Private MRI scans not reducing wait times: Sask. auditor

A technician operates an MRI machine at a private clinic in Calgary on Jan. 12, 2005.
A technician operates an MRI machine at a private clinic in Calgary on Jan. 12, 2005. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jeff McIntosh

Saskatchewan’s auditor says a one-for-one model that allows private MRI scans as long a second scan is done at no charge for a patient on the public wait list is not reducing wait times.

However, Ferguson points out that the model had only been in place nine months before the audit took place for her annual report.

“But we did note that it didn’t decrease wait times,” Ferguson said Tuesday.

“If you noted the wait time at the end of March to the wait time at the end of December, it’s actually gone up… slightly… but it’s gone up. So it hasn’t decreased the wait list, but it’s early stages.”

The report notes that at the end of December, the health region had 2,610 patients waiting for an MRI, an increase of 98 from the end of March.

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Private operators provided 1,192 second scans to the public through the one-for-one model from March to December 2016.

She also says it’s taking a lot of time for the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region to manage the approach.

“Currently, it’s done manually and so it’s taking a lot of resources for them to do that,” she said.

“They’re literally sending lists back and forth, back and forth. There’s a delay in getting information for people that have gotten an MRI through the one-for-one model and so there’s a delay in sort of the accuracy of their records.”

Ferguson said the region is working with private clinics to determine a more efficient method of communication.

READ MORE: Access to MRIs improving in province: Saskatchewan government

The Saskatchewan government passed a law in November 2015 to allow private scans if they are ordered by a doctor and if the private clinic does a second scan to someone on the public wait list at no charge.

The Saskatchewan Medical Association opposed the move, saying creating dual access to MRI scans does not reduce surgical wait times and suggesting it could lead to queue-jumping for surgery because those with a completed scan could see a specialist sooner.

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The government has argued that members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders CFL football team and the Workers’ Compensation Board have had the ability to pay for MRIs for many years, and that family physicians in Saskatchewan already refer patients to other provinces where they can pay for an MRI.

Last fall, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Saskatchewan needs to stop allowing people to pay for private MRI scans because the practice contravenes the Canada Health Act.

READ MORE: Manitoba willing to try MRI system that allows patients to pay for scans

But Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter replied that more than 1,000 people have been taken off the wait list for an MRI since the legislation was introduced.

Mark Wyatt, assistant deputy minister of health, said Tuesday that the private clinic has allowed for about 2,500 more scans to be done in the Regina health region.

“It’s certainly increased the capacity and without those scans,

I would say, the wait times would be longer than they are. Quite clearly that capacity has assisted,” said Wyatt.

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