Northern Health is bringing in extra staff on weekends at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. to help deal with a higher than normal number of requests for diagnostic imaging.
Northern Health interim director of diagnostics and health information management systems Kim Ewen said over the past three to six months the number of requests for things like CT scans have increased and staff have had a hard time keeping up with the demand.
"There are multiple factors involved, a lot of it related to the B.C. Cancer Agency Centre for the North, which is a good thing," Ewen said.
She suggested it could be new doctors who are requesting more tests or more doctors encouraging their patients to call to book an appointment rather than submitting a requisition to the hospital and having a staff member call the patient for an appointment.
One patient, who didn't want his named used, said he called the hospital about 15 times over the course of a month spending hours on hold but never was able to get through to book an appointment. Once the Citizen told his story to Northern Health, the patient soon received a call to book an appointment.
There is no way to leave a voicemail message on the phone line and Ewen said that's not being considered because the patient has to speak with a staff member in order to book a date.
From the hospital's perspective, it's easier when they phone out to a patient and Ewen said they may remind doctors that both options - patients calling and and the hospital phoning out - are available.
"That's probably where the majority of calls are coming from, the physicians are saying 'you need to call the office and book an appointment,' " Ewen said. "Perhaps we need to look at a better way of communicating with physicians offices as well."
Both methods are in place because some patients want to be able to be proactive and make a call, rather than wait for one.
"If someone is sitting at home and waiting for a test, they're anxious," Ewen said.
The increased volume of requests has also slowed down the call out process, which is why some staff are being brought in this weekend to work through the back log.
"This weekend we're looking at bringing extra staff for the weekend to do some call booking," Ewen said, noting they will only be calling out to patients with requisitions and not accepting new calls.
At the beginning of the month the hospital installed some new phone equipment at the imaging clinic to better track who is calling and when.
"We're just getting some data related to that, which will help us make decisions on where to put our resources," Ewen said, noting it's too early to tell if there are certain points of the day when calls peak or if there are better times to call than others.
So far the bottleneck is only at the booking stage and Ewen said once an appointment is confirmed the wait times haven't increased.
"I don't think the wait list is longer, I think it's just trying to catch up on the number of calls," she said. "The wait list isn't long to get a test."