Manitoba

Province doubles down in support of medical clinic offering echocardiograms for a fee

The province is doubling down on its support for a Winnipeg clinic offering echocardiograms for hundreds of dollars despite a reminder from the feds that the province should pay.

Health Canada has expressed concern about Prota Clinic and plans to bring it up with Manitoba Health

An X-ray machine at Prota Clinic in Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton / CBC News)

The province is doubling down on its support for a Winnipeg clinic offering echocardiograms for hundreds of dollars despite a reminder from the feds that the province should pay.

Prota Clinic, located on Lorimer Boulevard, offers Winnipeggers elective echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) for $650. Currently, there are 4,000 people waiting for an echocardiogram in the province, for an average of 39 weeks.

On Thursday, Health Canada expressed concern about the clinic and stated the "issue" would be addressed with the Ministry of Health in the coming weeks.

"While I have not had contact from the federal government on this issue, I have learned through media that they may want to stop Manitobans from accessing this medical service," wrote Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, in a statement.

"At a time when the federal government is providing a smaller percentage of funding for the healthcare of Manitobans than ever before, only 19%, I would be disappointed to learn they are also looking to reduce healthcare options for Manitobans," he added.
The province is doubling down on its support for a Winnipeg clinic offering echocardiograms for hundreds of dollars despite a reminder from the feds that the province should pay. 1:33

But a policy expert in the province echoes the concerns raised by the federal government: that offering fee-for-service tests may contravene the Canada Health Act.

The Act, which lays out the rules provinces must follow to receive federal funding for health services, exists to ensure "all eligible residents of Canada have reasonable access to insured health services on a prepaid basis, without direct charges at the point of service for such services," according to the Health Canada website.

Health Canada maintains that echocardiograms are a medically necessary diagnostic service, and like MRI scans, should be covered by the province wherever they happen.

Prota Clinic ... is not going to shorten wait times. Evidence from around the world has shown that that's not the case.- Dr. Alan Katz

"This is a direct challenge to one of Canada's most fundamental values which is a health care system where we all have access to the same services based on need rather than what we can afford to pay for," said Dr. Alan Katz, director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

"This new approach from Prota Clinic is a challenge to that and is not going to shorten wait times. Evidence from around the world has shown that that's not the case," he said.

Goertzen shot back that in fact, echocardiograms are only insurable if they occur within a site such as a hospital, so those available in a private clinic such as Prota may come at a cost.

When reached by the CBC on Friday, Prota Clinic's manager reiterated the service would help shorten the province's echocardiogram wait times by allowing those willing to pay to leave the queue in order to get their testing done sooner. Katz, however, isn't buying it.

"This clinic is about profit. This is a group of people — investors and some physicians apparently — whose goal is not to improve the Canada health system, whose goal is to make a profit," he said.

He said improving efficiencies within the system is the way to address wait times, focusing on hiring more technicians, and developing a central intake system, where all requisitions are put to the same place and triaged.

A spokesperson for the WRHA said they're making efforts to reduce the "extensive wait," by making echocardiogram equipment and staff available on weekends at the HSC and St. Boniface hospitals.

The health authority is also looking into developing a central intake system and doing a preliminary review of each site's wait-list to determine how that could be done, wrote the spokesperson, and working with care practitioners to ensure that only necessary scans are requested of the program.

Goertzen said he only recently learned that Prota was offering the tests for a fee, and the province will further investigate and compare notes with other provinces.

"I look forward to speaking with the federal government and am hopeful that they are not seeking to both reduce federal health care support for Manitobans and reduce healthcare options for Manitobans," he wrote.  

While one of Prota's clinic owners, Dr. Dimitrios Balageorge, declined the CBC's request for another interview on the matter, he did address criticism that the clinic was violating the Canada Health Act.

"We'll let the public and government decide."

About the Author

Erin Brohman

Health reporter

Erin Brohman is a former pediatric nurse at the Stollery Children Hospital in Edmonton and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. After graduating from King's College with a journalism degree, she took off to Yellowknife to work for CBC North for nearly two years, then settled in Winnipeg. At CBC Manitoba she blends her interests in health care and sharing people's stories. Story tip? Email erin.brohman@cbc.ca.