Wednesday, July 17, 2024

‘People are in pain’: Why does it take so long to get an appointment for the new MRI machine at Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital?

The Smiths Falls campus of the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital where officials said a new MRI machine will perform 3,100 scans annually. – Laurie Weir photo

The Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital has a new magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI), but for those waiting for scans, it can be a frustrating waiting game.

Lanarkist caught up with Michael Cohen, president and chief executive officer at the PDSFH, and asked him about wait times with the new MRI at the Smiths Falls campus.

Q: Can you provide an overview of the current wait times for MRI scans in Smiths Falls, and how they compare to other regions in Ontario?

A: Our wait times are currently much better than most urban centres for MRI. On average the wait is less than three months; but that includes all cases which vary in terms of the clinical priority. For example, urgent cases are seen within two days, and semi-urgent cases in 10 days or less.

Q: With the community paying millions of dollars for this new MRI, how do you think they would feel to know there are people outside the hospital’s catchment area ahead of them on the wait list?

A: The hospital must accept valid and clinically appropriate referrals – the Public Hospitals Act does not permit any hospital from refusing a clinically valid referral for MRI or any other service offered. While it is true we have received referrals from outside eastern Ontario, the vast majority of the scans performed are from our catchment area, allowing us to fulfil our obligation to our community in delivering care close to home.

Q: What are the primary factors contributing to the long wait times for MRI scans here in Smiths Falls? Are there specific challenges unique to this area?

A: Relative to the wait times across the province, our wait list is not considered to be long.

Q: How are these extended wait times affecting patients’ health outcomes and overall well-being? Are there any particular stories or examples that stand out?

A: Referrals for MRI are prioritized by medical urgency. This is why the average wait time is about three months, but you might get a scan the next day if it is medically needed.

Q: What measures is the foundation, along with the local healthcare providers, taking to address and reduce these wait times? Are there any recent initiatives or plans in place?

A: We are about nine months into the operation of the new MRI unit and this time has been important to ramp up to allow our physicians and staff to grow comfortable with the new operations and work to full scope.  Looking ahead to the next fiscal year, we will be pursuing opportunities to apply for operating funding from the government to continue to expand MRI services.  

Q: With the introduction of the new MRI machine in Smiths Falls, how do you anticipate this will impact wait times? Are there any immediate improvements expected, or will it take some time to see a significant change?

A: Our attention is really focused on the wait for services at our facility. What is certain, is that the addition of new MRI machines across the province has dramatically increased access across the board and I would expect that wait times across the province to fall as a result.

THE WAITING GAME

The $6.1 million MRI campaign has been a three-year fundraising goal of the hospital foundation. It is expected that this machine will perform 3,100 scans per year.

Not having this level of diagnostics at PSFDH can cause undue stress for patients due to the additional pressures of coordinating appointments, travelling to possibly unfamiliar areas in the city and delayed testing, results and treatment. The MRI is also key in attracting and retaining healthcare professionals to our hospital and community, the foundation noted in their campaign information.

“MRI service brings care closer to home and raises the bar around access to advanced diagnostics. With advanced diagnostics comes the ability to improve the care provided at PSFDH and ease the patient and family burden of travelling to larger centres for services.”

A Kingston woman, who asked for anonymity to protect her privacy, was looking for a referral for an MRI after a suspected broken ankle in January. She got on the list in Smiths Falls and Kingston.

Frustrated with the wait times to see an orthopedic specialist, the Kingston woman went to Quebec to seek medical care. This is when she was diagnosed from the MRI results that she had not one, but two broken bones in her ankle. She had to pay for these results out of pocket.

She eventually got her MRI in Kingston, (after being told the wait time was two years). She was on the cancellation list, and made herself available on short notice. She lives close enough to the MRI clinic to be able to get there quickly.

Six months later, she’s still hoping her ankle will heal. She walks with the aid of a walker, cane or crutches. The surgeon she saw in Quebec has given her six months to heal or he will do surgery. This will leave her “injured” for a year, which was due to not receiving a diagnosis and care in a timely manner, she said back in January.

“People are in pain,” she said. “Some people put themselves on every list they can get on – to try to get care. Who can blame them?”

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