As patients and staff suffer with lengthening wait times, critics claim proposed solutions won’t remedy the ailing system of collecting medical laboratory specimens
With a backlog of lab appointments and a plethora of long wait times for phlebotomy services in the Canadian Province of Alberta, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is feeling the heat. As a result, Alberta Precision Laboratories is making efforts to improve services by adding 400 appointments in Calgary, CBC News reported.
The government-owned clinical laboratory lab company added these appointments at Peter Lougheed Centre and South Health Campus, both in Calgary, with 175 additional appointments coming down the line at the Foothills Medical Centre, also in Calgary, the CBC reported.
AHS is targeting “areas of high demand” and the efforts to bolster services include adding weekend appointments and “temporary new locations” the Calgary Herald reported.
The ripple effect from such delays in Canada’s public healthcare system are widespread and ruffling the feathers of patients, staff, and critics alike. Clinical laboratories in the United States may learn from watching how the Canadian health system resolves these issues.
“As of today, there were waits of upwards of 90 minutes for an appointment that’s already scheduled. That’s unacceptable,” Adriana LaGrange, Alberta’s Minister of Health, told CBC News. (Photo copyright: CBC News.)
Short- and Long-Term Efforts
Densely-populated Calgary and its surround areas have been experiencing increasingly long waits in the last few months. The Calgary Herald reported that their efforts to schedule a new lab appointment brought about only a handful of appointment times a few weeks out, with the majority of open times being five weeks out.
“I’ve heard some really distressing stories on how long it’s taken to get necessary lab work back,” Adriana LaGrange, Alberta’s Minister of Health, told CBC News. “This impedes the ability for physicians to make diagnoses, and we just can’t have that,” she added.
The 400 new appointments are “part of an arrangement worked out between Alberta Precision Labs and DynaLIFE, the private clinical laboratory provider that handles the bulk of community lab appointments in Alberta,” CBC News reported.
Alberta Precision Laboratories is “working on extending hours, hiring other third-party providers, and opening or expanding satellite centers [patient service centers] in and around Calgary to add 7,500 appointments per week, which would represent a 25% increase in the area,” LaGrange told CBC News.
“In the short term, we will provide the necessary appointments that are needed by Albertans, particularly in Calgary and the south area. In the long-term, we’ll work towards something where there’s more stability in the system,” she added.
Lengthy Waits to Receive Medical Laboratory Test Results
Patients and doctors in Calgary “say wait times for blood work and quality of services remain a concern under DynaLIFE Medical Labs who took operation over community labs last year,” the Calgary Herald reported.
“One Calgary doctor who asked to stay anonymous for fear of professional reprimand said she’s hearing from patients who have travelled out of the city to labs as far as Canmore or Didsbury to get testing done. She added her colleagues have complained about lengthy waits to receive lab results and said sometimes results aren’t sent at all or are directed to the wrong clinic,” the Calgary Herald reported.
At one DynaLIFE location, one patient waited two hours and 20 minutes for her previously-scheduled lab work even though online the wait time showed just 11 minutes, the Calgary Herald reported. “I don’t understand how anyone can get lab work done and work or look after their kids,” she said.
It is not clear why DynaLIFE is missing its published benchmarks.
AHS No Stranger to Controversy
Government health programs in many countries lack the necessary capital to train and employ adequate numbers of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, or to expand clinics/hospitals, clinical laboratories, or radiology services. Thus, demand generally exceeds supply and so government health systems ration care using wait times.
This is one factor in the Alberta story.
In Alberta, since the 1990s, various attempts by the AHS to expand clinical laboratory testing volumes/capabilities in advance of need have seesawed as liberal/conservative governments came and went—each with their own agenda on how healthcare should be organized.
Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report covered that trend in “Alberta Health to Build New Lab to Serve Edmonton, Province.” We reported how following years of controversy associated with different plans to build a large new laboratory facility to serve Edmonton and the surrounding region, Alberta Health Services ended up financing and building the new lab with its own resources.
This was preceded by an announcement that the Alberta government would develop a new central laboratory to process 80% of the clinical laboratory tests in the Edmonton region and become the central lab for a new system from Alberta Health Services to process lab tests in the province.
At that time, Alberta had six different organizations providing clinical laboratory services. Having so many organizations involved in clinical laboratory testing services, according to then Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, resulted in a “needlessly complex and fragmented system.”
All of this explains why Calgary is experiencing wait times for phlebotomy that are frustrating patients. It’s a cautionary tale that clinical laboratory managers in this country may want to study.
—Kristin Althea O’Connor