U.K. imaging facilities see shorter wait times

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Wait times in imaging facilities in the U.K.-based have gone down as much as 33 percent, according to a Healthcare Commission report. While wait times are down, study results are still a bit longer than is desirable.

For its extensive study of healthcare facilities the commission reviewed the performance of imaging departments using data from all 196 imaging departments in England and a survey of 5,500 doctors and nurses. The departments perform 33 million patient examinations in England annually, including x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans and ultrasound scans. Regardless of increases in demand, most imaging departments have brought down wait times for each diagnostic examinations.

The study determined that the average length of time for a non-urgent CT scan dropped from seven weeks in 2001 to just over five weeks at the end of 2005. For MRI scans, the wait reduced from 21 weeks to 14 weeks over the same period.

Some of the causes of the wait reductions are investment in new equipment and higher productivity levels.

England’s Department of Health has recently required that diagnostic tests be done within 13 weeks of referral. This is to help trusts meet the 18-week referral to treatment target by the end of 2008. As of the end of last year many of the facilities had already hit this target, the study found.

On the negative side, radiology report times have not improved since 2001. One in four facilities was found to take more than 10 days to report examinations requested from outpatient clinics.

The report found that the results from nearly 10 percent of imaging examination were never formally reported to the referring doctor by the x-ray department. This put patients at risk of having injuries or serious conditions that go undetected, the commission said.

The high workload of some departments has contributed to the delays in formally confirming results, the commission found.

“It’s impressive that most trusts have reduced how long patients have to wait for an imaging examination, such as a CT or MRI scan. Patients can experience unnecessary worry when there are long delays waiting for a diagnosis to be confirmed,” said Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission. “However, the fact that the results from 10 percent of imaging examinations are never formally reported means that injuries and serious conditions can go undetected, and this potentially puts patients at risk.