The province has launched an investigation into thousands of medical scans, including CT scans and ultrasounds, performed in B.C. hospitals after red flags were raised over readings performed by two radiologists in 2010.
In announcing the probe, Health Minister Colin Hansen apologized to patients who may have received questionable scans and promised to take steps to prevent such problems in the future. Health officials conceded that some diagnoses, including cancer, may have been missed.
"I want to assure patients and their families that every effort will be made to work with them and answer any questions they may have and to expedite any follow-up tests and care that may be required," Mr. Hansen said at a news conference in Vancouver.
He said the probe would include an analysis of how health authorities responded to the concerns, which came to light last fall but were not made public until Friday.
It took time to determine whether concerns were valid and whether it would be necessary to notify patients involved, Vancouver Coastal Health authority president David Ostrow said in response to questions at the news conference.
The provincial Health Ministry learned of concerns in Powell River last week, on Feb. 4, and of the Fraser Valley issue this week, Mr. Hansen said.
"It would appear from what we have learned so far that the timing of these matters coming to light is coincidental," Mr. Hansen said. "Nevertheless, the incidents raise important questions that need to be answered as quickly as possible to ensure that all British Columbians can have confidence in their health-care system."
The concerns relate to scans performed last year by one full-time radiologist in Powell River and one temporary, or locum, radiologist who practiced in the Fraser Valley.
The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is contacting nearly 900 patients in the Powell River area following an internal investigation into concerns that a radiologist at the hospital there was not authorized by the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons to interpret CT scans.
The same radiologist had read nearly 2,300 obstetrical ultrasounds since 2002 without being authorized to do so by the college, according to the province.
As soon as VCH learned of the concerns, the radiologist was told to stop reading the scans and obstetrical ultrasounds.
Women who had ultrasounds at the hospital and have since had their babies are being told of the situation, while women who are still pregnant have been referred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Comox for repeat ultrasounds.
Saying he was "deeply troubled" by the incident, Dr. Ostrow apologized to Powell River residents.
"It should absolutely not have occurred. It did occur. We apologize to you for the stress and anxiety that this situation will cause," Dr. Ostrow said.
The Fraser Health Authority, meanwhile, will be contacting 170 patients in the eastern Fraser Valley following an internal investigation into concerns that an out-of-province radiologist who worked temporarily at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and at Chilliwack General Hospital may not have had sufficient experience to interpret CT scans.
Mr. Hansen said the two-part probe, under the direction of Doug Cochrane, would look first to ensure that all radiologists working in B.C. are properly credentialed.
The second part of the probe will examine all aspects of the known incidents, including a review of how health authorities manage doctors' credentials and privileges and the role of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia.
The college is responsible for registering and licensing physicians but does not credential physicians for specific procedures, Heidi Oetter, registrar of the college, told reporters at a hastily called news conference in Vancouver on Friday.
And the college had well-established procedures to ensure disclosure of relevant information to health authorities.
"Those procedures were followed in the cases in question and appropriate information was provided by the college," Dr. Oetter said.
Neither of the radiologists who triggered the investigation is working in B.C. One is working in Ontario, she said, and the B.C. college has notified its Ontario counterpart of concerns relating to that radiologist.
Mr. Hansen said the provincial review would be completed and made public within six months.