telehealth Ontario

Telehealth Ontario still can't keep up with COVID-19 calls despite bolstered service

Experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19? In Ontario, you can't simply walk into an assessment centre and be tested for the fast-spreading, deadly virus.

Not only could it overwhelm local health care resources if everyone did this at once, it could hasten the spread of disease amid a global pandemic outbreak.

The province's first line of defence in this and all public health crises remains Telehealth Ontario — the free, confidential hotline that connects residents with Registered Nurses over the phone for advice on how to proceed with any sort of health ailment.

Unfortunately, the service has become overwhelmed this week with an influx of patients seeking assessments for the 2019 novel coronavirus, leading to dropped calls, "technical issues" and ridiculously long wait times. 

Our front-line phone troops have been needing back up, bad — and they finally just got it in the form of 1,300 new lines and 130 additional health care professionals.

"Since yesterday, we've added another 1,300 Telehealth lines to significantly increase capacity and better support you in getting answers to your #COVID19 questions," announced Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Thursday.

"Recognizing the increasing demand, we're working to add even more to further help reduce wait times."

Well-intentioned as the move may be, it doesn't appear to be helping much yet as call volumes continue to spike amidst a state of emergency in Ontario. 

While anyone having difficultly breathing or experiencing other life-threatening symptoms should call 911 immediately, most Ontario residents who suspect they may have been infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus are first asked to take an online self-assessment through the provincial government's website.

Depending on the results of your assessment, you will be advised to either self-monitor your own health for 14 days or "seek clinical assessment for COVID-19 over the phone."

"The majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild. A clinician can help guide whether you will require further care or potential testing in person," reads the government's dedicated coronavirus website.

"Contact your primary care provider by phone for a virtual assessment (for example, family doctor). Let them know that you have used this self-assessment tool," states one potential option for those seeking further care.

The other, apparently far more popular option assessment-takers have is to "contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 and speak with a registered nurse."

Here's to hoping this option becomes more viable in coming days with more lines and nurses at the ready.

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