Nova Scotia

More phone lines added as blood collection calls swamp system

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is adding more phone lines this week to help with the deluge of calls from people who are trying to book appointments for blood collection.

There were 49,000 attempts to get through to the blood collection appointment lines last week

Online appointments for blood work are only available in two locations in Nova Scotia right now, but the Nova Scotia Health Authority says that should be expanded soon. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is adding more phone lines this week to help with the deluge of calls from people who are trying to book appointments for blood collection, as it promises a new booking system is in the works.

The former walk–in services have been replaced by the phone booking system, but last week the lines received about 49,000 calls in the Central Zone alone.

That number includes calls from people constantly redialing in an attempt to get through, including Don Welland of Halifax.

He said he was shocked that the phone system seemed to get worse after the last set of upgrades were implemented. Those upgrades included extra lines and longer hours. 

"I put the number on auto-redial once a minute for two days and finally got through at the end of the second day," he said. "Things had just gone from bad to worse, way worse."

It took CBC reporter Carolyn Ray 21 attempts to reach someone through the blood collection system to book an appointment. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The number of hits on the phone line is actually an improvement compared to a few weeks before, when there were 86,000 attempts to reach the employees booking blood work.

Shauna Thompson, the Central Zone director of pathology and laboratory medicine, was quick to acknowledge that the current system is not up to par. She repeatedly apologized for the anxiety it is causing patients during an interview with CBC News.

"It's still a challenge for folks to get through the phone lines and I do apologize," she said.

Thompson says four more lines will be operational this week, bringing the total in the zone to 18.

Don't hit redial

Thompson is asking that those trying to get through don't continuously hit redial. She said that overloads the phone lines.

"That really drives up the number of hits to the system and it slows everything down."

Her suggestion is to wait at least half an hour, or call in the evenings when there's less traffic.

If someone is in urgent need of blood work, they can also go through their doctor, as physicians now have dedicated lines to make an appointment.

Online booking in the works

While this has been a challenge in many parts of the province, Thompson said the Central and Western zones have had particular difficulty with volume.

She said there will be an announcement soon about a permanent fix.

"Without question it won't be what people are experiencing now. That is not sustainable long term, that is far from ideal."

She said the changes will likely include an online booking option. That system is currently in place at the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro, and the Woodlawn clinic in Dartmouth.

"We know that works incredibly well," she said. "I'm sure if we tried to take that away there would be an outcry."

For now, Thompson is asking for patience. She said the goal is soon to have a better system than the walk-in service that was in place before the pandemic.

"Please bear with us," she said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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