comprehensive approach to care as well as allow for models of care that support all three functions. Support for medical education and research: Policies and structures of health system governance models need to acknowledge and foster the role of medical education and research in the health care system. Governance of medical teaching and research should reside within the academic health sciences centres. These centres should be assured of adequate financial and human resources and of access to cross regional patient populations and to community teaching sites in order to provide adequate learning and research opportunities. Recommendations With regard to the development, implementation and evaluation of health system governance models, the CMA recommends that: * advocacy on behalf of patients and physicians be maintained irrespective of any regional administrative boundaries; * governments ensure that the introduction of new models of health system governance do not interfere with clinical autonomy and professional freedom in the context of the physician/patient relationship; * governments, health governing authorities and institutions ensure that physicians, through their professional associations, are included in the development and revision of practitioner/medical staff bylaws and appointment policies; * family physicians, on the basis of their education, training and skills, are reaffirmed as the preferred point of entry into Canada's health care system; * governments ensure that catchment area under the governing authority be defined in a way that is sensitive to the political, cultural and geographic circumstances of the population and recognizes established patterns of the demand for, and the provision of, health care; * governments ensure that the introduction of new governance models does not interfere with reasonable access by the population to medical services at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels; * leadership be provided to help ensure that the development, implementation and evaluation of health system governance models are based on clear, measurable objectives; * governments develop and maintain national standards for access to high quality health care, medical education and research, irrespective of regional boundaries; * governments ensure that programs and policies under any form of health system governance be designed and implemented in a manner that supports key principles of medical education and research, including: - the governance and resources required for medical teaching, both in the academic health sciences centres and in appropriate community based sites throughout the province or territory, - academic health sciences centres' responsibilities for providing secondary and tertiary care to catchment populations that cut across regional boundaries, and - the need for academic physician resource plans to ensure a critical mass for teaching and research; * governments give priority to mechanisms to protect the mobility of patients and physicians when developing and implementing programs under any new health system governance model; and * the medical profession work with governments to develop: - clear role, responsibility and accountability statements for government, health system governing boards, health care providers and consumers, - mechanisms to ensure that governing boards have broad representation and meaningful input from the community, including physicians, and that regional boards be recruited through a clearly specified appointment or electoral process, - guidelines for use by communities to assess their health care needs and to provide assistance, as required, with the conduct of such assessments, - protocols and procedures for evaluating health system governance initiatives, - mechanisms to ensure adequate and appropriate physician input into operational aspects of regional planning and coordination of health care services, and - processes under any health system governance model ensure adequate opportunities for research, education (including continuing medical education) and training of physicians consistent with national standards.
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Streamlining patient flow from primary to specialty care: a critical requirement for improved access to specialty care

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11299
Last Reviewed
2020-02-29
Date
2014-10-25
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2020-02-29
Date
2014-10-25
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
When physicians believe their patients may require the expertise of another physician, effective, timely and informative communication between all physicians is essential to ensure appropriate use of specialty care services. The results of physician surveys indicate a lack of informative referral communication exists in Canada. Significant variation exists in referral request processes*. This is contributing to the poor access to specialty care that many patients are experiencing. Some of this variation is necessary, however, which means that a single, standardized solution to improve the entire referral and consultation process is not feasible. Nonetheless, while communication processes and information requirements for referral requests vary considerably, the communication and information needs in consultant responses is essentially the same for all referring physicians. Unfortunately, provision of this information is often lacking. This problem can be addressed through standard communication protocols because all referring physicians benefit from receiving the same types of information in response to referral requests; for example, acknowledgement of referral receipt or patient consult reports. Furthermore, when referrals are initiated, specific types of requests can benefit from standardization of communication methods and information requirements. Such activities are already underway in Canada in select areas. These successful initiatives, used together as complementary approaches to address the varying needs of referral requests, should be adopted throughout the country. Visit CMA's Referral and Consultation Process Toolbox1 for examples. Recognition, in the form of appropriate compensation, must also be given to the time spent preparing and analyzing referral requests as well as conducting consultations. Support for the use of information technology infrastructure, where available, will also facilitate efforts to streamline referral and consultation processes. It should be noted that, while the language of this policy statement has a focus on primary to specialty care referrals, the concepts and recommendations apply to referrals between all specialties. RECOMMENDATIONS * All stakeholders, especially physicians, but also, where appropriate, office assistants, nurses, other health care providers as well as patients, must be engaged in an early and meaningful way regarding any initiative that has a goal to improve referral or consultation processes. * There is no single best way to access specialist expertise; as a result, a combination of complementary initiatives (e.g., formal consultation systems, standardized referral processes with central intake systems and/or physician directories) should be implemented to reduce variation in the approaches that are used and to facilitate more timely access to specialty care for patients. * While acknowledging the referring physician's ability to interpret certain test results, the referral must be accompanied by appropriate information to allow the consulting specialist to fully assess the request, and the referring physician must be informed of what is "appropriate". * The referring physician (and family physician if different), as well as the patient, should be kept informed, in a timely fashion, of the status of the referral request, using standardized procedures, minimum information requirements and timelines. * Physician and/or physician practices should receive compensation and support in recognition of the time and effort undertaken to communicate appropriate information regarding referral requests as well as to conduct electronic or real-time consultations. Introduction When a physician decides that a patient requires the expertise of another specialist, the most appropriate next step can range from the specialist answering a question to assessing the need for a particular procedure or treatment. No matter how simple or complex the specialist's involvement may be, successful communication between all physicians is critical. Unfortunately, this does not occur as often as it should. In October 2012, a survey of physicians on the topic of referrals found that while over half of both family physicians (52%) and other specialists (69%) agree that referral communication is effective, two-thirds of family physicians noted that some kind of communication problem was a main source of frustration for them; for example not being informed about: referral receipt, the patient's appointment, a treatment plan, or that the specialist does not do the service requested. A similar proportion of specialists noted a lack of basic or supporting information (e.g., reason for referral or lab test results) as a main frustration with referral requests.2 The most appropriate method of communication differs depending on the degree of specialist involvement that is required. There are no standards about which method of communication is the most appropriate or effective, or what information is required, for each situation. Referral request processes† vary significantly; not only across specialties but among specialists within a particular specialty and even within a geographic region. Examples of this variation include: some consulting specialists will accept referrals only if the referring physician has used their specific referral form; others accept referrals using only one particular communication method (e.g., by fax); and others accept referrals on just one day each month. Such variation creates inefficiencies because referring physicians must familiarize themselves with each request process that is required by each consulting specialist. The range and quality of information provided in a referral request also varies considerably; for example, too little information (i.e. no reason for referral provided), insufficient information (i.e. out-of-date or a lack of lab or imaging tests), or to too much information (i.e. non-contributory family history). This lack of standardization is problematic. In this context, standardization means simplification rather than obligation. Standardized processes facilitate communications for referrals by removing ambiguities about which method is most appropriate for each situation. Communication methods and the types of information that are transferred between referring physicians and consulting specialists vary based on numerous factors, ranging from those beyond the control of physicians such as regulations and available technology, to those completely within their control such as their own individual preferences. An effective way to facilitate appropriate and timely access to specialty care that is within the control of the health care profession is to explore the rationale behind these varying communication and information preferences and address these variations by developing, with meaningful participation and approval from physicians and their administrative staff, standard processes for requesting a specialist referral and for communicating back to the referring physician. Some of the provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons have guidelines or standards of practice specifically about referrals and consultations. The most comprehensive of these are the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Nova Scotia's (CPSNS) Guidelines for Physicians Regarding Referral and Consultation3 and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta's (CPSA) Standard for Practice on The Referral Consultation Process.4 In addition, the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College) developed collaboratively a guide to enhancing referrals and consultations between physicians.5 While these documents do not discuss which method of communication should be used for each referral request scenario, they do provide guidance in a number of areas, including: * minimum requirements for information that should be provided with all referral requests * information that should be conveyed to patients (e.g., why they are being referred, information about the specialist appointment, etc) as well as who should be providing this information * processes that should be followed for patients requiring ongoing care from the consulting physician While standardization of the minimum information requirements that should be included in communications between referring and consulting physicians is essential for finding efficiencies with referral processes, these efficiencies will not be fully realized without proper consideration of the information technology infrastructure that is used to convey this information. The way in which the information is provided should not require additional effort for either the sender or the receiver. Electronic referral systems, where all data necessary for an informative referral can be easily obtained by the appropriate physician from the patient's electronic health record, would be the best way to ensure that this occurs. However, until this becomes a reality, a suitable compromise can be found by allowing flexibility in the format in which the information is provided. Communication from Primary Care to Specialty Care When the extent of a specialist's involvement