Although there is no pandemic anywhere in the world now, local health departments are always working to improve their ability to respond to public health emergencies, including a severe influenza pandemic. In keeping with this, NACCHO, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and others, has organized a pilot test of Flu on Call™, a toll-free influenza telephone helpline.
Flu on Call™ is a pandemic influenza capability that has been in development since 2011. The system establishes a national network of telephone triage lines that are designed to integrate with local preparedness plans. The goals of Flu on Call™ are three-fold: to reduce surge on medical facilities, reduce the need for face-to-face encounters, and increase access to antiviral medications. People who call Flu on Call™ and need information are guided to appropriate information specialists. If the caller is sick, or caring for someone who is sick, they are transferred to a medical professional who gives them medical advice.
Though Flu on Call™ is not designed for seasonal influenza use, it offers the opportunity to test the system in a real-world setting. NACCHO has selected City of Milwaukee Health Department in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Three Rivers Public Health Department in Fremont, Nebraska, to participate in the pilot program. Area partners, including medical centers, vaccine clinic, and public school systems are also involved in the pilot. Beginning today, phone lines in the designated Milwaukee and Three Rivers service areas will be open to the public. Flu on Call™ information specialists and clinicians will offer advice and triage callers. Callers may be directed to their regular providers, given information about home care and prevention, or be directed to emergency or urgent care, depending on the caller’s needs. Flu on Call™ is only available to residents in selected service area zip codes.
It is important to increase healthcare system capacity, but it is also important to reduce unnecessary demand for services. This can be done by appropriately triaging people and “right-sizing” care. Flu on Call™ does both.
Flu on Call™ is modeled on the Minnesota FluLine that operated during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza response. The Minnesota FluLine fielded more than 27,000 calls between Oct. 29, 2009, and March 31, 2010. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that the Minnesota FluLine may have prevented up to 11,000 unnecessary in-person healthcare visits to emergency departments, clinics, and doctors’ offices during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Flu on Call™ was inspired by the success of Minnesota’s experience and that of several other state and local health departments.
Throughout the run of the pilot test, which should wrap up in mid-to-late February, NACCHO staff will be monitoring system use and performance. NACCHO and its partners will use the lessons learned during the pilot test to expand the program to additional communities.
NACCHO will provide continued updates about the Flu on Call™ project. Check back with the blog, and follow @NACCHOAlerts on Twitter for more.
Contact NACCHO if you have any questions about Flu on Call™.