Running diagnostic scanners up to 24 hours a day in B.C. hospitals has worked better than expected, particularly in the north, Health Minister Adrian Dix says.
The purchase of two private magnetic resonance imaging scanners in Abbotsford and Surrey last year brings the number of MRI scanners running 24 hours a day to 10, Dix said Thursday. Another new MRI machine at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Cranbrook is operating more than 100 hours a week, reducing wait times for diagnosis in the region.
MRI procedures for Northern Health doubled to more than 14,000 last year, providing communities such as Terrace and Vanderhoof with similar service to that available in the Lower Mainland, Dix said.
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MRI scans are more effective for assessing the need for surgery in soft tissue injuries, while CAT scans are typically used to assess injuries involving bones.
Dix said wait times for MRI have been significantly decreased, mostly through extended hours of operation. He did not provide wait time statistics, but said the situation has improved significantly from two years ago when patients were waiting up to a year for scans to determine if they need surgery.
“This is fundamentally important when you are waiting in pain,” Dix said.
Dr. David Robertson, in charge of diagnostic services for Island Health, said the shortage of MRI services was resulting in patients being referred for CAT scans instead, and the additional capacity has been well received.
“I was called by a patient who was actually grateful to have an appointment at 3 a.m. because he didn’t have to deal with parking and traffic,” Robertson said.
Dix said he’s had similar reports from around the province, with appointments in the early hours proving to have a better completion rate than those booked in daytime.
The health ministry reports that there were 233,369 MRI procedures performed in 2018-19, up from 189,376 in the previous year. For the current fiscal year that began April 1, an additional $5.25 million has been budgeted for a target of 248,369 MRI scans annually starting this year.