in patient care is simply providing a second opinion or advice about appropriate next steps, standardizing the process for this kind of communication is relatively straightforward. This is because the variation that exists in this situation is primarily due to the availability of the consulting specialist and the methods of communication that each referring physician can use to contact the specialist. Certain regions of the country have established consultation services whereby specialists participating in the program must respond to consult requests within a specified time frame. Examples of effective consultation systems include the telephone advice line known as Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise (RACE)6 in BC or the secure electronic consultation system known as Building Access to Specialist Care through e-Consultation (BASE)7 in the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ontario. Such services have proven quite effective at reducing the number of unnecessary referrals8,9; thereby ensuring more appropriate use of specialty care and helping to reduce wait times for this care. Through both of these systems, specialists ensure that they are available to respond to the consult question in a timely manner and each system uses only one form of communication. At the other end of the spectrum of specialist involvement in patient care, when the patient sees the specialist, there is a much greater degree of variation in what is required of the specialist - from one-time interventions such as surgical procedures, to chronic care. The best approach for streamlining the referral process in these more complex situations varies, depending on the type of specialist care that is required. Central Intake With central intake referral systems, the referring physician sends a referral request to one location. This central location can be organized in two ways; central triage or pooled referrals. With central triage, referrals are assigned to specialists based on their level of urgency. With pooled referrals, each referral is allocated to the next available specialist, who then does the triaging. The differences in where the triaging occurs exist due to a number of factors; including the type of care the specialty provides as well as the number of specialists in the geographic region. However, for both types of central intake systems, the referring physician follows a standard process regardless of the specialist who assumes care of the patient. Regardless of the type of central intake method that is used, the option to choose a particular specialist must always be available. However, even with this option in place, a central intake system of any kind is not necessarily the most appropriate solution for all specialties. This is often the case when ongoing patient-specialist relationships are quite common. For example, a woman might prefer that the same obstetrician cares for her during all of her pregnancies, or patients with chronic conditions such as arthritis or diabetes and require continuous care throughout their lifetime. In these situations, coordinating a central intake program where a significant proportion of specialist appointments are repeat visits is difficult. Physician Directory A physician directory might be a more useful referral tool in situations where specialties do not have sufficient numbers of specialists in one geographic region or for those that have a high degree of sub-specialization. Such directories provide, at a minimum, details of the services each specialist provides and does not provide. Those that provide information regarding wait times, especially those with information on the wait for the first specialist visit, are extremely useful for referring physicians as it allows them to select a specialist with the most appropriate wait time for their patient and, where relevant, it also allows the referring physician to develop an appropriate care plan based on the time the patient must wait for specialty care. Despite the fact that the complexities with specialty referrals mean that there is no one solution that is appropriate for all types of specialties, the extreme variation in processes that currently exists is also unnecessary. Standard referral information requirements for specialty groups with similar needs, such as most surgical specialties, have been effectively established in some areas of the country. For example, in Calgary, Alberta, a major initiative known as Medical Access to Service10, has, among other things, successfully developed a standard referral form and process for central intake for multiple specialties. While most of these specialties also request additional information, each specialty has agreed on a standard set of minimum requirements. These standards were developed collaboratively with physicians and could be expanded nationwide, while taking regulatory and technological differences into account. When establishing the requirements for an informative referral, consulting specialists must acknowledge that the referring physician may not have the expertise necessary to appropriately interpret certain test results. In such cases it is the consulting specialists who should order these tests. Communication from Specialty Care to Primary Care What must not be overlooked is that referral communication is bilateral. Informative and timely communication from the consulting specialist to the referring physician is also critical for a successful referral. Such a referral can be defined as one where the patient receives appropriate and timely specialty care where all parties - patient, specialist(s), referring physician and family physician (when the referring physician is not the patient's family physician) - are aware of all of the patient's relevant interactions with the health care system as well as any follow-up care that may be required. To ensure this occurs, after the referral request is initiated, the referring physician (and family physician if different) should be informed, in a timely manner, of the status of the referral at all stages: * referral receipt * request for more information * referral acceptance/rejection (with explanation and suggested alternatives) * patient appointment has been scheduled * patient consult notes (including recommended treatment plan and follow-up) A definition of what is considered "timely" is required. Standards must be established based on what is considered to be an acceptable response time at each stage. The patient must also be promptly informed of the status of the referral request throughout the entire process. Examples of the types of information that should be conveyed include (where appropriate): * how the referral request will be processed; e.g., pooled referral or central triage * expected wait time or when the appointment has been scheduled * whether another specialist has been contacted * whether a repeat visit is required * whether the patient has been contacted about anything that is relevant to them; e.g., referred elsewhere, wait time, appointment(s) scheduled The information and communication that the referring physician requires from the consulting specialist for all referrals is much more homogeneous. In addition, there are no regulatory or technological barriers preventing the provision of this information at the appropriate stages of the referral process. This is one area where communication between physicians is within their control. Therefore, improved communication for responses to referral requests through standardized processes can be much more easily established. Unfortunately this is not the case, causing considerable effort to be undertaken by referring physicians and/or their office staff to track the status of referrals. Considerably less attention has been given to this part of the process; however, some activities described in the CMA's Referral and Consultation Process Toolbox1 do address problems regarding the referral response. Central Intake systems are an example. These often include standard response times for at least the first three stages noted above, as well as information about the specialist who has received the referral request. The previously cited guidelines developed by the CPSNS 3, the standard of practice by the CPSA4 and the guide to enhancing referrals and consultations between physicians developed by the CFPC and the Royal College5 also have recommendations for consulting specialist responses to referral requests (including information requirements and timelines). These resources can be used as a starting point for establishing referral communication standards in both directions and with patients. As an important example, the guidelines for both provincial colleges specifically indicate that the consulting specialist is responsible for arranging appointments with the patient and notifying the referring physician of the date(s). Compensation and Support Another aspect of the referral process that is not given sufficient consideration is the time and effort that is involved in preparing and responding to a referral request. Both preparing an informative referral request and responding to one is time-consuming; very little recognition is given towards this work. In some areas of the country, physicians receive compensation for participating in electronic or telephone consultation programs. This form of recognition has successfully helped avoid unnecessary referrals and should be expanded nation-wide; however, much more should be done to acknowledge this effort, especially when a specialist visit is necessary. The time referring physicians spend gathering the necessary data for a referral request, or the time consulting specialists spend analyzing this data, triaging the referrals accordingly and preparing patient consult notes, is almost never acknowledged as part of a physician compensation package. In most jurisdictions this work is considered to be just a component of a typical patient visit. Since many primary care group practices employ administrative staff who are "referral coordinators"; whose main role is to assist physicians in the data gathering and preparation that is required for an informative referral request, as well as following up on referral requests; the process of referring a patient to specialty care is much more than "just a component of a typical patient visit". Support for widespread implementation of effective information technology infrastructure can facilitate the preparation of appropriate referral requests and responses and can also encourage timely and informative communication between referring physicians and consulting specialists. Conclusion The high degree of variability in both the methods of communication and the information transferred between physicians is a significant barrier to timely access to specialty care for patients. Significant effort by physicians and their office staff is expended unnecessarily in the referral process, not only in initiating or responding to the request, but also in tracking and follow-up. While there is no single solution that will address all referral communication problems, several complementary solutions exist that can reduce this variability and wasted effort, thereby simplifying the process and facilitating appropriate, timely and informative communication between referring physicians and consulting specialists. Examples of such initiatives can be found in the CMA's Referral and Consultation Process Toolbox.1 * For the purposes of this policy statement, this term applies to all situations where another physician is contacted regarding patient care. † For the purposes of this policy statement, this term applies to all situations where another physician is contacted regarding patient care. References 1 Canadian Medical Association. Referral/Consultation Process. Available at: http://www.cma.ca/referrals. Accessed 29 Nov 2013. 2 Canadian Medical Association. Challenges with patient referrals - a survey of family physicians and other specialists; October 2012 (Unpublished). 3 College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. Guidelines for Physicians Regarding Referral and Consultation. Available at: http://www.cpsns.ns.ca/Portals/0/Guidelines-policies/guidelines-referral-consultation.pdf. Accessed 15 Nov 2013. 4 College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta. The Referral Consultation Process. Available at: http://www.cpsa.ab.ca/Libraries/standards-of-practice/the-referral-consultation-process.pdf?sfvrsn=0. Accessed 16 Sep 2014. 5 College of Family Physicians of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Guide to enhancing referrals and consultations between physicians. Available at: http://www.cfpc.ca/ProjectAssets/Templates/Resource.aspx?id=3448. Accessed 27 Nov 2013. 6 Rapid Access to Specialist Expertise. Available at: www.raceconnect.ca. Accessed 27 Nov 2013. 7 Liddy C, Rowan MS, Afkham A, Maranger J, Keely E. Building access to specialist care through e-consultation. Open Med. 2013 Jan 8;7(1):e1-8. Available at: http://www.openmedicine.ca/article/view/551/492. Accessed 27 Nov 2013. 8 Wilson M. Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise: An innovative model for shared care. Available at: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/RACE-Overview-March-2014.pdf. Accessed 16 Sep 2014. 9Afkham A. Champlain BASE project: Building Access to Specialists Through e-Consultation. Available at: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Champlain-BASE-Dec2013-e.pdf. Accessed 16 Sep 2014. 10 Alberta Health Services, University of Calgary Department of Medicine. Medical Access to Service (MAS). Available at: http://www.departmentofmedicine.com/MAS/ Accessed 15 Nov 2013.
