AG questions validity of HealthLine

Auditor General Terry Paddon says it's time the provincial government reviewed the effectiveness of the program.

The auditor general says it's time government checked to see if a costly health program is working.

HealthLine was introduced in Newfoundland and Labrador more than six years ago, costing taxpayers more than $20 million, to date. The program is meant to improve access to health information, encourage self-care and reduce the number of people making unnecessary trips to hospital emergency rooms.

While it all sounds good, Terry Paddon found a big problem.

"We don't see that the department has done any sort of review of the effectiveness of the program, or whether it was meeting its objectives," said Paddon.

No promotional campaigns since 2009

Paddon said HealthLine was promoted when it was launched in 2006, but there have been no campaigns since March 2009. He added the calls coming in to the service are declining.

"Either there is issues with the quality of the advice that they're getting or are there are issues with people's understanding or their awareness of the service that's being provided," said Paddon.

It's something the provincial government said it's working on. Minister Joan Shea, speaking on behalf of health minister Susan Sullivan, said a final report is due in March.

"I'm not sure which research methodology they are actually going to be using, but you know we do look at the auditor general's report, and understand that from the time the program was set up understand the need for effective evaluation," said Shea.

Paddon said follow-up surveys with users of the service would be beneficial to the review. He said that way, government would know if callers are using the advice offered — and if the money being spent on HealthLine is worth it.