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Hospital offers help on the phone

February 14, 2005|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - In an attempt to reduce the number of unnecessary visits to the emergency room, Washington County Hospital has created a 24-hour, call-in Advice Line that offers professional medical support, said Bonnie Forsh, clinical director of emergency services at the hospital.

Medical professionals are now just a phone call away, and hospital officials are encouraging more people to take advantage of the service launched a month ago. The toll-free line is staffed by seasoned health-care professionals trained to address any medical situation.

"We may have people call in and say something like, 'I have this sinus pressure,'" Forsh said, citing an example of the types of phone calls received.

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"We have this protocol to follow. For instance, some of the answers are: Take a hot pan of water and put a towel over your head," she said.

Scrapes, colds and minor infections don't always require urgent medical attention and can be handled by the Advice Line, she said.

Local response to the service has been slow, Forsh said. Since Jan. 9, the Advice Line has received about 60 calls, despite advertisements. The emergency room still is being flooded with calls that can be addressed by Advice Line staff, Forsh said.

"We get about 300 calls a month from people calling with a variety of questions," Forsh said.

Forsh said medical calls from the public used to be sent directly to the hospital's emergency room. Based on the nature of the call, inquiries were directed to the appropriate staff person.

Hospital officials decided to offer a call-in Advice Line after a recent spike in emergency-room visits. Forsh said the separate call-in line can keep patients from making unnecessary trips to the hospital's emergency room. That frees staff to work on more serious cases, she said.

"Some concerns can also be handled through the Urgent Care Center at Robinwood Medical Center," Forsh said.

The center is open from noon to 7 p.m.; no appointment is necessary.

Callers to the Advice Line can expect to be asked a series of questions from medical professionals trained to determine the urgency of the call. In serious cases, callers might be directed to call 911. Others might be instructed to visit the Urgent Care Center or contact their physician; or a nurse may offer treatment options that can be tried at home.

The Advice Line's toll-free number is 800-274-0499.

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