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Saving hospital beds for the most urgent cases

Saving hospital beds for the most urgent cases

Hamilton’s hospitals have worked together on an online portal to help residents access non-urgent medical assistance and hopefully save hospital beds during the Omicron wave. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant, high emergency department volumes and the critical need to maintain access to health care for urgent and emergency needs has Hamilton’s health partners urging the public to learn about the many care options available in the city. 

The website is a made-in-Hamilton solution to help people find guidance on healthcare options based on the individuals’ health concerns. It was developed in partnership with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH), Hamilton Paramedic Services (EMS), Hamilton Family Medicine and Hamilton Public Health Services.

“At this time, it’s more important than ever that we preserve hospital and ambulance resources for critical and emergency care,” says Dr. Bram Rochwerg, an intensive care unit physician at HHS. “Need A Doc is an excellent resource for those with less urgent medical needs or questions.”

The website also includes up-to-date information about COVID testing, vaccinations and care. Notably, those with mild COVID symptoms are encouraged to isolate at home, and those with moderate symptoms can access urgent care by virtual appointment.

“Omicron is prevalent in Hamilton, and so we need to manage infections accordingly,” says Dr. Zain Chagla, infectious disease specialist at SJHH. “This means that those with COVID-19 symptoms can be presumed to be infected, and should self-isolate and treat themselves at home unless they are in a high-risk group or their symptoms progress.”

The current guidance for those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 includes:

1.       If you have symptoms of COVID, presume you have it and stay home to self-isolate immediately. This also applies if you have a positive rapid antigen test.  The Omicron variant appears to have milder symptoms – fever, chill, cough, shortness of breath, loss of smell and taste, runny nose, nasal congestion, headache, extreme fatigue, muscle or joint pain, sore throat.

o   For information on how long someone should self-isolate, please visit

2.       Inform those you have been in close contact with in the previous 48 hours. These are people you either live with, or have been within six feet from for more than 15 minutes.

o   Self-isolate if you are household member to someone who has COVID-19 symptoms. 

3.       Connect with your family doctor for a virtual care visit if you are in a higher-risk group and have symptoms, your COVID symptoms get worse, or you are experiencing moderate to severe illness.

o   Higher risk group: if you are 60 or over OR have any long-term medical conditions OR are pregnant OR are unvaccinated connect with your family doctor early in your illness.

o   If you don’t have a family doctor or cannot access your family doctor and have worsening symptoms, OR are in a high-risk group and have symptoms, or have moderate to severe illness contact the Virtual Urgent Care (Accessed HERE or by calling 1-844-227-3844 Monday to Friday, 12 – 6 p.m.). There may be therapeutic options available for high-risk patients.

4.       If symptoms worsen, visit for your options.

a.       Urgent Care* is available when you are experiencing moderate to severe illness.

b.       Emergency Departments* are available when you are experiencing a medical emergency only.

*Neither of these options is available for COVID-19 testing.

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