Calgary

Alberta patients asked to delay mammograms as health system readies for COVID-19

Patients are being asked to postpone already scheduled diagnostic screening, including mammograms, and elective surgeries are being delayed in Alberta as the health-care system prepares for the worst of the pandemic. 

Request part of broader swath of changes, including cancellation of elective surgeries

Radiologists are asking patients to delay mammogram screenings in Alberta. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters)

Patients are being asked to postpone already scheduled diagnostic screening, including mammograms, and elective surgeries are being delayed in Alberta as the health-care system prepares for the worst of the pandemic. 

On Thursday, the president of the Alberta Society for Radiologists asked those with scheduled screening mammograms, breast ultrasounds and bone mineral densitometry screens to delay their examinations until at least May 1.

"While screening mammography itself is a safe and essential service that saves lives, a short pause in the service will contribute to social distancing and decreased health-care related exposures to COVID-19 at this critical time," said Dr. Robert Davies in a news release.

He also said doctors and patients should determine whether or not any other "non-urgent" imaging exams or procedures can be safely postponed until the pandemic subsides. 

"We know the Albertans we serve will continue to get sick, hurt, pregnant, experience pain and need our help with diagnostic imaging and image-guided exams for things unrelated to COVID-19, and we intend to be there for you and for your doctor through this difficult time," said Davies. 

Those screening procedures aren't the only medical services being impacted. 

Elective surgeries

Elective surgeries were cancelled earlier earlier this week, which will have an impact on those who have been waiting for procedures and adding to a backlog down the road. 

Jeff Blair says he's been waiting for hip surgery for 19 months. It was supposed to happen today (March 19), but he was informed on Tuesday that it would not take place. 

"I fully appreciate their need to start to prepare for the onslaught of people, I get that," he said. 

"But just to go cold turkey on all other elective surgeries — I've been suffering for 11 months, I can't ski, I can barely walk."

Blair hasn't been told when his surgery will take place, and Alberta Health says there are no timelines because of the pandemic. 

Hospital preparations

The decision to postpone procedures is meant to ensure staff, equipment and beds are available if needed for patients with COVID-19.

It's part of wider preparations that have seen emergency departments expand into other hospital units in preparation for an influx. 

The goal is to be able to continue separating patients who may have the virus from other patients who are arriving with heart attacks, strokes, traumatic injuries and other medical needs.

In addition to hospitals, lab services are also being impacted, with several locations of Alberta Precision Laboratories (formerly Calgary Lab Services) being closed in Calgary. 

The Alberta Dental Association and College also announced a mandatory suspension of all non-emergency dental treatment and services after it was announced that multiple cases of COVID-19 were tied to a dental conference in Vancouver. 

Emergency dental treatment continues.

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at drew.anderson@cbc.ca. Signal contact upon request. CBC Secure Drop: www.cbc.ca/securedrop/

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