But calls seeking medical advice from HHC are declining 

HHC: Although the number of calls availing medical advise through the Health Help Centre (HHC) has dropped over the years, the centre has recorded an increase in calls for emergency response.

From 1,387 calls for medical advise in 2011, the number dropped by more than half to 600 last year. As of August 13 this year, the centre received only 347 calls.

During the same period, the centre received 18,300 calls for emergency response, 11,019 for H2H (hospital to home) transfer and 4,021 for healthcare helpline.

Calls for emergency response increased to 6,452 last year from 3,727 in 2011. This year, the centre attended 3,444 calls for emergency response. Phone calls requesting H2H also increased from 3,011 last year from 2,617 in 2011.

Following a series of complaints of hoax calls, the centre has started seeing a drastic drop in the such calls. Between 2011 and August 13 this year, a total of 50,451 calls made to the centre were abused, wrong and missed calls.

From 17,865 in 2011, such calls dropped to 4,895 last year, while this year the centre recorded about 3,680 abused, wrong or missed calls.

Initiated in 2011, the HHC is mandated to provide medical emergency response with equipped ambulance and emergency medical technicians, provide healthcare advice and counseling on public health and health services. The HCC has also started suicide prevention and tobacco cessation helplines.

Presenting an analysis on the service utilisation of HHC at the health conference on August 27, Department of Medical Service’s (DMS) programme officer Tashi Duba said that the centre is one of the health ministry’s successful programmes.

“Of the cumulative calls, the worst are the abused calls,” he said.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that although abused calls have dropped, the figure was still high and that was why people complained that HHC lines are always busy.

Lyonpo said that the issue of abused calls was even discussed at the Cabinet. “We decided that one or two such callers should be prosecuted as a lesson to those who make abuse calls,” lyonpo said.

Dzongkhag wise, Tashi Duba said Thimphu and some western dzongkhags followed by the eastern dzongkhags utilised the services the most. “Of the total calls received, 58 percent were from rural areas,” he said, adding that this could be due to transportation issues in the villages.

He said there are 113 ambulances in hospitals across the country that the HHC deploy when they receive calls for emergencies. There are 59 emergency medical technicians across the country to attend to emergencies.

All requests for ambulances during emergencies, according to DMS officials should route through HHC for proper mobilisation and utilisation of the ambulance services.

However, some dzongkhag health officials said that hospitals should be allowed to dispatch ambulances for emergencies should patients call them instead of the HHC.

But DMS officials maintained that this would undermine the purpose of HHC and that hospital staff should encourage people to make use of the toll free number 112.

The conference also decided that hospital administrative officers monitor the use of ambulances by using the trip sheets. Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said a guideline for ambulance should be drafted to address the issue of use and misuse of ambulance services.

The third biennial health conference ended on August 27.

By Kinga Dema, Paro