Budget 2021: Improving access to MRIs and CT scans (video)

Provincial Press Release March 26, 2021 @ 9:47am published at 245pm


A $33-million one-time commitment from Budget 2021 will drive down wait times for Albertans needing non-emergency CT scans and MRIs in public hospitals and spark innovation to provide the best patient care.

The commitment will support AHS to perform up to 50,000 additional CT (computerized tomography) scans and up to 45,000 additional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans throughout the province in 2021-22.

This work is part of an aggressive action plan developed by Alberta’s government and AHS to reduce wait times to ensure that by 2023, all Albertans have their CT scans and MRIs done within appropriate wait times recommended by medical experts.

“Albertans need better results from our health-care system, including from MRIs and CT scans that can diagnose their health condition and set them on the path to recovery. This commitment is part of Alberta’s historic investment in health care. We will ensure that all health dollars are spent wisely to support patients and families.” Jason Kenney, Premier
“Physicians have raised the alarm that long waits put patients at risk – and we couldn’t agree more. Reducing wait times for these medically necessary diagnostic tests is not negotiable. This is why I directed AHS to implement this action plan and to work in partnership with radiologists to find innovative solutions to provide the best patient care with the significant dollars dedicated to this work.” Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

The additional $33 million will augment the $1 billion Alberta spends each year on diagnostic imaging. This total spend includes ultrasounds, X-rays and mammography, as well as MRIs and CT scans for Albertans.

So far, AHS and its contracted radiologists’ focused work on the action plan has meant fewer people are waiting for CT and MRI scans now compared with March 2020, a trend that will continue over the next two years.

“AHS understands how important it is for patients to receive timely access to diagnostic testing and quick turnaround of results. We are listening to all concerns and are proactively working to improve this very important service for Albertans.” Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services
“Timely access to diagnostic imaging including CT and MRI is an essential component of quality patient care. Imaging plays an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of many medical conditions. Improved access to imaging should lead to improved care.” Dr. Derek Emery, professor and chair, Department of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging, University of Alberta and Zone Clinical Department Head, Diagnostic Imaging, Alberta Health Services
Alberta’s Radiologists welcome this initiative to decrease waitlists for CT and MRI, two critical tools in the overall function of our health-care system. Timely access to all medical imaging and image-guided procedures is so important, now more than ever. Dr. Robert Davies, president, Alberta Medical Association Section of Diagnostic Imaging

Alberta Health and AHS developed the CT and MRI Action Plan to address increasingly long wait times, which peaked in 2019-20, and to decrease costs, better manage demand to reduce unnecessary tests, and to make sure the people who most need the tests for treatment decisions will get the scans sooner. The implementation plan uses data to more accurately estimate where demand pressures may occur so that resources can be deployed to respond efficiently.

AHS will reinvest any cost savings achieved through the plan to where they are most needed. Budget 2021 protects lives and livelihoods with a historic investment in health care while laying the foundation for economic growth. Through the prudent management of tax dollars, Alberta’s government can continue to invest in priority areas to ensure Alberta emerges from COVID-19 stronger than ever.

Quick facts

  • Demand for CT scans in Alberta is increasing by five per cent annually, and for MRIs by 3.5 per cent annually.

  • If a patient is in an emergency department and needs an urgent scan, they are able to get one quickly. If a patient is in hospital, they are able to get a scan within 24 hours.

  • While wait times for patients in hospital or emergency departments are stable and within time frames recommended by medical experts, wait times for outpatients referred for a CT or MRI scan are longer than recommended.

  • As of December 2020:

  • 44,341 Albertans were waiting for a CT scan, down from 60,181 Albertans waiting in March 2020.

  • 79 per cent of urgent out-patients were able to get their CT scans within clinically appropriate wait times.

  • 41 per cent of routine out-patients were able to get their CT scans within clinically appropriate wait times.

  • 59,614 Albertans were waiting for an MRI, down from 66,183 Albertans waiting in March 2020.

  • 75 per cent of urgent out-patients were able to get their MRIs within clinically appropriate wait times.

  • 55 per cent of routine out-patients were able to get their CT scans within clinically appropriate wait times.



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