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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Filling the CPG production-utilization gap: The Spinal Cord Injury Knowledge Mobilization Network

Dr. R. J. Riopelle, McGill University; Scientific Director 

The launch of the Health Council of Canada CPG video series is a welcome and timely contribution to the directions emerging from the November 2011 Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) Summit. This series will continue to nurture a growing national effort to design, disseminate and utilize CPGs across Canada. That said, there remains a notable gap between the design of these guidelines and their utilization in clinical settings.

The Spinal Cord Injury Knowledge Mobilization Network (SCI KMN) is an emerging knowledge mobilization initiative with a stakeholder-driven agenda to standardize care for secondary complications associated with SCI using contemporary evidence-based CPGs in rehabilitation centres across Canada.

SCI KMN is a Community of Practice composed of 6 rehabilitation sites in 3 provinces (AB, ON, QC) that is steered by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation Knowledge Curator (ONF KC) and supported by a public (health jurisdictions) - private partnership. In this regard, SCI KMN activities map precisely to the Health Care Innovation Working Group of the Council of the Federation provincial and territorial-specific deployment strategy.

The Network is composed of Knowledge Producers, Knowledge Users (providers), and End Users (patients) engaged in participatory research that directs itself to the goal of a health transformation value equation - a patient outcomes numerator, and a provider performance/resource utilization denominator. Outcomes and performance data is captured in site quality scorecards, and in a global data collection platform to inform continuous quality improvement for national care standardization.

A 2010 community survey by the Rick Hansen Institute (RHI) determined that the most urgent secondary complications associated with SCI that needed to be addressed were in the areas of pressure ulcer prevention and management, pain management, and urinary bladder management. To respond to these needs, SCI KMN Phase 1 was launched in early 2011 using contemporary CPGs as part of an integrated package of ‘causal factors’ directed to building institutionalization of, and innovation capacity for, standardization of care.

SCI KMN Phase 2 (2013-2018) contemplates expansion of the Community of Practice to two additional provinces (BC, NB) and scaling of activities across the care continuum, involving eight rehabilitation sites with the potential to access 80% of SCI patients in Canada. Building on its ‘by the people, for the people, no stone unturned’ approach, Phase 2 activities will embrace a Community of Innovation to enrich its causal factors package in response to participant demand: a health system adapted implementation guide, decision support tools for patients and providers, an innovation broker training program, and introduction of Patient Reported Outcomes into the patient practice portfolio, all in the interests of optimizing patient outcomes/impact for social and economic benefit, and provider performance/resource utilization for economic benefit.

Consensus among providers and patients that CPGs are an essential part of the health quality agenda represent a necessary ingredient for care standardization. However, the necessary and sufficient conditions for filling the CPG production-utilization gap directed to making a difference requires a ‘developmental causal factors approach’ such as referred to above.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Consider this: Canadian Blood Services as a model for pan-Canadian health care service delivery

Dr. Graham Sher, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Blood Services

There has been much written and said about our ailing health care system, including comments such as: "It is not sustainable and not affordable,” or "If only the federal, provincial and territorial governments could get their act together, all problems will be solved.”

In a series of talks I have been doing at the Economic Club of Canada, I have been addressing one important aspect of what I believe is necessary to help transform the system.

Health care delivery is clearly the jurisdictional responsibility of provincial and territorial governments. The federal government has a role to play in funding, in standards setting, in overseeing the principles of the Canada Health Act, and does, in fact, deliver some health care (to First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, veterans, etc.).

But more and more we’re hearing about the need for pan-Canadian solutions. The essential question being: what can multiple governments do, across Canada, that no one province can do effectively or sufficiently well on its own? Where does it make sense to look at truly pan-Canadian collaborative solutions to what has traditionally been viewed as a provincial matter?

This theme became louder and more dominant following a meeting of all provincial and territorial premiers in Victoria, BC at the beginning of this year, in large part as they reacted to the unilateral funding arrangements imposed by the federal government at the end of 2011.

Some may consider this a bold statement. But I believe, as a result of our successful transformation of the blood system, by virtue of our unique governance structure and funding, and our multi-provincial mandate, Canadian Blood Services has some capabilities and experience that can be leveraged to help inform change elsewhere in the health care system.

With the specific exception of Quebec, (where we do not operate), everything we do is pan-Canadian in nature. We operate a single integrated cost shared system for blood, plasma, stem cells and, more recently, for organ donation and transplantation (OTDT).

We are a living, breathing example of collectively achieving a better, more sustainable outcome for Canadians that would be much harder to achieve for any one region on its own.

Consider that any Canadian anywhere in the country gets equal access to blood of a standard quality and consistency, no matter where they live. What you get in Charlottetown, you get in Moose Jaw.

Consider our plasma protein product purchases, which are a highly successful example of "common bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals" - something that has been on the radar screen of governments for years.

We operate and manage a $500 million drug formulary program on behalf of all the provinces and territories (excluding Quebec). We have sole responsibility for tendering and procuring over 35 biological drugs used to treat diseases such as hemophilia and immune disorders. By leveraging the buying power of all provinces and territories combined, we are able to achieve two critical benefits for Canadians: best pricing and enhanced security of supply.

Consider the novel and important source of stem cells for clinical transplant therapy that comes from umbilical cord blood. For that reason, we are in the process of establishing a national public umbilical cord blood bank. This urgently needed pan-Canadian program will leave a lasting legacy by helping to close the gap in access to health care for those patients waiting for a stem cell transplant.

