On Your Side: Coping with colonoscopy exams
Quebec is trying to reduce waiting lists for colonoscopies (March 12, 2012)
Published Monday, March 12, 2012 3:01PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 13, 2012 11:05AM EDT
MONTREAL- Having a colonoscopy may not be the most pleasant experience, but for people who have a family history of colon cancer it is something to look forward to.
Which is why Shirley Smart is so outraged.
Her father died at age 59 of undiagnosed colorectal cancer, and her doctor's advised her to get an exam every three years.
She had her first colonoscopy in her late 40s in 2002, and a second in 2005, but has not been able to have one since because of the lengthy waiting list at St. Eustache hospital.
The hospital blames its waiting list on maternity leave, and Smart has been moved onto the waiting list for two other hospitals in the interim.
That prompted On Your Side to examine waiting lists at Montreal-area hospitals.
At the Royal Victoria patients have to wait less than eight months, and can be rushed into an exam in under two weeks for a high priority case;
The Montreal General has a waiting time of less than one year, and can also move patients to the front of the line;
Lakeshore General has a two-year wait for screening, up to eight months for semi-urgent exams, and anywhere from one to six weeks for urgent cases;
St. Mary's Hospital will see patients in one year, with semi-urgent patients seen in four to eight weeks and urgent cases wait in less than four weeks;
The Jewish General Hospital is booking now for 2016, but urgent cases will be seen within weeks.
Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital would not provide their wait times.
The colonoscopy section at Sacre Coeur hospital has been under repair for several months and so doesn't have an accurate waiting list time.
Private lists have very short waiting lists for those willing to pay $450 to $650.
Rockland MD can provide a colonscopy within a week, while Via Medica and Villa Maria Nuclear Imaging can take on new patients within two days.
Smart found the difference in wait times shocking, and wondered if it was deliberate.
"Can you think of the person who has more symptoms and they're thinking 'Am I going to die from this? Well I might as well go pay for it.' So is this a way of scaring people into the private sector," said Smart.
Health Minister Yves Bolduc has also questioned lengthy wait times, and reports of doctors pushing patients into private care.
New tests coming
Given the lengthy wait lists, and the knowledge that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Quebec, even thought it's 90 percent preventable if diagnosed at an early stage, the Ministry of Health is developing a new screening program.
A fecal blood test will target half a million Quebecers aged 50 to 74 which people will be able to do at home every two years.
The test will detect for microscopic amounts of blood, and if found people will be urged to have a colonoscopy.
Eight areas, including the MUHC, are currently in the pilot phase of the project to establish norms, and next year select patients will begin testing the home diagnostic kits.
Right now 80,000 colonoscopies are performed each year in Quebec, and if the kits work, doctors expect 50,000 more people every year will need a colonoscopy.
The goal is to give people those exams within four months.
Dr. Barry Stein of the Colorectal Cancer Association Of Canada expects private clinics will be needed to care for some patients.
"I think it's important that additional resources be put into colonscopy and into the process," said Dr. Stein. "That's part of the reason for the programme, a population-based screening programme on a gradual basis so that those kinks in the system can be worked out."
As for Smart, Dr. Stein suggests she ask her family doctor to get a home kit from her own doctor right away if she's worried.