IH is working on different ways to book lab appointments, other than by phone or walk-in. (Unsplash photo)

Booking Trail lab appointments to expand beyond a phone line

Interior Health says online appointment booking is on the horizon

There’s good news for all those frustrated with long wait times for blood work in the Trail area.

Interior Health (IH) says online appointment booking is on the horizon, alongside continued availability of walk-in service.

“Pilot sites are to go live next month,” IH spokesperson Susan Duncan told the Times. “Our IMIT (Information Management Information Technology) is working hard on this initiative.”

The Times contacted Interior Health after receiving several calls and emails from readers voicing frustration with the difficulty of getting through to the one phone line IH has in place for patients to book a time for lab work.

After all, there are hundreds of people requiring regular blood work in the Greater Trail area, not to mention all the one-off tests likely ordered any given week.

The most recent call to the Times was from a gentleman in Rossland. He said his cancer diagnosis requires a routine blood panel every few months.

After getting a busy signal for five days and being unsuccessful in getting through to the receptionist — there is no option of leaving voicemail for a callback — he became quite disgruntled.

This patient questioned why Interior Health does not yet have a texting or online booking option in place.

“Manual booking was put into place to mitigate safety concerns from patient volumes at the sites and allow for designated times for immunocompromised patients,” said Duncan.

“We understand that difficulties getting through on the phone lines to book an appointment are a concern and we apologize for the distress this is causing patients.”

Duncan says recruitment of laboratory professionals remains a challenge across Interior Health, and nationally, and IH continues to work with its HR recruitment team to find viable solutions.

“As well, COVID pandemic regulations put in place for patient safety have prevented labs from seeing the same volumes of patients as pre-COVID.”

For the interim, Duncan notes that the Trail lab is still accepting walk-in patients, and appointments can also be made at that time.

“Finding human resources for the booking phone lines has been a challenge, however staff is currently managing to book an appointment every three to five minutes,” she said.

“As new staff is hired, it is anticipated that the phone line hours will be extended to accommodate more phone bookings. We are hopeful that this can occur by September 2020.”

In June, Interior Health started asking people needing tests from the Trail Health Centre Clinic to call ahead and schedule an appointment.

As part of IH’s COVID-19 response, changes were made to laboratory procedures at facilities in Trail, Castlegar, Nelson, and Grand Forks.

“This change is consistent with steps we are taking across our facilities to ensure a safe environment for staff and patients,” IH spokesperson Erin Toews told the Times in mid-June.

“It recognizes that with the previous drop-in service there were times when a large number of people may have been waiting in the same area for their tests, which creates a risk of exposure to COVID-19,” she said.

“We will be monitoring how this system is working.”

To book a time in Trail, patients are asked to call 250.368.8141 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays.

The Trail lab is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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