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 is 811? 

811 is a toll-free health information and advice phone service available to NWT residents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Registered nurses are available to answer questions about general health issues for you and your family. They can also offer advice on managing specific symptoms or refer you to your local health centre or hospital for treatment. This line is not for emergency services. Individuals facing a medical emergency should dial 911. All conversations are confidential. 

Why is 811 needed? 

811 provides residents with access to clinical advice right away, or within 30 minutes of calling the line. When members of the public face difficulties accessing health information, 811 can be a useful first step. In many cases, 811 staff can provide advice for managing symptoms at home or assessing whether primary care is needed and how urgently. This can help alleviate some of the strain on the health care system and get people prompt answers to their health questions.

What kinds of questions can I ask 811? 

811 nurses have access to a verified medical resource database and can answer general health questions. 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?

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

What can 811 not provide? 

The NWT 811 Health Advice Line is not an emergency line. Before callers are connected to an 811 agent, a message will play advising residents experiencing a medical emergency to hang up and call 911. Residents who call and explain their symptoms will not get a diagnosis, but they will get advice on next steps.

What happens when you call 811? 

Your call is answered by a health care navigator who will collect details i.e., first name, middle name, last name, date of birth, and reason for the call. If a registered nurse is not immediately available, callers will receive a return call within 30 minutes. The registered nurse may: 

  • review your symptoms
  • explore options for attention, care, or support from a health or social services professional
  • provide advice for managing symptoms at home
  • provide a soft transfer to services if that is requested i.e. Nurse on call when needed 
  • provide general health information or advice, without specific personal details, if the caller wants to remain anonymous 

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. 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. 

Is 811 an emergency line like 911? 

No. People who have an emergency –­ or think they have an emergency – should dial 911 or go to the health centre or hospital right away.

What languages are available? 

811 offers service in English, with interpretation services available for French, NWT Indigenous languages, and over 200 languages from around the world.

A Winnipeg-based company called CanTalk works with 811 to provide interpretation services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need interpretation services, the nurse contacts CanTalk. A three-way connection is established, usually within 45 seconds, and the interpreter stays on the line during the entire call.

I am deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired. Can I access 811? 

Callers who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired who use American Sign Language or Langues des signes Québécoise can use the Canada Video Relay Service and call 1 (844) 259-1793, the toll-free number associated with 811, to access the service. 

How is my privacy protected? 

DHSS worked closely with the Chief Health Privacy Officer to review the services provided by the contractor to ensure the safety and security of the information that will be provided to 811. Individuals can provide as much or as little information as they would like to 811.

Do other Canadians use telephone nursing services? 

Yes. All other territories and provinces provide 811 services.

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 nurse or doctor? 

You may. 811 does not replace your nurse or doctor. However, it can help you to know when you need to go to the health centre or hospital, and when you can manage your symptoms at home. 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. It is a step that can be used when you are concerned about spreading communicable disease, such as COVID, and would like an assessment. An 811 nurse can advise whether you need to see a nurse or doctor in person after you’re given a medical assessment over the phone.

When I phone 811, who will answer my call? 

You will first hear a recorded announcement that will ask you to choose your preferred language. A second recorded announcement will then advise you to hang up the phone if you have an emergency and contact your community’s emergency services. If you remain on the line, you will be connected to a registered nurse when one is available right away. If a nurse is not available, a health care navigator will take your phone number and some information, and a nurse will call you back within 30 minutes. You can also choose to wait on “hold” for the next nurse.

What kinds of questions will the nurse ask me? 

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. 

Can I call back and talk to 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 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. 

Where are the 811 nurses located? 

The team of more than 200 nurses answering 811 works 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 in business over 20 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 the expertise and experience in Canadian jurisdictions and agencies. 

If other provinces have a health emergency, will that mean the 811 nurses won’t be available to NWT residents? 

No. There are enough nurses to handle calls, even when there are health emergencies in other places receiving services by this company. In unusual situations, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes to talk to a nurse. This is still probably quicker than the time it would take to talk to a local nurse or doctor. Of course, if you have an emergency – or think you do – you should seek help within your community right away.

What if all the nurses are busy? 

Usually, 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 call you back within half an hour. 

How do I know I can trust the information I get from 811? 

The nurses are qualified with an average of 10 years of nursing experience. All nurses serving NWT residents will be 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 right 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. 

How will the nurses know about the cultural needs in the NWT? 

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.

My company uses a PBX phone system. Will 811 work?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange, which is a private telephone network used within a company or organization.

If your company has a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone system, 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 provider.

If there are any other issues, contact your service provider for assistance.

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.

Who do I talk to if I have a concern or question about this service or want to provide positive feedback? 

You can email healthlinefeedback@gov.nt.ca