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Health First is changing its name and its number – healthdirect Australia 1800 022 222

By johnboy - 4 August 2008 26

When Notorious BOG and I were just wee tackers, and prone to falling out of trees and variously smashing each other up, our mother made a point of always having a friend nearby who was a nurse.

Dangling limbs and runny noses would occasionally be presented to one of these nurses and advice sought.

Sometimes the advice would be “give them an aspirin and call me in the morning,” and sometimes it would be “take them to the hospital right now.”

But there are only so many nurses and while they’re generally friendly types even the most prudent mother might, from time to time, lack one to consult.

Misallocation of resources is a huge problem in the health system.

Ambulances pick up little old ladies who really only want a chat and a cup of tea, kids are in emergency who just need a course of antibiotics from a GP, and any number of serious cases approach the need for heroic intervention while they wait and hope for ‘things to get better on their own’.

And so, in an under-hyped piece of far sighted governance, in 2000 the ACT Government set up Health First.

Now everyone 24/7 could dial a number and speak to a registered nurse who would advise them of the best place to take their condition. Even better the system automatically gives the nurse answering the call the details of their nearest appropriate health service, be it a late night chemist, their local clinic, or in extreme cases a soft transfer into the ambulance system.

It works so well that foreign diplomats, after a stint in Canberra, still call it for advice even when they’ve moved on to their next posting.

And they’ve discovered they can virtualise the call centre so that many of the nurses can be working from home. It takes around 4,000 calls a month.

As a 30 something male I was completely unaware of its existence, it hasn’t been actively promoted until now.

But I noticed some of the motherly RiotACTers talking about Health First in a recent discussion and realised this was something I needed to know about.

So I got in touch, and had a meeting with Fred Pilcher from Health First and Sean Allan from healthdirect Australia (note the style, they’re keen on that). In the picture Sean is on the left and Fred on the right.

Due to the success of Health First in the ACT and healthdirect in Western Australia the scheme is being expanded nationally.

Which means the name and number are changing, and surrounding regions in NSW are being turned over to the local service in preparation for a wider rollout.

Before anyone worries about their health queries being routed to Bangalore I should point out that the very first thing the 2006 COAG meeting, which decided on a national scheme, agreed on was that all the phone answerers had to be registered nurses here in Australia.

It’s important to stress that it’s not a replacement to 000. If you know you need an ambulance you should go right ahead.

Where it’s supposed to shine is when people are uncertain of what they should do next, to give them confidence and to make sure they know how to access the next stage of treatment.

(Forgot to mention, fridge magnets are on their way)

What’s Your opinion?


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26 Responses to
Health First is changing its name and its number – healthdirect Australia 1800 022 222
Whatsup 1:13 pm 05 Aug 08

Have used Health First several times, been very happy with the advice every time. Its ranged from “See a GP within 24 hours” to “We are calling an Ambulance on your behalf, it will be there soon”.

Lilli 12:45 pm 05 Aug 08

I am really thankful to have a service like Health First available. I am the first to admit that I can be somewhat a hypochondriac (be it about myself or those close to me) and it is nice to know a nurse is only a phone call away who can relieve my fears and offer appropriate advice without having to make the trip to the doctor. Definitely an invaluable service, and I’d be more than happy knowing some of my tax dollars are being provided to expand and contribute to such a great service.

Granny 12:29 pm 05 Aug 08

I had never heard of it, but it sounds very useful. Really appreciate the post.

RandomGit 11:30 am 05 Aug 08

An invaluable service. Always the right decision first time. For anyone that has had a wrong decision from that experience, I’m sorry for you. Keep some faith though.

s-s-a 10:33 am 05 Aug 08

My only complaint about Health First is that their medical advice committee recommends different treatment for keeping littlies with gastro rehydrated. I was stressed enough during my 1yos first ever bout of gastro without turning up at TCH and being told “oh no we don’t recommend resting their tummies after vomiting, just keep giving them fluids” – ie what Health First had told me to do had actually contributed to my child’s state of dehydration.

The virtual and actual first points of call (ie Health First and TCH/hospitals) really need to get their stories straight!

peterh 9:48 am 05 Aug 08

fnaah said :

peterh, they may be performing triage of sorts. Someone with a sprained ankle or niggling cough, for example, might not be as urgent as someone with chest pains, or breathing difficulty. (Of course, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what your issue was, nor those of the people who got in before you – just trying to illustrate a scenario where “first in best dressed” isn’t always the best solution.)

