The Montreal General Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital have made a dent in the long waiting lists for some MRI examinations by extending their MRI operating hours.
With hours now stretching into the evenings and weekends, the amount of time a patient must wait for an MRI scan for a minor injury has decreased. Waiting times, however, can still be up to three to seven months, depending on the injury.
A less serious injury entails an MRI exam for which a dye does not need to be injected into the patient. Examples include knees injuries, small joint and shoulder injuries, and wrist injuries. For more serious cases, such as tumors, lymphomas, pelvic organs, and certain brain MRIs, a radiologist must inject dye.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon,” said Dr. Larry Stein, chief radiologist at Royal Victoria Hospital. “The less serious of those patients have had their waiting time shortened, the more serious [ones haven’t] changed very much.”
Because radiologists only work on weekdays, the waiting time has not changed for the more serious MRI exams. The problem is exacerbated by the shortage of specialists in Quebec, including radiologists. The problem is particularly acute in Montreal.
“What people don’t know is that the government does not allow us to hire more radiologists,” Stein said. “We can’t even take on our brightest McGill graduates.”
Stein explained that if the McGill hospitals were able to hire five more radiologists, this would decrease the waiting time for all MRI exams significantly. Another way to shorten wait times would be to change the way the governments count the number of people working in a hospital.
At the moment, the government “counts bodies” rather than full time equivalents. Currently many of the female radiologists work 80 per cent of the full workweek—four days instead of five. If the actual amount time they put in at the hospital was taken into account, Stein said, it would show that there is room for five more radiologists.
Hospitals have been fighting for such changes for years, he added.
“It is attainable,” he said. “It’s attainable at the stroke of a pen.”