No new MRIs for Manitoba, wait times task force advises

The task force that recommended emergency room changes at two Winnipeg hospital should not happen at the same time has also recommended the province purchase or install any more MRI machines in the province.

Province paused MRI project in Dauphin, Man., last spring, pending the report's completion

A report released Wednesday found there is enough capacity among Manitoba's MRI machines and that no new machines should be installed. (CBC)

The province doesn't need to buy or install any more MRI machines, according to a new report from the wait times task force released Wednesday. 

The task force determined there is capacity within the existing infrastructure to provide more MRI service, without adding additional scanners, by expanding the hours of operation. Thirteen magnetic resonance imaging machines currently operate in Manitoba.

"Running all scanners for 16 hours per day, including on weekends and statutory holidays, would add nearly 200 hours per week, without the need for overnight shifts," the task force concluded.

It would come at an estimated cost of $1.8 million to $2 million a year. A projection suggests it would take about two years to eliminate the backlog. 

The province put a hold on the installation of an MRI machine in Dauphin, Man., last spring, pending the review's release.

At the time, Dauphin was putting the finishing touches were on a new specially built addition to the hospital to house the machine, and staff had been trained and hired. 
The province paused the installation of an MRI machine in Dauphin pending the report's completion. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Doug Deans is the chairperson of the city's health foundation.

"I'm surprised at the result or the findings from the report," he told CBC News on Wednesday afternoon. "I think the value to rural citizens [is] endless for having an MRI in the Dauphin area."

The task force report didn't address the Dauphin MRI specifically. A spokesperson for Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen told CBC News that the minister would speak to the report on Thursday.

Estimated 3,400 no-shows per year 

Approximately 3,400 people don't show up for MRI appointments every year, says a recent report from the Office of the Auditor General. 

The task force found more capacity could be added at existing sites by finding new patients to fill appointments after cancellations or no-shows.

Deans said Dauphin's situation goes far beyond wait times.

"Some people need an MRI on a less-serious basis than others. Some need it on an emergency basis," he said, adding that some are flown via air ambulance and other means to Winnipeg. "The waiting period for people is extensive to get into Winnipeg or Brandon."

"It means we have to travel there … if it's Winnipeg, it means at least two days.

"The cost is significant to a lot of people," he said.

The report suggested placing a machine in northern Manitoba should more scanning capacity be needed in the future.

"Unfortunately, nothing shocks me with what politicians do," Deans said. "I'd be extremely disappointed and extremely upset, but I wouldn't be surprised."

'Inappropriate' scans should be reduced: report

The report also recommends managing the MRI waiting list around the province by reducing the number of unnecessary scans being ordered.

It pointed to a handful of recent Canadian studies that suggest anywhere from two per cent to 28.5 per cent of MRI scans ordered are "inappropriate" — that is, they don't change the course of treatment or provide new information.

The report also cited "a number of comments" from participants suggesting many Manitoba scans are "inappropriate" too.

Participants consulted for the report said inappropriate scans get ordered in some cases because patients insist on being scanned, or when specialists refuse to see patients without an MRI, whether the scan is appropriate or not. In other cases, doctors may not know the best test to diagnose their patients, the report said.

It recommended standardizing MRI referral forms, improving doctor training and education on MRI orders, and implementing a mechanism for doctors to consult with radiologists to determine the right test for their patient.

NDP health critic Andrew Swan said his party supports maximizing MRI use, but he's concerned the government could use the report to influence how MRI scans are ordered.

"If a doctor in Manitoba believes that an MRI is necessary for a patient, it's my belief, it's the belief of people that we're talking to, that they trust the view of their doctor more than they trust Brian Pallister or the PC government to decide whether or not there should be an MRI," Swan said.