The Alberta government has ordered a review of all diagnostic imaging and pathology testing in the province after errors surfaced at three separate hospitals since November.
The move follows a spate of botched medical tests in other provinces in the past few years – in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The mistakes have spurred panic among patients, who in some cases received delayed treatment or the wrong care, and prompted multiple government probes. B.C. recently undertook a sweeping look at radiology, which concluded that misread tests did hurt some patients and which resulted in a government pledge to overhaul the medical imaging sector.
Citing recommendations from the B.C. report, including adopting a peer review system, Alberta has launched a provincial review in response to mistakes detected in Calgary, Edmonton and now Drumheller.
"This is not about blaming the people that deliver the care," Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne told reporters on Thursday. "This is about answering some very fundamental questions about checks and balances in our health-care system."
Mr. Horne said the review, which could take months, should answer questions about the safety and quality of care. Still, he remains confident that the system works.
"I have no reason to believe that patient care is at risk," he said.
The announcement came after a single patient at the Drumheller Hospital in central Alberta complained about a sudden change in treatment after receiving X-ray results. That spawned a review of 249 CT scans, ultrasounds and X-rays, which were interpreted in November and December by an unnamed but "experienced" radiologist at the hospital.
Mistakes of "considerable concern" were detected in CT scans of 34 patients, according to Chris Eagle, president and chief executive officer of Alberta Health Services.
"All patients will be notified as tests are reread whether or not there is a change in their interpretation or treatment and whether or not there's a need to actually change the course of care," Dr. Eagle said.
The findings thus far are so alarming that officials have further expanded the review of the radiologist's work to reassess about 1,300 CT scans performed over the past six months. That review will take several weeks.
Officials wouldn't say where the male radiologist was trained, but said he is no longer working either in the public system or privately. The individual is now vacationing abroad, and his professional future is up in the air pending the review, officials said.
Two other reviews are already under way by the Health Quality Council of Alberta, the province's independent health-care watchdog.
In November, the province asked the council to scrutinize whether 31 biopsy tissue samples were properly handled by Calgary Laboratory Services staff at the city's Rockyview General Hospital. Officials have said there was no evidence of false diagnoses.
Earlier this month, the council was asked to examine 1,700 diagnoses made by a pathologist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton last summer. Affected patients initially included 29 men who may have missed prostate cancer treatments after their biopsies were misinterpreted, but Dr. Eagle said there are now 159 patients of "particular concern."
In all cases, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which investigates doctors, has been notified.
Mr. Horne deflected questions about whether cuts to health funding, a frequent cause of concern by opposition parties and special-interest groups, has created a culture for error.
"I can't fathom that cost has anything to do with this whatsoever," he said.