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Public Funding for Diagnostic Imaging Ordered by Physiotherapists

On September 28, 2022, the Government of Alberta, Ministry of Health announced plans to reinstate public funding for claims for Diagnostic Imaging (DI) services that are referred by a physiotherapist, chiropractor or audiologist.

This change is not yet in effect, and the date that this change will take effect is not yet known.

The Government of Alberta reports that work is underway to update the billing system to operationalize this change enabling these services, when referred by a physiotherapist, to be covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan (AHCIP). A Medical Bulletin will be issued by Alberta Health when information technology changes are complete.

This announcement is good news for Albertans seeking access to primary care providers who have the authority and competence to order diagnostic imaging when such imaging is necessary for the management of the individual’s health condition.

In accordance with Alberta legislation, it is a restricted activity to order or apply any form of ionizing or non-ionizing radiation. Restricted activities may only be performed by duly authorized regulated health professionals.

In accordance with the legislation governing physiotherapy practice in Alberta, physiotherapists may only order diagnostic images if they have received individual authorization from the Registrar to do so.

Physiotherapists are eligible to seek authorization to order the following forms of ionizing or non-ionizing radiation:

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Ultrasound imaging

There are no provisions within physiotherapy legislation to enable physiotherapists to apply ionizing or non-ionizing radiation in any form.

Prior to March 31, 2020, physiotherapists were able to refer patients for Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and this service was funded by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan. However, the wording of the September 29, 2022, announcement indicates that Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is not affected by these changes announced, therefore it appears MRIs will not be funded by AHCIP when a patient is referred by a physiotherapist. There has been no change to physiotherapists’ ability to become authorized to order these tests.

Physiotherapists seeking authorization to order diagnostic imaging must

  • Be a physiotherapist on the General Register
  • Have five (5) years of clinical physiotherapy experience (completed within Canada)
  • Understand the practice standard on the Performance of Restricted Activities
  • Complete a program of study related to diagnostic imaging that has been approved and meets the requirements established by the College of Physiotherapists of Alberta’s Council
  • Submit evidence to the Registrar of having the competencies required to order diagnostic imaging.
  • Receive notification from the Registrar that the authorization is indicated on the General Register prior to ordering diagnostic imaging independently.

Physiotherapists who have received authorization to order diagnostic images may only do so within the context of providing physiotherapy services, and in accordance with the Standards of Practice for Alberta Physiotherapists.

Additional information regarding authorization and supervision requirements, application processes and frequently asked questions can be found here.

Page updated: 29/09/2022