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The Wait Starts Here: Final Report of the Primary Care Wait Time Partnership

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy9705
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2009-10-03
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
  1 document  
Policy Type
Policy document
Last Reviewed
2018-03-03
Date
2009-10-03
Topics
Health systems, system funding and performance
Text
In 2007, The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) established a partnership to explore wait times in primary medical care - the CFPC-CMA Primary Care Wait Time Partnership (PCWTP). The goal of the Partnership is to advocate for timely access to health care for all Canadians. The first part of the wait time continuum that can be measured is when the patient schedules his or her first visit ith a family physician. A family physician may then refer the patient to specialty care. Both of these stages in the continuum have not been addressed in wait time discussions thus far. The available evidence suggests that one-half of the total waiting time for family physician referral to treatment is from family physician referral to when the patient is seen by the consulting specialist. Thus, there are three main issues around our focus on primary care wait times: Access to primary care for those without a family physician; Access to primary care for those with a family physician; and Referral from primary to more highly specialized care. The CFPC has proposed a target that 95% of Canadians in each community have a family physician by 2012. There are two ways to achieve this goal: 1. increase the number of family physicians practicing in Canada and 2. increase the capacity of existing family physicians. To help address the supply issue, medical schools must find innovative ways to encourage more medical students to choose family medicine. A second approach to increasing the supply of family physicians is to provide more training opportunities so that qualified International Medical Graduates can be integrated into the family physician workforce. In terms of capacity, there are a number of approaches that have been taken to help improve family physicians' ability to take on additional patients. For example, financial incentives geared towards this objective have been included in some physician contracts. However, much more can be done in this regard, such as improving patient flow with more efficient practice management procedures There are several models for primary care delivery operating in Canada, including various collaborative practice arrangements with different care providers working together. However, thus far there is no conclusive evidence that any one particular model is better than all of the others in terms of providing timely access to care. Many studies have compared various models in a variety of ways; each with different conclusions. While there is no definitive research on best models for primary care delivery, there is a range of innovative approaches to enhancing timely access to quality primary medical care. More research is necessary to help determine which model or models of primary care, if broadly implemented, will make considerable improvements to patient access. Aside from collaborative care practice models, we must look for solutions that increase patient access to care through enhanced practice efficiency and not by expecting family physicians to work harder and longer. Physicians should be educated on how to run a practice from a patient flow point of view as well as a financial one. To address this, enhanced practice management training should be provided during medical school education and residency levels and Continuing Medical Education programs should be created. One method of improving practice efficiency is through a process known as Clinical Practice Redesign (CPR). The main objective CPR is to improve patient flow through a medical practice. This involves the use of effective scheduling management techniques that allow appropriate prioritizing of patient visits. This undertaking requires commitment from physicians as well as effective information management and measurement tools, additional practice support and assistance from change management experts. These efforts can go a long way to help improve patient access and increase capacity to accommodate patient appointments. One of the key challenges of primary care wait times is to establish guidelines for timely access to specialty care. This is potentially an enormous undertaking given that there are some 60 recognized specialties and sub-specialties in Canada and each of them is responsible for treating a number of conditions presenting to the family physician. Due to the varying degree of complexity of a patient's medical problem, an appropriate wait time would be difficult to define by a particular disease or illness. Given the wide spectrum of illnesses that are assessed in a primary care setting, any approach to developing wait time targets must be done in consultation with family physicians and with clinical guidelines in mind. When a patient is referred to more highly specialized care, a concerted effort must be made to keep the lines of communication as open as is feasible between family physicians and consulting specialists, in both directions. Improved communication between providers is essential to improving the wait time at this point in the continuum. While timely access to family physicians and the referral time to other specialists is a nationwide concern, access to health care can be a greater challenge in rural locations. Any guidelines regarding wait times to specialty care must also account for the geographic factors that affect access. When considering the concept of target-setting, a significant investment in information infrastructure is required to facilitate the measurement and monitoring of access to primary care physicians and referrals to other specialists. Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that regardless of how targets are determined, even if they are met, not everyone will receive care within the most appropriate period of time for their particular situation. Introduction In 2007, The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) established a partnership to explore wait times in primary medical care - the CFPC-CMAPrimary Care Wait Time Partnership (PCWTP). The goal of the Partnership is to advocate for timely access to primary care for Canadians. The Partnership released its interim report, ... And Still Waiting: Exploring Primary Care Wait Times in Canada, in April 2008 to stimulate discussion and agreement about ways to improve timely access to primary care and from primary to more highly specialized care. It reviewed a broad range of issues faced by family doctors in a health system that has largely ignored the wait time challenges their patients face and was very well received by members of the CMA, CFPC and other stakeholders. This final report is a focused approach to some of the recommendations and solutions, especially of relevance in primary medical care. The difficulty in measuring primary care wait times for myriad illnesses and conditions was identified in the first report as one that may impede progress in finding solutions to the wait time challenges that family doctors experience. The PCWTP believes that the initial requirement is the ability to measure and track wait times along the continuum of the patient's care but that this capacity in primary as well as more highly specialized levels of care is still very limited. There is also the need to prioritize which benchmarks or targets should be attained along the patient's wait time continuum: 1) to find a family physician; 2) to be seen by a family physician; and 3) to have a diagnostic intervention or to be seen by a consulting specialist. The difficulty in measuring primary care wait times for myriad illnesses and conditions...may impede progress in finding solutions to the wait time challenges that family doctors experience. Methodology and Scope of Report Methodology This paper is an opportunity to draw attention to issues of relevance to family physicians and their patients waiting for care - either to find a family doctor, or to be seen by their family doctor or to be seen by another specialist. The paper is a reflection of several data sources, including: Expert opinion from family physician leaders in practice and research The National Physician Survey (NPS) results from 2004 and 2007 Stakeholder consultation Given the available expertise within the PCWTP representing two national medical organizations that advocate for patients in primary care and for the resources that support high quality care, the authors of this paper are in a unique position to use their knowledge and understanding to contribute to the proposed solutions and recommendations. Scope It is easier to define what is in than what is out of scope for this paper. There is a variety of important influences coming to bear on primary care wait times. Some are beyond the scope of this discussion. For example, the health system is promoting more collaborative care and while this is an increasingly important part of practice, its influence on primary care wait times has yet to be determined. There are also enablers and impediments to improved access to care, some of these still poorly defined. For example, where a physician practices and the influence of location, e.g. suburban in contrast to rural communities, makes a difference to access. The location of resources based on criteria such as cost-effectiveness and skill maintenance requires more attention. Likewise, new models of primary care are encouraging incentives to practice differently. But it is still uncertain how these new models of care are affecting access to timely care. Finally, there are many personal factors that affect patient choice and physician decision in determining when access is acceptable or when it is intolerable. Risk plays an important part in these decisions but not all risk is measurable. Some experts have also suggested not every waiting list is a bad list. These issues require much more analysis than this paper allows. In short, recommendations for further research will be reinforced as much by what we know as by what we still do not know. What Does It Mean? Primary Care In the first report by the PCWTP, primary care was defined as first-contact medical care and services provided by family physicians and general practitioners. In contrast, primary health care was defined as the broader determinants of health, including health services delivered by other professional providers. Likewise, in that report it was acknowledged that "primary care is the foundation and family physicians are the backbone of the health system as the first points of contact for most patients." Patients have access to a continuum of medical services by first presenting to their family physician at the primary care level. Individuals may require specialty care at various points in their lives. Patients may see several specialists for a variety of problems; however, patients' family physicians play an important role during interaction with specialty care throughout the continuum of lifelong care. (Figure 1) [SEE PDF FOR CORRECT DISPLAY] What does it mean to have a family physician? As set out in the CFPC's Four Principles of Family Medicine, a person may be said to have a family physician when they have established a patient-physician relationship that provides for continuing care through repeated contacts across the life cycle and in which the physician becomes an advocate for the patient by referring to other specialists and other health care resources as appropriate. While in the past this relationship has often been established through an unwritten contract, in some of the new practice models patients are formally "rostered", that is to say they sign a commitment to seek all of their non-emergent care from the particular physician or clinic. Patients may see several specialists for a variety of problems; however, patients' family physicians play an important role during interaction with specialty care throughout the continuum of lifelong care. What does it mean to not have a family physician? Persons without a family physician are those without an established relationship with a primary care physician who maintains a continuous medical record for them. The largest population-based surveys that collect data on health care use among the general population have been conducted by Statistics Canada. They have not asked specifically about "family physicians" but rather about "regular doctors" or "regular medical doctor". In its 2007 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Statistics Canada asked the simple question, Do you have a regular medical doctor?1 Nationally, 85% of the population aged 12 or older reported that they did. In 2008, the CFPC commissioned a Harris/Decima survey and found that 86% of respondents had a family physician. 