London looking to St. Thomas' online booking model to cut COVID-19 testing wait times
LONDON, ONT. -- As the line for the Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre stretched for nearly two kilometres early Monday, London health officials are trying to find ways of reducing wait times at COVID-19 assessment centres.
One method is using online booking times for prioritized groups like health-care workers, or those that work in long-term care.
"When we do go to some online appointments in the next few weeks, we need be able to prioritize some booked appointments within our lineup for folks that we all know would be easily identifiable as priority and get them in," says Mike McMahon, executive director of the Thames Valley Family Health Team.
That's the system currently being used at St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital (STEGH).
"Patients can book appointments through email or telephone and after screening will be advised of their appointment time," explains Robert Biron, president and CEO at STEGH.
"We establish priorities like individuals that have symptoms of COVID-19, individuals that work in health care and staff testing for long-term care. If you are asymptomatic your appointment may take a couple days."
With this format, there was no one waiting outside the hospital in the assessment centre line at 12 p.m.on Monday.
Laurie Lang of Aylmer, who works in long-term care was one of the patients leaving STEGH after getting tested.
"It's so nice not to have to wait in line," says Lang."Because I work in long-term care, we filled out paperwork, booked ahead of time, and I'm in and out in two minutes."
Right behind her was Marilyn Phillips. She needs a test every two weeks to be able to visit her mother in a nursing home.
"I booked my appointment Friday, and I could have come in on [the] weekend but chose to come in Monday," says Phillips.
"This way it's so easy. I only waited behind a woman who works in a nursing home who had to be tested first, but it took me just five minutes."
There were no lineups at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre in St. Thomas, Ont. on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Brent Lale / CTV News)
Back in London, McMahon says they want to make sure they have all the kinks worked out before shifting to an entirely online or telephone booking model.
"We need to avoid shifting the lineup we have on the street to an online queue," says McMahon, who showed CTV News that most of the people inside the Oakridge Arena Assessment Centre were in the symptomatic line.
"It could end up being more frustration when symptomatic people find themselves booking for one to four days out. When we implement later this month booked appointments, we need to make sure we see people that need to be tested the same day, or maybe next day."
He adds once it goes online, it can easily become 'out of sight, out of mind.'
London has capacity to test nearly 1,500 people between the two centres and the post-secondary institutions like Western University, but it doesn't meet the demand.
However, since last Wednesday, they have been able to use a framework on site where officials are going car to car to make sure they are prioritizing for symptomatic people or those with close contacts.
McMahon says that has helped reduce wait times.
One man in the front of the line laughed as he overheard our interview. He said it hasn't helped as he had been waiting nearly six hours, and expected to be at least another hour before he was done.
While STEGH is booking appointments every five minutes, the London centre times can vary, according to McMahon.
"Depending on complexity of symptoms could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes per test. The way to fix this is to bring on more partners and more net volume than we have right now," he say.
He also wants to continue to push the message from the province and the local health unit about only coming for a test right now if it is essential.