GUYSBOROUGH – It’s been four months since Nova Scotia Health (NSH) implemented the new lab appointment booking system and, according to some patients in the Guysborough area, the kinks haven’t been worked out yet.
When the online and centralized telephone booking service rolled out last December, Guysborough pharmacist Alison Myers told The Journal that she anticipated the new system would result in difficulties in obtaining timely, local appointments.
“It’s three weeks to get an appointment right now, which is a problem in general. Second, is we’ve moved to online or calling (to book lab appointments), which is going to be a nightmare transition for people. And you could end up going to Antigonish, Guysborough or Canso, depending on the timing to get in for your appointment,” Myers said in December, and time has proven her to be correct.
Last week, this newspaper ran a letter to the editor from Ricky Sceles in Port Shoreham. In his letter, Sceles stated that he has been forced to travel to the Strait Richmond Hospital to have his wife’s lab work done, as prescribed by her physician. There were no appointments available in Guysborough, Canso, Antigonish or Sherbrooke on the dates she was told to have the work done.
Sceles is not the only person, as he surmised in his letter, to have this problem. Susanne Roy and her husband Bill live in Ogden, Guysborough County. And, for the past seven years, Bill has had blood work done every four weeks to monitor a chronic health condition.
“It was walk in, get it done,” said Susanne about the blood collection process, adding that he didn’t have to make an appointment for work up until the new booking system started in December (2020).
Since the change in the booking system, the Roys have been booking online, which has meant constant monitoring of the online site for appointment openings, as the site only allows for booking within a three-week time span and this blood work must be done every four weeks.
“I have been checking every day to see if I can get him an appointment on the week he needs it, and today I have checked three times and there was one appointment in a 15-day working period.”
When asked if they would consider making an appointment at another facility, other than Guysborough Memorial Hospital, Susanne said, “Why would I? Why would you make somebody that is chronically ill drive 45 minutes each way … into a bigger centre, during a pandemic, to get regular blood work done when we have a hospital 15 minutes from us … It just makes me angry.”
She says the process of trying to get appointments is adding to the stress of managing her husband’s chronic condition. It’s increasing the obstacles to obtaining health care in rural areas.
“My personal feeling is that they are trying to eliminate the lab services from these rural hospitals; trying to funnel everybody into the larger centres. And that’s the optics of this, whether that is the truth of it, I’m not sure,” said Susanne adding, “I would like to see them bring back more lab workers.”
NSH spokesperson Brendan Elliott responded to The Journal’s questions about the new booking system via email with the following statement: “Appointment booking has reduced the patient waiting time once they arrive at the site, and laboratory staff are better able to manage their workload. At Guysborough Memorial Hospital, the waiting area is shared among many services. The seating assigned to laboratory services is two seats. As a result, collection appointments have had to be spaced out to ensure compliance with distancing protocols. While appointment booking has been successful in reducing the number of patients in the waiting area, it has also reduced the number of patients who can be scheduled for appointments each week.
“Currently, only about 65 appointments are scheduled per week, or 13 per day. For comparison, last January, there was an average of 98 patients per week accessing laboratory services. Unfortunately, we have been experiencing some longer-than-average wait times for booking appointments for collection services at Guysborough Memorial Hospital. The average time across all sites in Eastern Zone is seven business days. We are currently reviewing options to reduce the wait time for Guysborough Memorial Hospital appointments,” Elliot wrote.
He stated that, “when booking appointments, patients are able to choose the location they prefer. They are not directed to specific sites.”
But choosing the preferred location, when all available options are a 45-minute to an hour’s drive away, is clearly not the level of service people in the Guysborough area find satisfactory.