Patients who are getting bloodwork done at the outpatient lab in the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre are no longer facing lengthy wait times, with the introduction of new online booking system that allows appointments to be made ahead of time. The project is another example of advancements supported by the Physician Quality Improvement (PQI) initiative, to improve the quality of health care for British Columbians.
Until recently, hospital laboratories in the Lower Mainland had no online appointment booking system anywhere in the Lower Mainland, so most patients had to walk in for their tests. Frustrated by long waits, patients voiced concerns to their doctors and to the Patient Care Quality office at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). Dr Sophia Park, the regional medical lead for pre- and post-analysis for VCH at the time, saw the need and applied to the Physician Quality Improvement (PQI) initiative for funding to develop a solution for the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre.
Recognizing that we can now book many things online, from haircuts to show tickets, Dr Park asked herself, “Why are we not doing something similar in health care?”
The new booking tool helps patients choose the ideal time to get their bloodwork done and allows them to accomplish the task quickly. It also helps improve patient flow in the outpatient lab.
Dr Park’s team included several laboratory and clinical colleagues. With the support of a PQI program advisor, the team worked with a Vancouver-based company to develop a secure online booking system that patients could access via phone or computer.
The tool was launched in January 2019 as a pilot, and was at first only available to the VGH Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic. With little effort, the clinic navigators created accounts for their patients, and booked lab appointments based on their patients’ preferred dates and times. Feedback was sought from the clinic staff and tweaks were made to optimize the system. In January 2020, the tool was made available to the general public, and patient surveys drew consistent positive feedback.
By June 2020, patients with appointments had an over 50 per cent reduction in wait times, with over 90 per cent of these patients having to wait for 20 minutes or less. In addition, once COVID-19 hit BC in March, spacing out patients in the waiting room became even more vital. The online appointment booking system now has over 25,000 users and has been adapted for use by 67 hospital labs in BC.
In particular, this service has benefitted vulnerable organ transplant patients by reducing lab wait times and allowing them to coordinate lab work around other medical appointments. In the future, the online booking tool could be applied more broadly to areas such as radiology appointments.
Currently a medical biochemist at Royal Columbian Hospital, Dr Park notes that while technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality attract much attention and funding in the world of health care, less glamorous but practical technological improvements like this online booking system can still be extremely effective.
“There are very simple tools we could adopt from other industries which could have a huge benefit to patients,” she says. “I definitely think it’s worthwhile to consider those and how they can be incorporated into our day-to-day care.”
PQI is a flagship initiative of the Specialist Services Committee, a partnership of Doctors of BC and the Ministry of Health. In collaboration with BC health authorities, PQI works to enhance physician capacity by providing training and hands-on experience on quality improvement projects, ultimately promoting a culture of learning, openness and dedication to quality improvement in health care system.