Diagnostic imagery ordered by chiropractors, physios won’t be covered in Alberta

As of March 31, diagnostic imaging services like X-rays, ultrasounds, bone scans and MRIs ordered by certain practitioners will no longer be covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan.

The province terminated the master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association and will implement new physicians funding framework and 11 consultation proposals, which include the de-insuring of diagnostic imaging services referred by physiotherapists, the Physiotherapy Alberta College and Association said in an email.

The funding change, announced Feb. 20, includes claims referred by chiropractors, physiotherapists and audiologists.

“In the past, if I felt it was necessary to send someone for an X-ray or an ultrasound, I could do so just in the clinic,” said physiotherapist Mira Jindani.

“I could just give them a requisition and send them right away.

“Now… I’ll have to send the patients back to their general practitioner, they’ll have to make an appointment to do that, go for the imaging. I won’t have direct access to that imaging, so I’ll have to request it from the doctor — we don’t have access to Netcare, so I’d have to request it through the doctor — they’d have to follow up for the results from the doctor and we’d be able to go forward from there.”

She worries this change will increase the burden on family doctors.

“We’re also impacting the health-care system further… Essentially, the doctor is busier with these cases that we could have been dealing with ourselves.”

The association says another impact of the change would be patients paying out-of-pocket for these services or accessing third-party insurance benefits to avoid delays in treatment.

“Their pain could increase, further degeneration, different things,” said Jindani. “Time off work. If somebody is needing surgery, or some interventions, it delays that step too.”

She stressed that images are not ordered lightly and not all physiotherapists have the ability to order them. It requires a specific course.

“This announcement is incredibly disappointing as we know this will negatively affect patient care while increasing costs to the health-care system,” the Physiotherapy Alberta College and Association said in a statement.

“We encourage you to contact your local MLA and the minister of health to emphasize the unintended consequences of this announcement.”

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