Long waits for MRIs at hospitals in the Lower Mainland could be a thing of the past for Whistler residents and visitors with the installation of a private MRI clinic on Main Street as early as this January.
As a doctor, Anthony Mascia used to practice medicine in Whistler 15 years ago. When he went back to school in Ontario to become a radiologist, he realized the need — and potential — for an MRI in Whistler.
“Five years ago I put a proposal forward for a full MRI, but the health authority couldn’t subsidize it. Now the goal is to put in an extremity MRI for limb injuries, like knees, ankles, wrists, and so on… and to operate it as a private venture,” said Mascia.
MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, which is an imaging technique that allows doctors to take detailed images of the body, muscle, bones and tissue, that can be viewed in precise layers. It can detect injuries and fractures that are too small to be seen by conventional X-rays.
Although the new clinic will be privately owned, patients will still need a referral from a physician to go to Mascia’s clinic. And while residents of B.C. and Canada will be charged at first for using the service — at a discounted rate — Mascia plans to apply for B.C. Medical Services Plan coverage that would allow residents to use it at no charge.
“Right now it’s private, and hopefully WCB (Workers’ Compensation Board) will pay for it if the injury is work-related, and sporting teams will pay for their athletes,” he said. “The way it works in B.C. is that you have to get your clinic up and running, and show MSP that you have a good product before you can apply for coverage, but that’s the goal.”
Mascia estimates that it will cost $875 for an MRI image at his clinic, which is being built in an office off of Main Street. He’s still working out the discount for locals, but expects it will be in the 15 to 20 per cent range.
Mascia says the clinic has passed all of the hurdles at municipal hall, including a building permit to modify the space. The MRI unit itself is relatively small, but the walls and ceiling have to be lined with copper plating to prevent any outside electromagnetic interference that could affect the quality of the images.
The unit itself is the MSK Extreme 1.5 T, and this will be one of only three extremity MRI machines in the world that operate at that level.
“It’s a 1.5 T, or Tesla, which won’t mean much to the average person, but basically the bigger the number the more power, and more power means better quality images,” Mascia explained. “This is a new product out of the states, and it’s a leading edge type of product to do joints for sports and work related injuries.”
Mascia would not say how much the MRI and clinic will cost, but said it would be at least seven figures. Because of the number of limb injuries taking place in Whistler, however, he views it as a solid investment.
The previous model of the MRI, a 1.0 Tesla model, was used at the Torino Winter Games, and there are two of them in Vail. The new 1.5 T versions are at work in New York and Atlanta.
“My background as an MRI radiologist is in sports medicine, where I work with NHL, NFL, Olympic athletes… That’s the kind of experience I would be bringing to Whistler residents.”