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Review ordered after medical diagnoses not sent to doctors
Computer glitch means X-rays, CT scans and mammograms not seen by physicians for up to four months

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Monday, August 24, 2015

An external investigation has been ordered after some 1,500 reports from diagnostic images from patients across the NWT did not get to the doctors who ordered them for up to four months after they were requested.

NNSL photo/graphic

Dr. Don Beach looks at a patient's digital record, part of the Department of Health and Social Services' Digital Imaging and Picture Archiving Communication System (DI/PACS) on March 16, 2007. An external review has now been ordered at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife after it was revealed that a computer glitch kept diagnostic imaging records from the doctors who ordered them for up to four months. - photo courtesy of the Department of Health and Social Services

The review will be conducted by someone from outside the territorial government, according to Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy.

The minister confirmed that because of a computer glitch, some X-rays, mammograms, CT scans and ultrasounds were not properly transmitted to clinics and doctors between April and August of this year.

About 10,000 images in total were ordered in the NWT over that four-month period.

"They go through a digitized process where they digitize the report and then the report is e-mailed to the practitioners. Sometimes it is faxed out," Abernethy said. "Many of the referring physicians also include other members of the care team who are to be copied on those reports. So the unfortunate thing was that it would go to the (care teams) who were included on the list of the doctors or the practitioners but they did not go to the referring doctor.

Abernethy said he doesn't know if anyone has died because of the problem.

"We don't believe so. We know that everyone has been contacted," said Abernethy.

"But I can't talk to the seriousness of some of the urgent cases and whether they did or did not receive timely care.

"We know that most of the individuals were followed up and often when a radiologist or someone reviewing the (diagnostic images) sees a critical or an urgent case they often phone the practitioners to let them know. Most of them seem to have been followed up with accordingly but until we can guarantee that all of them have been followed up, we are continuing to double check to make sure everyone has received the information they need."

Abernethy said he does not know who, if anyone, is to blame for the problem. He said he found out about it on Aug. 6, the same day the Department of Health and Social Services did. He does not believe there was a delay in informing the public.

"It came forth from doctors and other practitioners who were curious why it was taking so long to get some diagnostic reports," he said. "Our medical and ethical principles dictate that our first priority was to stop the harm which was done. Our second priority is to manage patients appropriately. This has been done and is still going on."

Abernethy was not prepared to talk about the specifics of the external investigation other than to say it will be done by someone with both medical and computer experience. He added he believes the appropriate steps are being taken to make sure something like this does not happen again.

MLA upset by late info

Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche said he is frustrated by the imaging problem in general as well as how long it took the minister and his department to notify MLAs of the issue.

"The minister only advised MLAs on Aug. 11 by e-mail that there was an issue with digital imaging reports," said Menicoche. "When MLAs work with the minister's office they want to see a share of information, that we'd be duly notified."

The imaging information problem will be on the agenda when the legislative assembly's priorities and planning committee meets on Sept. 14 to 19, said Menicoche.

He added the has not heard from any of his constituents directly whether any were affected by the delay but said that doesn't mean none of them were.

"If people don't know (their results) then potentially they think they are doing fine when possibly they aren't, and that's concerning" Menicoche said.

"Typically in my riding I have constituents who have had bad experiences with our medical travel to begin with. So to have any constituents who were impacted by delayed imaging reports would only further aggravate confidence in the health system."

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