The Nova Scotia Health Authority lets an inefficient telephone system act as an important barrier to timely care, writes David Zitner.
By David Zitner, August 31, 2020
If there’s any way to inconvenience patients and embrace antiquated methods, the Nova Scotia Health Authority will find it.
Ask the sick patients who are trying to arrange appointments with specialists, or for imaging tests or for blood work.
Most enterprises try to encourage and support increased consumer access to worthwhile services. Not the Nova Scotia Health Authority!
Try to book an appointment for an X-ray or blood tests. In the past, you were given a requisition. For most tests, your doctor’s office made an appointment, or you just marched off to the hospital or laboratory, waited for a long or short time, and then had the test.
Now, in the Internet age, you’re given a phone number to call to book blood tests or imaging investigations.
Just try calling to book an X-ray or blood test in Halifax. When you call, you’re told, more or less, “everyone is busy and we don’t take phone messages” implying that you should just go away and try many more times.
But they are always busy and after repeated calls, many people give up or just go to a hospital emergency department.
Is this part of a plan to increase waiting times to ration care and keep costs down? Or is it just what happens in health care?
In every part of your life, people are anxious to meet your needs and provide timely access to goods and services.
Most organizations schedule appointments by giving customers the option of calling a telephone number and speaking to someone in person. If they’re busy, you’re encouraged to either stay on the line until the phone is answered or leave a number so the enterprise can call you back.
Alternatively, many organizations encourage people to go online to learn which services are available and when, and to book the next convenient time.
In the interest of efficiency, for the organization and customers, consumers are usually encouraged to do as much as possible using automated systems.
You can phone an airline or travel agent to book a flight around the world, or you can go online and view the options for travel. You choose which of the many available routes to take, which airline and often even the seat you would like. Available flights and times are all displayed for the world to see and choose.
Booking a flight to anywhere in the world takes less time than repeatedly calling for an appointment with some Halifax services of the N.S. Health Authority.
Unfortunately, some patients realize that rather than repeatedly calling, it’s often faster to just go to an emergency department.
Who would believe that the N.S. Health Authority spends billions of taxpayer dollars yet enables an inexpensive and inefficient telephone system to act as an important barrier to timely care?
Dr. David Zitner, a retired family physician, was a Professor and the founding director of the Graduate Program in Health Informatics at Dalhousie University. He is a frequent MLI contributor.