MRI scanners in Canada used more intensively than those in the United States and England

However, Canada has fewer MRI and CT scanners per million population than most OECD countries.

February 8, 2006 – A new report released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows steady investment in MRI and CT scanners in Canada. The number of MRI scanners in 2005 was up more than 35% from five years earlier, while the number of CT scanners increased 19% in the same period. However, Canada continued to rank below the median among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in MRI and CT scanners per million population.

At the same time, new analysis in the CIHI report shows that while Canada has fewer machines per million people, it uses its MRI scanners more intensively than the U.S. and England—the only other countries collecting comparable data. In 2004–2005, numbers of MRI exams per scanner were almost 40% higher in Canada than in the U.S. or England. At the same time, the U.S. performed more than three times the number of exams, reporting 83.2 MRI exams per 1,000 population in 2004–2005, compared to 25.5 in Canada and 19.0 in England.

Canada also had about 50% more exams per CT scanner than the U.S. However, when comparing exams per population, the U.S. performed nearly double the exams, with 172.5 CT exams per 1,000 population, compared to 87.3 in Canada.

The report also contains new data which show a substantial growth in the number of exams per 1,000 population. MRI exams per 1,000 population increased 13.3% in 2004–2005 from the year before, while CT exams per 1,000 population grew by 8.0% over the previous year.

“For the first time in Canada, we are able to look at not only how many machines we have, but also how those machines are being used,” says Geoff Ballinger, CIHI Health Expenditures Manager. “Knowing the number of machines is certainly useful, but international comparisons show it’s equally important to know how many exams a machine actually performs. Higher scan rates can have a significant impact on the number of people getting exams.”

Medical Imaging in Canada 2005 is based on new provincial, national and international research looking at six different kinds of medical imaging technology, including angiography suites, cardiac catheterization laboratories, computed tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, nuclear medicine cameras and positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. The report covers the number of imaging machines by province, new utilization data on how often machines are used, the location of equipment (hospital or free-standing facility), international comparisons, advances in imaging technology and age of equipment.

Increase in the number of MRI and CT scanners, as well as medical imaging workforce

At the beginning of 2005, Canada had 176 MRI scanners, up from 157 in 2004 and 130 five years earlier. The number of CT scanners also grew, but not at the same pace as MRIs. The number of CT scanners installed as of January 2005 rose to 361, up from 346 the year before and 303 five years earlier.

Compared to the 20 OECD countries reporting MRI data for the latest year comparable data were available, Canada ranked 12th, reporting 5.5 MRI scanners per million people. Japan and the U.S. had the highest number, with 35.3 and 27.0 per million, respectively. The median was 6.7. Canada ranked 15th among the 21 OECD countries reporting data on CT scanners, with 11.3 per million population. Japan and the U.S. had the highest number again, at 92.6 and 32.0 per million, respectively. The median was 14.0.

The number of medical imaging professionals also increased. There were 177 new medical radiological technologists in 2004, bringing the total number up to 12,229. The number of diagnostic radiologists also went up by 61 during the same period, bringing the total number of diagnostic radiologists up to 1,967.

Provincial and territorial variations in number of machines and exams per population

The number of exams per 1,000 population varied significantly across the country in 2004–2005, with MRI exams ranging from a high of 36.6 per 1,000 population in Alberta to a low of 8.5 per 1,000 in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Canadian average was 25.5 (Nova Scotia is not included in the MRI-per-1,000-population comparison, because of a different reporting method used by two hospitals). For CT exams, the number ranged from 134.8 per 1,000 population in New Brunswick to 78.2 in British Columbia. The Canadian average was 87.3.

Growth in the number of MRI scanners in both hospitals and free-standing facilities

The number of MRI scanners in free-standing imaging facilities, which are mainly privately funded, increased from 15 in 2001 to 28 in 2005. During that same period, the number of MRI scanners in hospitals, which are mainly publicly funded, went up from 115 to 148. As of January 2005, 16% of MRI scanners were in free-standing imaging facilities.

Medical Imaging in Canada

Medical Imaging in Canada is the third in a series of comprehensive reports on the imaging field in Canada. It incorporates the results of the 2004 National Survey of Selected Medical Imaging Equipment, as well as new data from Statistics Canada, provincial and territorial ministries of health, professional associations and other sources. Equipment counts were requested from all imaging facilities, checked against manufacturers’ data and CIHI’s own data and verified by provincial and territorial ministries of health. Topics covered in this report include the number and distribution of selected medical imaging technologies, the cost of medical imaging services and issues related to medical imaging human resources in Canada.

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) collects and analyzes information on health and health care in Canada and makes it publicly available. Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments created CIHI as a not-for-profit, independent organization dedicated to forging a common approach to Canadian health information. CIHI’s goal: to provide timely, accurate and comparable information. CIHI’s data and reports inform health policies, support the effective delivery of health services and raise awareness among Canadians of the factors that contribute to good health.

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