Interior Health eyes changes to lab services

Interior Health has begun investigating how to improve lab services throughout the East Kootenay region.

Interior Health has begun investigating how to improve lab services throughout the East Kootenay region.

“We have a need to move in a different direction, (and) to adopt a different business model,” said Marty Woods, Interior Health’s regional director of lab services. “We have committed that we (Interior Health) will be coming out and doing a large scale (public) engagement sessions across every site with all of the physicians and caregivers; so no decisions have been made yet. This is just sort of an announcement that we need to go in a different direction.”

The growing demand for complex testing by lab services has been hampered by staffing recruitment, budgets and tools, as well as service equity.

But the most distinct problem that affects the quality of service is retention.

“There just simply are not enough new technologists being trained and coming into the system to be able to backfill the potential retirements that are forthcoming,” said Mr. Woods, noting that nearly 50 per cent of his staff are expected to retire in the next five years. “And this isn’t a problem that exists only in Interior Health. This is actually a phenomenon that is nationwide. Nationwide, there is a shortage of lab technologists, so given that we’ve got the shortages coming, we’re saying we need to find a different business model and we’re proposing that we’re going to work with the physicians and caregivers in each community to figure out the best approach for each community.”

Mr. Woods believes improving the quality of services over a two-year period will require some creativity, research and public engagement sessions in different communities.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter solution for each community,” he said. “It’s about finding the best solution for each community, and so that solution may be introducing what we call Point of Care Technology. Point of Care Technology is a portable, hand-held device that can do a test and provide the result right beside the patient.”

The proposed vision for this transition could mean centralizing lab services, which could mean that a patient’s test results will be sent to Kelowna General Hospital for analysis.

Interior Health has plans to discuss the prospective changes to lab services not only with health care professionals but their corresponding unions. However, it remains unknown when the plans will be in effect.

“We’re going to start (public engagement) sessions in September,” said Mr. Woods. “We haven’t got them scheduled yet, but we’re going to start working with the medical and caregiver community in the fall. These sessions will go on for a period of time. It’s probably going to take a couple of months to go through every site and hear all of their feedback, then come back and ask more questions, so we’ll be doing this throughout the fall.”