In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have increasingly turned to digital means to access and obtain health care services. The promotion of competition and innovation in Canada’s health sector is also a strategic priority for the Competition Bureau (the “Bureau”). Having regard to these circumstances, the Bureau recently issued a market study notice in relation to its ongoing review of the Canadian health care sector. The newly-announced market study (the “Study”) will focus on digital health care in the country with the aim of improving understanding of existing or potential impediments to innovation and choice in the field.
The Bureau, an independent law enforcement agency responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act, uses market studies to identify laws, regulations, policies, or other factors that can impede competition in a particular sector, and to determine whether changes to these impediments can foster newer and more efficient ways of delivering products and services in that sector.
Last year, the Bureau identified the need to improve its understanding of the competitive dynamics of the health care sector to enable it to make recommendations on how best to support digital health care in Canada. The Bureau recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of digital health care, which in turn increased the need for technologies and tools to help provide care through digital means. To facilitate the development of these tools and technologies, the Bureau decided to examine existing policies in the health care sector in order to encourage the adoption of pro-competitive policies.
In July 2020, the Bureau announced that it would conduct a market study of Canada’s health care sector. As a first step, the Bureau launched a public consultation to obtain information from industry stakeholders on factors that impede access to digital health care, or limit innovation and choice in the health care sector. Additionally, in December 2020, the Bureau conducted a voluntary online survey to learn from Canadians about their experiences with accessing and using digital health services.
Based on the information it received through the public consultation and online survey it conducted in 2020, the Bureau has identified three broad topics that it intends to examine as part of the Study:
- Data and Information: The Study will explore ways to increase access, use and sharing of digital health data and information to improve the competitive landscape and accelerate the development and use of digital health care. To do so, the Study will aim to identify regulatory and non-regulatory barriers that prevent the access, use and sharing of such data and information, and to determine what effect these barriers have on the competitive landscape for digital healthcare. The Study will also try to find ways of reducing these barriers to encourage competition and innovation in the field.
- Products and Services: The Study will review barriers limiting the development, approval, procurement and commercialization of digital products and services intended for health care providers and will consider how pro-competitive rules could reduce those barriers.
- Health Care Providers: The Study will investigate the ability of health care providers to provide digital care to Canadians in order to find potential opportunities to increase access to care. As part of this, the Study will review issues related to billings, compensation, licencing, and providers’ scope of practice, how these issues impede the provision digital care, and steps that can be taken with respect to these issues to facilitate the delivery of health care via digital means.
The Bureau has invited those with an interest in the Canadian health sector to contribute to the Study by providing submissions by July 2, 2021. The Bureau intends to conduct its analysis of all gathered information over the course of the 2021 year, with a view to publishing a final report on the Study in spring 2022. Given the significance of the Bureau’s final report and any recommendations arising from it, stakeholders in the Canadian health sector should consider contributing to the Study to ensure that the Bureau’s information gathering and perspective is as informed as possible.