1, 2, 3 Let’s Count


The pandemic makes it clear that we need consistent information on a range of health workers across a number of key sectors to help plan for surge capacity. This information has been needed for a long time, and our health workforce planning has suffered as a result.

It is remarkable that we lack these very basic data on the health workforce in Canada.

At present, health workforce data are fraught with gaps that make it impossible to plan and implement health care services that meet the real needs of patients and populations. We are not gathering information from many health workers and the information we do gather is incomplete.  Examples are abound:

  • we do not gather data on the primary workforce in long term care: personal support workers
  • we do not gather data on the range of mental health and substance use workers needed to respond to growing needs as a result of the pandemic

Poor health workforce data leads to inadequate health workforce intelligence. Absent relevant health workforce intelligence, decision-makers cannot optimally allocate health workers to where, when and how they are most needed.  As a result, health workforce planning activities across Canada are ad hoc, sporadic and siloed, either by profession or by jurisdiction, generating significant costs and inefficiencies for all involved.

“1, 2, 3… Let’s Count!” is an initiative led by the Canadian Health Workforce Network in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Health Information and a number of key partners to help create the data and data infrastructures we need for health workforce planning.

We need to start fixing this problem by developing a more robust list of standard questions to ask of a broader range of health workers.


A health workforce minimum data standard is a coherent set of explicitly defined data elements.

A health workforce minimum data standard typically contains data elements on demographic, educational and practice characteristics.

This should include key diversity data such as race, Indigeneity and disability, required by Federal Employment Equity legislation, but is presently absent in health worker datasets in Canada.

This creates a critically important knowledge gap.


The next step is to identify a range of strategic implementation pathways for health workforce data stewards to adopt this data standard, respecting unique legal and regulatory contexts across professions and jurisdictions.

The development of evidence-informed guidance and technical support for the adoption of a newly developed health workforce minimum data standard will be essential.

Having more complete and consistent information from a standard set of questions across different health worker groups across the provinces and territories will greatly enable us to plan for the health workforce we need, now and into the future.


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