2 The CFPC proposed a target that 95% of Canadians in each community have a family physician by 2012. Some regions of the country may be close to attaining this target while others have far to go. Persons with a regular doctor are more likely to report greater continuity of care. According to Statistics Canada's 2007 Survey of Experiences with Primary Health Care, among the 86% of the population reported to have a regular medical doctor, 95% said that they would either definitely or probably be taken care of by the same physician or nurse each time they visited their physician's office. In contrast, among the 10% of the population with no regular doctor but some regular place of care, just 31% said they would definitely or probably see the same physician or nurse with each visit. 3 What does it mean to not have a family physician? Persons without a family physician are those without an established relationship with a primary care physician who maintains a continuous medical record for them. These are referred to as unattached (or orphaned) patients. They obtain episodic care from places like walk-in clinics and hospital emergency rooms (ERs). A recent report by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) found that there are significant excess visits to ERs among people with chronic conditions who do not have a regular family physician. 4 Reducing the number of unattached patients could therefore have a substantial impact on the problem of overcrowded ERs. Of the estimated 4.1 million Canadians aged 12 and over who indicated that they did not have a regular doctor in the 2007 CCHS, 78% reported that they had some other usual source of care. Among these individuals, the most frequently cited source of care was walk-in clinics (64%), followed by hospital emergency rooms (12%), community health centres (10%) and "other" (14%). 5 The Concept of the Medical Home For those with a family physician there has been an increase in the literature in the United States on the concept of a "medical home". In 2007 the American Academy of Family Physicians and three other medical associations adopted "joint principles of the patient-centered medical home" that include: -each patient having a personal physician -physician directed medical practice -whole person orientation -coordinated care across all elements of the health system -quality and safety (e.g. support for optimal patient-centered outcomes) -enhanced access to care (e.g. open appointment scheduling); and -appropriate payment incentives. 6 The Commonwealth Fund attempted to assess the proportion of patients with a medical home in their 2007 International Health Policy Survey. Their definition included patients that have "a regular doctor or place that is very/somewhat easy to contact by phone, always/often knows medical history, and always/often helps coordinate care (yes)." While 84% of Canadian respondents on the survey reported that they had a doctor that they usually see (consistent with all other survey estimates), just under one out of two (48%) were considered to have a medical home according to the Commonwealth Fund definition. Of the seven countries surveyed, respondents in New Zealand and Australia were the most likely to be considered as having a medical home (61% and 59% respectively). 7 Primary Care Models There are several models for primary care delivery and thus far there is no conclusive evidence that any one particular model is better than all of the others. Many studies have compared various models in a variety of ways; each with different conclusions. For example, a comprehensive comparative study on the productive efficiencies of four models of primary care delivery in Ontario concluded that no one type of model dominates and that further research is required. 8 Furthermore, another study comparing various primary health care models with regard to a number of variables including access and quality came to the same conclusion. It found that the fee-for-service physician practice model ranked highest in terms of patient access and responsiveness, while community health centres ranked highest in effectiveness, productivity, continuity and quality. 9 Finally, another study that compared patient satisfaction in walk-in clinics, ERs and family practices came to the conclusion that in terms of waiting time, patients were most satisfied with family practices. 10 While there is no definitive research on best models for primary care delivery, this report shows there is a range of innovative approaches to enhancing timely access to quality primary medical care. Timely Access The issue of wait times has dominated the health policy agenda in Canada, particularly since the First Ministers Accord in 2004. Prior to that however, in their February 2003 Accord, which they considered to be a "covenant", governments agreed to develop and report on common indicators. Among the 40 indicators listed in the 2003 Accord, in addition to access to primary care (measured as a percentage of the population with a regular family doctor and a percentage of doctors accepting new patients), the list included seven wait-time/volume indicators, of which the following were pertinent to primary care: -referral to specialists for cancers (lung, prostate, breast, colo-rectal), heart and stroke; -diagnostic tests (MRI, CT); and -proportion of services/facilities linked to a centralized (provincial/regional) wait list management system for selected cancers and surgeries, referral to specialists, emergency rooms and diagnostic tests. (11) These commitments were overtaken, however, by the 2004 Accord which called for evidence-based benchmarks for five procedures including cancer, heart, diagnostic imaging, joint replacements and sight restoration. (12) National benchmarks were achieved in December 2005, but they begin from the point where the decision has been reached on treatment between the consulting specialist and patient. (13) A. To Family Medicine In discussions regarding the total time patients wait for care, what is often overlooked is the fact that the wait time continuum starts when a patient has a medical problem. However, the first part of the continuum that can be measured is when the patient schedules his or her first visit with a family physician. Figure 2 below illustrates the full wait time continuum. [figure 2. SEE PDF] Access to a family physician is a major concern in this country. In a series of focus groups conducted by Ipsos-Reid across Canada in 2007 on behalf of the CMA, the following concerns/issues were raised by some patients: -people had been searching for a family physician for several years without success; -people with a family physician were frightened about the prospect of their doctor retiring; and -people with a family physician reporting waits of three or four weeks to get an appointment.(14) According to the Commonwealth Fund survey in 2007, Canada had the lowest rate of same-day physician appointments by a wide margin. 22% of respondents said they could see their physician on the same day, versus 30% in the US and 41% and higher for the remaining five countries. Canada also had the highest rate of respondents noting it took six or more days to see their physician, at 30%, as opposed to 20% for Germany and the US and lower for the other four countries surveyed (7). However, in the 2007 National Physician Survey (NPS), 65% of family physicians stated that their patients with urgent needs are able to see them within one day. For non-urgent cases, 41% are able to see their patients within one week and 66% are able to see their non-urgent patients within four weeks.(15) In the 2007 Health Council of Canada survey, of the 26% of respondents who stated they require routine or ongoing care, 45% noted that they had to wait too long for an appointment and 29% said it was difficult to get an appointment. 16 Furthermore, according to the 2007 NPS, when other specialists were asked to rate their patients' access to family physicians, only 13% gave it a very good or excellent rating, while over half (55%) gave it a fair or poor rating. This survey also found that 86% of family physicians stated they had made arrangements for care for their patients outside of their normal office hours. When asked to list the arrangements they have in place, one third (33%) said they extend their office hours, over one third (37%) operate an after-hours clinic that is staffed by members of their practice and 41% included calling a 24/7 telehealth phone line as an option. However, over half (52%) included going to an ER as one of these arrangements.(15) The aforementioned surveys have shown there is evidence of a disparity between patients' and physicians' perspectives regarding access to primary care. Moreover, Canada lags behind other countries in access to primary care. B. To Specialty Care The next stage of the wait time continuum is also often overlooked. This is when a family physician refers the patient to specialty care. The Fraser Institute's research on patient wait times does take this into account, however. According to their most recent survey, the average wait time between referral by a family physician and a consulting specialist fell from 9.2 weeks in 2007 to 8.5 weeks in 2008.(17) It is encouraging to see some movement in the right direction, but there is much more room for improvement. According to the 2007 NPS, only one quarter (24%) of family physicians rated patient access to other specialists as very good or excellent, while over one third (36%) of family physicians rated patient access to other specialists as fair or poor. 15 Some specialists will not take phone calls from family physicians - the only method of communication is by fax, which makes it difficult for the family physician to confirm whether the consulting specialist has received the referral and acted on it. Efforts must be made to keep the lines of both communication and access as open as is feasible between family physicians and consulting specialists, in both directions. Other specialists have noted having some difficulty scheduling appointments for their patients with their family physicians after consultation and/or treatment. The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) has identified a specific process for referring physicians to follow and includes the following guidance: When a patient is referred to a consulting specialist, the family physician should provide sufficient clinical information so that the consultant can appropriately prioritize his or her referrals. The consultant should notify the family physician of the patient's scheduled appointment. If the timing of this appointment does not seem reasonable to the family physician, he or she should then attempt to schedule an earlier appointment. If this is not possible, the family physician should consider alternative options to seek specialty care and discuss these with the patient. The patient should also be informed of what to expect if his or her condition changes while waiting for specialty care, and what to do and who to consult if this occurs. 