Achieving results and delivering more MRI exams

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People throughout B.C. will continue to get improved access to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams as government adds 15,000 more exams in the second year of the B.C. Surgical and Diagnostic Imaging Strategy after exceeding its first-year targets.

“I’m proud to say that we have surpassed our bold MRI targets in year one of our plan, performing nearly 44,000 more exams compared to 2017-18,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Our Surgical and Diagnostic Imaging Strategy has improved services for patients through capitalizing on existing public health resources and adding new capacity where required. We are now taking further action to expand services and reduce waits by adding another 15,000 MRI exams to this past year’s success.”

In the first year of the strategy, the number of MRIs performed reached 233,369. In 2017-18, 189,376 exams were performed.

In 2019-20, a further $5.25 million is being added to complete 248,369 exams annually. Under the strategy launched last year, government invested $11 million of ongoing funding to substantially increase the number of exams.

“Our government has been very clear that the commitment announced last March to improve access to MRIs was not a one-time effort, but part of a multi-year strategy to reduce waits and leverage solutions and capacity in the public health-care system,” Dix said. “We have seen some great results in just the first year, which we will continue to build off in Year 2, so more and more patients can receive faster and more appropriate care. Simply put, we are just getting started.”

Reaching and exceeding the 2018-19 MRI targets involved, in part, running existing machines longer by adding evening, weekend and/or statutory holiday shifts to the existing MRI units. At the start of 2019, of the 33 MRIs across B.C., 10 were running 24/7, compared to one in August 2017, 17 running more than 19 hours a day.

As well, new machines are being added. Fraser Health purchased two private MRI outpatient clinics in September 2018 as part of government’s Surgical and Diagnostic Imaging Strategy. An MRI machine also began operating at East Kootenay Regional Hospital in Cranbrook. In Year 2 of the strategy, at least four new MRIS are also coming online.

Since October 2018, Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and Providence Health Care have processed MRI requests through a central-intake system, which is helping to streamline the MRI referral process, eliminate duplicate referrals and reduce missed appointments. The combined benefits give patients more options of where and when they can undergo a procedure.

In addition to increasing capacity, the Ministry of Health continues to work with health authorities to find ways to make sure referrals for MRI are the most appropriate test, and that the quality of exams are consistently high to ensure patient safety and reduce the need to repeat them and take up more valuable time.

MRI is one of the tools used to diagnose a number of medical conditions, including abnormalities of the brain, as well as tumours, cysts and soft-tissue injuries in other parts of the body. An early diagnosis can lead to early treatment, which can positively impact people’s quality of life and return them to being contributing members of their communities and the economy.