Frequently Asked Questions

If you cannot connect to 811, you can access the service by calling the toll-free number at 1-844-259-1793. If you would like 811 to work directly, please contact your service provider to request a fix.

On this page:

What kinds of questions can I ask the registered nurse? 

811 nurses have access to a verified medical resource database and can answer questions related to health, mental wellness and addictions recovery, and quitting smoking or vaping. Here are examples of some questions people ask 811:

  • My child has a fever. Should I be concerned?
  • I have a headache. Do I need to go to the ER?
  • The NWT is in a syphilis outbreak. When should I get tested for syphilis?
  • Are my symptoms a cold or is this COVID?
  • Chickenpox is in my child’s school. What symptoms should I watch for?
  • What dosage of Tylenol should I give my child?
  • My abdominal pain isn’t going away. Should I see the Community Nurse?
  • What are the symptoms of a heart attack/COVID/appendicitis/gastro?
  • When can I introduce solid foods to my baby?
  • What do I do if I’m worried about my friend’s mental health?
  • How can I cope with anxiety?
  • I’m feeling suicidal. Where can I get help?
  • What are the symptoms of depression?

Callers can also receive a symptom-based assessment from a Registered Nurse. Residents will not get a diagnosis over the phone, but they will get advice on next steps. Examples of symptoms people call about: 

  • Chest pain 
  • Vomiting 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Headache 
  • Diabetes 
  • High or low blood sugar 
  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Heart rate/heartbeat questions 
  • Anxiety 
  • Swelling 
  • Rash 
  • Reflux 
  • First aid 
  • Disease prevention 
  • Blood test questions 
  • Screening 
  • Post-surgery questions 
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Healthy Eating

When I dial 811 I get a recording saying the service is not available. What should I do?

If you can’t connect to 811 use the toll-free number 1-844-259-1793. If you’re calling 811 from a cell phone, try turning off “Wi-Fi Calling” under your phone settings. If it still doesn’t work, contact your service provider for assistance.

If your company has a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone system, which is a private telephone network used within a company or organization, you will need to program the system to allow external calls to 811. The changes should be made by your in-house Information Technology (IT) person or by the PBX phone system vendor.

What’s the difference between calling 811 and calling the local health centre? 

You may get the same advice from 811 as you would from your local nurse or doctor. There are limitations to what a registered nurse can provide by phone, and at times it will be recommended that callers seek in person care, but they can provide advice for the period between your ailment and the time your able to see a health care professional where advice can be very helpful. However, with 811 you may be able to get advice faster because your local health care provider may have other patients with more serious health conditions that need to be seen first. 811 is ideal for answering questions that are not emergencies. 811 provides a standardized symptom-based assessment and can help callers decide if they should see their health care provider, or if they can manage their symptoms at home. 

Do other Canadians use telephone nursing services? 

Yes. You can dial 811 in any province and territory to get medical advice when you have questions or are unable to be seen in person.

Can I use 811 when I’m out of the NWT? 

If you have an NWT-registered phone number and dial 811 when you are in Canada but outside of the NWT, you will be routed to the 811 service provider in that province or territory. 

Do I still need to see my care provider? 

Yes.  811 does not replace your care provider, whether that is a mental health counsellor, nurse, or doctor. However, it can help you with interim support and help you to determine when you need to seek additional assistance. For example, most people who have a cold or the flu don’t need to see a nurse or doctor. 811 nurses can give advice and tips for looking after yourself at home. An 811 nurse can advise whether you need to see a professional in person after you’re given an assessment over the phone.

What kinds of questions will the nurse ask me if I'm calling about a health-related question?

The first thing you will be asked is why you are calling and whether you have symptoms or questions about a health- related issue. If you are experiencing symptoms, the nurse will ask a series of follow-up questions. Based on your responses, the nurse will help you to decide the best next steps. You may be asked to make an appointment with your nurse or doctor; or go to the health centre or hospital. The nurse can provide information about local services available to you. The nurse will also identify actions you can take to manage symptoms at home. You can call back at any time if you have further questions or if your symptoms change. 

If things get worse and I call back, will I get the same nurse? 

You can call back to 811, however you will be connected to the next available nurse. You will not be able to request to speak with a specific nurse. If you are advised by the nurse to call back in the case of worsening symptoms, your previously shared information will be reviewed to provide safe, personally tailored and quality advice and care. If you have an ongoing health or a social problem that needs attention, you should make regular appointments with your local health centre instead of calling 811. 

