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MRI wait times need help

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Most Calgarians are familiar with long wait times for medical services over the past three years. University of Calgary's dean of medicine Dr. Tom Feasby has been trying find out what can be done to reduce the times for MRIs.

The first part of his study revealed some centres didn't have systems for prioritizing scans and others didn't monitor their systems to ensure that target times for urgent cases are met. The target time for an acute scan varied from 24 hours to two weeks across Canada.

"Centres did not have adequate processes for prioritization," said Feasby. "They didn't carefully track how well they meet the targets they had, if they had targets. There wasn't much in the way of quality control."

Feasby recommended that target times be set and monitored to ensure that they're met. He added that definitions and criteria for the different areas of need should be clear and standardized.

The study found a lack of consistent standards of care across Canada. Different regions provide a range of standards and services and little to no standardization exists, said Feasby. He added that it would be difficult to set national standards because it is a provincial responsibility. The ability to set standards lies with radiology department heads at individual centres, then with health regions and, ultimately, with provincial governments.

The second part of the study is looking at the appropriateness of MRI scans and to what extent people receive scans when they don't need them.

"We suspect that there may be a substantial proportion of scans that are inappropriate and therefore don't need to be done," said Feasby. "We don't give everybody cardiac surgery or brain surgery, we have certain specific indications for them and so why not for something like this."

Feasby suggested that guidelines for referring doctors and for MRI centres could help to reduce the number of inappropriate scans and therefore wait times.

"Calgary's actually got a good system," he said. "They've got three categories. They define them carefully. They set targets and they generally met their targets."

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