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Three little numbers a big help

Did you know you can easily access a wealth of non-emergency health information and services simply by dialing three little numbers? Do you want to speak to a registered nurse about your symptoms? Do you need to ask a pharmacist about your medication? Or would you like to speak to a dietician to get advice on healthy eating?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, 8-1-1 is the number to call.

Launched in late 2008, the 8-1-1 line built on the success of previous services such as BC NurseLine and Dial-A-Dietitian. It enables British Columbians to get confidential health information, medical advice and help navigating the health care system – without having to leave home.

One of the great things about the 8-1-1 line is how it increases accessibility to our health care system. As the gateway to an expanded tele-health service called HealthLink BC, 8-1-1 provides health information and services in more than 130 languages – French, Punjabi, and Chinese among many others. I am proud to see this initiative is meeting the health care needs of B.C.’s diverse communities.

In addition to the 8-1-1 line, there is also an online service at Between the 8-1-1 line and the HealthLink BC website, it is very easy for British Columbians to get important information on a variety of health topics, help in identifying symptoms and advice on when to seek medical treatment.

Callers to 8-1-1 (7-1-1 for deaf and hearing-impaired assistance) are served by trained health service representatives. When appropriate, calls are transferred to a registered nurse, pharmacist or dietitian. When an 8-1-1 call is transferred to a nurse, the caller benefits from medically approved protocols and the nurse’s judgment.

The 8-1-1 line and HealthLink BC site offer one more outstanding benefit on top of the convenience, accessibility and reliability discussed above. It reduces strain on our medical system.

By providing British Columbians with resources to get top-quality health information and advice, unnecessary ambulance transports, doctor visits and emergency room visits can be reduced. The more 8-1-1 is used, the more we can increase efficiencies and ensure those who require urgent care get prompt attention.

Tele-nurses alone have answered some 1.5 million calls from British Columbians looking for health information and advice. Approximately 60 per cent of these calls – nearly 900,000 – were resolved through self-care or home management of symptoms.

Think of how many unnecessary visits to the doctor or to emergency rooms have been avoided so far. Now think of how much more strain we can take off our health care system if even more people become aware of the 8-1-1 line and use it for their non-emergency health needs.

These three little numbers can truly make a big difference – for your health and for the health of our medical system.


Norm Letnick is the MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country.