And consider the organ and tissue donation and transplantation strategy laid out in Call to Action, an exhaustive evaluation of the challenges and opportunities in the OTDT environment in this country. It establishes priorities for a new, integrated, cost-shared interprovincial system and presents sweeping, targeted recommendations that will deliver measurable and tangible benefits to Canadians.

Canadian Blood Services is, by virtue of its physical presence, its successful transformation and its multi-jurisdictional governance, a great example of what pan-Canadian health care delivery can be. To be clear, this is not about Canadian Blood Services seeking to deliver health care services beyond those in which we are engaged, nor is it about our model being the only one worthy of exploration. But, through sharing our model of success, we do want to participate meaningfully in this ongoing debate on pan-Canadian health care delivery.

We would be proud to share with others what this means, and how our organization's learning can be leveraged for all Canadians. We look forward to being active in this debate going forward.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It is really hard if you don’t feel like you belong in this world

Rosie Dransfeld - Gemini award-winning Edmonton-based independent documentary filmmaker

In the past five years I’ve been working on various documentaries about Aboriginal people who live in urban settings. The first film, which won a Gemini in 2010, was Broke: a portrait of a pawnshop, the bank of the poor. Available on DVD at

This year I completed Who Cares, which features the dangerous and gritty world of street prostitution. The video is available at

At the end of next year, Antisocial Limited will be released. It is the story of an Aboriginal man, an ex-convict, who is struggling to start an all-Native construction company to beautify his down and out neighbourhood.

The levels of poverty, dysfunction and despair in the communities I visited are alarmingly high. On a daily basis they face racism and contempt. In the medical system they are often treated as second-class citizens, turned away too easily or have to endure longer waiting times. Distrust and alienation are consequential. “You cannot trust the white man.”

“It is really hard if you don’t feel like you belong in this world.”
This was the response from Shelly, a 40-year-old Aboriginal woman from Edmonton, when I asked her why she never tried to escape the vicious cycle of drug abuse and prostitution.

Shelly is one of the main characters in the documentary Who Cares. The film features the plight of street prostitutes. About 70 percent of the women in the sex trade are Aboriginal. They experience abuse from all sides: johns, drug dealers, pimps, and the other girls. The police harass and arrest them. The fines for soliciting and communicating for the purpose of prostitution are high. The only way for the women to pay them off so they don’t end up in jail is to go back on the streets to sell their bodies.  Every day is a struggle for survival. Impoverished and homeless, they are living in a war zone, with nowhere to go.

Most of the women and teenagers I interviewed during research and production of the documentary have been sexually abused as children. They often suffer from posttraumatic stress order, addictions, diabetes, STIs, TB and hepatitis, to name a few. 

Not only do these women feel ostracized within their communities but also by the medical system. I’ve heard many stories of doctors and nurses making racist comments, and morally condemning the women. Hence the levels of distrust and alienation towards the medical profession are very high.

Most likely the women will only see a doctor if they are gravely ill. Being homeless and disconnected from family and friends, it is impossible for them to follow up with treatment plans and make lifestyle changes. There are some efficient programs available to get women off the streets for the first 72 hours, but not much is there to guide them through the drastic adjustments they need to make to get out of their high-risk lifestyle. In addition, treatment for mental illnesses, e.g. FASD and posttraumatic stress disorder, is barely available and often hopelessly underfunded.

It seems that Western Medicine often fails to reach the Aboriginal patient. There is a total disconnect between the Western and the Native culture. Whereas Western Medicine focuses on directly related obvious causes of a disease, Native Medicine has a far more holistic approach. Despite the desperate damage to their communities and family bonds, most urban Aboriginals are still connected with their culture and the knowledge that you can only heal a body if you heal the soul.

If we want to reach out to the Aboriginal community, we need to respect their culture, treat them as responsible and knowledgeable human beings. We need to be humble, listen and take time.  Ideally we have to aim for synergy. We learn from them and they learn from us. Our Western medicine has a lot of flaws and in the long run I am convinced that we will benefit more from the Aboriginal community and its approach to healing than the other way around.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We need a new standard of care

Kandice Léonard, Regional Director, Aboriginal Health Programs 

The health disparities of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are well known nationally, with disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal patients in our health care systems. This is even more so in Winnipeg.

Through much discussion with stakeholders, Winnipeg Health Region has recognized the need to adapt to our patient population, instead of asking our patients to adapt to us.

With many patients making their way to Winnipeg from rural and remote communities, away from their support systems and the comforts of home, receiving care in Winnipeg can be an incredibly disruptive and stressful experience. In order to facilitate the most successful experience for our Aboriginal patients, we need to provide programming and care that is relevant to them. This means having services tailored to the patient’s needs and a culturally educated and representative workforce delivering those services and programs.

As recognition of the value of culturally competent health services has grown, Aboriginal Health Programs in the Winnipeg Health Region has had an opportunity to expand and better accommodate the needs of our Aboriginal patients and our staff.

We offer First Nations language interpretation, spiritual and cultural care, planning for appropriate and safe discharges, advocacy and holistic healing. Our program also works to achieve a representative and culturally competent workforce by promoting health care careers to Aboriginal youth and adults, supporting our existing Aboriginal staff, and providing cultural education to health professionals. A better experience and better chance for health and healing can result from culturally safe care and environments in our facilities.

