Sask. government overhauling 811 HealthLine on the fly to meet overwhelming demand

SaskHealth and SaskTel are working hand in hand to try to boost the capacity of the province's 811 health information line so that people can get through with medical questions.

Measures include increasing number of lines to 500, adding a callback feature

The province says calls to the 811 HealthLine in Saskatchewan have quadrupled. (Pras Boonwong/EyeEm/Getty Images)

The province is overhauling its 811 HealthLine on the fly to keep pace with demand for the telephone service.

On Monday afternoon, officials with the Saskatchewan Health Authority said it's working to increase the number of incoming lines to 500, to reflect the fourfold jump in calls. It's not clear exactly when the new lines will be up and working. 

It's also increasing the number of staff to 30, from 12, and also introducing a callback feature.

"Callers do not need to wait on the line, but will keep their place in the queue and HealthLine 811 will call them back,' a spokesperson said in an email to CBC.

The call centre is based in Regina. Plans are in the works to move staff offsite.

That "will offer HealthLine 811 the capability of having distributed staff across the province, allowing us to increase or decrease call-taking capacity as required."

The information phone line was paralyzed by thousands of people phoning over the weekend with questions and concerns.

"I called the number and there was 90 people ahead of me in the line in the queue ... because you're supposed to talk to a nurse," Lyndon Lisitza told a CBC reporter in Saskatoon. "So after an hour and 20 minutes of finally getting to the point where you're first in line so you can actually take the call or have the conversation, the system just said it just shut down so we have technical difficulties. Goodbye."

The government has taken several other steps to ease the burden on the health system:

  • The government made an online assessment tool available over the weekend. It has been used 22,000 times since becoming active.
  • On Friday, the Ministry of Health announced that doctors would now be able to offer "virtual appointments" with patients over the phone. The province created a new payment code for doctors, which would allow them to be paid for the phone appointments.
  • The ministry is also working on a secure video system to allow patients and doctors to communicate.