The Ontario government is instructing people to call their primary-care physician, if they have one, instead of its Telehealth system after widespread complaints that the wait time to speak to a nurse is several days.
“For people to call their own family doctor is probably a more timely way to deal with it,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott on Monday.
She said the aim is to get the average wait time down to a day.
“Waiting three days is not acceptable.”
4 days, 10 hours
A London, Ont. woman is worried for anyone who needs health advice in a more timely manner after calling Telehealth last week with stomach pains and a fever.
“I though it maybe was my appendix,” said Rhea Lip.
After trying several times to get through to an operator, she was finally told her wait for a call back from a nurse was four days and 10 hours.
“I was really shocked,” she said. “People who call Telehealth depend on … getting a nurse’s opinion, especially at times like this.”
Several people online also complained of long wait times, both for COVID-19 and other health questions.
That’s after adding 336 nurses and 106 intake staff to answer incoming calls.
As of April 4, the service had received 79,000 COVID-19-related calls.
The Ministry of Health said it’s working with Telehealth Ontario to help address the increased daily call volumes and reduce callback wait times.
Self-assessment and virtual visits
While Ontario officials initially asked the public to call Telehealth about COVID-19 symptoms, the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said it’s now advising people to call their family doctors because of several moves the government has made.
These include the creation of an online self-assessment tool, which has had more than a million hits since it launched March 23.
The province also approved physician billing codes for phone consultations, while others are doing virtual appointments.
That includes Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association and a family doctor in Stayner, Ont., just south of Collingwood.
“I’m personally grateful when [patients] contact me,” he said. “I’d rather patients get information from me than someone else, because I know them.”
Gandhi suggested all patients contact their family doctor first, since their physicians have knowledge of a patient’s history. He said the workload has been high, but manageable since some non-essential appointments have been put on hold for now.
As for the roughly one million Ontarians who don’t have a family doctor, Williams suggests those patients don’t have much of a choice.
“Telehealth is still available. It’s still a good place to call for advice and direction.”