A scathing report on MRI management by Manitoba's auditor general criticized everything from lengthy delays to unnecessary and inappropriate scans, as well as duplicate requests and preferential access.

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A scathing report on MRI management by Manitoba's auditor general criticized everything from lengthy delays to unnecessary and inappropriate scans, as well as duplicate requests and preferential access.

As well, the average wait time for a magnetic resonance imaging scan in Manitoba nearly doubled from 12 weeks in 2011 to 23 weeks in 2015, according to the report released Thursday.

Norm Ricard's 43-page report includes a list of two-dozen recommendations aimed in large part at standardizing MRI requisitions and protocols across the province.

"We’re absolutely taking these issues seriously," said Dr. Brock Wright, chief medical officer with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. "There’s a real opportunity in Manitoba to better integrate and coordinate what we do."

The auditor general’s report was based on research gathered between September 2015 and June 2016. It found that requests were not being effectively monitored to ensure appropriate use of MRIs, and that some patients with private insurance — professional athletes, patients "with influence" — were being prioritized.

"We’re very clear on the fact that access to diagnostic services, to any service, should be based on medical need," said Wright, stressing that many athletes will get an MRI faster because their injuries are often acute as opposed to chronic. The reason they pay is not for the faster access, but because they’re often not from Manitoba and as such don’t have provincial health coverage, he added.

"We don’t condone them getting preferred access," Wright said.

The auditor general examined the WRHA, Diagnostic Services Manitoba (DSM), and Prairie Mountain Health. Those organizations have been working together on priorities for collaboration, said Petr Kresta, chief operating officer of DSM, and standardization is top of the list.

"Having a standardized report that’s used by all the organizations would improve (care) and reduce delays in booking MRI exams," Kresta said.

"How we manage cancellations, how we schedule patients, how we track wait times by priority levels... all of those kinds of things can be standardized across the province and we have the vehicle to do that," Wright said. "We are engaged in that as we speak."

Some of the auditor general’s recommendations include centralizing the intake of MRI requests, standardizing requests forms and eventually moving towards a province-wide electronic request form, as well as implementing scheduling practices that would maximize the number of scans being done daily.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen told reporters the government would be willing to take a look at centralizing intake, but cautioned "it must be reasonable for patients."

"I’ve heard sometimes people say they’re willing to go to a procedure in the middle of the night if that’s what it takes," he said, "but maybe not drive halfway across the province."

As for critiques from the auditor general that decisions regarding the four most recent MRIs "were not supported with analyses of options, costs, benefits, and risk," Goertzen said that will be left to the province's Wait Times Reduction Task Force to investigate. The task force is currently looking at health care access across the province, including MRIs. Wright said he expects that will also inform MRI changes in the near future.

Matt Wiebe, the NDP’s health critic, deflected a question about the fact that waits for MRIs climbed substantially in the latter years of NDP rule.

"I was happy to see that the auditor general has taken a look at this. (He) made, I think, some good recommendations for making the public system better. I think the government should take those recommendations seriously."

— with files from Larry Kusch

jane.gerster@freepress.mb.ca