As care givers and employers, we need to provide as many tools as possible for a positive outcome. As a health region, we need to provide our staff with knowledge and opportunity to develop those tools.

Our program had a key role in the development of the Winnipeg Health Region’s Cultural Proficiency & Diversity Framework for Action, and we look forward to being a part of its implementation in the years to come.

Moving forward, it’s our goal to see regional implementation of culturally safe practices and to create a new standard of care. We’ve been working to expand our role by integrating our program throughout the region in the development of programs, services and policies in all program areas, particularly those that see high percentages of Aboriginal patients. With an integrated approach, we can change the way we provide care.

Kandice Léonard (
Regional Director, Aboriginal Health Programs – Winnipeg 


Moving Forward Together Aboriginal Health Programs Strategy

Aboriginal Health Programs – Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Framework for Action: Cultural Proficiency & Diversity – Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Cultural Education for Health Care Providers

Sacred Traditional Medicines in the Winnipeg Health Region – Article & Video

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

Hope & Healing –Wave Magazine

Medical Careers Exploration Program for Aboriginal Youth

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cultural Competency – Part of creating a new space

Jeff Cyr, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres

I was pleased to read in Empathy, dignity, and respect: Creating cultural safety for Aboriginal people in urban health care how far the dialogue on cultural competency has come.  There is no doubt that training health care personnel to become culturally competent is a priority, but re-focussing the discussion on understanding the legacy of colonization is a giant leap forward.  Together, creating a new space to critically assess the results of colonization, whether it is the health disparity and lack of cultural safety experienced by Aboriginal peoples or the systemic racism showcased by health care centres, ensures real on-the-ground changes are made.

Fostering the safety of urban Aboriginal peoples is the cornerstone of the work we do.  Realistically, it’s the majority of the work we do; in virtually every facet of urban Aboriginal life, safety and understanding of one’s culture is an afterthought.  An important example is the violence enacted against Aboriginal women in this country, where they are 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to experience violence. Certainly, the over 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women attests to the overrepresentation. In 2011/2012, the Friendship Centre Movement (inclusive of 8 Provincial/Territorial Associations, 117 Friendship Centres and one National office) offered 1,439 programs ranging from health (359 programs), youth (214 programs), family (164 programs), community (153 programs) and employment (122), to name a few.  Furthermore, 72% of the Friendship Centre Movement employees are women.

An important understanding was shared in the report, which states, people think that learning the facts about Aboriginal people is enough, but what’s really needed is a process of looking inside, self-reflection and unpacking their own attitudes, understanding, and actions about Aboriginal peoples. Meaningful, sustained change in beliefs and behaviours toward Aboriginal peoples will occur when one can challenge their own discomfort regarding the history of colonization, in what is now known as Canada.  Looking into the root causes of the vast disparities that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people will create an appreciation of how best to rearticulate living together in a healthy way. This will ultimately change the racism, unfamiliarity and judgemental attitudes experienced not only in the health care setting but in society generally.

Programs like the Indigenous Cultural Competency Training Program are instrumental to enact meaningful change in our society.  Mandatory training in cultural competency for health care staff is a real solution to ending racism experienced by Aboriginal peoples accessing the health care system.  If cultural competency was mandatory for all post-secondary degrees, imagine the societal shift that would then occur.  With the great work shared as innovative practices, I am hopeful that one day community safety and health will be an everyday reality as opposed to the disparities currently experienced by our urban Aboriginal community members.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Navigating Cultural Safety in Newfoundland and Labrador

Katie Dicker, Senior Aboriginal Patient Navigator, St. John’s Native Friendship Centre

In 2002, our organization, along with the Division of Community Health within the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University produced the Building Bridges Study, which was sponsored by the Strategic Social Plan.  The purpose was to look at ways to improve experiences for Aboriginal people in an urban health care setting. From the study came several outcomes, one being that there was a need to ensure the delivery of appropriate care to the province’s Aboriginal people, and another being that these individuals experience a wide range of difficulties in urban health care settings.

In 2005, the Cultural Diversity Working Group concluded that effective follow-up care for Aboriginal patients was a concern and that, according to the study, informants from Labrador reported that patients were returning home with incomplete information for follow-up care.  These two reports were the ground work that would become the basis of the Aboriginal Patient Navigator (APN) Program.

The APN Program offers support and assistance to Aboriginal patients/clients who are referred to St. John’s, NL for medical treatment.  Services and support include: navigation to appointments; arranging interpretative services in Innu Aimun and Inuktitut languages; assistance to access meals, transportation, accommodations and medical supplies; and discharge planning, liaising with internal and external agencies; as well as education and information sharing.

In our minds, the APN program is centred around enhancing cultural safety for patients. By ensuring that the physician understands the patient and by removing language barriers, an atmosphere of clear communication is created, which puts both the caregiver and individual patient at ease. Before the APN program existed, there were many situations when patients were left confused, with no understanding of the diagnosis, treatment plan or follow-up care. By providing patients with individuals who can communicate to them in terms they understand, this barrier is removed and patients are given tools to understand what the physician intended.

Through the APN program, we have learned that one of the most important factors in the longevity of programs like ours is having relevant data and showing its correlation to improved health outcomes for patients.  Since its inception, this program has assisted over 1500 patients and in the year after its pilot stage, we know that: 

* 85.7% of patients who participated in the evaluation survey felt the APN program minimized stress/anxiety;
* 64% believed that the program enhanced coordination of aftercare; and
* 57% believed the program raised awareness of cultural differences, practices and traditions.