On topic, I’m a big fan of HealthFirst. I put their number in my phone as soon as I saw the ad (maybe four years ago?). I am concerned, however, that with a national rollout, we’ll be either turning nurses into phone monkeys when they’re desperately needed in hospitals, or forcing nurses to work unpaid from home. Is there any mention of additional funding for more registered nurses?

in my opinion, nurses should be providing triage, not the receptionists. on topic, the health first transition happened a while ago, and the quality of help has not changed. they have assisted us in getting one of my sons in quickly to see a doctor when he had bronchialitis – they phoned the ED at TCH and he was rushed through. he was not well at all.

The first thing that we did after he was better was to phone the health first system again and asked if we could provide feedback on the RN who had assisted us. we were put through to her supervisor, and made our thanks to them. They were a bit surprised, they thought we wished to complain. (seems funny that these people help others across the phone, but they get very little thanks for their efforts) The supervisor (I Hope) has passed on our heartfelt thanks.

fnaah 9:37 am 05 Aug 08

peterh, they may be performing triage of sorts. Someone with a sprained ankle or niggling cough, for example, might not be as urgent as someone with chest pains, or breathing difficulty. (Of course, I wasn’t there, I don’t know what your issue was, nor those of the people who got in before you – just trying to illustrate a scenario where “first in best dressed” isn’t always the best solution.)

On topic, I’m a big fan of HealthFirst. I put their number in my phone as soon as I saw the ad (maybe four years ago?). I am concerned, however, that with a national rollout, we’ll be either turning nurses into phone monkeys when they’re desperately needed in hospitals, or forcing nurses to work unpaid from home. Is there any mention of additional funding for more registered nurses?

Special G 9:37 am 05 Aug 08

Health Direct Australia is a great service that doesn’t get enough credit or advertising through the govt. If you suggest symtoms that may become worse they will call you back and check on you after a couple of hours.

Great for new parents for advice.

peterh 9:22 am 05 Aug 08

emd said :

I use it all the time. In fact, I phoned them yesterday for advice on immunisation for my almost one-year-old.

Sometimes the earliest appointment with my GP is not for a few days, so I use Health First to decide if it can wait a few days or if I should go to the bulk billing clinic today.

There are times I’ve phoned them to get advice on treating croup at 3am. So it’s not just about deciding between GP and hospital, it’s also good for general advice. It means I’ve been able to avoid drugs when there’s other ways to deal with minor stuff.

By the way, there’s a bulk billing clinic in Phillip (no appointments) that is open every day (including long weekends) and later hours than most places. 6112 7000. They can do x-rays and pathology on site too.

thing is, the phillip (no appointments) clinic has receptionists that show favoritism. If you have seen one of the doctors on before, and you ask to see them again, they bump you up the queue. seen it happen many times, even though I and the other patients were sitting there a hell of a lot longer than the person who was moved up the queue. The receptionists deny that this practice occurs.

emd 9:07 am 05 Aug 08

I use it all the time. In fact, I phoned them yesterday for advice on immunisation for my almost one-year-old.

Sometimes the earliest appointment with my GP is not for a few days, so I use Health First to decide if it can wait a few days or if I should go to the bulk billing clinic today.

There are times I’ve phoned them to get advice on treating croup at 3am. So it’s not just about deciding between GP and hospital, it’s also good for general advice. It means I’ve been able to avoid drugs when there’s other ways to deal with minor stuff.

By the way, there’s a bulk billing clinic in Phillip (no appointments) that is open every day (including long weekends) and later hours than most places. 6112 7000. They can do x-rays and pathology on site too.

sepi 8:55 am 05 Aug 08

I find it really frustrating.

They advise to see a dr within 4 hours – how is that even possible. Let alone on EAster weekend.

Thumper 8:33 am 05 Aug 08

I can see how it is a winner but seriously, can’t people make up there own minds about what is serious and what is not?

having said that, good service, great outcomes, and helping to keep our emergency departments sane.

It needs to be promoted more. (Okay, fridge magnets is a start)

Woody Mann-Caruso 8:23 am 05 Aug 08

Just brilliant. Can’t rave about it enough. I tell the relatives interstate about it and they’re gobsmacked.

miz 7:47 am 05 Aug 08

Health First is a winner in our household – helps you make decisions about treatment especially out of hours.

ns 11:25 pm 04 Aug 08

Health First is great. I can’t say enough nice things about the service. I’ve been using them for years and I’ve always thought it was a great shame that it wasn’t advertised better. There was a bit of intial promo done around the uni medical centres which is how I found out about it in the first place.

Just last Saturday I advised a friend to call them when she rang me to ask whether I knew somewhere she could get some quick medical advice because she couldn’t get in to see her doctor.

It’s great that CoAG’s gotten on board and this is now going to become a national service.

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