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Medical scans from thousands of patients in the Niagara region are being reviewed after a radiologist made a mistake interpreting a diagnostic test.

According to media reports, the Niagara Health System, a group of six hospital sites, will be checking 4,000 MRIs, CT scans and mammograms originally interpreted by one radiologist from May, 2014, to May, 2015.

In a statement posted to its website Monday, the hospital said the review is being done for quality-improvement purposes. The hospital said it will inform patients only if the review discovers "any unreported or unusual findings." The process is estimated to take three months.

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But in an interview with local media outlets, Niagara Health System president Suzanne Johnston said the review was triggered by a patient's complaint in April, which eventually revealed an error with the radiologist's interpretation of a scan. Dr. Johnston would not reveal the type of scan or the name of the radiologist in question. She said the hospital has been conducting a review for several weeks and is enlisting the help of outside medical experts.

Interpreting diagnostic scans is difficult and complex. Other issues, such as inadequate staffing levels and a patchwork of quality-assurance mechanisms, can pose additional challenges. For several years, there have been growing calls from members of the medical community to create a national quality-control system for diagnostic tests. For instance, some suggest creating a mandatory peer-review system, wherein a radiologist's or pathologist's work is always reviewed by a second expert.

There have been numerous high-profile examples of diagnostic scan errors across Canada in recent years. In 2013, Trillium Health Partners launched a review of 3,500 radiology scans after an error led to a patient being misdiagnosed. The hospital waited for months before telling Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the public.

In response to the news, former Health Minister Deb Matthews said the province would look at creating a province-wide quality-assurance system to help prevent similar situations from happening. The province said it will roll out a physician peer-review program.

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