Alberta auditor general Doug Wylie speaks at a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta auditor general Doug Wylie speaks at a news conference in Edmonton on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta auditor general finds CT and MRI tests confused, antiquated

In 2018-19, Alberta performed 647,000 combined MRI and CT exams at a cost of more than $170 million

The auditor general says Alberta’s MRIs and other diagnostic imaging tests are plagued by poor communication and weighed down by handwritten forms and fax machines.

Doug Wylie is urging doctors and the government to work together to fix long wait times and some urgent cases getting bounced to the back of the line.

“Albertans should be able to expect if they have a more urgent diagnosis, they would be examined prior to those with less urgent needs,” Wylie said Thursday after introducing his report on diagnostic imaging.

“We found there was a wide variation in the application of prioritization guidelines within the province.

“Our work identified thousands of examples of where patients assessed for low-priority exams received them within a higher priority timeline (and) urgent priority cases did not receive their exams within urgent wait-time targets.”

The audit looked at MRI and CT scan data going back to 2014 and found a system struggling to link up and adapt to modern communication methods.

In 2018-19, Alberta performed 647,000 combined MRI and CT exams at a cost of more than $170 million. The cost was $244 for an CT scan and $320 for an MRI scan, not including overhead.

The audit found Alberta wait times for such scans are among the longest in Canada even as demand grows. In 2019, the wait for a CT exam was more than two weeks longer than the Canadian benchmark and for an MRI almost six weeks longer.

There were problems with appropriateness. About 30 per cent of patients with lower back pain received at least one unnecessary X-ray, CT scan or MRI.

The audit also found that collecting and booking scans was inefficient. Fax machines were being used and one in five request forms were sent back because the handwritten information was illegible.

Lack of communication and inflexible funding rules lead to broad differences in wait times. A high-priority MRI can be done in seven days in Alberta’s central and south regions, but takes 56 days in Calgary.

Alberta Health Services does not have provincewide centralized intake, so one zone cannot take advantage of openings or book exams in other areas.

There are also far more exams done on weekdays than weekends. By performing the same number of scans on a weekend, the province could add well over 100,000 more tests a year, the audit says.

“Alberta has the second-lowest percentage of machine utilization on weekends for CT exams and is the fifth-lowest for the percentage of MRI utilization.”

Wylie said AHS has advised that staffing is an issue, and while it can handle the workload for CT scans, recruiting MRI technologist has been challenging.

Wylie’s report does not explore those who received diagnostic exams done through private providers.

It says data and research are not the problem.

“AHS has most of the data and reporting capability it needs, but important components of (the) performance management system for diagnostics needs improving.”

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stettler Mayor Sean Nolls and Stettler County Reeve Larry Clarke sign a proclamation for International Economic Development Week which runs May 9th to 15th.
photo submitted
Stettler celebrates International Economic Development Week May 9th to 15th

The week builds awareness of the positive work economic developers do to enhance local economic impact

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Trudeau is rejecting accusations from Alberta’s justice minister that his federal government is part of a trio rooting for that province’s health system to collapse due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation PM wants COVID-19 health disaster

Alberta has recently had COVID-19 case rates that are the highest in North America

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division headquarters in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Jewish group extremely disturbed by reports of Hitler Youth flags in Alberta towns

RCMP spoke to the property owner, who refused to remove the flag

Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province’s official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Craig Bihrl
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium, scientist says

Jeff Kneteman says Alberta Environment has known about the problem in bighorn sheep for years

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives his COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccination in Ottawa, Friday, April 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
75% of Canadians need 1st vaccine dose to have more normal summer: Trudeau

The country is on track to hit a major milestone on the road to COVID-19 herd immunity Tuesday, with 40% vaccinated with a 1st dose

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Alberta to stop giving first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as supply dwindles

There aren’t any confirmed shipments of AstraZeneca coming, and the province only has 8,400 doses of it left

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

Most Read