By Gilles Soulez, Ania Kielar, Casey Hurrell, Heidi Schmidt
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1860 that “the first wealth is health.” After nearly two years of living through the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing disruptions and delays to diagnostic tests and procedures continue to adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Canadians, with attendant repercussions for the economic wellbeing of the country. Investments are needed now.
Prior to COVID-19, in most Canadian provinces, wait times for CT and MRI exceeded recognized standards, particularly for patients assigned to lower priority levels (1). By 2022, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that average wait would be 67 days for a CT and 133 days for an MRI, greatly exceeding the acceptable target of 30 days, and that these wait times will result in an economic impact of $3.5 billion in lost GDP (2). During the pandemic, the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) observed a significant decrease in imaging volumes across all modalities, which is in line with the published literature on the impact of COVID-19 on radiology in other countries (3, 4). As of late 2021, many centers resumed to pre-pandemic volumes. However, while some of this throughput is being achieved by more efficient workflows, most of the regained capacity to scan patients is the result of extended hours and additional shifts. The net effect on human health resources may not be sustainable (4). Other facilities are still operating below their pre-pandemic capacity, initially caused by increased cleaning requirements or workflow considerations, more recently due to human resource shortages (4). The additional health and economic burden of the pandemic could now result in an estimated $5 billion in lost GDP (4).