N.L. HealthLine costs $46 per call

The Southern Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES MCLEOD

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is pay­ing about $ 46 per call to the prov­ince’s HealthLine ser­vice, and call vol­umes ap­pear to be in de­cline, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments posted on­line in re­sponse to an ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion re­quest.

Both the op­po­si­tion Tories and the NDP say the gov­ern­ment is los­ing out on an op­por­tu­nity to save money in the health care sys­tem be­cause it ended a pro­mo­tional cam­paign de­signed to in­crease aware­ness about the “811” health line num­ber.

“As a par­ent of young chil­dren, I’ve had op­por­tu­nity to use the HealthLine my­self. I be­lieve it’s a ser­vice that’s well worth the money,” Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive health critic Steve Kent said. “I think the prov­ince needs to do more to pro­mote it, so us­age starts mov­ing in the right direction.”

The idea be­hind HealthLine was to pro­vide a num­ber that peo­ple could call and get ques­tions an­swered by a reg­is­tered nurse. For 2016, the con­tract to pro­vide the ser­vice will cost $ 2.8 mil­lion.

Sur­veys have shown that the HealthLine works at help­ing peo­ple to treat ail­ments at home or en­cour- ag­ing them to visit a fam­ily doc­tor in­stead of go­ing to a hos­pi­tal emer­gency room.

So even at $ 46 per call, that saves the prov­ince money be­cause it’s a good deal cheaper than the emer­gency room.

Health Min­is­ter John Hag­gie said that when some­body from out- of­province vis­its an

emer­gency room, the gov­ern­ment bills the per­son’s home prov­ince $ 309 for the visit, but emer­gency room vis­its might be even more costly than that.

Hag­gie said the costs in­clude di­ag­nos­tic imag­ing, lab ser­vices, staffing, am­bu­lance ser­vices and much more.

“It’s ac­tu­ally ex­tremely em­bar­rass­ing to ad­mit, but I can’t tell you ex­actly how much it costs to pro­vide an in­di­vid­ual with an emer­gency room visit, be­cause it’s ba­si­cally the cost of run­ning a hos­pi­tal,” he said.

In the first few months of 2016, more than 5,000 peo­ple called the HealthLine ev­ery month, but there’s been a steady de­cline.

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy, like Kent, said that might be be­cause of a lack of pub­lic aware­ness.

“Pre­sum­ably peo­ple can only use the ser­vice if they’re aware of it.”

Hag­gie pointed out the HealthLine does more than just ac­cept in­com­ing calls. The same call cen­tre does out­go­ing calls for some pa­tient fol­lowup, men­tal- health out­reach and check­ing up on peo­ple who left the emer­gency room with­out see­ing a doc­tor.

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