Your Health

Health information just a phone call away

Photo of a woman talking on a phone
Photo of Diana Doyle-Zebrun DIANA DOYLE-ZEBRUN
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, August 25, 2017

Many of us will experience an unexpected health issue at one time or another.

And when that sudden change in health happens, we will likely have to answer a couple of basic questions: can I manage this problem at home, or do I need to see a health-care provider? And if I do need to see a health-care provider, should I wait to see my own doctor, or should I go to an urgent-care centre or emergency department immediately?

This is where Health Links - Info Santé can help.

Located in the Provincial Health Contact Centre at Misericordia Health Centre, Health Links - Info Santé works in partnership with Centre de Santé to provide bilingual health information via telephone. Manitobans trying to navigate the health-care system can access this free service, with over-the-phone interpretation in more than 100 languages, at any time of the day or night by calling 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.

Launched 23 years ago, Health Links - Info Santé was the first telephone-based nursing triage service in Canada. More than 50 registered nurses work at the centre, answering just over 118,000 calls annually on issues ranging from the health hazards of mould to what to do when a child is unresponsive.

So what can you expect from when you call Health Links - Info Santé?

First, the nurse will ask you what's happening and assess whether you require emergency care. If you do, the nurse will transfer you to 911.

Once it is determined that you are safe to talk, the nurse will ask some basic information to open or start a chart for you.

The nurses have the latest health information at their fingertips to support them in assessing callers' concerns. The nurse will be focused on drilling down to establish specific facts that will determine the best treatment plan for you or your loved one.

Most callers are supported to manage their symptoms at home, with less than 20 per cent directed to an emergency department. Sixty per cent of callers are encouraged to visit a health-care provider within an outlined time frame, depending on the urgency of the situation.

If you don't have a health-care provider you can see within that time, information on nearby Walk-In Clinics will be provided.

Health Links - Info Santé assesses symptoms and provides education and a treatment plan based on scientific evidence as well as your specific situation. This supports the caller to feel informed and able to navigate an increasingly complicated health-care system to find the right care at the right place at the right time.

Approximately 30 per cent of calls received by Health Links - Info Santé involve matters affecting young children, ranging from breastfeeding issues to managing a young child's fever.

While many callers want to know whether they can manage a condition at home or need professional care, others are just looking for help in navigating the health-care system.

A person planning a trip abroad, for example, may want to know if they need to get immunized against various viruses and infections, and where they might be able to get the shots they require.

Health Links - Info Santé also receives calls from people worried about Lyme disease, a relatively new health issue in Manitoba.

Nurses can help you determine whether you have been bitten by a black-legged tick, which carries the Lyme disease bacterium (a red bull's-eye rash around the bite is a classic sign). They will also tell you how to remove the tick (place tweezers close to the skin and pull slowly) and treat the bite.

In addition, nurses will provide information on how to send a picture to Manitoba Health for tick identification, and for saving the tick in the freezer in case symptoms develop.

They will also tell you if and when you need to see a provider, if the tick was on you long enough to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium, and what to watch for.

So, the next time you have questions about a health issue and aren't sure what to do or where to turn, start with a phone call to Health Links - Info Santé, your guide to navigating the health-care system in Manitoba 204-788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.

Diana Doyle-Zebrun is a registered nurse and Clinical and Quality Initiatives Manager at Health Links - Info Santé, a telephone health information service with the Provincial Health Contact Centre at Misericordia Health Centre. This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, August 25, 2017.

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