Uneven use of MRI, CT scans across
OTTAWA – Diagnostic tests, such as
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, are
more commonly used on patients in some provinces than in others,
according to new data released by the Canadian Institute for Health
For example, in 2009, rates of MRI exams performed in Alberta or New
Brunswick were more than twice as high as those in Prince Edward Island
or Newfoundland and Labrador, varying from highs of 54 exams per 1,000
people in Alberta and 51 per 1,000 in New Brunswick to lows of 23 per
1,000 in P.E.I. and 24 per 1,000 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Similarly, the data shows significant variation among the provinces in
the rates of CT exams performed on patients. New Brunswick and Nova
Scotia had the highest rates of CT use (193 and 155 per 1,000 people,
respectively) while P.E.I. and British Columbia had the lowest rates of
use (104 and 106 exams per 1,000 people, respectively).
“By helping to detect disease in its early stages, medical imaging has
helped save lives,” says Francine Anne Roy, Director of Health Spending
and Clinical Registries at CIHI. “However, there are wide variations in
the rates of use of these machines - both within Canada and throughout
the developed world. Further research is required to determine the
appropriate level of use of these technologies and to take full
advantage of their diagnostic capability, while ensuring they are being
used as efficiently and safely as possible.”
Number of machines continues to rise across Canada
As of January 1, 2009, there were 266 MRI scanners and 465 CT scanners
operational in Canada. This represents an increase of 44 MRI and 46 CT
machines over two years and an increase of 70% in the number of MRI
scanners and 36% in the number of CT scanners since 2004.
In 2009, the majority of scanners (80% of MRI and 95% of CT scanners)
were located in hospital settings, whereas 20% of MRI and 5% of CT
scanners were in free-standing clinics, which are often privately
CIHI data shows the number of diagnostic imaging machines relative to
the size of the population varies significantly by province, as does the
intensity of use of each machine. Some provinces, such as Ontario and
Alberta, logged significantly more MRI exams per scanner than the
Similarly, New Brunswick and Alberta used CT scanners more intensely.
Significant international variation persists
Internationally, there were larger variations across countries within
the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) than
across Canadian provinces in the number of MRI and CT exams performed
relative to population size. In 2008-2009, the Canadian rate of MRI
exams was 41 per 1,000 people, while for OECD countries the rate varied
from a low of 13 in Korea to a high of 98 in Greece.
In the same year, the Canadian rate of CT exams was 121 per 1,000
people, compared to a low of 60 in the Netherlands and a high of 321 in
Greece. For both MRI and CT exams, the United States had the
second-highest rate of use at 91 and 228 per 1,000, respectively.
• In 2008-2009, the national rate of MRI exams was 41 per 1,000 people.
Provinces ranged from highs of 54 (Alberta) and 51 (New Brunswick) to
lows of 23 (P.E.I.) and 24 (Newfoundland and Labrador).
• In 2008-2009, the national rate of CT scans was 121 per 1,000 people.
Provinces ranged from highs of 193 (New Brunswick) and 155 (Nova Scotia)
to lows of 104 (P.E.I.) and 106 (B.C.).
• Ontario and Alberta used MRI scanners more intensely (more exams per
scanner). New Brunswick and Alberta used CT scanners more intensely.
• In 2009, 80% of MRI and 95% of CT scanners were located in hospital
settings; 20% of MRI and 5% of CT scanners were in free-standing
• By January 1, 2009, there were 266 MRI scanners and 465 CT scanners
operational in Canada. There were 222 MRI and 419 CT scanners in 2007.
• In 2008-2009, the Canadian rate of MRI exams was 41 per 1,000 people.
Among OECD countries, MRI rates varied from a low of 13 in Korea to a
high of 98 in Greece.
• In 2008-2009, the Canadian rate of CT exams was 121 per 1,000 people.
Among OECD countries, CT rates varied from a low of 60 in the
Netherlands to a high of 321 in Greece.
• For both MRI and CT exams, the United States had the second-highest
rate of use at 91 and 228 per 1,000, respectively.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) collects and
analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it
publicly available. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial
governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization
dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information.
CIHI’s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable information.
CIHI’s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective
delivery of health services and raise awareness among Canadians of the
factors that contribute to good health.
Posted July 29, 2010