Vol. 3 No. 9 (2023)
Health Technology Reviews

Telephone Triage Services in Canada

Published September 7, 2023

Key Messages

  • Telephone triage programs (e.g., provincial and territorial 811 programs) provide timely access to trained health care professionals who perform virtual assessments of patients’ health status and symptoms and offer self-care advice and referrals to health care services and resources.
  • This Environmental Scan aimed to describe telephone triage programs in Canada, including what services they provide, their number and types of staff, who administers the programs, and how much they cost. It also aimed to provide a summary of some important considerations related to health equity, as well as insights into the future of telephone triage programs, including how they may incorporate emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and wearable health devices into their operations. This scan was informed through a limited literature search and a survey completed by targeted jurisdictional contacts across Canada.
  • All 13 provinces and territories in Canada provide residents with access to jurisdiction-wide telephone triage programs. While most of these programs have been in operation for many years, the programs in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut were established within the past 2 years.
  • Our findings suggest that telephone triage programs in Canada vary in the types of services they offer, as well as their characteristics and features, administrative structures, and associated costs. While all programs offer telephone triage and advice services, certain programs offer additional services, such as mental health crisis lines, assistance for quitting smoking or tobacco use, and consultation with a variety of health care professionals like pharmacists, dieticians, and physicians. Most programs are primarily staffed by registered nurses, but some telephone triage teams also include nonclinical intake agents, administrative personnel, physicians, nurse practitioners, and other health and social care providers.