Call to free up orders for MRI scans
MANY patients could be spared months of waiting for a diagnosis if general practitioners were allowed to authorise magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans instead of directing patients to medical specialists to obtain them, a Tweed doctor said yesterday. Tweed Valley Division of General Practice spokesman Dr Graeme Burger was speaking to the Tweed Daily News in the wake of a call by the Australian Medical Association urging the federal government to allow GPs to directly order some MRIs. Before last year's federal election it was announced that GPs would be able to directly refer patients for a Medicare-funded MRI scan of the knee or the brain where multiple sclerosis is suspected. The Health and Ageing department recently advised that the Rudd Labor government had put the GP MRI initiative, scheduled to take effect from %January 1, on hold pending a review. Dr Burger said though GPs shouldn't be given "open slather" to order MRIs, the proposed change would help speed up early diagnosis for many patients. "The MRI scan is expensive and it would normally be the last line of investigation," Dr Burger said. "But the waiting list for neurologists can be two or three months, and %patients want to exclude or confirm as soon as possible if they have MS. "If GPs could order the scan it would reduce the waiting period of anxiety that most patients have to suffer now." AMA national president Dr Rosanna Capolingua said her group had written to Health Minister Nicola Roxon asking that GPs be allowed to order MRIs. "For patients living in areas where access to specialists is more difficult, often rural areas, the benefits are great," Dr Capolingua said. "Once this policy is implemented, the AMA believes it should be extended to allow direct GP referrals for MRI scans covering a broader range of medical conditions." AMA-commissioned research by the University of Sydney shows that allowing GPs to directly authorise MRI scans for patients would save the %government up to $42 million a year.