At the end of the day, when you look at culturally based services that respond to community identified needs, it comes down to people, and ensuring that the people we provide services for get the most out of the time spent within the health care system.  It is said best by one of our previous clients in both his traditional languages and translated in English.

“Nakummek ilitsinut suliakagâtse tamâne. Ikajugatse
inûkatinet. Pitsiagusuagitse.”
“Thank you both for working here, because you are helping your people.  Keep doing the best you can.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Indigenous Cultural Competency Training Program

By Leslie Varley, Director, Aboriginal Health Program, Provincial Health Services Authority

Recently, I had a conversation with a physician who works with international groups. He had high praise for the BC Provincial Health Services Authority’s Indigenous Cultural Competency (ICC) training and wished it could be made available at an international level. He spoke of groups unintentionally insulting and offending one another. “Some of the most advanced nations on earth just don’t get it,” he said, “They just don’t have self-reflection or awareness of how they are perceived by the indigenous peoples of the world.”

That got me wondering. Where do we as Canadians fit on the world spectrum of cultural competency? We share this land between ancient indigenous cultures and relatively recent settlers and immigrants.  ICC participants often tell us they regret some of the things they have said and done in ignorance of indigenous people, history, and culture, and they wish they had ICC training in elementary or high school.  If Canadians had knowledge of Indigenous people in the areas of pre-contact, the impacts of colonization and residential schools, and current restrictions of the Indian Act (the only race based act that we know of in the world), would the crippling stereotypes about Aboriginal people be reduced? What needs to happen for Canadians to change and improve the way they engage with indigenous issues? Is it having more information? Is it a deeper examination about our own biases and the relationship of these to our work? These are good questions.

A doctor recently asked, how do you talk to a colleague who you have just witnessed being culturally incompetent? How do you say what needs saying while maintaining your relationship with the colleague, but also pointing them to a course correction?

As Canadians, we are not accustomed to these difficult conversations of confronting cultural incompetency or racial micro aggressions. Treating indigenous people with repulsion, or outright contempt still happens because long held negative stereotypes are deeply embedded within Canadian culture. We want to confront the people demonstrating harmful behaviour, but we are often at a loss as to how to even start that conversation. We lack a common language around this issue. We are also concerned that what we say might threaten the relationship with our colleague. For others, we are afraid of repercussions, especially if the person who has been inappropriate is in a position of authority.

The Indigenous Cultural Competency Training program tackles these and other kinds of issues. We have health care professionals, students, education, justice, and social workers taking our training. We are making some gains in British Columbia. Over the last three years, the ICC program has trained about 10,000 people. This is a good start Canada, but we’ve got a lot more work to do.
ICC is an eight-hour accredited facilitated on line training program. The interactive training covers three key areas; knowledge, self-awareness, and skills development. Anyone can take the online ICC training. Check it out on our website at:

Making Canada’s health care system more culturally responsive to Aboriginal Peoples

Keith Neuman, Ph.D., Executive Director, the Environics Institute for Survey Research

The new report issued by the Health Council of Canada on cultural competency and cultural safety for Aboriginal People in urban health care is a welcome addition to what is hopefully a broader renaissance in how health care services are provided in this country.  This report presents the outcomes of regional roundtable sessions across the country focusing on an issue that lies at the nexus of two unfortunate trends in our country’s history:  i) the historic and still ongoing discrimination and stereotyping of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples (which thankfully is diminishing); and ii) the increasing strain placed on the delivery of health care services due to rising costs and system demands.

The central premise addressed in these roundtables is clear. The current health care system is not designed to be sensitive to cultural differences that have a bearing on health outcomes, and has been especially inept in addressing the needs of the country’s Aboriginal Peoples because of systemic ignorance and discrimination. This problem is not limited to the health care system, but is arguably one area where the effects are most pronounced (along with education).

The report makes the telling point that establishing cultural competency is more than learning the facts but is developing a basis for empathy, to appreciate what it is like to be someone else. This was a major focus of the landmark Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study (UAPS), conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in 2008-09 in 11 cities across the country (see  That study points to what is perhaps the greatest challenge for health care providers seeking to be more culturally competent in the services they deliver to Aboriginal people:  On the one hand to recognize that Aboriginal People share much in common with all Canadians (including providers (?)), having similar life experiences, values and aspirations (e.g., an education, a decent quality of life, a future for their children), while on the other hand to appreciate the distinct history and identity (as First Nations, Métis or Inuit) as they may bear on individuals’ health care needs.

This report provides an excellent overview of an impressive number of promising initiatives taking place across the country that are working towards developing and incorporating cultural competency and cultural safety into health care services for Aboriginal communities. There is surely much learning taking place as a result of this effort, and it is hoped that this knowledge is being shared with a broader range of health care providers, and will result in systemic improvements.  And perhaps there are lessons here about how better to serve the distinct health care needs of other ethnically and culturally diverse communities across the country.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 years since the Romanow Report – how to move forward

Gustavo completed his PhD from the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto in October 2012 and has provided part-time research and analytic expertise to the Health Council of Canada since September 2012.

Recently, I attended the CAHSPR forum, Ten years since the Romanow Report, a unique opportunity to discuss the advances in transforming health care in Canada, and a privilege due to the critical transcendence of this discussion at the current time. Not only has it been a decade since the Romanow Report, but we are also two years away from the conclusion of the 10-year period set in the 2004 First Ministers’ 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care.

