Current Conditions


POULSEN: About waiting times at Valley Medical labs...

Image Credit: Chuck Poulsen
March 26, 2015 - 8:38 AM

The person drawing my blood at Valley Medical Laboratory in West Kelowna smiles and asks: “How are you?” Answer: Much older than when I came in the door.

We’ve all been there, let us count the hours. People have had their birthdays come and pass while sitting in a Valley Labs waiting room. The soon-to-be detainees at the lab are greeted before the reception desk by a hand-drawn sign saying: “Please line up behind the sign and wait to be called.” The sign should be carved in granite. It’s never going away.

This is a sign of things to come... well into the vague and distant future, or maybe longer. Once called by the receptionist, the customers sit and wait to be called by the person who will draw their blood. (As an aside: I started filling this impending void in my life by wondering if co-workers referred to the blood drawers as Dracs, one of those office in-jokes. OK, that’s off the subject. Sorry to keep you waiting).

At the top of the Valley Labs requisition form it states: “No appointment necessary.” It’s printed in a bold style like it’s a wonderful thing. It is not a wonderful thing. It also says: “Please see reverse for locations and test instructions.” The reverse on my form was blank. It could have given me something to read while I was waiting to meet the gate-keeper behind the reception desk.

I sat down to wait, wait, wait, and read. This being a typical medical office, the magazines are old. But for purely historical reading material, Valley Labs has a unique archive of yellowing paper and missing pages once torn out by waitees when the articles still had at least minor relevance, or they just felt like destroying something.

I started with a Chatelaine, circa May 2013. Then moved on to Elle magazine with the more current date of September 2013. Elle seems to be 50 pages of ads for women, along with an article. I tried the ever-popular Diver Training magazine, February 2012. The front page headline declared: “True Togetherness: Exploring the Buddy System.”

I already had a waiting room full of new buddies so I passed on that too.

How many buddies? There were 14 people in the room when I entered. Having nothing better to do, I counted chairs. Thirty (30) chairs for waitees. Each chair can be heard laughing when someone sits down on it. (Note to self: Take the Kindle next time. Make sure it has at least two books plus an encyclopedia downloaded).

From the get-in-line sign to the exit door took me 56 minutes. Not quite a record from my last blood test time of just over an hour.

I noticed a young mother come in with two kids. She got to jump the queue. Next time, I might take my grandson to help speed things up.

I’ll say: “OK, help your grandfather. Just this one time, you can scream, cry, break things and run in and out of all those little cubicles back there.”

I was there at 10:15. When eventually asked, the blood taker said predicting the least-busy time is “Russian roulette.”

“We’ve had people here for years who can’t tell,” the Drac said.

The busiest period is “probably” at opening time because many people have fasted, or from 10-2 when breaks are held for staff. Either that, or the waiting room can be packed at any other time on your watch. People look at their watches a lot at Valley Labs.

Valley Medical Labs has a virtual monopoly in the Okanagan. It is a private company paid by the medical plan at a price the government likes. A patient can go to the hospital for tests, at least, it could take 52 minutes to park and walk into the hospital.

It’s beyond this column to debate whether Valley Labs is going cheap on everything or the government funding is forcing them to do so. A 2012 report for the provincial government noted that the most common complaint from users was the wait times, especially from people with chronic conditions who require regular testing.

What about the cost to employers who usually have to let their people go for these tests on company time? That includes the lost time of provincial government employees, which, I think, qualifies as irony.

A simple solution all around might be to open on weekends, like other businesses that try to avoid tormenting their customers.

If you didn’t know, here’s something uncharacteristically empowering about the health system. Go to, put in the visit number the lab will provide, and you can see your results a couple of days after the test. Now you can be the one who explains them to your doctor? I wonder if doctors will be happy about this.

Chuck Poulsen started reporting well back in the last century for The Province newspaper in Vancouver, covering assignments from the Canucks to murder trials and even more suspicious characters in the Legislature. He worked for himself in advertising before spending 15 years with The Daily Courier in Kelowna and a couple of news websites, one of which he helped send to its grave. Contact him at

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