Yes we scan: MUN doctors say too many CT scans being done in N.L.

A team of Memorial University doctors says too many unnecessary CT scans are being done in Newfoundland and Labrador, and patients should be worried about the health impacts.

Provincial rate 47 per cent higher than national average, says Choosing Wisely N.L.

More than 100,000 CT scans a year are done in Newfoundland and Labrador, giving the province the highest rate in the country. (CBC)

A team of Memorial University doctors says too many unnecessary CT scans are being done in Newfoundland and Labrador, and patients should be worried about the health impacts.

Dr. Pat Parfrey, clinical director of Choosing Wisely Newfoundland and Labrador — a provincial branch of a national campaign to cut down on unnecessary medical tests and procedures — said Monday that more than 100,000 scans are done in the province every year.

The rate of tests done  — about 219 per 1,000 people — is the highest in the country, and about 47 per cent higher than the Canadian average of 149 per 1,000 people. 

Performing an unnecessary scan isn't just a case of better safe than sorry, he said, because of the radiation involved in the test.

Dr. Pat Parfrey says cutting back the number of CT scans performed in the province would reduce the health risks for patients and shorten waiting times for people who really need the tests. (CBC)

"There is radiation risk predisposing to cancer," Parfrey told CBC's Central Morning.

"It's not very high, but it accumulates, and it's particularly worse in children and adolescents and young adults than compared to older adults."

His group is working with doctors to update guidelines on when CT scans make sense, and he noted that cutting down the number of scans would reduce wait times for people who genuinely need them.

Parfrey chalked it up to both over-ordering of tests and the increasing availability of the technology, as scanners replace other imaging machines in hospitals across the province.

Some resistance expected

"We are saying that yes, definitely, there is benefit to getting a CT scan when you need it," he said. 

"But if it's an unnecessary CT scan there is harm, and therefore people should talk to their doctor before they go ahead and have a CT scan."

Parfrey said it's to be expected that there will be resistance from doctors who don't want to change the way they do things.

"In every society, in every walk of life there's a resistance to change, but … I've no doubt that doctors want to do what's best," he said. 

"The problem is that they've got so many things that they have to be [knowledgeable] about that it's nearly impossible to keep up to date with the multiple things that are going on."