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Quebec's Disney-inspired solution to flu-shot chaos

People lineup to get their H1N1 vaccination on Friday, October 30, 2009 in St. Eustache Que. Waiting times of seven hours are common as vaccination centres are overwhelmed by the demand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

If Quebeckers have seen reduced waiting times at flu vaccination centres, they can thank the wonderful world of Disney.

Denis Beaudoin, a regional health official, had became obsessed with how to deliver shots to thousands of people without long queues. One night, in the throes of insomnia, he had a eureka moment. He recalled his family visit to Walt Disney World and its popular Fastpass, which allows visitors to get a ticket for a ride at a later time slot.

If it worked for Snow White, why not for a flu shot?

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He began instituting the ticket system in the city of Gatineau near Ottawa in late October, at a time when vaccination centres around Montreal were still chaotic scenes of mothers, baby strollers and outraged pensioners standing in lines for as long as seven hours.

Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc visited Gatineau at the time in late October and, impressed, announced the coupon system across the province. A Quebec health official says they're mandatory wherever lines exceed one hour.

Other cities across Canada have turned to wristbands and timed tickets to reduce lineups for vaccines too, though Quebec's system is provincewide and appears to be the only one inspired by the Magic Kingdom.

Lines are still forming at some vaccination centres, where people are queuing up early just to get their coupons. But officials say the system has been effective. At one vaccination centre in Montreal's Plateau Mont Royal district recently, nurses and health workers outnumbered people in line.

"The system is marvellous," said Johanne Spencer, who'd whisked through her vaccination. "You know what time you're going to have your turn and you know how long you'll have to wait. You don't waste three, four hours in line."

Montreal adopted the coupon system for all 17 vaccination centres across the city.

"Something had to be done," said Deborah Bonney, a spokeswoman for the Montreal-region health and social service agency. "At the beginning, we had no idea people were going to line up in the dark of the early morning in the cold. Confronted with the situation, the coupon system seemed to be the best option. It seems to have done the trick."

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Disney isn't the only corporate inspiration for both Mr. Beaudoin and Mr. Bolduc. Both are avowed fans of the Toyota management model, with its emphasis on just-in-time delivery and efforts at efficiency.

"It's not for nothing that Toyota makes some of the best cars in the world and it's not for nothing that it's so extraordinary to go to Disney World," said Mr. Beaudoin, deputy head of the Gatineau health and social services agency. "They're both basically focused on the customer: how do you ensure the customer has the best product possible in a reasonable time.

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