18 The Collaborative Action Committee on Intra-professionalism (CACI) was established in 2006 by the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to discuss enhancing intra-professionalism and exploring ways to encourage desired behaviours that will improve physicians' intra-professional relationships. This work is vital to ensure a seamless continuum of care for patients between family physicians and other specialists. Working groups have been established to focus on improving relations through medical education, training and accreditation and in practice by developing enhancements to the referral-consultation process. (19) Should a timely referral not be available, the CMPA's latest guidance on wait times in a September 2007 information sheet addresses the issue of liability when health-care resources such as specialty care are limited. The sheet notes that physicians may be requested to provide care outside their area of expertise when resources are scarce. While noting that the courts have yet to address this issue, it suggests the "courts will not evaluate your decisions against a standard of perfection. Rather, your decisions will be evaluated in light of what a reasonable and prudent physician like you would have decided in similar circumstances". 20 Nonetheless, given that the decision to refer implies that a physician has determined that a problem is beyond his or her scope of practice, the issue of support for the physician managing what might be long waits for specialty care will need to be addressed. An additional barrier to timely patient access to specialty care is the inconsistency in family physicians' abilities to order advanced diagnostic tests. The Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) has guidelines for all physicians to follow when ordering diagnostic tests. C. Rural Versus Urban Access While timely access to family physicians and the referral time to other specialists is a nationwide concern, access to health care is often considered a greater challenge in rural locations. The 2007 NPS survey found that this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. There is very little difference in same-day family physician access rates between urban and rural locations and with regard to other specialties, the difference between urban and rural physicians is notable, with 51% of rural physicians stating that urgent appointments can be made on the same day as opposed to only 37% of urban physicians. However, there is a difference between rural and urban settings with regard to factors that increase demand on a physician's time. For example, the 2007 NPS found a lack of availability of other specialists locally was a more significant factor for rural physicians (65%) than for urban (55%), as was the lack of other health care professionals, which was a concern for 66% of rural physicians in contrast to 54% for urban physicians. This survey shows that health human resources is a concern for all physicians, especially in rural settings. (15) It should be pointed out that rural and urban physicians' differing perceptions about access for their patients may have an effect on survey findings; the weather and distance to travel to obtain specialty care, for example, affect a rural family physician's view of the quality of access. The 2007 NPS found that access to Routine andAdvanced Diagnostics was rated very similarly by rural and urban physicians of all specialties, with access to routine services rated higher than access to advanced services in all respects. When the physician's specialty is taken into account, both rural and urban family physicians rated access to routine diagnostics higher than other specialists (very good or excellent - 48% versus 37%). The reverse is true for access to advanced diagnostics, with 15% of family physicians rating it very good or excellent, whereas 21% of other specialists gave it these rankings. (15) Any guidelines regarding wait times to specialty care must also account for the geographic factors that affect access. The most commonly regarded solution to the problem of access to specialty care in rural regions is to increase the number of specialty services in that area; for many specialties, however, this may not be feasible due to insufficient numbers of patients residing in the area to support an effective workload. Next Steps - Finding Solutions For the purposes of this paper, "target" is defined as a time-based standard for accessing care. A. Measuring Primary Care Wait Times What primary care wait times should be measured? How can they be measured? While the selection of the five priority areas noted earlier has stimulated progress in the measurement of waiting for treatment once the consulting specialist has been seen, as the Fraser Institute has reported for the past two years, nationally one-half of the total waiting time for family physician referral to treatment is from family physician referral to when the patient is seen by the consulting specialist. In 2008 the Institute estimated the average total wait from referral to treatment at 17.3 weeks; of this the wait from referral to specialty consultation was estimated at 8.5 weeks - 49% of the total (17). Among the recent provincial/territorial initiatives there has been no systematic effort to capture the time from family physician referral to specialty consultation. For its part, the Wait Time Alliance is launching a project in spring 2009 that will record the actual total waiting time from initial referral to treatment among a sample of consulting specialists and their patients. B. Setting Targets For the purposes of this paper, "target" is defined as a time-based standard for accessing care. This may be further graduated by the urgency for which the care is needed, and it may also be qualified by a percentage threshold of attainment. For example, "90% of patients with the least urgent requirement for care will be seen within one month of referral". When considering the concept of target-setting, two important points must be stressed: - before any reasonable wait time targets can be established, a significant investment in information infrastructure is required to facilitate the measurement and monitoring of access to primary care physicians, appointments and referral to other specialists; and - regardless of how the targets are determined, even if the targets are met, not everyone will receive care within the most appropriate period of time for their particular situation. Targets to Accessing Primary Care There are two key considerations in this paper with regard to targeting wait times in access to primary care. While other jurisdictions and researchers have considered other approaches, e.g. wait times to access a primary care setting, this paper is focused on ways to improve timely access to primary medical care for those Canadians who have their own family physician and for those who do not - as well as timely access to specialty care services from their family physician. Finding a Family Physician What would it take to reach the target of 95% of Canadians in each community having a family physician by 2012? An estimated 4.1 million Canadians aged 12 or older do not have a family physician. Statistics Canada further subdivides the 4.1 million into those who have not looked for a family physician (2.4 million) and those who have looked but cannot find one (1.7 million) (1). A telephone survey conducted by Harris/Decima in October and November 2008 found that of the 14% of respondents who do not have a family physician, 61% were not looking for a family physician for themselves or a family member. 45% of these stated they are not looking for one because they go to a walk-in clinic or an ER instead, whereas the other half were not looking because they presumed no family physicians were available.(2) It would seem reasonable that the population who has looked for but cannot find a family physician should be a priority target to advancing toward the 2012 goal. As advocated and explored by the CFPC, this may entail establishing registries for unattached patients in communities across Canada. Several provinces and territories have included incentives in their physician contracts for taking on unattached patients and it would be useful to assess their effectiveness. One way to increase the number of family physicians practicing in Canada is to encourage more medical students to choose family medicine by exposing them to family practices early on and to obtain placements in practices that are keenly interested in demonstrating the benefits of family practice to medical students. Support for family practice preceptors and teachers is also important. Incentives to attract more preceptors are required and facilities should be created to improve medical students' awareness of these opportunities across the country. Ontario has set a target of finding a family physician for 500,000 unattached patients over the next three years. 21 Ontario already has in place an incentive schedule for patients in its primary care models to take on new patients. The most common of these models (i.e. with the largest number of physicians participating) is the Family Health Group, which provides a payment of $100 each for up to 50 newly enrolled patients without a family physician per year with a premium of 10% for patients aged 65-74 and 20% for those aged 75 and over. There is also a payment of $150 for rostering unattached patients discharged from an inpatient hospital stay. Effective April 1, 2009 a complex/vulnerable new patient fee of $350 will also be introduced, with criteria still under development. New Brunswick has a pilot project in place that is based on a $150 premium, payable in addition to fee-for-service (FFS) billings in installments of $50 per visit up to the maximum. In the Yukon, family physicians who accept unattached patients are paid $200 over and above the initial visit fee. 95% of Canadians in each community should have their own family physician by 2012 Another option currently being discussed in a number of jurisdictions is to allow faster integration of qualified International Medical Graduates (IMGs) by evaluating the equivalency of family medicine training and qualification programs done in other countries. In order to increase the number of family physicians who are trained to provide high-quality care, the CFPC recently approved the following initiatives: -Expansion of the Alternative Route to Certification for practicing FPs interested in Certification in Family Medicine (practice eligible) to those who have been practicing for at least five years in Canada. -Granting Certification to family physicians who hold Certification with the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM), are in good standing with the American Academy of Family Physicians and are moving to Canada. -Evaluate other postgraduate family medicine training and certification programs in jurisdictions outside Canada in order to consider granting reciprocity for family physicians with training and certification equivalent to family medicine programs in Canada. Access to Family Physicians In terms of targeting approaches to the time to get an appointment to see the family physician, it would appear that the "evidence-based" approaches of urgency scoring will be impractical because they require an assessment of the patient. It may be worth investigating the methodology used by the provincial health phone lines to triage patients based on the use of structured algorithms and exploring whether this can be used in a primary care physician office to better gauge the level of each patient's need to see their physician and to organize the physician's patient schedule in a more effective manner. This would require additional resources (both staff and technology) be made available to the family physician's practice. Want to learn more? Capital Health in Halifax is exploring "a program of supports for family