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Patient safety

Health Council releases prescribing report

TORONTO – To encourage government action on the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy (NPS), the Health Council of Canada has released Safe and Sound: Optimizing Prescribing Behaviours. It’s a summary report containing information and advice gathered at a policy symposium the Council held in Montreal June 12 – 13.

“Pharmaceuticals are the second biggest cost in the healthcare system with Canadians spending more than $20 billion each year on drugs,” said Dr. Donald J. Juzwishin, Chief Executive Officer of the Health Council of Canada. “However, Canadians are not getting the best value for their money.

Research tells us many Canadians are not receiving the right drug for the right reason. Some drugs are over-prescribed while others are under-prescribed and some drugs are not the best choice for patients.”

As part of the 2004 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Healthcare, First Ministers called for a task force to develop and implement the NPS. This national strategy was to include nine elements with a provision to “enhance action to influence the prescribing behaviour of healthcare professionals so drugs are used only when needed and the right drug is used for the right problem.”

In 2006, participating governments released a progress report on the status of the NPS agreeing to focus on only five of the original nine elements. Optimizing prescribing behaviour was not included in the short- to medium-term priorities requiring concentrated focus.

Recognizing the importance of enhancing action to influence the prescribing behaviour of healthcare professionals, the Health Council organized a policy symposium in Montreal this past summer, inviting experts and stakeholders to discuss what is known to date and identify steps needed to enhance prescribing behaviours. Participants included representatives from government, consumer groups, healthcare provider organizations, private insurers and the research community.

Safe and Sound: Optimizing Prescribing Behaviours – Summary of Main Themes and Insights provides details about what governments promised, the central symposium themes and, lastly, information and advice from experts and stakeholders. This includes:

1. Expand academic detailing efforts to provide physicians with up-to-date drug information from publicly funded sources, not detailers funded by the pharmaceutical industry;

2. Enhance the role of COMPUS and other organizations in Canada already working to improve prescribing practices;

3. Improve access to prescription drugs for Canadians without medical insurance;

4. Ban all direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs and help-seeking or reminder ads;

5. Encourage medical training programs to dedicate an appropriate amount of classroom time to optimal prescribing;

6. Increase public education on drug safety, costs, effectiveness and the processes that are used to support scientific, evidence-based decisions on drugs;

7. Consider introducing a graduated-licensing system for all new drugs;

8. Integrate prescription information systems with patient health information by developing a national electronic health record system.

“We realize there is no ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to developing a national strategy for pharmaceuticals. We support the purpose and objectives of the NPS and look forward to governments delivering on it,” said Dr. Alex Gillis, a Health Council of Canada Councillor and Co-chair of The Pharmaceutical Symposium Steering Committee. “But the time to act is now.”

To read Safe and Sound: Optimizing Prescribing Behaviours – Summary of Main Themes and Insights, visit the Health Council of Canada’s website at