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September 19, 2002

Private MRI-CT clinics no quicker, report says

Globe and Mail Update


Private MRI and CT scan clinics operating for profit do not handle patients any faster than the public system, nor do they improve the quality of health care or lower costs, a new report charges.

The Ontario Health Coalition released Thursday "Scanning For Profit," a critical report on the Ontario government's summer announcement that it would allow 20 for-profit MRI and 5 for-profit CT scan clinics to open in the province.

"Our study was unable to find any evidence supporting the contention that for-profit MRI-CT clinics reduce waiting lists faster than the public system, improve quality or decrease costs," the OHC's report says.

The new clinics will provide diagnostic services paid for by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. They will also be allowed to provide supplementary services paid for by the patients themselves or by their insurance providers.

Research for the report included searches of major medical, economic and political data bases and interviews with health authorities, provincial and federal governments, government agencies, professional associations and private clinic operators

The report says that for-profit clinics allow people to be seen on demand, irrespective of medical need, citing evidence that it is happening in Alberta, B.C., Quebec and Nova Scotia.

"It is questionable what social or economic benefit can be derived from opening for-profit health care clinics that will likely detract from the public system, have little public accountability, escalate costs and increase risks to patients," study author and emergency nurse Ross Sutherland said Thursday.

"If they are not faster, better, cheaper and safer — and the evidence indicates that they are not — then why hand over control to profit-seeking corporations?"

Another concern raised by the report is that over half of the for-profit MRI clinics in Canada have no official quality assurance or accreditation procedures. No official bodies are collecting demographic, patient health status, usage or ownership data on for-profit MRI-CT clinics in Canada.

The report also warns that for-profit clinics will draw critical personnel away from the public health care system.

"The recruiting of CT and MRI technologists from public hospitals is on the horizon," added Patty Rout, Chair of Hospital Professionals Division of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

"Given the acute shortages of technologists this plan would only further erode the ability of public hospitals to provide these services. Soon there will be even fewer technologists left in hospitals to do the most time consuming and invasive procedures."

Ministry of Health spokesman David Jensen told that the ministry disagrees with the study's findings.

“We're going to greatly increase the availability of MRI and CT scan services in the province,” Mr. Jensen said. “We're also beefing up the hours of operation of existing facilities. This is to the great benefit of the people of Ontario.”

Health minister Tony Clement said he hopes to have some of the new clinics in operation by the end of the year.

The lengthy wait for tests at the existing 43 MRIs in Ontario, which can be as long as a year, has been one of the chief complaints about the province's health-care system, according to a survey of 400,000 people conducted by the Health Ministry last year.