physicians and family practice nurses working in fee-for-service practices in Nova Scotia: www.cfpc.ca/nursinginfamilypracticeTQVI When considering approaches to address the issue of increasing access for patients with a family physician, we must look for solutions that do so through enhanced practice efficiency and not by expecting family physicians to work longer. Improving practice efficiencies can be accomplished through enhanced practice management training during medical school education and residency levels. Continuing Medical Education programs on this topic will also be beneficial. Physicians should be educated on how to run a practice from a patient flow point of view as well as a financial one. To encourage interest in this aspect of running a medical practice it is important that they are made aware of all of the benefits of a well-managed office (e.g. more time spent doing direct patient care, the ability to increase patient load and attain a better work-life balance). New Approaches to Practice Management Some progress is being made to enhance Canadians' access to primary care. A variety of projects are underway that have already shown improvements in this area, including a number of successful efforts occurring in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan that include the implementation of a innovative practice management system known as Advanced Access. The term Clinical Practice Redesign (CPR) is becoming a more popular description of the process involved. "Advanced Access is about reengineering clinic practices so that patients can see a physician or other primary care practitioner at a time and date that is convenient for them. The advanced access model is often considered to be another scheduling system; however, it is in fact a comprehensive approach to effective patient care delivery."(22) The main objective of CPR is to improve patient flow through a medical practice. This involves the use of effective scheduling management techniques that allow appropriate prioritizing of patient visits. The main premise is that if patient demand for appointments is overall in balance with the physician capacity to schedule appointments, it should be possible to offer patients an appointment on the same day that they telephone for one. The challenge is to work down the backlog and achieve that balance. Once this is accomplished, the wait time to see the physician can be dramatically reduced. The originators of this concept have identified six steps in implementing CPR: 1. Measure and balance supply and demand 2. Eliminate the accumulated backlog 3. Reduce the number of appointment types 4. Develop contingency plans (e.g., flu season) 5. Reduce and shape demand (e.g., phone and e-mail for answering questions) 6. Increase effective supply by delegating tasks 23 Want to learn more? Family Physician Dr. Ernst Schuster presents advanced access in family practices through the Alberta Access Improvement Measures (AIM): www.cfpc.ca/advancedaccessTQVI The sentinel indicator that is used to monitor CPR is what is termed "third next available appointment" and is defined as the average length of time in days between the day a patient makes a request for an appointment with a physician and the third available appointment. Another common patient scheduling technique, often misinterpreted as Advanced Access, is more accurately referred to as the "carve out" model. It involves keeping a block of time open each day for patients who call that day for an urgent appointment. While it allows patients with an urgent problem to see their family physician the same day, it could potentially make the wait time for non-urgent problems longer as there are fewer appointment times that can be used for those cases. It is nonetheless a step in the right direction and shows that family physicians are making efforts to alleviate the primary care access problem. CPR is gaining momentum as a popular method of improving practice efficiency. The first group practice to adopt this system in Saskatchewan was able to reduce its average wait time from 17 days to just two. (24) In addition to reducing wait times, many practices in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have been able to increase their patient load due to efficiency improvements. This is therefore also addressing the concern about the large number of Canadians who do not have a family physician. The United Kingdom Experience The UK has adopted fixed targets for primary care, irrespective of the patient's presenting condition. The 2004 National Health Service (NHS) Improvement Plan set out a 24/48 hour access target, by which UK patients would be guaranteed the opportunity of seeing a primary care provider within 24 hours and a GP within 48 hours. (25) The UK has since adopted an incentive approach to achieving this target through an Improved Access Scheme. First implemented on a voluntary basis in 2007, some 5 million surveys were sent to GPs' patients across England about their recent experience with access to their GP. The survey results are linked to a reward payment that has four elements: - 48 hour target reward element; - advance booking target reward element; - ease of telephone access target reward element; and - preferred health care professional target reward element. The level of payment for each element is linked to the satisfaction level reported by the patients. (26) The survey has now been successfully administered twice. In 2008, almost two million responses were received - a 41% response rate. Key findings from the 2008 survey include the following: - 87% of patients reported that they were satisfied with their ability to get through to their doctor's surgery on the phone. - 87% of patients who tried to get a quick appointment with a GP said they were able to do so within 48 hours. - 77% of patients who wanted to book ahead for an appointment with a doctor reported that they were able to do so. - 88% of patients who wanted an appointment with a particular doctor at their GP surgery reported that they could do this. (27) Any kind of patient-based reporting on access requires an up-to-date electronic roster of patients. The survey tool used in the UK is very simple and can be completed online. It should be noted however that the cost of the 2007 survey was estimated at £11 million although this also includes the patient choice survey. (28) No doubt less complex approaches could be developed for applying an incentive approach to reach targets in Canada. However, this would involve the types of supports and resources available to general practitioners in the UK. In addition, the views of the public and patients should be sought before adopting any targeting approaches in primary care. This was emphasized by Berta et al in a Canadian public opinion study of the importance of ten measures of primary care performance. They found that the most important factors for patients were related to the family physicians' knowledge and skills, while the access indicators were least important. (29) Targets to Accessing Specialty Care One of the key challenges of primary care wait times is to establish guidelines for timely access to specialty care. This is potentially an enormous challenge given that there are some 60 recognized specialties and sub-specialties in Canada and each of them is responsible for treating a number of conditions presenting to the family physician. Due to the varying degree of complexity of a patient's medical problem, an appropriate wait time would be difficult to define by a particular disease or illness. National and international experience would suggest that there have been two broad approaches: - the development of "condition-specific" approaches to target-setting linked to a clinical assessment of urgency; and - the adoption of targets that apply to all conditions that are progressively shortened as they are achieved. Since the early 1990s, the NHS has made remarkable progress in tackling wait times through the adoption of targets that have been gradually shortened. This began with the first UK patient charter that was adopted in 1991. Reflecting the long waiting lists at that time, it included the right, "to be guaranteed admission for treatment by a specific date within two years". (30) In 1995 a second version of the Patient Charter lowered this period to 18 months, and to one year for coronary artery bypass grafts. (31) In the late 1990s the NHS moved from the Charter to a series of national service frameworks for conditions such as heart disease and cancer. These frameworks evolved into shortened targets. For example in 2001 the target was a maximum one month wait from diagnosis to first treatment for breast cancer by the end of 2001, in 2005 this was extended to all cancers by December 2005. 32 The most recent development has been the 2004 commitment that by the end of 2008 no patient will have to wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment.(33) The UK is on track to meet this target, but it must be emphasized that this has been achieved through a combination of a large infusion of resources, plus policy changes such as the shift from block funding to Payment by Results that reimburses hospitals on the basis of the number of patients treated. It should also be emphasized that the NHS is a much more integrated system than Canada's health care system, and it would be more challenging to define accountability for reaching wait time targets. Past Work on Improving Specialty Care Access In Canada, the "gold standard" of target-setting is considered to be the work done by Naylor and colleagues in developing the urgency rankings for coronary revascularization procedures that underpin the Cardiac Care Network (CCN) of Ontario. This was done using a modified version of the techniques developed by the RAND Corporation in the 1980s to establish appropriateness guidelines for various procedures. In this work a panel of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons rated 438 fictitious case-histories on a seven-point scale of maximum acceptable waiting time for surgery. A regression model was then used to derive a scoring system based on the regression coefficients attached to the major determinants of urgency. (34) This system was implemented to prioritize waitlists by CCN which now works with 18 cardiac care centres in Ontario. A group urology practice in Saskatchewan has initiated a process whereby referring family physicians are provided with a standard form listing the necessary tests. The Diagnostic Imaging Program Standards Committee of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in Manitoba found that when physicians requesting a diagnostic test provided a time frame for the test to be completed as well as information about the patient's condition, the process of prioritizing requests became more manageable for radiologists. In Alberta and British Columbia, some family physicians have signed service agreements with other specialists. Such an agreement defines the scope of the work of family physicians and other specialists. It formally encourages all specialties to work collaboratively and to this end regular meetings are held to discuss all relevant matters. Manitoba has recently launched a pilot project called Bridging Generalist and Specialist Care - The Right Door, The First Time that will focus on reducing the wait time between family physician referral and specialty consultation. In the late 1990s a similar approach was used by the Western Canada Waiting List (WCWL) Project to develop priority scoring tools for cataract surgery, general surgery, hip and knee replacement, MRIs and children's mental health. (35) The tool for hip and knee replacement has been adapted for use by family physicians to determine priority of referral to orthopaedic surgeons,although to date it has only been tested on simulated paper cases.