The number of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams conducted by Northern Health will increase by 70 per cent next year, according to the Ministry of Health.
In 2017/18, it’s estimated there were 7,362 MRIs performed in the Northern Health region. New funding by the province is expected to increase that number to 13,000 next year.
Health Minister Adrian Dix has announced that 37,000 more MRIs will be done throughout the province by the end of March 2019, compared to the previous year.
Under the B.C. Surgical and Diagnostic Strategy, 225,000 MRI exams will be completed in 2018-19, up from 188,000 in 2017-18. To meet these ambitious targets, $11 million is being made available in the public health-care system to add resources and capacity.
“This is a bold step to dramatically increase the number of MRI exams being done in B.C., and this coming year alone, the increase will be close to 20 per cent,” said Dix, in a news release. “We are delivering on our promise to restore services and find capacity in our public health-care system so that British Columbians don’t have to wait months and months for prescribed exams. We know that by rebuilding and expanding capacity in the public system, we will improve access to care and patient outcomes.”
Overall wait times for scheduled MRI exams in British Columbia are long, with 50 per cent of patients waiting more than 41 days, and 10 per cent of patients waiting more than 199 days. At the end of 2016-17, B.C.’s per capita rate for MRI exams was 37 per 1,000 population, far below the national average of 55.5.
In the Northern Health region, 50 per cent of patients receive an MRI within 56 days. Only the Fraser Health region has a long wait. The shortest wait is in the Vancouver Coastal Health region at 14 days.
Also, in the Northern Health region, 90 per cent of patients receive an MRI within 319 days, the longest wait time in the province. The shortest wait time for 90 per cent of patients to receive an MRI is Vancouver Coastal Health at 107 days.
“Wait times are simply too long in B.C., in part due to volumes that are 35 per cent to 40 per cent less than other provinces,” said Dix. “Increasing MRI exams by 37,000 exams in B.C. this year, with further increases planned for 2019-20, will reduce the uncertainty and pain caused by long waits. Our plan is to maximize resources and employ best practices in the public system to reduce wait times and improve care.”
Reaching MRI targets will be achieved by:
- operating existing machines longer to accommodate additional exams;
- establishing centralized intake at a regional level that will reduce duplicate referrals and appointments, and prevent wasted operating time, while also offering patients the earliest appointment available in a region, as appropriate;
- installing already-planned MRI machines; and
- adding additional capacity to the public system.
In addition to increasing capacity, the Ministry of Health is working with health authorities to find ways to make sure referrals for MRI are the most appropriate diagnostic choice, and that the quality of exams are consistently high to ensure patient safety, and reduce the need to repeat the exams and take up more valuable time.
MRI is one of the tools used to diagnose a number of medical conditions, including abnormalities of the brain, as well as tumours, cysts and soft-tissue injuries in other parts of the body. An early diagnosis can lead to early treatment, which can positively affect people’s quality of life and return them to being contributing members of their communities and the economy.