Private MRI stirs Canadian opinion

May 19, 1993

U.S. imaging centers contemplating life or death under a restructurednational health care system can take heart in a debate over privateoutpatient MRI centers that has broken out north of the border. Escalating health care costs in Canada make

U.S. imaging centers contemplating life or death under a restructurednational health care system can take heart in a debate over privateoutpatient MRI centers that has broken out north of the border.

Escalating health care costs in Canada make provincial healthofficials reluctant to expand the paltry number of MRI systemsalready installed in the public hospital system--and more eagerto allow a two-tier system with private payment of MRI servicesfor those who can afford it.

Some Canadians look to the U.S. system as an example of howMRI costs have been kept down by placing the imaging modalityin an out-of-hospital setting. Others, however, point to healthcare inequities that are based on the ability to pay.

A private MRI center was scheduled to open in Edmonton, Alberta,this week. Coverage of the emergence of private MRI in The EdmontonJournal generated a brisk flow of letters to the paper from bothsides of the issue.

At present, there are only three hospital-based MRI units inAlberta, according to the Journal. Because of the limited baseof imaging systems, immediate access is only available in emergencycases.

The Alberta Medical Association and the provincial health careagency, Alberta Health, have formed a joint committee to reviewthe issue of private MRI clinics. Results of the study are expectedby June.

Alberta Health Minister Shirley McClellan has taken flack overthe private MRI issue. She contends that there is room for bothprivate and public suppliers as long as everyone is assured reasonableaccess to health care, the Journal said.

One letter writer to the Journal pointed out a potential dilemma:if early MRI diagnosis in a private clinic finds a need for immediatetreatment, should that patient then be able to jump ahead andreceive treatment in the public system before others have evenhad a chance to get scanned?

In British Columbia, a former health minister, Jim Nielsen,is getting into the private MRI act. Nielsen has started a company,Canimaging Technologies, that is one of several groups lookingto develop MRI centers in the province, according to the VancouverSun.

British Columbia has a total of five MRI systems: one low-field,one mid-field, and three high-field units, according to the Sun.Wealthy British Columbians already jump line for diagnosis bycrossing the border into Washington state, the paper reported.

Quebec's Council for Evaluation of Health Technology assessedMRI in 1990 and found that "objective proof of this (MRI)superiority is not very solid," according to the EdmontonJournal.

Based on that opinion, Quebec has set a limit of seven MRIsin the province, most of which are in teaching hospital researchsites, the paper said.

BRIEFLY NOTED:

  • Sunport Medical of San Antonio, TX, is building an imagingcenter network through acquisition of physician partnerships,according to a report in the The San Antonio Business Journal.Sunport recently raised $4.4 million through a private placementof stock.

These funds helped Sunport purchase its fourth imaging center,Central Imaging Center, also of San Antonio. Physician owners,largely ob/gyn specialists, will retain 20% ownership in the center.

  • Selling imaging services in a changing health care environmentwill be the theme of three panel discussions during the 16th annualconference of the Medical Marketing Association next month inLake Tahoe, CA.

Among the featured panelists will be Gailord Gordon, generalmanager for biomedical engineering at Kaiser Foundation Hospitals;Dr. Ross H. Golding, chairman of radiology at St. Mary's Hospitalin Reno, NV; and Karen Hopp, former director of strategic planningfor California Managed Imaging, a radiology preferred providerorganization.

The three panels will deal with outpatient imaging services,hospital-based imaging, and service marketing tips from the buyer'spoint of view. For more information, contact the MMA in San Franciscoat 800/551-2173; FAX 415/764-4807.