The BC Health Coalition has welcome the Minister of Health’s Sept. 24 announcement that the province is purchasing two private, for-profit MRI clinics in order to make use of them in the public system.

“For too long B.C. has allowed public MRI wait times to grow while allowing a market for private MRI clinics to flourish,” says Edith MacHattie, BCHC co-chair. “These two clinics will further reduce wait times for MRIs in Fraser Health Authority by providing an extra 2000 scans this year, with increased capacity for next year.” Private scans are unaffordable for many British Columbians and place a financial burden on others.

Fraser Health Authority purchased Surrey MRI and Fraser Valley MRI in Abbotsford. The clinic staff will become health authority employees and FHA plans on opening the clinics to the public within a month.  The ministry says that purchasing the clinics with the existing equipment was the best use of resources when looking at the cost of building new facilities and purchasing more MRI machines.

“An accurate diagnosis is the first step to ensure patients receive the care they need to get well,” says MacHattie. “Increasing the province’s ability to provide timely public MRI scans will play an important role in driving down surgical wait times.”

One task for the province will be to ensure that the public system plays an important role in discouraging unnecessary diagnostic testing. This could be done by adopting guidelines such as the physician-endorsed “Choosing Wisely Canada” initiative. A centralized waitlist for MRIs is also part of the province’s plan to address people waiting too long for scans.

In the meantime, the Health Coalition agrees that purchasing two private MRI clinics to increase capacity in the public system represents a direct departure from years of inadequate action on MRI wait times and a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to unlawful private fees.

Private for-profit MRI clinics were recently granted a six month extension before additional enforcement provisions regarding extra-billing come into effect. “It is important that B.C. is able to meet current demand within the public system within that timeline so that these additional enforcement provisions can be put in place to protect patients as soon as possible,” says MacHattie.