US company offers echo tests in rural Manitoba
July 17, 2019
WINNIPEG – A North Dakota company has quietly been crossing into Manitoba to offer diagnostic services for a fee, catching health officials off guard and sparking the province’s health minister to order a review into the mobile clinic.
CBC News reports that Access Health Imaging has visited Manitoba numerous times over the past year, offering echocardiograms for $399 and other tests at hotels, such as a Motel 6 in Brandon and Roadhouse 52 in Steinbach.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba told CBC they had no knowledge of the company’s operations.
Dr. James Tam, a Winnipeg-based cardiologist, said these companies offer patients procedures, whether needed or not, that burden the system and can lead to further unnecessary tests. “I think it’s ludicrous, totally ludicrous,” he said.
Meanwhile, federal health officials say they’ve heard of these cross-border screenings before and say provinces allowing an echocardiogram to be offered for a fee – no matter the venue – runs counter to the Canada Health Act.
Posing as a patient wanting an echocardiogram, a CBC producer was able to book an appointment within two weeks, compared to the current 14-month wait for non-urgent scans in Winnipeg. She did not require a doctor’s requisition and was given the option to go to Steinbach or Morden.
The screening room was set up in a cramped hotel conference room, with a large sign for Access Health Imaging acting as a privacy curtain, on the other side of which patients were being scanned.
Alison Spielvogel, who runs the company and performs the echocardiograms, was the only one in the room. She is certified as a diagnostic cardiac sonographer with The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
“It is apples to apples – just the border crossing,” she said, when asked about how a doctor in Manitoba will interpret the results.
“The testing is completely standardized. There is no reason that if and when you take your report to your physician, that they will be like, ‘This is Greek to me.’”
The scans are forwarded to a cardiologist in North Dakota and a report is provided to the patient within two to three weeks, she explained.
Dr. Chris Simpson, a cardiologist and vice-dean of the School of Medicine at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said these clinics are coming to Manitoba because of the failings in the public system.
Over the past three years, the wait times for elective echocardiograms have skyrocketed in Winnipeg, from an average of 21 weeks in 2016-17 to more than 68 weeks at St. Boniface Hospital as of May.
“This should all be a wake-up call to all of the stakeholders in Manitoba who’ve watched this echo wait time problem evolve over many years,” Simpson said.
“This is exactly what happens when the public offering is inadequate, and the end result is going to be people getting tests based on their ability to pay rather than on the basis of their need.”