Use reliable sources, 811 lines to find accurate healthcare information
While visiting a doctor or emergency room is definitely recommended for serious injuries or sicknesses, there is a lot of information that Canadians can find on their own to treat more minor injuries or ailments at home, according to Consumer Health Products Canada, an association that represents the consumer health products industry.
Gerry Harrington, vice president, policy and regulatory of the association, said that while a strong relationship with a family doctor is essential, we also live in an era where reliable health information can be found without having to visit your doctor.
“You have to make smart choices about what information sources you rely on. The Internet has played a huge role in this explosion of information people use to manage their own health, but you have to differentiate it. Not everything on the web is reliable,” he said. “It’s Doctor Google versus the Mayo Clinic. You have to be savvy about your information sources.”
The best place to start is your provincial health care provider website, which may have information about how to treat certain conditions, but will also have information lines that you can call to get qualified medical advice from.
“Governments, especially provincial governments in this country, are really trying to up their game with their various 811 lines or websites, such as the BC Health Guide or Ontario Telehealth. Every province has one,” he said.
In British Columbia, residents can visit www.healthlinkbc.ca, where they will find a searchable database of different conditions with recommendations on when you should see a doctor and explanations of the conditions. The website has information on more than 5,000 health topics. Residents can also call 8-1-1 any time day or night and speak to a nurse to get health advice. On weekdays, residents can call and speak to a dietician about nutrition and healthy eating.
In Alberta, there is a newly launched 8-1-1 service, which now provides an easy to remember phone number for its Health Link service. The service is also available 24/7 and residents can either speak to a nurse about health issues or get information about available health services. According to Alberta Health, 48 per cent of people who called Health Link were given advice to care for themselves at home. Thirty-six percent were advised to visit their doctor or health care provider and 16 per cent were told to go to the nearest emergency room. The service, which is available in 200 different languages, can help Albertans find a family doctor or immunization clinic as well. Albertans can also visit myhealth.alberta.ca for an online database on a wide variety of health topics.
Saskatchewan has also recently switched to an 8-1-1 number that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is available in more than 100 languages and also offers support for mental health, addictions and crisis counselling.
Manitobans can call Health Links if they need non-emergency health advice. The number is 204-788-8200 within Winnipeg. Outside of Winnipeg, residents can use the toll-free number 1-888-315-9257. Residents looking for a family doctor can log on to www.manitoba.ca/familydoctorfinder. Information on flue and pneumonia shots can be found at www.manitoba.ca/health/flu.
Harrington said that although this information is reliable and convenient, it can’t replace having a family doctor.
“We’re not by any means suggesting people don’t rely on their doctors. A strong relationship with a family doctor is hugely important. You need to take advantage of that annual physical to make sure you are talking,” he said.
This article, written by Alberta-based freelance writer Dave S. Clark was originally published by Postmedia Network