Alberta's College of Physicians and Surgeons is proposing changes to its standards of practice that would prevent doctors from charging patients for essential treatments — including MRIs.


College of Physicians and Surgeons registrar Trevor Theman says economic barriers to treatment need to be removed. (CBC)

The college discussed the change Friday during its regular council meeting.

"Patients can still buy private services, they can buy uninsured services — that's not an issue," college registrar Trevor Theman said outside the meeting.

"What we are saying through this draft standard is that you can't make that a barrier to accessing the necessary medical services."

Theman said that, under Canada's Health Act, private clinics can't require a patient to pay for necessary medical services.

"We should remove economic barriers to patients getting access to insured medical services … to necessary medical services."

Patients in Alberta can face long wait lists for tests such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, maps changes in magnetic fields to produce images of patient's bodies.

However, as heard at the province's recent Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry, people can essentially jump the queue for an MRI by paying for it at a private clinic.

Health critics argue that amounts to queue-jumping, because earlier test results can lead to faster access to treatment.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said the college's move is "the right discussion" to have, given its mandate as the regulator of physicians.

MRIs not always needed: minister


Health Minister Fred Horne says waiting lists need to be better managed. (CBC)

In a media scrum Friday, Horne did not discuss the use of private clinics for MRIs, but suggested that test may not always be appropriate.

"We know that we have the highest number of MRI units in the country per capita … but we also have, by far, the highest utilization rate of this technology in the country," Horne said.

"So one of the issues that we need to be looking at as a health system is, is that use always appropriate?"

The College of Physicians and Surgeons' proposed policy change will be reviewed for the next 60 days and revisited by the again next March.