Overall, the forum featured thoughtful presentations with diverse visions on the challenges that our health care system is facing, and some ideas on areas where future action should focus. It particularly called my attention to the fact that the future directions look very similar to the ones identified 10 years ago by the Romanow Report. The advances that were highlighted as promising examples were mostly components of the reform that were supposed to be fully implemented and operative throughout Canada at this point, as committed to in the Accords. The lack of innovation and low levels of F/P/T collaboration were described as a constant throughout these years. We are about to reach the deadline, yet we are far from achieving the goals. An integrated, patient-centred, community embedded and adequately supported health care delivery system needs to be a priority in the near future. Missing in the presentations and discussion were the questions “why are some reforms failing?” and “what are we going to do to avoid having exactly the same discussion ten years hence?”

Fortunately, as a recent graduate from the PhD program at the Institute HPME at the University of Toronto, I was invited to attend the CAHSPR students’ discussion with the Honorable Roy Romanow after the general forum. I was impressed by the level of criticism that students - sometimes called “the new generation” - have about the accomplishments that “the old generation” has achieved in advancing towards an effective, efficient, integrated, and patient-centred Canadian health care system. Somehow, this part of the forum, far from the microphones and podiums, felt more authentic and constructive.

If we want to protect the principles of our health care system, we need to achieve permanent transformation, and be dynamic and adapt to changes in our society and the challenges it faces. We need more courage to go against the way things are when we know they are unproductive or wrong. We need dramatically more innovation to challenge the way we translate evidence into patient and community care, and in the way we translate those principles into a healthy population.

I encourage CAHSPR to continue to host these forums, and include new voices, and the Health Council of Canada to continue supporting them.

Gustavo Mery, MD, MBA, PhD

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

CPGs’ role in achieving a comprehensive approach to care

Susan Eng, VP, Advocacy, CARP

Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) promote effective and consistent clinical care across all regions, and they can also have a vital role in ensuring quality care for complex cases. The Health Council of Canada has recognized that CPGs still need to expand to help those with multiple chronic diseases. Otherwise, in the current form, they are contributing to the fragmented nature of our system.

CARP’s One Patient model calls for an integrated care continuum, in which the health care system is comprehensive, easy to navigate, and patient-centric, taking into consideration the full spectrum of health needs as people age, particularly with multiple chronic conditions. Rather than responding exclusively to certain needs, One Patient takes into consideration people’s needs comprehensively, recognizing that those needs constantly change throughout people’s lives. CPGs are an opportunity to help attain this comprehensive approach to care, primarily through expanding the scope to include multiple chronic diseases, which will allow all patients to receive the appropriate care they need.

The health needs of our aging society demand a comprehensive approach. Studies and reports have shown that not only are there more people with chronic conditions but also more people who are dealing with more than one chronic disease. Patients want to know that the system will provide care for all their health needs, regardless of the number of chronic diseases they have.

Despite the importance of establishing greater patient engagement, national standards, and performance indicators, none of those efforts will help those with multiple chronic diseases unless the CPGs also address their needs. As a result, it is critically important that the next steps prioritize expanding the CPGs to be inclusive of multiple chronic diseases and making the system more comprehensive so that no one is left falling through the cracks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Canadian Virtual Health Library on Health Council’s clinical practice guidelines video project

Jennifer Bayne, Executive Director (Acting), CVHL/BVCS on behalf of the CVHL/BVCS Board of Directors

We commend the Council for leading a thoughtful, systematic analysis of how CPGs can become more useful and, hence, more used, across Canada. Access to quality information, such as CPGs, for all Canadian health professionals is the mandate of the Canadian Virtual Health Library/Bibliothèque virtuelle canadienne de la santé (CVHL/BVCS). On our website is a bilingual database that brings together the many free resources offering quality information relevant to Canada, including many trustworthy and credible sources of CPGs.

Underlying this work, and CVHL/BVCS generally, is a coordinated network of libraries, which have collections and expertise to connect health professionals to guidelines as well as resources to support their use, such as videos for professionals and plain language explanations to share with patients.

Guidelines are notorious for lacking a standard format. Whether CPGs are available in a journal, on a society web site, or through various agencies or levels of government, libraries have experience tracking them down. For example, the Canadian Medical Association's Infobase leads professionals to citations but not necessarily to the full guideline. This is where library collections and expertise come in, completing the link between clinician and CPG. CVHL/BVCS endeavors to make CPGs available virtually but also provides the back-up needed to address individual needs, including tracking down CPGs relevant to local practice. Through shared purchasing and economies of scale, commercial sources of CPGs and other high quality sources of evidence will become more widely available. When they graduate from university, newly trained professionals jump over the "e-resource cliff," losing access to the rich range of full text publications online provided by university libraries.

Taking another viewpoint, guideline development is restricted to settings with broad access to full text publications, which excludes many associations and organizations based outside of academia. CVHL/BVCS is moving to bridge this gap and ensure universal access to quality information, both for professionals not affiliated to a university and for staff in organizations synthesizing the literature into CPGs for professionals.

Integration of CPGs at the systems level requires a cross-disciplinary approach that builds capacity to adapt CPGs to local practice and extend them to address complex cases and different cultures and settings. Cross-disciplinary areas, such as substance abuse prevention, and complex cases with multi-morbidities go beyond existing CPGs.

