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Diagnostic imaging

Third private MRI clinic set to open in Calgary

An $8-million facility plans to open in southeast Calgary, offering MRI scans to patients willing to pay.

The clinic will be operated by Community First Diagnostic Imaging in response to hospital MRI wait lists in Calgary that are as high as 20 weeks.

“We have an aging baby boomer population,” Fred Johnston, president of Community First, told the Calgary Herald newspaper. “The need for diagnostic imaging services could double in the next 10 years.”

Supporters of the public healthcare system immediately criticized the news of a private-sector facility, arguing that such clinics pull resources away from the publicly funded system.

“The idea that a private clinic will reduce public waiting times is a fallacy,” said Harvey Voogd of Friends of Medicare. “There are only so many (doctors) around. If they’re not in the public sector, they’re in the private sector.”

Community First’s 4,800 square-foot facility was scheduled to open in December 2005. It intends to provide X-ray, ultrasound, mammography and bone density services. The MRI is set to start in February.

The clinic opening arrives in the middle of a debate in Alberta over medical reform, such as allowing patients to buy private medical insurance for procedures such as hip replacements.

Private MRI services have been available in Alberta for several years, but have been a source of friction between the province and Ottawa.

Federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh sent a letter to Alberta and three other provinces last spring arguing that fees at MRI and CT scan clinics fly in the face of medicare and allow patients to queue jump.

Still, Health Canada officials say talks are under way about the private diagnostic clinics.

Voogd said his group will consider asking Health Canada to investigate the new clinic to see if it violates the Canada Health Act, which prohibits charging patients for medically necessary services.

Johnston, however, said he isn’t worried the political debate will affect the clinic.

He maintains that governments need to find new ways to deliver medical care. “The public health system has been trying to do too much for too long,” said Johnston.