Treating the right patient at the right time: Access to cardiovascular nuclear imaging
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Cardiovascular nuclear medicine uses agents labelled with radioisotopes that can be imaged with cameras (single-photon emission tomography [SPECT] or positron emission tomography [PET]) capable of detecting gamma photons to show physiological parameters such as myocardial perfusion, myocardial viability or ventricular function. There is a growing body of literature providing guidelines for the appropriate use of these techniques, but there are little data regarding the appropriate timeframe during which the procedures should be accessed. An expert working group composed of cardiologists and nuclear medicine specialists conducted an Internet search to identify current wait times and recommendations for wait times for a number of cardiac diagnostic tools and procedures, including cardiac catheterization and angioplasty, bypass grafting and vascular surgery. These data were used to estimate appropriate wait times for cardiovascular nuclear medicine procedures. The estimated times were compared with current wait times in each province. Wait time benchmarks were developed for the following: myocardial perfusion with either exercise or pharmacological stress and SPECT or PET imaging; myocardial viability assessment with either fluorodeoxyglucose SPECT or PET imaging, or thallium-201 SPECT imaging; and radionuclide angiography. Emergent, urgent and nonurgent indications were defined for each clinical examination. In each case, appropriate wait time benchmarks were defined as within 24 h for emergent indications, within three days for urgent indications and within 14 days for nonurgent indications. Substantial variability was noted from province to province with respect to access for these procedures. For myocardial perfusion imaging, mean emergent/urgent wait times varied from four to 24 days, and mean nonurgent wait times varied from 15 to 158 days. Only Ontario provided limited access to viability assessment, with fluorodeoxyglucose available in one centre. Mean emergent/urgent wait times for access to viability assessment with thallium-201 SPECT imaging varied from three to eight days, with the exception of Newfoundland, where an emergent/urgent assessment was not available; mean nonurgent wait times varied from seven to 85 days. Finally, for radionuclide angiography, mean emergent/urgent wait times varied from two to 20 days, and nonurgent wait times varied from eight to 36 days. Again, Newfoundland centres were unable to provide emergent/urgent access. The publication of these data and proposed wait times as national targets is a step toward the validation of these recommendations through consultation with clinicians caring for cardiac patients across Canada.
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