As seasons change, especially at the beginning of winter, we know that the flu and common cold period is just around the corner. This also means that we will be complaining about the overcrowded clinics. But, before you rush to the doctor, remember to call 8-1-1 for Info-Santé service.

Info-Santé is the bilingual, province-wide telephone help line for answers to health questions. Since 2008 it has been accessible through a simple three-digit number: 811, which immediately provides the option to “Press 9” for service in English. If you have a non-urgent health question, your first thought should be to call Info-Santé. Health care professionals are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your call. Even though there is a single number for the whole province, questions of a local nature are transferred to someone familiar with the resources available in the area. While illness cannot be diagnosed over the phone, lots of concerns can be addressed and responded to with authority. Do you want to learn about the risks of immunization? Learn about the symptoms of common illnesses? How to protect yourself from infectious disease? Info-Santé can provide you with answers to these and many other questions.

The network is a fully integrated web of services designed to help you maintain your health and well-being, both physical and mental. Too often, we complain that we are unable to find a doctor and therefore resort to going to the emergency department of the hospital. While there is a recognized doctor shortage in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, there are many ways to access the help we need. Although knowing that this is a widespread problem doesn’t help us in our search for a doctor, it should perhaps encourage us to look for alternatives in non-urgent situations so that the doctors we do have can concentrate on the truly pressing medical needs of patients.

The overburdened system requires a complete re-engineering, which is actually underway, at least in some respects. One of these is the Info-Santé line. By encouraging people to ask questions and to get referrals to the agencies and services that they need, when they need them, the pressure on the family practitioner and emergency services is reduced. This will allow services to be more available in the circumstances when they are genuinely required, such as accidents and sudden incidents like heart attacks and strokes. The health professionals at the other end of the telephone line can guide you through dealing with fevers, simple infections, or other daily health concerns and also tell you when a visit to a doctor or the hospital is really called for.

Don’t hesitate to try out the Info-Santé line by calling 811, pressing 9 for service in English, and asking your questions. If your phone does not allow you to dial 811, dial: 514-521-2100. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the courtesy and efficiency of the person on the other end of the line.