McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster researcher finds the rich benefit most from reduced MRI wait times

Published: March 3, 2009
John You
Dr. John You, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and associate member of the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

Wait times for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning have improved since the Ontario government’s strategy to shorten wait times launched in 2004. But a study led by a McMaster University researcher has found wealthy Ontarians are significantly more likely to receive MRI scans than their poorer counterparts.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences study was led by Dr. John You of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. The assistant professor holds appointments in the departments of medicine and clinical epidemiology and biostatistics.

You and his research team examined outpatient MRI scans performed in Ontario between April 1, 2002, and March 31, 2007. The researchers discovered:

  • At the beginning of the study, before Ontario’s Wait Times Strategy began, a gap in access to MRI scans existed between individuals of different socioeconomic status. Patients living in the richest one-fifth of Ontario neighbourhoods were 25 per cent more likely to receive MRI scans than those living in the poorest one-fifth of neighbourhoods.
  • The province launched its Wait Times Strategy in November 2004 and by March 2008 had invested approximately $118 million in capital and operating funding into MRI services. Between 2002 and 2007, the annual number of MRI scans performed in Ontario doubled.
  • However, the increase in MRI use over that period was largest for those in the wealthiest Ontario neighbourhoods, resulting in an increased gap in access to MRI scans between rich and poor. In 2006/07, patients living in the richest neighbourhoods were 38 per cent more likely to receive MRI scans than those in the poorest neighbourhoods.
  • The Ontario’s Wait Times Strategy has improved access to MRI, but the findings suggest the improvements in access have not been uniform among all Ontarians.

"We already knew from previous work that there was greater access to MRI scans for richer Ontarians," said You, who is also an adjunct scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto. "This study shows that access has improved but it looks like it has not been shared equally."

"It’s well known that, on average, poor people have more health problems than the rich, so the trends go against what we would have expected. Although many of us pride ourselves on Ontario’s universal hospital and physician services, our study highlights the need for simultaneous strategies that aim to improve the appropriateness of MRI scanning, so that access is based on medical need."

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