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Montreal Families

Medical advice just a phone call away

It was a first-time mother’s worst nightmare. My 11-month-old daughter had a very high fever in the middle of the night. But while her body felt hot as a furnace and her skin was flushed and sweaty, she was otherwise in a great mood, laughing and gallivanting about the house in just a diaper.

I, on the other hand, was panicked and unsure what to do next.

About to make a mad dash for the emergency room, I was stopped in my tracks by my husband’s suggestion that we call Info-Santé, the free medical advice hotline run by the Quebec government and staffed by professional nurses.

A short time later, after answering a series of questions about my daughter’s health and current mood, a calm nurse determined that I should give her children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce the fever and put her in a lukewarm bath to cool her off.

The nurse also let me know the symptoms that would warrant a trip to the doctor: if the temperature remained elevated after 24 hours, if my daughter seemed to be in pain or if her good mood abated.

So, instead of rushing to the hospital, we were able to treat her fever and get everyone back to bed for at least a few hours sleep.

The Info-Santé telephone line is a key part of the provincial health care system, helping link people to the correct and necessary services. Recently, all the Info-Santé lines, which were accessed via different numbers, have been centralized in one 811 number.

When people call Info-Santé, they are put through to a nurse, who helps them determine if they need to go to the hospital, wait to see a doctor, or treat their problem at home.

There are 15 Info-Santé call centres across Quebec and if one centre has a backlog, new callers are sent to the next available line.

Sue Hledin, a Montreal area mom with 5-year-old fraternal twins, says she’s called the information line many times in the past. She praises the quality of medical advice received but adds that she’s often had to wait to get information.

“Sometimes it takes a really long time for the nurse to come on the line,” she said, “but it’s definitely shorter to wait for a nurse than 10 or 12 hours at a hospital if you don’t need to go.”
I recently called the service one weekday afternoon, asking how I could alleviate my daughter’s swollen arm following a routine vaccination. I waited less than six minutes before a bilingual nurse came on the line.

She asked my phone number and postal code and my daughter’s birth date. Such information was necessary, she explained, so she could “open up a file, just like at the clinic.”

She could also call me back, she said, if she needed to add anything to the advice she had given. And the nurse advised me to take down her name as well, saying I could ask for her by name if I needed to call back.

“I’ve been doing this (information line) for 15 years,” the nurse said. “I’ve ended up helping people in Gaspésie and Saguenay when their call centres are busy.” She said her centre alone can receive up to 800 calls a day.

Thanks to Info-Santé, people can find the health and social services they need. For this former flustered mom, the advice allowed me to treat my child at home, gave me peace of mind and kept us all from an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.

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