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Waiting times for CT and MR may be putting Canadians at risk

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | January 18, 2022
Waiting times for Canadians to get an MR or CT scans are almost three months long at most
Canadians getting in line for CT scans will likely not get one for at least two months.

With hospitals in need of more equipment and staff, medical imaging backlogs have built up across the country and led to patients waiting 50 to 82 days for a CT exam and 89 days for an MR, reported Canadian news outlet Global News. The problem is especially troubling in Ontario, where the provincial government has requested that hospitals ramp-down scanning by 30% due to the rising number of COVID-19 infections.

These wait times surpass the more than one-month recommendation for critical scanning when the pandemic first started, according to Dr. Gilles Soulez, president of the Canadian Association of Radiologists.
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Also a radiologist at the Centre Hospitalier Universite de Montreal, Soulez told Global News that the emergence of the more easily spread Omicron variant has led healthcare systems to delay or cancel appointments. In addition to diagnosis and tracking progress, he adds that medical imaging is essential for guiding more minimally invasive procedures being done. “I would say that almost 80% of patients coming into the hospital will need some sort of medical imaging.”

A survey by CAR found that 75% of its members did not reduce their medical imaging backlog and that 30% believe wait times will never return to pre-pandemic levels. Last week, Health Canada said that the federal government is spending more than $19 billion to support provinces and territories through its Safe Restart Agreement, including $700 million to help healthcare systems prepare for potential future waves of the virus. “Federal funding is being used by some provinces and territories to address backlogs and reduce waits for care,” it said.

Dr. Ania Kielar, CAR’s vice president and a Toronto-based radiologist, says that while money has been put aside by the government to address wait times, some should be earmarked specifically for buying new equipment, training and hiring more technicians in all provinces.

“Right now, the equipment that we have, which in itself is not enough, is being used for very extended hours and, unfortunately, we just don’t have enough people to run what we have, so it’s a two-sided problem,” she said.

Health Canada’s statement did not say if any money reserved would go toward the purchase of more equipment and training of new technicians.

Waiting times for MR and CT scans were already a problem prior to the pandemic and cost the country $3.54 billion in lost productivity annually, said a 2019 report commissioned by the Conference Board of Canada. “The major challenge in modernizing Canada’s stock of equipment is that Canada’s CT and MR machines are old, much older than the guidelines we use to gauge what’s ideal,” Robyn Gibbard, economist for the Conference Board of Canada, told HCB News at the time.

As a result, approximately 380,000 people each year were forced to temporarily leave work to wait for longer than recommended wait times. This hindered production of goods and services, which in turn, hurt GDP and reduced government revenues by $430 million annually. At the time, 151 new CT machines and 91 new MR machines at a cost of $469 million were needed to modernize the stock. This translated into an investment of $4.4 billion needed between then and 2040 to meet demands and keep machines up to date.

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