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Review calls for fixes to Alberta’s medical testing

Alberta Minister of Health Fred Horne

An independent review of medical screening and testing in Alberta has found some inconsistencies affecting how doctors are allowed to do their jobs, but health-care officials in the province are pledging to fix the problems and offering reassurance that patients are not at risk.

A provincewide probe of all diagnostic imaging and pathology testing was ordered last year after medical errors affecting cancer patients and others were detected at three separate hospitals in Calgary, Edmonton and Drumheller within just a few weeks.

Health Minister Fred Horne released the results of the review Wednesday and told reporters that all 12 recommendations – which focus on standardized licensing for those responsible for medical screening and testing, as well as a new electronic information system – are being implemented.

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"I don't have any concerns about the quality and safety of health-care services in Alberta as a result of this report," Mr. Horne said.

Concerns were raised a year ago about the handling of 31 biopsy tissue samples by Calgary Laboratory Services at the city's Rockyview General Hospital. In Edmonton, problems at the Royal Alexandra Hospital saw the retesting of 1,700 biopsies. And at Drumheller Hospital, worries about the X-ray results of a single patient led to a review of about 1,300 CT scans, ultrasounds and X-rays.

While the Health Quality Council of Alberta is expected to release details about the specific incidents on Thursday, Mr. Horne told reporters that the trio of medical mistakes directly affected 325 Albertans. While no one was seriously harmed as a result, he said the incidents caused a lot of stress for patients.

The independent government-ordered review, which was carried out by Dennis Kendel, formerly the registrar with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, told Alberta's College of Physicians and Surgeons to bring in new CT-scan standards for all licensed radiologists, as well as an electronic database of physicians and their licensing status.

Dr. Kendel also recommended that Alberta Health Services, the so-called superboard that operates health care in the province, align its system of licensing and privileges for doctors with the college and also standardize rules among the various regions.

"I have the utmost confidence in our pathologists and radiologists, and so should Albertans," said Chris Eagle, president and chief executive officer with AHS. "That said," Dr. Eagle added, "Dr. Kendel's report raises some interesting questions about the process to credential and privilege pathologists and radiologists in this province. It is clear we have some challenges."

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More


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