“Zen and the Art of Body Maintenance”

Nothing marks the aging process more than “maintenance.” If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Everyone has some medical issue which requires attention.

The most basic of all “maintenance” tests are blood tests and urine samples, as set out in the family doctor’s requisition. In the old days, a visit to the local lab inevitably meant a long wait. Many routine tests required fasting, and there was always a crush of people waiting at the door of the lab when it opened in the morning. Nothing to do but to join the queue, and fall back onto various time-passing strategies: the morning newspaper, checking email, getting some extra shut-eye, or perhaps catching CP24, or some “health education” program showing on the monitor in the corner. It always seemed forever before my name or number was called.

Cooling your heels at the lab is no longer a necessity. Now that fasting requirements are less rigid, patients have the option of going for their tests later in the day. Even so, chairs at the local lab, both inside the clinic and out in the hall, are typically filled with people waiting patiently for their turn at the tourniquet. The lab still seems to be the busiest place in town.

What gives? People don’t seem to realize that LifeLabs at least has initiated a computerized appointment booking system. You can register on the internet, find the available appointment times at the lab closest to you, and book your appointment for a specific time. Last week, I made an appointment with only two hours advance notice. Confirmed appointment number in hand, I walked into the lab, identified myself to the staff on the desk and within but a few minutes of my time, was called for my tests. I jumped the queue by what would undoubtedly have been at least an hour’s wait.

It’s a wonderful service which has worked for me now several times and is grossly under-utilized. All those people waiting in the lab who saw me go ahead must have been somewhat miffed. But they could do the same. Posters on the walls advertise the booking service, and registration on the internet is easy. The attendant at the lab told me that people are not using it because they don’t have computers, or are reluctant to have their kids use the computer to book for them. I have since learned that several of my perfectly computer-literate friends did not know such a service was available. Maybe the labs they use don’t offer pre-booked appointments. Quite frankly, lab loyalty is a waste of time. If other companies are not competitive with LifeLabs, who wouldn’t go to the most patient-friendly service available?

Equally interesting, LifeLabs now offers what they say is “secure online access to your lab test results through your computer or mobile device.” They say that they will provide the lab results in raw form, and an analytical tool (graph program) to monitor test results over time. The results are designed not to preclude discussion with family doctors but to help patients become more actively involved in managing their own health. Apparently, since 2010, over 600,000 people in British Columbia have accessed their health records using a similar system.

At the moment, LifeLabs accounts for booking appointments are not yet joined to their “My Results” system, and patients must set up another account on the LifeLabs results webpage. I registered a new account as I was instructed to do but, despite several tries, was unable to get my results. Apparently, they are still working out the bugs of extending the system to Ontario. Get your “lab visit number” from the lab attendant when you get your tests done and see if you have better luck.

Like doctors’ offices sending prescriptions directly to your local pharmacy, it is gratifying to see the health care system using modern technology to streamline the system and make it more accessible to patients. Now, it is up to us to take advantage of what is available.

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  1. Dianne

    John and I in Vancouver have been using the online booking and lab results for some time now and they’re terrific. Thanks for making more people aware of them.

  2. Marlene

    My step-daughter in Chicago seems to have on-line access to all sorts of medical records. How convenient.


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