MRI scans are an essential medical diagnostic tool for helping diagnose many illnesses and conditions. High quality care and treatment is dependent on timely access to this service, which is why Alberta Health Services will conduct about 194,000 MRI scans this year across Alberta, an increase of 17 per cent since 2011/12.
Recent reports and an editorial in the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun highlight growing overall wait times for MRIs in the Calgary Zone. There is one very important point that has been overlooked; Albertans who require an MRI scan urgently will get one in a matter of days, and wait times for urgent scans are not increasing.
Urgent and semi-urgent patients are always given priority access to MRI scans and receive the care they need, in a timely way. Urgent patients waited on average 2.8 weeks in June 2016, compared with 2.7 weeks a year earlier – and half of those patients received their scan in less than a week.
Critically unstable patients – such as those who are receiving care in an emergency room – who require an MRI can be scanned immediately.
We’re seeing an increase in waits for non-urgent scans because we’re seeing more scans ordered overall. This is a concern and we’re working with physicians to ensure patients are receiving the right level of care. For example, in 2015 we began working with physicians on appropriate ordering of MRIs for low back pain. Since then, we have seen a 10 per cent reduction in requests for MRI scans for low back pain.
This issue is not unique to Alberta; it’s happening nationally and is an issue that many health authorities are trying to address.
We will continue work to understand physicians’ ordering practices and to ensure every patient receives timely, high quality and compassionate care.