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National Palliative Medicine Survey Highlights Areas for Action to Improve Access to Care

Calgary, AB (May 28, 2015) – The first-ever national survey of physicians who deliver palliative care in Canada has provided critical direction for improving access to palliative care services for all Canadians.

The survey gathered responses from 1,114 physicians from across Canada who provide palliative medicine. The survey was conducted by the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians (CSPCP), the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College), and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Technology Evaluation in the Elderly Network (TVN).

Quick facts:

  • For the vast majority (84%) of physicians who provide palliative medicine services, it is not their primary field of practice;
  • Family physicians with a focused practice in palliative medicine and palliative medicine specialists (16% of all respondents) reported working an average of 36 hours per week in palliative care. Physicians who provide palliative care as part of their other clinical duties (84% of respondents) reported working an average of seven hours providing palliative care services;
  • 78% of palliative care physicians reported that they do not see children and only 50% of respondents reported having access to specialized pediatric palliative care services;
  • Just 35% of palliative medicine physicians in rural and remote areas reported having specialized palliative care teams to provide care in their area, compared to 79% of physicians in urban areas. Formal home health care for patients wishing to die at home was reported to be available by 49% of urban palliative medicine physicians versus 30% of rural physicians.

Key findings:

  • Canada needs an adequate palliative medicine workforce. Physicians providing palliative care services must be properly trained and assessed to ensure they are capable of providing the highest standard of care. They must have resources to do the work, including the support of allied health professionals in interdisciplinary teams, access to in-hospital beds and services, after-hours schedules and supports, and community supports and services.
  • Primary care providers need more support for palliative care education and training. Primary care has been the focus of palliative care programs in the hope that many family physicians will provide the basic day-to-day symptom management required. This group needs to be adequately supported, with both resources and compensation, so that it can continue to grow to meet patients’ health care needs.
  • Palliative medicine as a distinct discipline must be further developed to better meet the complex needs of patients. There must be emphasis on growing the discipline of Palliative Medicine, which needs to be valued by universities and medical schools with protected time and other requirements to foster academic growth and to improve how we take care of patients living with and dying from advanced and incurable conditions.
  • Canada must ensure minimum palliative medicine standards are met. National standards for practice, including guidance for interdisciplinary care, hours of coverage etc., need to be developed. Different strategies are needed for rural and urban settings to meet the needs of the population in a realistic yet appropriate way. It is important that the palliative care workforce, including physicians and the other health care professionals who play a role in palliative care, be considered in workforce planning in all jurisdictions.


“This survey was not designed to count the number of palliative care physicians, but to determine the types of physicians who deliver palliative care, how they do it and just what training and how each physician prepared themselves to reach their practice level,” said Dr. Susan MacDonald, CSPCP President. “We want to use this data to support improvements in quality and — most importantly – access, which is a serious issue across Canada.”

“All Canadians in need deserve timely access to quality palliative medicine,” said Royal College President Kevin Imrie, MD, FRCPC. “Demand for this care will only rise in the years ahead, and we need to ensure that doctors caring for patients at the end of life are properly trained, supported and available.”

“The College of Family Physician of Canada welcomes this valuable new data that supports enhanced attention to palliative care as part of the comprehensive training that family physicians receive,” said CFPC President, Garey Mazowita, MD, CCFP, FCFP. “The new Certificates of Added Competence are available to recognize this important area of expertise achieved by family physicians to meet the increasing needs of their patients, colleagues and communities.”

“This is the first comprehensive national survey for palliative medicine in Canada but we do not want it to be the last,” said Dr. Chris Simpson, President, CMA. “We need to take what we have learned and move to ensure access to high-quality palliative care is available to every Canadian who needs it, regardless of where they live.”

“We now have baseline data to conduct deeper analyses, to develop research questions, and to inform policy, practice and workforce planning that will lead to improved access to palliative care for all Canadians. The real work is just beginning,” said Dr. John Muscedere, Scientific Director, Technology Evaluation in the Elderly Network.

For more information, or to arrange interviews please contact:

Kim Taylor, Executive Director, Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians
Cell: 778-230-2741

Jayne Johnston, Director, Communications, College of Family Physicians of Canada
905-629-0900 ext 303

Dominique Jolicoeur, CMA Communications
tel: 613.731.8610 x2038
Cell: 613.809.5669

Tom McMillan Senior Communications Specialist,
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada
tel: 613-730-8177 x 474

Denis Abbott, APR
TVN – Canada’s Network for Improving Care of the Frail Elderly
tel: 613 549 6666 x 6209

The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians (CSPCP) is a membership organization representing over 350 physicians. Clinicians, academics, and researchers, we are dedicated to promoting access to high quality palliative care for all Canadians through advocacy, partnerships, and physician education.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada is the home of specialty care in Canada, setting the standards for postgraduate medical education, supporting the continuing professional development of 47,000 doctors, and supporting health system innovations nationwide. To find out more, please visit

The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) represents more than 34,000 members across the country. It is the professional organization responsible for establishing standards for the training and certification of family physicians. The CFPC reviews and accredits continuing professional development programs and materials that enable family physicians to meet certification and licencing requirements and lifelong learning interests. It also accredits postgraduate family medicine training in Canada’s 17 medical schools. The College provides quality services, supports family medicine teaching and research, and advocates on behalf of family physicians and the specialty of family medicine.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national voice of Canadian physicians. Founded in 1867, the CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing more than 80,000 of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial medical associations and 60 national medical organizations. CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. The CMA will be the leader in engaging and serving physicians and be the national voice for the highest standards for health and health care.

TVN is Canada’s network for frail elderly care solutions. Funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Networks of Centres of Excellence, we partner with health care providers, universities, the private sector and community agencies to support research, study medical technologies, share knowledge and train care professionals to improve frail elderly care practices and outcomes across all settings of care.