B.C. radiologists are warning that an extreme backlog in medical imaging could result in a sudden onslaught of cancer cases.
The British Columbia Radiological Society sent a letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix on Monday (Sept. 26), stating that “hundreds of thousands of patients” are waiting for medical imaging and calling on the province to take “urgent action.”
“Delays in medical imaging cause delays in diagnoses, specialist referrals, surgeries, medical treatments, cancer care, and more,” the letter reads.
The radiological society says in order to prevent things from worsening they immediately need more technologists, additional funding for community imaging clinics, more up-to-date equipment and faster access to breast imaging.
As with family physicians, technologists are in short supply and are being overworked as a result, the radiological society says. It’s calling on the province to find ways to recruit and retain more technologists now and increase training to boost future supply.
Another parallel the society draws between the family physician shortage and the medical imaging backlog is the way workers are compensated. As with physician practices, community imaging clinics are privately owned and technicians are paid on a fee-per-service type model. The radiological society says about 70 per cent of those fees end up going to overhead costs.
“Several of these clinics are at risk of closing or reducing services…,” the letter to Dix reads.
The society is also calling for an increase in equipment and an upgrade to the pieces already in place. It said it is thankful for the government’s recent investments – two new PET/CT scanner suites in 2019 and 17 new MRI units since 2017 – but that more is needed.
“The current approach of relying on foundations for medical imaging equipment funding is not working,” the letter reads.
Finally, the radiological society says wait times for breast imaging, specifically, need to be reduced. It notes that it’s been waiting to hear back from the government on a fee code application for a mammography technology known as tomosynthesis for two years.
In a statement from the Ministry of Health in response to the letter, a spokesperson said they recognize the concerns of the radiological society and that they are working on developing solutions.
The spokesperson noted the investment in PET/CT scanner suites and MRI units, as well as $2.5-million in one-time funding the ministry announced in July to help current MRI technologist students who are health authority employees to complete their training.
The spokesperson added that the ministry is working on a provincial human resources strategy, the details of which it hopes to share soon.