Cash infusion to decrease MRI wait times

For Greater Trail residents waiting for elective MRIs, this means sooner testing.

Shorter wait times are always good news for those living with undiagnosed illness or limited by a physical ailment.

Recognizing the high demand for medical imaging, the province announced a four-year $20 million strategy on Wednesday aimed to meet the growing need for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Locally, that mean elective patients who currently wait up to one year for an MRI, will be tested sooner and can move onto the next stage of treatment.

Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH) has provided a mobile MRI service since 2005 after partnering with hospital foundations in Cranbrook and Penticton.

“Wait times have been excessive,” says Zeno Cescon, Interior Health’s regional director for diagnostic imaging. “That’s why myself, provincial colleagues and radiologists across the province have been urging the government to look at it, because wait times have been approaching a year.”

He clarified 95 per cent of MRIs are not urgent tests, and the unit can’t be fully booked each day it’s on site because slot times have to be available for acute cases.

“If an urgent MRI is required it will be done quickly,” he said. “But for patients waiting (less wait time) gives peace of mind,” Cescon explained.

“When people have an issue whether it’s pain or an inability to do something or an inability to go to work, they want to find out what it is,” he added. “And whether it’s something they have to live with or whether it’s something that requires treatment and further diagnostics.”

The MRI strategy will take a two-pronged approach.

The first priority is to increase the number of scans provided annually.

Cescon said hours will be added to the program so more patients can been seen each day, appointments will carry into the weekend, and the unit will have less idle time.

“We are going to achieve this through some creative scheduling,” he said. “We’ll be asking the public to come in early in the morning, late at night and on the weekend.”

When the unit is finished at one hospital, for example on a Friday afternoon, instead of leaving it there until Monday, the MRI will be transported to the next hospital for use on Saturday and Sunday.

“Staffing hours will definitely increase as well,” Cescon noted. “But we just heard yesterday as well so (specifics) are still being worked out. But this is a significant investment from the province and we are working on a plan to increase service.”

Last year, 16,000 MRIs were performed across Interior Health, including 1,200 at KBRH.

“This funding is a multi-year funding,” explained Cescon. “Because MRI is quite complicated, we don’t just turn on a switch, ramping it up takes time. So we are expecting by the end of the four-year program to increase our scans by 45 per cent, or by an additional 7,500 exams,” he added. “So that’s significant and we’re very pleased because we’ve been asking for this for a very long time.”

An MRI is a safe and painless test that used a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the body’s organs and structures.

The scans are used to diagnose a number of medical conditions, including abnormalities of the brain, as well as tumours, cysts and soft-tissue injuries.