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Woe, Canada: Now Imaging Errors Hit Alberta

January 5, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging
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Alberta has joined the parade of Canadian provinces reporting significant problems with misread radiology scans, following British Columbia, Quebec, and Newfoundland.

Back in November, a patient at the Drumheller Health Centre in the town of Drumheller, in central Alberta, complained about a sudden change in treatment after an X-ray. That led to a review of 249 CT scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays read in November and December by a radiologist at the hospital.

That radiologist made mistakes of “considerable concern” on 34 CT scans, according to Chris Eagle, MD, president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services, the province’s health-care provider in Canada’s national health system.

Think about that for a second: the radiologist misread almost 14 percent of the 249 CT scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays—and all of the misreads were of CT scans. The Toronto-based newspaper The Globe and Mail last week reported that:

The findings thus far are so alarming that officials have further expanded the review of the radiologist’s work to reassess about 1,300 CT scans performed over the past six months. That review will take several weeks.

“Alarming” is an appropriate word. Health officials said the radiologist was experienced and had worked at the hospital a long time, but they did not release his name nor where he was trained. They said he was asked to take a leave of absence. According to The Globe and Mail, “The individual is now vacationing abroad, and his professional future is up in the air pending the review, officials said.”

Meanwhile, the Alberta government has ordered a review of all diagnostic imaging and pathology testing in the province. In November, the Health Quality Council of Alberta, the province’s independent health-care watchdog, began reviewing whether 31 biopsy tissue samples were properly handled in Calgary after problems were found. And in December, the council was asked to examine 1,700 diagnoses made by a pathologist at a hospital in Edmonton. Dr. Eagle said at least 159 of those biopsies may have been misinterpreted.

Despite all that, the man who ordered the provincewide reviews, Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne, told reporters:

I have no reason to believe that patient care is at risk.

OK, patients are panicking, and he pretty much had to say that. Much more sensibly, he also said: “This is not about blaming the people that deliver the care. This is about answering some very fundamental questions about checks and balances in our health-care system.”

Related seminar: Computed Body Tomography: The Cutting Edge

 

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