By Melissa Villeneuve
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Access to health advice just got easier with the launch of Health Link’s new 8-1-1 number. Health Link is Alberta’s free 24/7 health information phone service.
The 8-1-1 number replaces the old province-wide toll-free phone number and 10-digit local numbers in Calgary and Edmonton.
“It’s really easy is the bottom line,” said Lara Osterreicher, Health Link director of operations.
8-1-1 is the three-digit dialling that was assigned by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission for non-urgent health advice.
Other provinces have already implemented the number including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.
“One of the primary purposes for Health Link is to help people make decisions about if they need to seek care or about symptoms they may be experiencing,” said Osterreicher.
“If your child has a fever and you are concerned, you can call Health Link and discuss it with a nurse. They can do an assessment and then say if you can deal with this at home, and some things you can do for comfort, and (advise) when you should start being concerned.”
When you phone 8-1-1, there are two options. Pressing 1 will connect with an information referral specialist who will help you find health services, phone numbers, and referrals to doctors accepting new patients. Pressing 2 will connect with a registered nurse who will do assessments, help you with symptoms, and advise on the next steps.
Those in an emergency situation should still call 9-1-1.
Health Link helps avoid about 300 visits to emergency rooms every day across the province.
“I think people are unsure. Sometimes it’s convenient to go to an emergency room because they’re open 24 hours a day. But if you call Health Link first to discuss it, there may be other services available in your area that are appropriate,” Osterreicher explained.
Health Link supported more than one million Albertans last year, however the South Zone made the lowest number of calls. Osterreicher is unsure if it’s because programs and services are more readily available here, or whether it’s a matter of awareness.
“We’d like to see more people call us from the South Zone,” she said, adding South Zone made 32,108 calls to Health Link in 2014/15.
Urban areas account for the majority of the call volume, with 41 per cent originating in Lethbridge and 25 per cent in Medicine Hat.
Forty-five per cent of South Zone callers were advised to care for themselves at home, 35 per cent to see a doctor or other health care provider, and 20 per cent to seek care in emergency.
Top issues people in the South Zone phone about are respiratory concerns such as asthma or difficulty breathing, bowel problems, skin problems, and pregnancy concerns.
“A real wide variety of concerns and we’re happy to speak to people about them all.”
The old phone numbers will redirect to 8-1-1 for the time being.