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Call 811 to avoid overloading Montreal-area paramedics, says Urgences-sante

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After the Public Health Department and the Minister of Health, it is now the turn of Urgences-santé to invite the population to use the 811 telephone service in order to avoid overloading paramedics.

Echoing the message hammered home by Minister Christian Dubé, who is seeking to relieve overcrowding in Quebec's emergency rooms, paramedics are also encouraging people to use the services of Info-Santé, the pediatric emergency line and the Guichet d'accès à la première ligne (GAP) for any problem that is not life-threatening.

In a press release issued Friday morning, as the weather was expected to be difficult, the paramedic service asked for "the cooperation of the population in order to use the right resource."

In an interview with The Canadian Press, intervention supervisor Jean-Mari Dufresne added that he wanted to "make sure that the right patients go to the right places."

"If there is no real need to use the pre-hospital service if you can go through the 811 service or make an appointment with a clinic or your family doctor, it will help relieve the pre-hospital and hospital services as well," he said.

Data sent by Minister Dubé earlier this week seems to demonstrate the effectiveness of 811. Since last April, it is estimated that 42 per cent of telephone interventions with an Info-Santé nurse have led to a medical consultation.

For parents who selected the pediatric hotline option, 47 per cent have obtained a medical consultation for their child since the service began.

Of the 342,060 patients without a family doctor who have used the GAP since May, 56 per cent have been able to get a medical appointment and avoid the emergency room.

Urgences-santé, which serves the population of Montreal and Laval, points out that services are also available at 811 for people who need mental health support.

Despite the growing popularity of these telephone resources — the average number of calls rose from just under 2,700 in November to over 3,700 in December — paramedics say they are not really seeing any relief.

"It's hard to see a noticeable difference. With the change in climate and weather, our call volume remains fairly constant," said the Urgences-santé spokesperson.

Dubé estimated this week that the measures put in place over the past few months, including the telephone lines, had partially erased the overload that the triple epidemic of respiratory viruses — COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — should have imposed on the health network.

While the public is encouraged to prioritize the 811 line for non-emergency cases, it is equally important to remember that people should not hesitate to call 911 in case of an emergency.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 23, 2022.

This report has been produced with the financial assistance of the Canadian Medical Association. It has no say in editorial choices.

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