CVHL/BVCS pools and shares collective knowledge for one-stop shopping. It supports clinicians in an approach tailored to local clinical capacity while reflecting the best evidence from various disciplines. This support encompasses extension of CPGs using the international literature, which increasingly recognizes multi-morbidity. As a hub for collaboration with a pan-Canadian mandate, CVHL/BVCS enables development of information technology solutions and collective repositories beyond the reach of single organizations or even regional consortia. To link CPGs in the electronic clinical environment, a knowledge base structured by clinical codes such as SNOMED are essential. Such an organized knowledge base integrating the myriad of resources, both free and commercial, including CPGs, needed by Canadian health professionals is a central goal of CVHL/BVCS.

We wish the Health Council of Canada every success in encouraging wider use of CPGs and hope that CVHL/BVCS can play a part by making quality information, such as CPGs, universally accessible.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Integration of performance measures into CPGs

Dr.Patrice Lindsay, Director, Performance and Standards, Canadian Stroke Network, and Appointed Member, Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care

Accountability in healthcare has become the modern mantra for healthcare organizations at all levels -- from local hospitals, regional health authorities and provincial ministries of health. The intention is to ensure that Canadians are getting equal access to healthcare services in a timely manner and in the right setting with the appropriate expertise to meet the needs of the patient. As straight-forward as this sounds, the challenges in meeting accountability demands are numerous and complex. 

In a significant step forward in Canada, the provincial Health Ministers now are emphasizing the value and role of CPGs in increasing consistency and defining what healthcare organizations will be accountable for delivering. The Canadian Best Practice Recommendations for Stroke Care are a strong example of the potential impact of guidelines on accountability at a program, regional and provincial level. The recommendations are featured in video 3 of the Health Council’s video series on CPGs.

The Canadian Best Practice Recommendations for Stroke Care were developed through a partnership of the Canadian Stroke Network and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Prior to guideline development in 2006, clinicians across Canada referred to guidelines from other countries, and there was a lack of standardization, even within the same city or organization. Now, they have become the 'go to' resource for all stroke programs in Canada, and for many stroke providers internationally. This widespread uptake of these guidelines has led to significant and measurable systems change and improvements in stroke care and patient outcomes.

A key innovation in the stroke guideline development was including a set of validated performance measures and linking them directly to the evidence-based practice recommendations. At the time of guideline release, there did not appear to be any other published CPGs that had included performance indicators so directly. The stroke CPGs inform healthcare providers on what they should be doing, and the performance measures inform the providers on how well they are delivering that care. These indicators are clearly defined in our Stroke Performance Measurement Manual ( These key performance indicators formed the foundation of our national stroke audit for the 2008-09 fiscal year. When the audit results were released, decision-makers and system leaders were able to track back to the guidelines and identify services where performance was good, as well as identify areas where quality improvement initiatives were required. Since the release of the Quality of Stroke Care in Canada 2011 report, several new stroke units have been developed, door-to-needle times for clot-busting drugs have been reduced, and more patients are getting access to stroke prevention therapies. Further, the data has led to the establishment of national and regional benchmarks for stroke care delivery in Canada. Providers now have a mechanism to compare their care delivery with validated benchmarks and targets.

Integration of performance measures into any CPG is valuable and does not require significant resources. The decision to do this should be made prior to conducting evidence searches so that key questions regarding performance indicators can be searched simultaneously.

Developing and disseminating guidelines is no longer enough. It is really only a part of the responsibility of guideline groups, especially when the guidelines define the nature of accountability for care. The whole package includes performance measures to identify how well care is delivered; educational materials to support the clinicians in learning 'how' to deliver the care described in guidelines; and instruction on how to measure that care. Finally, the package needs to include effective dissemination strategies that go beyond publishing the guideline document. 

Understanding Clinical Practice Guidelines: A Video Series Primer

We developed a series of videos to provide an overview of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) in Canada through the eyes of those who design, disseminate, and use them.

CPGs are evidence-based recommendations that help health care professionals make better clinical decisions. When designed and used properly, CPGs can play an important role in the Canadian health care system.

In November 2011, we collaborated with the Canadian Medical Association on a national summit to focus attention on CPGs at the policy level and develop a shared understanding of national priorities. Governments have also been working together to bring greater attention to CPGs across Canada. The provincial and territorial premiers identified CPGs as a priority area of focus in health care and reported in July 2012 on the role of CPGs in reducing variations in clinical care.

These videos are meant to offer greater insight into what CPGs are, how they are used, how they are disseminated and implemented, and what impact they can have.

Video 1: What are CPGs
This video provides an introduction to CPGs: what they are, who can benefit from their use, and why patients and health care providers should take an interest in them.

Video 2: Challenges for CPGs
This video discusses the complexities that affect widespread usage of CPGs. National experts share their thoughts on the challenges that designers and users of CPGs face.

Video 3: Integration of CPGs at the system level
This video profiles Canadian organizations that have garnered recognition for their system-level approaches to CPGs. The groups highlighted include: 
  1. The Canadian Taskforce on Preventive Health Care 
  2. Canadian Stroke Strategy 
  3. Cancer Care Ontario 
  4. Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario Best Practice Guidelines 

Video 4: Opportunities and future considerstaions for CPGs
This video looks at where efforts are needed to realize the benefits of CPGs on improving patient outcomes and health care system performance in Canada. We discuss the future and next steps for CPGs with national experts.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ten years since the Romanow Report: Retrospect and prospect

On November 9, 2012, I provided closing remarks at the 10th anniversary event for the Romanow Report. The event drew key stakeholders from throughout the health care system, including up-and-coming leaders eager to learn from insights of the Honourable Roy Romanow and other invited guests.

