‘We fear for the tsunami of cancer cases’: Radiologists pen urgent letter to Adrian Dix

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B.C. radiologists concerned about testing backlog
Radiologists in this province are the latest group to write a letter to B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, warning of the dire consequences for patients waiting for care. They fear a possible "tsunami of cancer cases" may be coming because of delayed access to imaging that helps diagnose patients. As Kylie Stanton reports, they're hoping to work with the government to find a solution before it's too late – Sep 27, 2022

Radiologists in B.C. are sounding the alarm about how long patients are waiting for medical imaging in the province.

“We fear for the tsunami of cancer cases (including those initially detected at stage II and above) that may be coming in B.C. because of delayed access to medical imaging,” radiologists penned in a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix.

The medical professionals said hundreds of thousands of patients are waiting for medical imaging and they are asking for “urgent action” to address this issue.

“As you know, medical imaging is a cornerstone of our health system that patients and all physicians (family physicians and specialists) rely on for diagnosis and treatment of a broad range of medical conditions. Delays in medical imaging cause delays in diagnoses, specialist referrals, surgeries, medical treatments, cancer care, and more,” the letter reads.

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This document comes after a group of 26 doctors sent Dix a letter last week asking for a meeting to “express deep concern for the estimated one million patients waiting to see a specialist” in the province.

“Our entire health-care system is crumbling, but not enough is being done to improve specialist patient outcomes or shorten our overcrowded wait lists,” the letter reads.

Read more: B.C. medical specialists call for urgent meeting with health minister as patients are stuck waiting

According to the radiologists, there are four areas that need to be addressed to improve and prevent further deterioration in accessing medical imaging in B.C.

The first one is employing more technologists and retaining the ones currently working.

The second is updating the equipment as the group says much of the current machines are outdated and need to be replaced.

“Investments in innovative technologies in areas such as interventional radiology and breast imaging (e.g., tomosynthesis) are also needed. We applaud the government’s recent investments to increase the number of MRI and CT scans. While some progress has been made, it is simply not enough,” the letter reads.

The third issue is breast imaging as radiologists say there is delayed access to this service.

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“Action is needed to reduce wait times for breast biopsies and supplemental imaging for patients with higher risks (e.g., dense breasts, family history, etc.). A new fee code application for tomosynthesis (a mammography technology that can detect cancer earlier and has become the standard of care at most imaging sites across Canada) has been with your office for over two years with no action,” the letter states.

October is breast cancer awareness month so the radiologists suggest it would be a perfect time to make this change.

Click to play video: 'B.C. specialists sound alarm about ‘crumbling’ health care system'
B.C. specialists sound alarm about ‘crumbling’ health care system

The fourth issue is the Community Imaging Clinics (CICs), according to radiologists.

Much like most family physician clinics, CICs are community-based, privately owned clinics that provide publicly funded services,” the letter reads. “CICs receive referrals from physicians and provide over one million imaging studies annually, including approximately 60 per cent of all breast imaging. They are a vital resource as acute care facilities are not equipped to manage the full capacity of outpatient imaging.”

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The radiologists said funding for CICs is similar to family physician clinics with extremely high overhead costs, which is increasing due to inflation. As a result, several of the clinics are at risk of closing or reducing services due to the increased costs.

We cannot stress enough the urgency to take action on the CIC issue now, before the situation becomes much worse. We are more than willing to collaborate with you to develop specific solutions for remaining issues, but that work needs to start now,” the letter reads.

Global News has reached out to Dix for comment.

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Official Opposition House Leader, Todd Stone, said he is grateful these health professionals are adding their voices to the health-care crisis in B.C.

“The timely access to medical imaging is so critical for British Columbians,” Stone said. “I was particularly alarmed in the letter to read in the letter today from the radiologists that they fear a tsunami of cancer cases are coming.

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“Specialists can’t do their work until they understand what the current situation looks like and that’s most often determined through MRIs and CAT scans and the like.”

Stone said one of the biggest changes that need to happen is a human resources health plan in the province to develop and train new technologists as quickly as possible and the government needs to make these changes.

-with files from Kylie Stanton

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