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A rural CT scanner: evaluating the effect on local health care

Merkens BJ, Mowbray RD, Creeden L, Engels PT, Rothwell DM, Chan BT, Tu K. Can Assoc Radiol J. 2006; 57(4):224-31.


Objective — The first small rural hospital in Ontario to propose a computed tomography (CT) scanner was in Walkerton, a town 160 km north of London. The Ontario Ministry of Health approved the proposal as a pilot project to evaluate the effect on local health care of a rural scanner. This evaluation study had 3 parts: a survey of physicians, a survey of patients, and an analysis of population CT scanning rates.

Method — The physicians in the area served by the scanner were asked about its impact on their care of their patients in a mailed questionnaire and in semistructured interviews. Scanner outpatients were given a questionnaire in which they rated the importance of its advantages. The analysis of scanning rates--the ratio of number of scans to estimated population--compared rates in the area with other Ontario rates before and after the scanner was introduced.

Results — The physicians reported that local CT allowed them to diagnose and treat patients sooner, closer to home, and with greater confidence. On average, 75% of the patients ranked faster and closer access as very important. Scanning rates in the area rose, although they did not match urban rates.

Conclusions — The study confirms that the rural scanner changed the area's health care in significant ways and that it helped to narrow the gap between rural and urban service levels. We recommend that CT be expanded to other rural regions.

Keywords: Rural/northern health services Access to health care Health care services

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