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Coronavirus: Ontario government announces expansion of Telehealth resources

A doctor examines a patient.
A doctor examines a patient. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Thomas Kienzle

The Ontario government announced Monday the expansion of Telehealth provincial resources in an attempt to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

In a press release issued Monday, the government said it is continuing to take “further action to ensure the province’s health care system is prepared to continue to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians.”

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The release outlined two phases, with the first already being implemented.

Phase 1, entitled “Immediately Increase resources to Reduce Call Wait Times,” said the government deployed almost 130 nurses to help “conduct symptom assessments and referrals among callers who request a callback.”

Telehealth has created specific training to on-board the nurses as fast as possible. Telehealth itself will also be increasing staff.

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“We understand that people are anxious to get the advice about next steps as soon as possible, which is why the capacity of Telehealth is being enhanced,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

“But unless you are experiencing severe symptoms or a medical emergency, the best place for you to stay is at home until you receive advice, which will often be to stay home and self-monitor.”

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Phase 2, entitled “Continue to Manage COVID-19 Call Volumes,” said the government and Telehealth are working together with the registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario to “identify support from its 44,000 registered nurse members.”

The government said it is also looking into non-clinical resources that could be available to help decrease call wait times.

Furthermore, the Ford government said it has approved for doctors to be able to provide “routine healthcare” by video and telephone, in order to help keep more patients at home.

There are already-established COVID-19 assessment centres around the province, with additional ones on the way.

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Before a person experiencing symptoms should go to an assessment centre, the government and Telehealth are asking those people to either call in or use the new online self-assessment tool.

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To date, Telehealth said there has been more than 8,000 COVID-19 related calls.

As of Sunday, there were 145 coronavirus cases in the province, five of which have been resolved.

An update in new numbers is expected by the province’s health official at 10:30 a.m.