Online booking for non-emergency blood tests and x-rays will continue even after the pandemic is over
The success of scheduling blood tests and X-rays in Nova Scotia hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic means that this process will now be used.
In most hospitals before the pandemic, those who needed blood samples to monitor cholesterol, screen for prostate cancer or for other reasons had to go to the hospital, take a number and hang around crowded waiting areas for their turn.
Similarly, there could be several hours of waiting in the radiology department for those using the walk-in service.
The first wave of the pandemic brought both services to a halt. Once they could be offered again, having an online booking system allowed Nova Scotia Health to control the number of patients entering hospitals, says Brian Martell, director of diagnostic imaging for the central area of the NSH.
“We were like, ‘OK, if we stop our walk-in service, how are we going to reopen, and how do you say only 10 people can come in at a time?'”
The scheduling software went live after the first wave of the pandemic, when non-emergency blood collection and X-ray services were again offered in health facilities.
“We created a booking model with which we were able to space out appointments so that we could say only X people could be in the department at any given time,” Martell said. “There were days here (before the pandemic) where we had 20 people in the (diagnostic imaging) waiting room waiting for walk-in x-rays.”
Starting June 7, all Nova Scotians will be able to resume booking routine blood draws across the province. We appreciate your patience and understanding as laboratories have had to limit services to focus on the COVID-19 response. https://t.co/yu3JVbdrYA pic.twitter.com/uBoTyLQziD
— Nova Scotia Health (@HealthNS) June 4, 2021
Nova Scotia health officials decided it made sense to continue using the software to avoid these crowded situations, even after COVID was no longer a threat.
“It lets us know how many patients are coming in, it’s efficient…because from a staffing perspective, you know how to schedule your staff,” Martell said. “From the patient’s perspective, the patient can choose when it’s convenient for them, rather than coming in one afternoon and waiting maybe three hours for their x-ray.”
Even when the pandemic is over, the reservation system provides physical distancing in the waiting room that can help prevent the spread of flu or colds if someone is unknowingly sick when they enter.
People can also book outside of their health zones so the appointment can fit into travel plans, or if there are free places elsewhere when their local hospital is full.
“It gives some flexibility,” Martell said.
The central area alone has 350 non-urgent radiology appointments and 2,000 blood collection appointments per day.