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More concerns raised about accuracy of CT scan readings

Minister Colin Hansen tabling the provincial budget at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday March 2, 2010.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Another case of suspect medical scans has come to light in British Columbia, adding urgency to a sweeping review the province launched last week and raising more questions about the oversight of radiologists in the province.

The latest instance concerns CT scans read by a long-time radiologist at St. Joseph's General Hospital in Comox, where an internal review – launched after colleagues voiced concerns about the quality of the doctor's work – found "a number of significant errors" in that radiologist's reports.

Health Minister Colin Hansen said he was disturbed by the third case – which he learned about Monday morning – especially its potential effect on patients.

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"These are individuals and families who have gone through the uncertainty of a diagnosis – to have this uncertainty added on to that I think would be very distressing," Mr. Hansen said.

The provincial Health Ministry and the executive of the Vancouver Island Health Authority say they were told Friday of concerns relating to the quality of CT scans read by a St. Joseph's radiologist.

When brought up to speed Monday morning, Mr. Hansen told ministry staff to meet with Doug Cochrane, who on Friday was named to head a two-part investigation into medical scans. The B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons and health authorities were also called in, and told to zero in on community hospitals where radiologists may be operating in solo practices.

Dr. Cochrane's investigation, which will focus first on a review to ensure that all radiologists in the province are properly credentialed, was trigged by two separate instances. In Powell River, authorities say a radiologist was interpreting CT scans and obstetrical ultrasounds over several years without authorization from the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons. And in Fraser Valley, a radiologist employed for a brief period may not have had sufficient experience to interpret CT scans, authorities say.

The two health authorities have begun notifying nearly 3,400 patients as part of their investigation into the Powell River and Fraser Valley radiologists. They have confirmed that missed cancer diagnoses could have resulted from the misread scans.

On Monday, Nicholas Simons, an NDP MLA, said he wrote the provincial Health Minister in 2008 about a constituent's concerns relating to the Powell River radiologist, and was informed those concerns had been passed along to the B.C. college. The college said it could not comment on any complaints.

Neither of the Powell River nor Fraser Valley radiologist is now practising in the province. Pregnant women from Powell River are being sent to St. Joseph's for ultrasounds.

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On Monday, Michael Pontus, president and chief executive officer of St. Joseph's, said the hospital has other qualified radiologists on staff who can perform those tests.

The radiologist whose work has been called into question at St. Joseph's has been practising at the hospital for more than 30 years. After second reads of CT scans found the errors, St. Joseph's suspended the radiologist and began to review other CT scans that doctor had performed.

At this point, it's not known how many patients have been affected by misread scans or how far back CT scans will have to be reread, Mr. Pontus said.

"There will be hundreds, but I'm not sure how many," he said on Monday, adding that the hospital and the Vancouver Island Health Authority had just begun discussing a process to review the questionable scans when news broke Friday that the province had launched a two-part review of medical scans in the province.

VIHA says it has already been in contact with Dr. Cochrane to ensure its review is consistent with the broader provincial review.

The college and regional health authorities will be key players in the review, Mr. Hansen said.

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"We need to work with all our partners to make sure that patients' safety is foremost so the public can once again have confidence that doctors have the credentials necessary to provide the services they are delivering. This is obviously as troubling to the college as it is to me," he said.

One of those affected by the scan debacle is Powell River resident Janet Baird, whose father John Moser died in January.

In August, he'd received a CT scan in the Powell River General Hospital and was told it did not detect any cancer, Ms. Baird said on Monday.

In the months that followed, he complained of pain and was unable to eat. When he was admitted to hospital in December, he had cancer throughout his body, Ms. Baird said.

She doesn't know if a different result would have allowed him to be cured or even treated, but said the news that scans may have been misread has compounded the family's grief.

"I felt like I had been shot," she said.



With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

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