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HEALTHLink Alberta turns 10, works to expand services

December 13, 2010

EDMONTON – HEALTHLink, the provincewide Alberta Health Services health advice service available by phone, turns 10 this year, having fielded more than eight million calls from Albertans.

HEALTHLink, which received its first call in September 2000, provides Albertans with health advice for managing their symptoms and information about care and treatment options.

“Albertans trust and value HEALTHLink,” said Minister of Health and Wellness Gene Zwozdesky. “HEALTHLink is often the first contact Albertans have with the health system. Enhancing the important services provided by HEALTHLink is one of the commitments we have made in our 5-Year Health Action Plan to increase access and reduce wait times.”
Also this week, Alberta Health Services will launch a public education campaign designed to provide additional information about available health services. The campaign, which will begin with radio spots and signage at hospitals and health care facilities, provides information on the range of health care options available, including HEALTHLink, family doctors, walk-in clinics and urgent care facilities. The education campaign, which is part of the overall strategy to reduce pressures in emergency departments, is intended to ensure that Albertans are receiving the right care in the right place, and was created and recorded by local AHS physicians.

HEALTHLink Alberta connects callers across the province to registered nurses (RNs) on a wide range of health topics. The service is available 24 hours a day; every day of the year. About 80 per cent of HEALTHLink callers speak to someone within two minutes of calling.

“There are times when people aren’t sure if they should go to the emergency department,” said Dr. Chris Eagle, acting President and CEO of Alberta Health Services. “Having HEALTHLink available provides advice and helps callers make the right choice. This improves both quality of care and access.”

Alberta’s 5-Year Action Plan, developed by AHS and Alberta Health and Wellness, includes a strategy to expand HEALTHLink services by March 2012. This will include looking at new technologies to address younger audiences and their information needs as well as increasing awareness of HEALTHLink in areas with lower usage.

HEALTHLink launched in Edmonton with 40 employees and received its first call on September 19, 2000. The second HEALTHLink site was established in Calgary in 2002 and collaboratively, the two centres worked to develop a provincial service which began serving all Albertans in June of 2003. The Edmonton site services a population of two million in central and northern Alberta; the Calgary site 1.7 million in southern Alberta.

Today, HEALTHLink Alberta employs about 380 people and responds to more than one million calls annually. The most common caller concerns are related to pregnancy, infant care, nausea/vomiting, coughing/respiratory issues and abdominal pain.

HEALTHLink Alberta is also able to provide consistent information to the public whether there is a local, regional or provincial health issue. Calls to HEALTHLink can be the first indication there is a health concern in a particular community or population.

Shaunne Letourneau, director of HEALTHLink Alberta, says caller feedback shows this service is an important resource for many Albertans.

“We get comments and stories from every corner of the province about how people have been helped by HEALTHLink; everything from, ‘Thanks, you’ve saved me a trip to the doctor or the emergency department,’ to ‘You saved my life,’” says Letourneau.

HEALTHLink Alberta offers local numbers in Calgary (403-943-5465) and Edmonton (780-408-5465) and a toll-free number (1-866-408-5465) for all other areas of the province.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than 3.7 million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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