11/07/2012 05:49 EST | Updated 01/07/2013 05:12 EST

Alberta Hospital Errors: Government Makes Changes To Medical Testing Approval System

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EDMONTON - The rules on what Alberta radiologists can and can't do vary too much from place to place in Alberta, and doctors and bureaucrats need to do a better job talking to each other, according to a new report released Wednesday.

Health Minister Fred Horne said his department is already taking action to fix those problems, adding that all 12 recommendations from the independent report will be implemented.

"I don't have any concerns about the quality and safety of health care services in Alberta as a result of this report," Horne told a news conference at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

"What the report does is it showed us where we need to strengthen our system."

Horne asked for a system-wide review of medical testing almost a year ago, following reports of patients being misdiagnosed at three hospitals.

Results of investigations into the specific incidents will be released Thursday by the watchdog Health Quality Council of Alberta.

"There were about 325 Albertans that were directly affected by these three incidents. Thankfully, no one died and no one was seriously harmed as a result," said Horne.

The report by Dr. Dennis Kendel of Saskatchewan said there needs to be one provincial standard on what radiologists can do in a particular lab, clinic or hospital.

In some cases, he said, radiologists ended up performing tasks not directly OK'd by the health region or by the provincial licensing body, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.

"It's clear we have some challenges, but it's important to keep those challenges in perspective," said Dr. Chris Eagle, the head of Alberta Health Services, which carries out the frontline care for Horne's department.

Eagle said they've already been working for months to harmonize one standard for physician credentials and for clinical privileges.

"Going forward, individual pathologists and radiologists will be asked to confirm their privileges as part of an annual verification process. Other disciplines will follow," he said.

Among the changes stemming from the recommendations, the College will implement standards for radiologists around CT scans, given how fast the technology is changing in that field.

The College will also broaden its electronic information sharing database with Alberta Health Services while making sure privacy rules are followed.

Alberta Health Services will continue implementation of physician reviews and make sure the reviews are done to one standard across the province.

"Clearly our close working relationship with Alberta Health Services is key," said Dr. Trevor Theman, head of the College.

Horne announced the sweeping review last Dec. 29 after a spate of misdiagnoses and misread tests at hospitals in Drumheller, Edmonton, and Calgary.

In Drumheller, a check into 249 CT scans, X-rays and ultrasounds by one radiologist at the hospital turned up mistakes affecting 34 patients.

At Edmonton's Royal Alexandra facility, it was discovered problems with biopsies from one pathologist affected 159 patients, including 29 men whose prostate cancer was missed or misdiagnosed.

A lab at Calgary's Rockview General Hospital was checked to see if 31 biopsy samples were tainted by faulty equipment.

Alberta now joins other provinces, including New Brunswick, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland Labrador in reviewing its diagnostic procedures after patients were misdiagnosed.

In August 2011, a report in B.C. found that poor oversight, among other factors, was to blame in the deaths of three patients and the harming of nine more after they were misdiagnosed by three unqualified radiologists.

In 2009 a public inquiry in Newfoundland and Labrador determined there had been more than 400 cases of misdiagnosed breast cancer from 1997 to 2005 with some of the patients dying from the resultant lack of proper care.

Other inquiries have pointed to larger problems with the system in Canada, including a growing shortage of radiologists and pathologists, poor provincial oversight of laboratories, and no national standards.