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Diagnostic imaging

Private centre in Montreal offers PET/CT

One of the first privately operated PET/CT scanners in Canada is up and running in a Montreal clinic. Members of the public can pay $2,500 for a scan to determine the source and stage of cancers, brain disorders and heart problems.

The Ville Marie PET and CT Centre has installed a GE PET/CT scanner that cost approximately $2.5 million.

The system uses software that fuses the PET and CT images, providing physicians with both metabolic and anatomic information. It is particularly useful in cancer, brain and heart disease studies.

The city's Montreal General and Hotel Dieu hospitals do provide positron emission tomography (PET) scans, but according to a report in the Montreal Gazette, there are hundreds of patients on waiting lists.

Moreover, the hospitals face funding problems. The Hotel Dieu is running its machine at about 70 percent of its capacity because of a lack of government funding.

Advocates of the public healthcare system complain that private clinics, like the Ville Marie PET and CT Centre, unfairly favour the wealthy, who are able to pay for a scan.

However, those who support private clinics suggest the public system will benefit, too, as hospital waiting lists will become shorter.

Moreover, by diagnosing disease earlier, overall treatment costs will be lower, they say.

Quebec has at least 14 private clinics offering MRI, CT and ultrasound tests – the most in the country.

The Canada Health Act ensures these tests are covered by medicare in hospitals, but doesn’t stipulate that they be provided exclusively in the public sector. This loophole has opened the door to Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia allowing parallel private clinics.

The federal government, however, has expressed concern about the proliferation of such clinics and their impact on queue-jumping. Dr. Sylvain Beaulieu, who reads scans at the Ville Marie clinic, said he sees no problem with private clinics.

“We should have more public-private partnerships, especially for diagnostic procedures,” Dr. Beaulieu told the Gazette. “For me, the private sector will push the public sector to be more productive.”

Dr. Beaulieu argued it doesn’t make sense for Canadians to have freedom of choice when buying jewelry or luxury items, while facing needless restrictions when it comes to life-saving medical procedures.

“We have reached the point where the public system is not delivering the merchandise and is not able to do so in the future,” he said. “We must energize the health network by allowing a parallel private system, while ensuring that the waits in the public system are acceptable.”