The event was an opportunity to reflect on the issues and public expectations that brought about the final report of the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. We talked about the report, what had occurred in the 10 years since its release, and what is left to be done.

Romanow's vision, shaped by Canadians ten years ago, is still relevant and alive today. Conference presenters and discussion with audience members illustrated progress in every area of the report themes and pillars over the past decade. There are many examples of innovations, best practices and prototypes needing to be shared in order to continue producing positive change.

However, we have not achieved the substantial transformation in any one area of the report that Romanow and fellow Canadians originally envisioned. While many do understand the potential benefits of an integrated patient/public system, for example, this is not our current reality.

Canadians still see the health system as part of their identity, and the good news is that we seem to value the Romanow vision and have made some progress. The bad news is that our system now ranks about 30th in the world, is not leading to optimal outcomes, and is not financially sustainable.

It is time for all leaders – clinical, administrative and political – to bite the bullet, risk real change and implement integrated transformation that is true to the collective Canadian vision and to our evolving realities.  The Romanow Report was and remains a viable platform to restore the Canadian health system to the top ten in the world.

If you’d like to see some of the presentations from the event, visit CAHSPR’s youtube channel

 Cheryl Doiron, Councillor, Health Council of Canada


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Learning from primary care physicians

While we often hear about surveys of the public’s views and experiences with health care, we don’t often hear from physicians. What do they think about the health system and the care their patients receive?

Primary care has been the focus of considerable policy attention across Canada and internationally. Government-led initiatives are promoting changes like greater use of electronic medical records (EMRs), interprofessional team-based care, and innovations in practice management to help primary care physicians see more patients, more effectively. How widespread are these changes and what impact are they having?

To help answer these and related questions, The Commonwealth Fund spearheaded an international survey of more than 10,000 primary care physicians in Canada and 10 other OECD countries. Today, The Commonwealth Fund published its analysis of the findings in Health Affairs.

We’ve also been busy analyzing the survey results. For some years now, we’ve been a co-funder of The Commonwealth Fund’s annual international health policy surveys. Several key organizations joined us in co-funding larger, more representative survey samples in Canada – the Alberta Health Quality Council, Health Quality Ontario, the Quebec Health and Welfare Commissioner, and Canada Health Infoway.

Today, Canada Health Infoway released some key findings from the survey on EMR adoption in particular. Have a look at their release here. We will also be expanding on both the Commonwealth Fund’s analysis in Health Affairs and Canada Health Infoway’s release. Watch for our results in January 2013 – Bulletin 7 in our Canadian Health Care Matters series. Our bulletin will focus on several key areas of health system performance – access to primary care, coordination among health care providers, and the uptake of information technology. We’ll also report on the use of incentive payments to drive improvements in primary care and on primary care physicians’ general perceptions of the system and the care their patients receive.

This year, for the first time, we are able to report on province-by-province results. We’ve identified a number of variations among the provinces in some of these areas – not surprising given that each province and territory runs its own health system based on its local priorities and policies. The purpose of our comparative analysis is to shed light on the relative impact of improvement initiatives.

We’ll also show how Canada as a whole compares to other countries in the survey. And we’ll look at trends over time by charting how key aspects of primary care have changed (or not) based on similar surveys of physicians in 2006 and 2009.

Look for our report this January at:

Sukirtha Tharmalingam, Senior Policy Analyst, Health Council of Canada 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Conference Board of Canada’s Summit on Sustainable Health and Health Care

Last week I attended the Conference Board of Canada’s Summit on Sustainable Health and Health Care. Leaders from all spectrums of health care were present, including organizations, companies, health ministries and authorities, providers, and patients. Daniel Muzyka, President and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada opened with the statement that we should all be committed to having the best health care system and the healthiest population.

Several speakers indicated that Canada does well in acute care, primarily because our public health care system has been built around hospitals, doctors and curing illness. Where we are ailing is in the areas of access, chronic disease management, community care, and care for our elderly. It was said repeatedly that the U.S. should not be our comparator, as the U.S. system is much different from ours and they are often lagging much further behind other countries in terms of health care sustainability. Canadian comparisons are better made to other countries with similar health care systems that are high performing.

André Picard spoke about transforming health care in Canada. He indicated that Canada has the least effective, least efficient, and least accessible system in the world (not including the U.S.). He said in order to move forward, we need to have goals and outcomes and define sustainability as not just maintaining the status quo, but determining the priorities for moving forward, and striving for innovation.

Anna Reid, the president elect of the Canadian Medical Association talked about the social determinants of health as being crucial. She said we need to focus on vulnerable populations to eliminate health disparities – a sentiment that was echoed in other presentations.

Hélène Campbell, a 21-year-old double lung transplant recipient gave an inspiring talk about her experiences in the health care system and how social media gave her a platform to advocate for organ and tissue donation. Her advice to health care leaders was to use patient stories as an impetus for change, to tackle issues one small thing at a time, and to keep communication among providers, patients, and families moving forward.