(36) The Saskatchewan Surgical network has applied the WCWL approach to develop scoring tools in 12 procedural areas. (37) Clearly it would be a large undertaking to adopt all these tools for use in primary care and to develop tools for the numerous areas that have yet to be tackled. Thus far, governments have concentrated, for the most part, on their initial five priorities. In the Fall of 2007 the Wait Time Alliance added five new benchmark areas, including emergency care, psychiatric care, plastic surgery, gastroenterology and anesthesiology (pain management) and it has challenged governments to adopt them. (38) Recent Efforts to Improve Specialty Care Access How can we work to achieve these targets? There are a variety of initiatives underway to expedite the referral and consultation process. In 2006, the CFPC and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada said that three steps could improve the referral and consultation process: - a defined single access point within local referral/consultation systems; - templates for referrals and consultations advice; - an agreement amoung key players (relevant GP/FP and other specialty organizations) on referral/consultation criteria."(39) As an example, a group urology practice in Saskatchewan has initiated a process whereby referring family physicians are provided with a standard form listing the necessary tests. This process has been very successful in reducing the need for repeat appointments. This practice also implemented a policy that the patient is referred to the first available urologist rather than to a specific physician. This new pooled referral system has reduced patient wait times remarkably and has been very well received by all parties. (40) In addition, other specialties in that province have shown interest in introducing a similar system in their practices. As an additional example of simple ways to gain efficiencies, the Diagnostic Imaging Program Standards Committee of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in Manitoba found that when physicians requesting a diagnostic test provided a time frame for the test to be completed as well as information about the patient's condition, the process of prioritizing requests became more manageable for radiologists. (41) In Alberta and British Columbia, some family physicians have signed service agreements with other specialists. Such an agreement defines the scope of the work of family physicians and other specialists. It formally encourages all specialties to work collaboratively and to this end regular meetings are held to discuss all relevant matters. Manitoba has recently launched a pilot project called Bridging Generalist and Specialist Care (BGSC) - The Right Door, The First Time that will focus on reducing the wait time between family physician referral and specialty consultation. This pilot project is intended to address priority areas, including: - mental health: anxiety and depression - lower back pain management - lower gi endoscopy - orthopaedics: arthroplasty - plastic surgery: carpal tunnel, breast reconstruction, breast reduction and skin lesions - lung cancer (42) One of the objectives of this pilot project is to establish guaranteed time frames from referral to consulting specialist in the specific practice areas and to offer alternative options to patients who may exceed these time lines. The BGSC software includes primary care pathways and an electronic referral process, allowing family physicians to send all necessary referral information, such as primary care workups, treatments and testing results, to the other specialist offices electronically. These specialists can then respond to the referrals electronically, advising family physician offices of referral acceptance, appointment dates and times and any additional information within days of receiving the referral request. Want to learn more? Ms. Brie DeMone offers an overview of the government of Manitoba's project to improve communication and coordination between family physicians and other specialists. "Bridging General and Specialist Care" and "the Catalogue of Specialized Services". www.cfpc.ca/BGSCTQVI In January 2009, the web-based Catalogue of Specialized Services (CSS) was launched, which, is, according to provincial director of patient access Dr. Luis Oppenheimer, "like a catalogue order entry system. If you're a GP/FP looking for a service, you will get a catalogue of who provides that service, [...] some idea of the waiting time or capacity for that service [...] and have immediate confirmation of whether [your request] is accepted." By clearly providing family physicians and their offices with information on "who does what", referrals can be accurately directed to the right specialist at the right time, saving time and effort for the family physician, other specialist and patient (42),(43). A third new initiative currently underway in Manitoba, the Patient Access Registry Tool (PART), will provide other specialists with the clinical information they need to manage patient demand. Patient demographics and provider information as well as a diagnosis and planned interventions will be available through this tool and it will also document several key wait time dates, including when a referral was first received, the date of the first specialist consultation and when a patient is ready for treatment. Once it is fully operational, PART will capture information on all patients needing a medical consultation or surgery in Manitoba. (44) British Columbia offers a Full Service Family Practice Program with a broad range of incentives The Nova Scotia agreement includes new Chronic Disease Management Incentives that will be linked to guideline-based care for chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic heart failure and hypertension Given the wide spectrum of illnesses that are assessed in a primary care setting, any approach to developing wait time targets must be done in consultation with family physicians and with clinical guidelines in mind. Currently there is simply not enough information available to establish reasonable wait time targets. The ability to accurately measure and monitor access at all points along the care continuum will require a significant investment in information infrastructure and this system must be in place and used effectively before targets are developed. More importantly, this cannot be effectively implemented without coordinated support from all governments. The Manitoba Government is a pioneer with this particular effort and their pilot projects will be closely monitored for effectiveness. C. Remuneration Models Since the early 1990s there has been a steadily declining trend in fee-forservice (FFS) as the sole mode of payment for family physicians. In 1990, the CMA's Physician Resource Questionnaire (PRQ) survey results showed that 71% of family physicians received 90% or more of their professional income from FFS.45 Subsequent PRQ surveys showed successive decreases and on the 2007 NPS, fewer than one out of two (48%) family physicians reported receiving 90% or more of their income from FFS. 15 While the majority of physicians continue to receive some income from FFS, increasingly it is being blended with other remuneration methods. A blended payment model known as the Family Health Network is now available in Ontario. In this model, capitation accounts for about 65% of a family physician's remuneration. The remainder consists of fee-for-service and other incentive payments and premiums. Over the past decade there has been an international trend towards the adoption of "pay-for-performance" (P4P), in which a variety of payment incentives are used to promote certain physician behaviours. To date, these incentives have been used mainly to encourage process improvements in the delivery of care. The earliest forms of P4P focused on prevention screening, but more recently they have expanded to address chronic disease management. P4P generally works by linking a bonus payment to the achievement of a specific performance target in the patient population. In its new primary care models, Ontario provides bonus payments for cancer prevention screening and diabetes management, as well as other incentives for activities including palliative care and care for patients with serious mental illness. (46) Similarly, British Columbia offers a Full Service Family Practice Program with a broad range of incentives. (47) The recently concluded Nova Scotia agreement includes new Chronic Disease Management Incentives that will be linked to guideline-based care for chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic heart failure and hypertension.(48) As previously noted, several jurisdictions also provide incentives to acquire new patients. Internationally the UK has gone further by providing a bonus to the attainment of timely access targets as reported by patients. However, the UK also has a long-established rostering system and it has a much less geographically dispersed population than does Canada. Nonetheless it might be interesting to assess the potential for incentives to enhance access to primary and specialty care in Canada. D. Electronic Medical Records Regardless of how a wait time management strategy might be implemented (e.g., at the level of the province, health region, hospital) it will be critical to be able to capture and monitor referral data electronically, starting with the family physician. It may be seen in Table 1 below that according to the 2007 National Physician Survey, there remains a large gap in this regard. Nationally almost two out of three family physicians (63%) continue to use paper charts as their method of record keeping. One out of five (19%) uses a combination of electronic and paper charts while just over one out of 10 (12%) report using electronic charts instead of paper charts.Across the country there is more than two-fold variation of those using paper charts ranging from a low of 36% inAlberta to a high of 81% in PEI and Quebec. [TABLE 1. SEE PDF] Internationally, the Commonwealth Fund has shown that Canada lags far behind comparator countries in the uptake of electronic medical records (EMRs). On its 2006 survey of primary care physicians in seven countries, fewer than one out of four (23%) Canadian respondents reported that they used EMRs in their offices compared to nine out of ten in the UK, New Zealand and the Netherlands.(49) Aside from the issues of wait times for those patients with a family physician there is also the challenge of capturing information about access to primary medical care for those without their own family physician. E. Practice Support Improvements in access to family physicians can also be accomplished through the addition of staff support, of which there are two types: 1 clinical practice support(ie nurse or MOA for patient care),and 2 change management practice support (those with knowledge of clinical practice redesign to support physicians in making, monitoring and sustaining change). The Practice Support Program in British Columbia offers training and financial incentives for family physicians working with medical office assistants and in one district health authority in Nova Scotia, a project is underway where family physicians can obtain financial support to employ family practice nurses through enhanced fee-for-service billings. At present, however, widespread deployment of practice support personnel is constrained by rules of fee-for-service payment that require the physician to have direct contact with each patient for whom a service is billed to the provincial or territorial medicare plan. In terms of change management practice support, thus far CPR has had limited uptake in the rest of the country, primarily due to a lack of awareness. However, stories of the successes with this program are now being heard in the rest of the country and it is increasing in popularity. For example, a new Advanced Access initiative has been recently introduced in Manitoba through their Ministry of Health. In Nova Scotia, one practice that has had great success with Advanced Access is managed by the 2008 recipients of the Health Care Provider of the Year Award in Cape Breton, Elaine Rankin and Steven MacDougall. They worked together on an Advanced Access research project beginning in 2006. Once Dr. MacDougall cleared his patient wait list, he began to operate a same day access practice where his patients can call in the morning for an appointment that day. Now, the number of non-urgent patients from his practice who go to the emergency department has dropped by 28%. 