British Columbia

Booking health appointments by phone no longer possible, Shuswap residents say, raising fear of digital divide

Interior Health says patients being told phone bookings no longer available was a 'misunderstanding'.

Interior Health claims 'misunderstanding' led to callers being told to go online or stand in line

Interior Health has been urging people to make appointments digitally rather than over the phone during COVID-19 — and now some Shuwap residents say they were told phone bookings are no longer an option. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A B.C. woman is worried that a push to use online systems for health-care appointments during COVID-19 could be leaving seniors and people without internet access on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Leahann Mohle of Salmon Arm handles scheduling and driving her parents-in-law to appointments for lab tests and other medical care. Usually, she schedules those appointments over the phone.

But she says this past week, when she called to set up some blood work, she was told making appointments over the phone was no longer an option and her in-laws should create an online account with Interior Health's MyHealthPortal to schedule their visit.

"If you didn't want to do that, the option was to stand in the queue for people who do not have appointments, and that line can be very, very long," she told CBC Daybreak South guest host Brady Strachan.

"It's not ideal for them to be standing out there just to do a bit of blood work."

Mohle was told if her in-laws weren't able to make the online appointment themselves, they could attach their MyHealthPortal accounts to hers so she could do so on their behalf.

But in doing so, they would be giving her access to all their private health-care information and history.

"I do not need access to all that personal information," Mohle said. "All I want to do is make an appointment."

A B.C. woman is worried that a push to use online systems for healthcare during COVID-19 could be leaving seniors and people without internet access on the wrong side of the digital divide. 6:40

Mohle said the whole situation has her worried about other people in the community who don't have internet access or aren't comfortable navigating the online booking information.

"They would have to give their personal information to a family member or a neighbour or somebody who can help them get online just to make an appointment to get blood work. And it just seems so wrong to do that," she said.

In an initial statement to CBC, Interior Health said while it is piloting an online system in Salmon Arm to speed up appointment bookings during COVID-19, phone bookings should still be available on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

However, other people in the region confirmed to CBC that they, too, had been told making appointments by phone was no longer an option — and were instead waiting long hours in line or attempting to teach elderly relatives how to use the online system.

One said her husband had chosen to delay a test ordered by his doctor because they couldn't wait in line in person, and were unable to navigate the online booking system.

CBC relayed these stories to Interior Health, which declined an interview but instead provided an emailed statement saying there had been a "misunderstanding" and that Shuswap residents should still be able to make lab appointments over the phone. The authority encouraged as many people as possible to use the online system. 

After this statement was issued, patients were still reporting being told that scheduling appointments over the phone was no longer possible.

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