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Canada lags G7 in use of interventional radiology

MONTREAL – Canada lags far behind all other G7 countries in the use of interventional medicine, to the detriment of its population’s health and social productivity, according to a new study released by the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR), in conjunction with the Canadian Interventional Radiologists Association (CIRA).

Through the use of interventional radiology (IR) treatments, close to $300 million in savings to the Canadian healthcare system could be realized, the study forecasts.

Moreover, the support and adoption of IR in Canada could eliminate 98,000 in-hospital patient days, which means that 13,400 patient wait times for needed surgery could be eliminated immediately.

The CAR is urging the federal and provincial governments to move quickly to redress inefficiencies in the Canadian healthcare system and make care increasingly patient-centered.

The benchmark study from Millennium Research Group (MRG) concludes that on average, G7 countries such as Germany, the UK, France and Italy practice more than twice as many interventional radiology treatments than Canada, where long-term medication and invasive procedures are favoured.

The Canadian healthcare system’s antiquated administrative structure means that Canadians are more likely to be prescribed long-term pharmacological treatments and more invasive surgeries than their G7 counterparts for the treatment of the same medical conditions.

“An osteoporotic patient that suffered a vertebral compression fracture (VCF) often spends years on heavy medication with back braces and frequent visits to an emergency room, or to a doctor, only to manage the pain, with an annual cost of more than $6,000 to the healthcare system.

“In comparison, a vertebroplasty, which can easily treat definitively the condition within a few days, represents a cost to the hospital of less than $1,000, but is ironically considered too costly,” said Dr. Peter Collingwood, president of CIRA.

“This is only one of many examples of how the Canadian health system’s administrative structure, with its narrow focus, is concerned only with internal budgets and not global social costs and what is best for the patient,” he continued. “As a direct consequence, the use of less invasive and less costly interventional radiology procedures is seriously underdeveloped in our country and Canadians continue to endure prolonged and unnecessary suffering.”

Today’s healthcare issues threaten to become increasingly acute within the next decade as the baby boomer population ages. The MRG study concludes that as a result of a faster ageing population in Canada, compared to other G7 nations, we will see the demand for treatment of those vascular and non-vascular diseases increase rapidly.

“Interventional radiology offers a potential saving of costs and an increased efficiency that will become absolutely necessary if we want to meet the demand for those medical treatments,” declared Normand Laberge (pictured), CEO of the Canadian Association of Radiologists.

The study also points to the fact that with access to online information, baby-boomers will rapidly start to demand access to procedures which have proven to be successful elsewhere. “Unless governments step in now, our healthcare system is in danger of not being ready to meet the demand that will come when the population realizes that ‘surgery with no scars’ is a reality, with impressive benefits both to patient well-being and to society as a whole,” said Mr. Laberge.

The CAR is urging the federal government to create a Canadian Interventional Radiology Task Force (CIRTF), which would allow for the creation of interventional radiology best-practices in Canada.

The CIRTF would evaluate cost-effectiveness of IR procedures in the Canadian healthcare system, refine strategies for the creation of IR centres of excellence in order to stimulate the development of the field, and make recommendations which would allow Canada to become a leader in interventional medicine among G7 nations.

What is interventional radiology?
Interventional radiology is the sub-specialty of diagnostic radiology devoted to advancing patient care using minimally invasive, image-guided techniques to treat a vast array of vascular and non-vascular diseases. It has been described as keyhole surgery or “surgery with no scars.” IR leads to improved patient outcomes, decreased morbidity and mortality, more cost efficient treatments and shorter hospital stays. Interventional procedures include chemoembolization and radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of cancer tumours, the treatment of uterine fibroid by embolization, vertebroplasty to repair damaged vertebra, stenting and balloon angioplasty for the treatment of arterial disease.