If I call for counselling, can I speak to the same person if I call back?

It is possible, but this is not the aim of the service. The aim is to provide in the moment counseling and care when that is needed. Nurses work 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and though the same person may not be available, all of the nurses are trained in mental health counseling support, and the service will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Where are the 811 nurses located? 

The team of more than 200 nurses answering 811 work out of offices located in Newfoundland. These nurses work for a company that specializes in providing this type of service to residents of Newfoundland & Labrador, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the U.S., and Asia. They have been providing these services for over 22 years.

Why isn’t this service based in the NWT? 

The NWT does not have a provider that offers this specialized service. The company providing this service has in-depth expertise and experience providing these services across many Canadian jurisdictions.. 

What if all the nurses are busy? 

In most cases you will be able to talk to a nurse right away. If there are many other callers at the same time you call, a health care navigator will collect some of your information and a nurse will aim to call you back within half an hour. 

How do I know I can trust the information I get from the registered nurse? 

The nurses are qualified with an average of 10 years of nursing experience. All nurses serving NWT residents are registered through the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These nurses have specialized training and use trusted, symptom-based algorithms for telehealth advice that are used in 95 percent of health call centres. They also use a computer database that tells them which health and support services are available in NWT communities. This means nurses provide high quality health advice tailored to the needs of NWT callers.  

Why does 811 keep a file on me? Who sees this information? 

Every call is treated with the same professional confidentiality as when you see a nurse or doctor at a health centre or medical clinic. All the information is stored electronically in a secure environment and only registered nurses can access the file. You have the option to remain anonymous when you call. Non-identifying information will be collected for the purposes of understanding how NWT residents are using this service, and how it can be improved. You may wish to provide additional personal information, like your name, which would permit the nurses to establish an electronic file for you. Should you call again, the nurse can retrieve your file to find what you’ve called about in the past and what information was provided to you. This gives the nurse more information about how to help with your current request. 

If I speak to a counsellor is my information shared with anyone?

No. Information is only retained with our contracted service provider. It will not be shared with anyone else, including your local health care providers in NWT. If you wish to retain a copy of your call record, you can email healthlinefeedback@gov.nt.ca

How will the nurses know about the cultural needs of NWT residents? 

811 nurses have completed the Living Well Together training offered by the GNWT to ensure cultural sensitivity will be applied on all calls. They understand the need to respect cultural differences and how to respond to ensure callers feel safe, and that their needs are being addressed.

What training do these nurses have to provide mental health support?

811 lets you talk to a trained professional whenever you need support with your mental wellness or addictions recovery.

The nurses at 811 are licensed in the NWT and have completed extensive training across a wide range of mental wellness and addictions related topics including harm reduction, trauma informed care, depression, gender responsiveness, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and much more.

What training do these nurses have to provide support when quitting tobacco/vaping?

811 lets you talk to a trained professional as soon as you feel ready to quit, or even to ask questions about quitting. Quitting smoking can take a while, and it often takes a long time for a person to feel ready to quit.

The 811 registered nurses have completed extensive training to be able to help you quit smoking. This includes Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) Training Enhancement in Applied Counselling and Health (TEACH) which is Canada’s benchmark tobacco cessation education program. This training will allow 811 Quitline nurses to support clients with tobacco addiction and cessation, and address e-cigarette use/vaping.

811 operators won't pressure you to quit or to move faster than you want to. They will help you figure out your triggers, come up with a quit plan, and find local resources that can support you.

Can I connect to 811 if I have Wi-Fi Calling turned on?

If your device has Wi-Fi calling turned on, you will not be able to connect to 811. Please turn this off in your device settings prior to attempting to contact 811.

If you have any questions, please contact your service provider for assistance.

Is there a limit to the amount of time I can talk, or number of times I can call?

There is no limit, you can call as many times as you need to and talk for the time you need. Nurses additionally will offer a follow up phone call if you would like one, depending on the issues your facing, and can call back days later to check in.

Why should I call 811 if I want to quit smoking?

Nurses are trained specifically in counseling as its related to Tobacco Cessation. They have experience as nurses with medications and health care and will be very well informed to answer questions or help the public with these challenges.

Will my doctor know that I called 811 to talk about quitting smoking?

The 811 line is not connected to the health record nurses and doctors in the NWT use, so this is a service that is separate from your regular appointments but can be linked if residents would like that. They can request a copy of the health advice and information shared on their 811 call if they would like a record to share with their doctor.