The lack of health innovation in Canada was addressed by a panel of experts who encouraged Canadians to find opportunities to innovate at a system level. At the Health Council, we recently launched our health innovation portal which features innovative practices in health care across Canada. It’s there for everyone to share and learn from.

This summit provided an opportunity to learn about current research and hear different perspectives on how health care can be sustained and improved upon in Canada. We’ll draw upon the many insights gained at the summit to inform our ongoing work on health care reform.

Shilpi Majumder, Policy Lead, Health Council of Canada

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Online Chronic Disease Self-Management Program: A Health Council webinar

In September we held a webinar on online chronic disease self-management programs. Dr. Bruce Beaton hosted the panel discussion based on our recent report, Self-Management Support for Canadians with Chronic Conditions: A Focus for Primary Health Care. After the webinar, some participants had questions that remained unanswered. We went back to the panel and got the responses. Below is a sample of one of the interesting discussions created – for all the Q&A, click here.

Q: Are there any programs being developed to build capacity in self-management systems for providers?

Patrick McGowan
Patrick McGowan, Professor, School of Public Health and Social Policy, University of Victoria, BC: Self-management support are the strategies and techniques that health professionals use with patients in their clinical practice – which is different from the online program that is being provided to people with chronic health conditions. There are lots of articles and booklets describing self-management support. Perhaps the best resource would be the recent Health Council of Canada report entitled Self-management support for Canadians with chronic health conditions: A focus for primary health care. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any online training available for health professionals.

Peter Sargious
Peter Sargious, Medical Director of Chronic Disease with Alberta Health Services, Calgary, AB: Within Alberta, there are a number of programs available to support providers to build their capacity in self-management support. The Alberta Health Services provincial CDM division has developed a number of online education modules including CDM 101 that emphasizes self -management support via relationship building and collaborative partnerships between patient and provider. This team is also building a ‘health coaching’ initiative starting with some pilot projects later this year. There are currently over 45 ‘Choices and Changes’ facilitators within the province.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation

Wayne Leung, Digital Communications Specialist, Health Council of Canada

A few weeks ago a team from the Health Council attended Crowdsourcing for Health Innovation. The event, hosted by St. Elizabeth Healthcare, brought health system planners, managers and policy-makers together with digital communications professionals and other members of the Technorati to explore the concept of “crowdsourcing” and how it could be applied to health care.

The concept of crowdsourcing can loosely be defined as the self-organizing of communities of engaged users/clients/customers to participate in the creation of some end product. A good example is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia based entirely on user-generated content.

The keynotes for the event are veritable superstars in the digital world; Jeff Howe, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who coined the term crowdsourcing, and Rahaf Harfoush, who was a digital strategist for Barak Obama’s first presidential campaign.

While crowdsourcing has been broadly applied across a variety of sectors, the health care sector has lagged. Howe pointed to a “culture of resistance” that seems to pervade in health care and impedes innovation.

The pair did share some interesting health care-related examples. Howe cited the example of the monomeric retroviral protease, a molecule in AIDS research. After engaging the video gaming community to find ways to “fold” the molecule within a given sets of constraints gamers, who have keen pattern recognition skills, found a solution within two weeks.

Harfoush then cited the example of the Open Source Drug Discovery Program allowing researchers to bypass patent-heavy pharmaceutical field to develop new drugs.

Howe went on to say that vast amounts of untapped data exist in the health care system. Patients possess knowledge of their symptoms and their pathology, and this information isn’t being gathered or harnessed. Given the Health Council’s recent reporting on patient engagement I wondered if crowdsourcing has applications as a means to improve patient engagement.

The concept of crowdsourcing is rife with potential for application throughout the health care sector and I’m looking forward to exploring ways to harness its potential for our work at the Health Council.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sharing Innovative Practices

Mark Dobrow, Director, Analysis and Reporting, Health Council of Canada

I attend many meetings across the country on the good, the bad and the ugly of our health care system. In recent years, it is rare that at one of these meetings or conferences, I won’t hear someone say pejoratively that ‘Canada is the home of the pilot study.

To be frank, I’m growing a little weary of hearing it. While I appreciate the message that we need less study and more action, this anti-pilot study chorus also creates, however unintended, an underlying message that the testing and evaluating of innovative ideas is in some way sub-optimal.

Personally, I would encourage more pilot studies of innovative ideas and practices, but at the same time I would also expect that the results of those pilot studies be made available where others can benefit from them. Unfortunately, this is where things break down in Canada. Even though we live in the digital age, we don’t always take full advantage to facilitate the exchange of ideas. While most innovative practices are not going to be written up in academic journals, if you’re contributing to innovation in this country, where do you share this information? If you are seeking innovative ideas, where to you look for this information?

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have highlighted this challenge, making the identification of best practices and the highlighting of health innovation a key part of the Health Council’s mandate. The Health Innovation Portal represents a key part of our effort to address this, putting in one place all things related to health innovation that we do.

A key part of the Health Innovation Portal is the searchable database of innovative practices. It currently includes over 240 innovative practices representing a wide range of health care themes from across the country. Our goal was to create a user-friendly search tool with useful outputs that can be tailored to your needs.

We will be updating the Health Innovation Portal on an ongoing basis, so your feedback is welcomed and encouraged. But more than that, your contributions to the database are what will make this tool of value to the Canadian health care system. If you are making extra efforts to improve health care in your area, you need to let others know.

Please send us details on your innovative practices along with information on what you have learned from them to and we will review them for the database. The result – better ideas for better health care.