The lineups’ lessons

The pictures really did tell thousands of words on Thursday, Oct. 28. A human snake was apparent, inching its way around the outdoor space at the East York Civic Centre. For up to six hours, people waited patiently as the snake gradually wound its way to its eventual destination: a meeting with a needle.

The chronic mismanagement of the H1N1 vaccination program here in Toronto in late October and early November was nothing short of embarrassing. H1N1 has not crept up unnoticed over the last number of months. It is not a freak of nature, a flash flood or earthquake. It is a new manifestation of that very common illness, the flu. It has been with us in various forms for quite some time. Flu season is also nothing new. Pretty much happens at the same time every year. Which begs the question: if the timing is known, the illness and vaccine are known, how then does a pandemic turn into pandemonium?

In large scale, short-term projects like this, communication is key. Members of the general public require key pieces of information to facilitate their speedy transfer through the system. They need to know critical items such as who, what, where, when and how. No more, no less. Weeks into the vaccination program, there was still confusion. We still didn’t have the answers to most of those points. A much more efficient system of information dissemination is required.

The flaws in the system sadly do not end with the initial communication. How is it that “low-risk” people slipped through the system and got vaccinations before those in the various higher-risk groups? Where is the accountability at the business end of the operation? Individuals arriving at the wrong time must be turned away or the whole system almost grinds to a halt — as we’ve seen.

There is no question that H1N1 is serious. It has claimed lives and is causing havoc for many of those affected. Isn’t it somewhat incongruous then, given the magnitude of the situation and the population of the GTA, that so few vaccination locations were initially available? Is it fair that people drove from all over the GTA to the East York Civic Centre for their shots? What becomes of those without access to convenient transportation?

Somewhere hidden in this mess is a massive technological elephant in the room. Perhaps a fully integrated electronic health record system. eHealth anyone? Whatever the political bickering, the sordid back-scratching and tender process, the concept remains critical to healthcare development in this city. An electronic system of appointments and the ability to customize information to the individual would be a good start; be it language, medical priority or method of communication.

If H1N1 proves to be the catalyst for significant healthcare changes, then perhaps the line-ups and confusion will have been worth it. If not, one shudders to think what’s next.