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Medical imaging

CAR to track DI equipment with new database

MONTREAL – The Canadian Association of Radiologists has announced the launch of a national database that will monitor Canada’s inventory of diagnostic imaging equipment by type, capability, age and other variables.

To conduct the study, which will poll 400 hospitals this year and the rest of Canada’s hospitals in the future, the CAR has engaged Millennium Research Group (MRG) of Toronto, a company with expertise in DI market surveys and analysis.

“How many ultrasound machines or digital X-ray scanners are there in Canada?” asked Normand Laberge (pictured), chief executive officer of the CAR. “Nobody has any idea. But by tracking all of the modalities in Canada, and their age and capabilities, we’ll be able to say what needs to be replaced in three or five or seven years. We’ll be able to plan ahead.”

Laberge noted that a similar project was launched in 1999 to examine the stock of MRI and CT machines. It proved to be valuable, and led governments to fund the acquisition of these cutting-edge technologies.

“But we need to look at all equipment, to understand our total imaging requirements,” said Laberge. “And the only way to do that is to develop a solid database. We’ve got to apply that same medicine to the rest of DI.” He said the survey will include all modalities and sub-types – such as various kinds of ultrasound, nuclear medicine scanners, direct radiology and computed radiology, mammography, X-ray and fluoroscopy machines, categorizing them by features, applications and capabilities.

In a second phase of the study, the CAR plans to track the number of radiologists and technologists who are working in hospitals across the country, and will also monitor the number of exams conducted in each modality. The database will then reveal which regions of the country not only have the biggest equipment shortages or most obsolete equipment, but also where the shortages of radiologists and techs are most dire, and which regions are conducting the fewest or most DI exams.

“Some institutions may be under-producing, and some over-producing – which can also be interpreted as a problem, if they haven’t got enough radiologists to properly read the exams,” said Laberge. “Then you’re in danger of low-quality readings.”

By pinpointing locations with inadequate equipment or human resources, the overall level of care can be dramatically improved.

“Diagnostic imaging is now the cornerstone of healthcare,” said Laberge. “Half the patients seeking help in a hospital will end up in an imaging department. We’re the bottleneck, because any problem in DI will affect the rest of the patient’s experience in the healthcare system,” from wait times to quality of diagnosis and treatment.

Making sure the right types of equipment, and staff, are available in various communities or regions would be a major boost to improving the delivery of care. But Laberge noted that to manage the problems of technology and personnel in DI, system-wide resources must first be measured.

An annual report produced by Millennium Research Group will enable hospitals to benchmark themselves against other facilities; hospitals that participate in the survey will have access to the findings.

As part of the analysis, results will be categorized by hospital type and by the population-size served by institutions. “So, for example, you could see how your hospital is doing next to, say, 20 other academic hospitals serving populations of 1 million or more,” commented Laberge. The identities of hospitals will remain anonymous, and results will only be given as aggregated numbers.

Indeed, Laberge said the Canadian Association of Radiologists will itself not have access to the identities of the respondents, in order to remain objective. The research company, MRG, will manage this part of the project.

Vendors will also have access to the reports that are produced. Laberge said the studies will not only provide them with useful strategic information, but will also lead to better pricing for hospitals. “When the vendors know how much demand there will be for various technologies, they will be able to plan better and bring down their costs,” he said.

Laberge observed that over the past few years, he has been inundated with calls from vendors and consultants seeking to know projected demand for various imaging modalities in Canada. Soon, he hopes to give them solid answers.

The database will also produce a powerful source of data for lobbying governments, showing them the actual need for technologies and human resources – now and at various points in the future. Again, the data will help health ministries and regions with strategic planning.

“It was good news a few years ago when governments invested billions of dollars in diagnostic imaging equipment,” said Laberge. “But don’t forget, all of that equipment will become outdated at roughly the same time. We should know what was purchased, and we should be planning for replacements.”