An excess of people have been missing their scheduled diagnostic and imaging appointments and it’s causing concern at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS).
According to the Diagnostic Imaging department, there were approximately 5,000 missed appointments between Apr. 1, and Aug. 31 of this year.
“These appointments are a critical part of early diagnosis and in planning treatment,” said Dr. Karen Finlay, Chief of Diagnostic Imaging. “Additionally, missed appointments result in longer wait times for patients who may now have to wait for the next available time slot.”
The timing of missed appointments not-so-coincidentally aligns with the start and continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Finlay says, however, hospitals take every precaution to ensure a safe environment for patients.
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“I certainly feel comfortable going into work; much more so than going to the grocery store because of all the screening and PPE use within the hospital”.
5,000 cancellations over five months represent an eight per cent rate, up nearly two per cent from the same period in 2019, according to HHS. While it may not initially seem like a large number, the increase in cancellations leads to an increase in wait times for future x-rays, MRIs, CTs, and ultrasounds.
“8,500 people are booked with appointments over the next few months,” said Dr. Finlay. “But we also have another 1,000 who are waiting to be booked. People on the ‘can wait’ list could be waiting another six months for an appointment.”
Compounding the issue is the lack of notice provided by patients prior to missing their scheduled appointments.
“Our imaging resources and procedures are tightly booked for every available opportunity,” said a spokesperson for HHS via email. “By not showing up for a scheduled appointment or providing sufficient prior notice of cancellation, there is a ripple effect on wait times and on other patients.”
Over 730,000 diagnostic studies occur each year at Hamilton Health Sciences alone.
Dr. Finlay says the imaging community is also concerned with the volume of people now with undiagnosed conditions, due in part to the suspension of imaging in hospitals during the early stages of COVID-19.
“We really encourage people to follow through with your doctor’s plan to get you imaged so we can move their care along before it’s too late”.
The Province created a regional task force assigned to deal with and find a solution to the longer than normal wait times for imaging and diagnostics.
In September, the Government of Ontario announced an investment of $741-million to “help clear the backlog” and “build more capacity in the health care system”. That announcement included the extending of diagnostic imaging hours at health care facilities in the province.
Imaging and diagnostics wait times is just another challenge caused by the pandemic. And without a viable solution, this challenge will likely continue even after the virus is under control.