50 By all accounts, those who have implemented CPR indicate they would never return to the traditional model where the appointment schedule is full before the work day starts. CPR is not a tool to be used exclusively in family practices. The group urology practice in Saskatchewan that introduced the notion of pooled referrals with much success has also been engaged in the process of CPR since early 2007. Their practice is now beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labour through reduced wait times for patients who are referred to their practice. The "champion" of this undertaking, Dr. Visvanathan, noted that Clinical Practice Redesign involves improving practice work flow, the introduction of Electronic Medical Records and getting the right staff to do the right jobs. (40) The implementation of a more efficient practice management system such as CPR requires commitment from physicians as well as effective information management and measurement tools, additional practice support and assistance from change management experts. Experience to date suggests that these efforts pay off in terms of improved patient access and increased capacity to accommodate patient appointments. Recommendations There are three main issues that should concern our focus on primary care wait times: - Access to primary care for those without a family physician; - Access to primary care for those with a family physician; and - Referral from primary to more highly specialized care. There are general recommendations that would help address these issues and other recommendations that are more specific to each. This paper has provided valuable information that supports the following recommendations. General Recommendations As noted in the introduction to this paper, it is difficult to measure primary care wait times for myriad illnesses and conditions, and this difficulty may impede progress in finding solutions to the wait time challenges that family doctors experience. The Primary Care Wait Time Partnership (PCWTP) believes that the ability to measure and track wait times along the full continuum of the patient's care is of utmost importance, but that this capacity in primary as well as more highly specialized levels of care is still very limited. 1) Primary care wait time tracking, analysis and improvements should be patient-centred, taking into account the whole wait time continuum that patients experience, starting from the time they first seek medical care. 2) More research and evaluation is needed to analyze primary care wait times so that the inequities and inconsistencies in access to care can be addressed for patients from region to region across Canada. 3) More study on collaborative care is necessary. The PCWTP recognizes that collaboration has the potential to enhance access to primary care. But before we can state with certainty that access to primary care is improved through particular models of care delivery, we need to continue to collect data and analyze results. It makes little sense to invest tremendous resources into any model if patient access to primary care is not improved. 4) Primary care wait time measurement should be a priority for Canadian governments, health authorities and other stakeholders, (e.g. Canadian Institute for Healthcare Information). Reliable data that represents the patient's total wait time experience will need to be collected to support the development of primary care wait time targets in the future. This data must be validated and tracked for the purpose of continuous evaluation. 5) Before reasonable wait time targets can be established and effectively used in primary care, information infrastructures, (e.g. electronic medical records and communication tools) , must be adequately supported and in place. Enhancements in information technology and learning in family practice will be necessary to facilitate the adoption and widespread use of electronic medical records. No measuring or tracking of primary care wait times can be effectively accomplished without financial support from government for electronic communication systems in and between medical practices. 6) There are a number of jurisdictions pursuing important and different ways to improve timely access to care for patients, (e.g. Manitoba's catalogue system and registry tool, Alberta's formal service agreements between referring and consulting physicians). These worthwhile endeavours should be monitored at a national level for opportunities to implement more universal improvements to wait times in our Canadian health care system. Recommendations for Patients without a Family Physician The CFPC and CMA have recommended and supported several strategies to increase the supply of family physicians through education and training (e.g. promotion of family medicine to medical students and residents, better support for preceptors and teachers), to address changing patterns of family practice (e.g. supports for inter-professional collaboration), and to develop models of care that would attract and retain family physicians (e.g. blended remuneration methods). While these recommendations will not be repeated here, they should be given full consideration in seeking to achieve an adequate family physician workforce that can support timely access to care for all Canadians. 1) The PCWTP believes that every Canadian should have a family doctor and supports the CFPC position that all stakeholders, (e.g. governments, medical schools and professional organizations), should work together to achieve a target of 95% of the population in every Canadian community with a family doctor by 2012. 2) Patient registries should be developed and maintained to track patients who do not have a family doctor and are actively looking for one. 3) Other strategies should be more fully developed and supported to find family doctors for patients without a family doctor , (e.g. physician incentives to accept new patients and the use of tools for workload management and patient flow in family practice). 4) Efforts currently underway to integrate appropriately trained and certified international medical graduates as family physicians into our health care system are welcome, should be supported and enhanced. Recommendations for Patients who have a Family Physician 1) Family physicians who see a need to improve timely access to care for their patients could consider Clinical Practice Redesign tools such as Advanced Access . System support should be in place for family physicians who want to adopt these tools. The training and ongoing learning of new and practicing family physicians should include education in practice flow and design. To further assist physicians in the use of these tools, websites should be established with lists of those who have been successful at improving patient flow through their practices and who are willing to assist others attempting to do the same. 2) Practice management education and training should be enhanced in residency in order to teach new family physicians about effective office processes and practice flow efficiencies that improve timely access to care for patients, (e.g. electronic tracking tools). 3) Financial incentives should be available to support the valuable roles of office assistants as well as other health professionals in family practice, (e.g. family practice nurses), for better patient flow and more efficient use of the physician's time. In addition, family physician remuneration should compensate for patient encounters beyond just face-to-face in order to support increasingly important opportunities for electronic encounters with patients and members of the care team. Recommendations for Referral from Primary to Specialty Care 1) All recommendations to address timely access to more highly specialized care must include the wait time from the first visit with the family physician to referral and specialty consultation. 2) Based on four years' experience with benchmarks for the five procedural areas established in 2004, we do not believe it is possible to develop a broad array of condition-specific, evidence-based benchmarks for access to consultations in the near future. However, where they are or do become available and are supported by sufficient infrastructure, wait time targets should be used as guides to drive improvements in timely access to care. Nonetheless, family physicians must continue to be free to use their clinical judgment in the patient's best interests. 3) Good intra-professional relationships between family physicians and other specialists should be promoted and supported in the health care system to improve communications and the continuity of care for patients. Strategies to support good relationships should consider recommendations that have been developed by the Canadian Medical Protective Association as well as the Collaborative Action Committee on Intra-professionalism that is supported by the CFPC and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada with CMA participation. 4) Tools that will improve the timeliness of the referral-consultation process between physicians should also be enhanced; however, any development of referral-consultation process tools must be undertaken collaboratively with family physicians, (e.g. referral-consultation frameworks that identify and support the availability of appropriate and timely information to and from referring and consulting physicians, electronic communication of patient information between physicians, and better system supports for electronic communication between physicians and patients). 5) Family physicians should have access to routine and advanced diagnostic tests for their patients in all clinical settings, equal to that of other specialists. There should be no difference in the criteria for access to advanced diagnostic testing from region to region. All physicians should be expected to follow appropriate clinical guidelines in the use of diagnostic tests. These guidelines should be readily available and easily understood by physicians and other health care professionals with whom they work. 6) Guidelines or targets for timely access from primary to specialty care must account for differences in geographic settings and proximity to care that are characteristic of rural and remote locations in contrast to urban and suburban locations. Concluding Remarks While the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) are proud to represent doctors across Canada, at the centre of everything we do stands the patient. We know that many Canadians are concerned about timely access to see their own family doctor while others continue a sometimes fruitless search for a family doctor of their own. In this paper we have presented many problems but also a number of solutions to addressing wait times in primary care. We've acknowledged that there are obstacles, but we do not think these obstacles are insurmountable. Canadians exercised considerable political courage, often in the face of adversity, to pioneer a health care system based on the principles of fairness, equality and social justice. Through political will, we are certain we can make the changes necessary to ensure timely access to primary care. The PCWTP hopes that governments, health care providers and the public will read this report and consider the recommendations. We know that these recommendations do not represent an exhaustive list and indeed we may have inadvertently omitted something you think is critical. We encourage you to let us know what you think and how we can work together to improve access to primary care. 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