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Lost in the Healthcare Maze

Lost in the Healthcare Maze: One Pregnant Woman’s Agonizing Quest for a Simple Referral 

How outdated healthcare communication systems create a frustrating experience for patients, from endless phone calls to costly parking meters.

Frustration seeps through me as I decide, “This is the last time I’m trying.” I pull out my phone and dial the number etched into my brain. The phone rings. That’s a good sign, right? Four, five, six rings, my hope begins to fade. Then, a click. I hold my breath, waiting for the medical receptionist to pick up. Instead, an automated message starts playing, one I’m all too familiar with:  

 This is Doctor’s office. We are unable to take your call at the moment. For emergencies, please call 911 or go directly to the emergency room.Click. 

The line goes dead and I am fuming. This is the seventh time in just three days that I’ve heard this message. All I need is a new referral for a standard pregnancy glucose test. But the one provided by my obstetrician contained an error and must be redone. I want to speak with someone at the clinic, anyone, to fix this. But there’s no way to leave a voicemail or send an email. The only option is to go there in person. Luckily, my boss understands when I ask for a few hours off to go to the doctor’s office. But it means sacrificing a sick day. So much for saving them for true emergencies… 

With a heavy sigh, I hoist my 7-month pregnant belly into the driver’s seat and drive downtown. When I finally find a spot, I pull out my wallet and fish out $7.53 for the meter. I hope it’s enough time to get everything sorted out. Huffing and puffing, I make my way to the reception area, my eyes scanning the room. The sight of so many heavily pregnant women waiting patiently for their turn strikes me. I take my place in the queue behind three other pregnant women like myself, all waiting to speak with the receptionist. One of them is so big, I’m surprised she’s not in labour yet. I can’t help but wonder how uncomfortable it must be for her to stand for so long. 

In an attempt to pass the time, I strike up a conversation. “How long have you been waiting to see the receptionist?” I ask. 

The woman in front of me shrugs. “Only thirty minutes. It’s a busy day today,” she says. “I tried calling, but no one answered, so I had to come in person. 

I know how you feel,” another woman chimes in. “Every time I need anything, it’s a two-hour trip.” 

I nod in agreement, all too familiar with this frustrating process. Twenty minutes pass before it’s finally my turn to speak with the receptionist. She looks overworked and exhausted, but thankfully, she’s able to resolve my issue quickly. With a sense of relief, she hands me my brand new, error-free referral paper that I now need to need to fax to the hospital. 

When Will Our Healthcare System Change?

As I leave the clinic, I can’t help but reflect on the toll this ordeal has taken on me. 

  • I spent a total of 20 minutes making 7 attempts at calling the clinic 
  • Took half a sick day off work 
  • Burnt 0.78 litres of petrol 
  • Spent $7.53 on parking.  

As a result, I’m left feeling completely exhausted. It’s frustrating that our Canadian healthcare system hasn’t caught up with 2023.

Improving communication and access to online services such as e-referrals, e-prescriptions, and personal health information is essential. These technologies are already successfully utilized worldwide, so why is Canada lagging behind in their implementation? Eliminating barriers to the adoption of digital solutions is crucial to improving accessibility to healthcare services. I’m dreaming of a future where we can access medical care without all the hassle and frustration. 

Until these changes happen, I’ll be stuck Googling how to use a fax machine… 

By: Flavie Laliberte, e-Health Patient Partner

Flavie Laliberte is a digital health advocate who has lived with chronic pain since 2009. After suffering from a severe gymnastic accident, Flavie made it her mission to advocate for patients to have access to all their medical data and fast access to quality care. For the past two years, Flavie has served as a patient partner with Canada Infoway Health and the Center of Excellence on Partnership with Patients and the Public (CEPPP) on the topic of “Healthcare Digital Tools for Patients”. Her ultimate goal is to improve the lives of all Canadian patients through a fully integrated healthcare system. Since 2019, she has served as the CMO of ILABS Marketing, a digital agency focused on UX-Design and the development of human-centric technologies. This is her first E-Health Conference and she wants to harness digital tools for a more effective, accessible, and sustainable healthcare system.

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