Private MRI found what ER could not
In early February, Chris Austinson woke up with a tingling numbness in his left arm and went to Royal Inland Hospital’s emergency room to get checked out.
The doctor there looked at Austinson’s chart and told him he was fine.
It wasn’t the first time the symptoms had appeared.
In 2010, Austinson was injured on the job.
“About a month later, I woke up with this intense pain and numbness and tingling in my arm,” he told KTW.
“I had doctors telling me it’s muscle spasms — ‘It’s in your head, you’re going to have to just tough through it.’”
The symptoms eventually went away. Austinson said he felt fine until that February morning.
“It happened again,” said the 41-year-old, who was otherwise in good health and employed in a physically demanding line of work.
“I lost function in my left arm. I had immense pain and body spasms and all kinds of stuff going on.”
But, he said, the ER doctors told him there was nothing they could do — even during subsequent visits in the month-and-a-half that followed.
“I went to the ER four or five times and that whole time they were just dicking me around,” Austinson said.
“I was so scared. My GP [general practitioner/family doctor] finally begged for an appointment with me with a neurologist.”
Austinson said he shelled out $2,400 for an MRI at a Kamloops clinic ahead of the appointment.
“I get my MRI done, show it to the neurologist and he said, ‘Yup, you’ve got a herniated C7,’” Austinson said. “He said, ‘You need surgery right away.’”
Austinson’s left arm, it turned out, was in atrophy.
“They told me I had 40 per cent nerve loss,” he said. “Five days later, they had me in for surgery.”
Thanks to a bone wedge and a titanium plate, Austinson said, he’s now back to 100 per cent.
But, he said, doctors told him he could have been permanently disabled if the injury had progressed.
With that in mind — and with that $2,400 bill in hand — Austinson said he met with Dr. Dave Sanden, RIH’s chief of staff.
“We went to the hospital and said we wanted to put a complaint down,” Austinson said.
“We had a really long meeting with him. The gist was that he was going to write a letter of apology.
“It must have got lost somehow, lost the email or something.”
Attempts by KTW to contact Sanden were unsuccessful, but Austinson said the doctor told him his file should have been handled differently.
“He admitted that,” Austinson said.
“He said, ‘We dropped the ball.’
“Basically, one doctor saw that I came in before and saw this other doctor diagnosed me and he didn’t want to go back on it.
“I don’t know if it’s a brotherhood thing or laziness or whatever, but he admitted they dropped the ball.”
Austinson thought that admission would mean reimbursement for the private MRI.
“That was my understanding,” he said.
“He [Sanden] said they should have caught it the first time I came in.”
But, according to the Interior Health Authority’s regional director of diagnostic-imaging services, that is not the case.
Zeno Cescon told KTW anyone who pays for a private treatment or procedure — no matter the circumstances — forfeits their right to have the cost covered by IHA.
“I can’t speak to the patient’s situation, but if they choose to have an MRI at a private clinic, there is no reimbursement of that procedure from the health authority,” he said.
Cescon said there is no appeal process in place for a patient to state their case for reimbursement to the authority, either.
“It’s black and white,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for this patient and we feel for this patient. But, unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done.”
Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal MLA Terry Lake said his office has been made aware of the file and will do what it can to help Austinson receive payment from the province.
There is a medical-services plan appeal process through the provincial Ministry of Health.
“I’ve done this before with constituents, where we make an appeal for something to be covered by MSP,” Lake said.
“In some cases they are and in some cases they aren’t. It comes down to how they’re adjudicated.
“That’s what we’re here to do, to help people get through the government process.”
Austinson, meanwhile, said hospital officials told him his case will help educate RIH staff in the future.
“They’re going to use my situation as a case study of how not to do things in the ER,” he said.
“They said they’re going to use it as a learning tool.”