Alberta Health Services, through the province's Health Care Action Plan, has launched a program to better direct EMS services to those who need them.

The newly-announced EMS-811 Shared Response program will allow non-urgent medical 911 calls to be transferred to 811, where a registered nurse can further assess the patient.

Emergency communications officers will assess medical calls to determine what kind of response is needed, dispatching an ambulance when necessary, and transferring callers to 811 if an ambulance is not required.

Highwood MLA and parliamentary secretary for EMS reforms, RJ Sigurdson, says the program is a direct and straightforward way of making sure EMS crews are where they need to be.

"It will help paramedics focus on the most urgent calls where their level and expertise of care is most needed. Our Healthcare Action Plan is delivering on a promise to fix emergency medical services and get ambulances to Albertans with serious medical emergencies sooner."

The program has been in use since mid-January, and AHS vice-president and chief medical officer Dr. Francois Belanger provided some stats.

"Since January 16th, EMS has assessed over 1000 calls as low-acuity and connected them to 811. To give you an example of what the results are, amongst the patients who were assessed by health link's registered nurses, 20 per cent were advised they may care for themselves at home, 40 per cent were advised to see a primary care physicians. Common concerns we've seen referred to 811 from EMS include non-emergency events such as constipation, insomnia, or ear aches."

According to the province, non-urgent calls make up 10 to 20 per cent of 911 calls. They estimate that 40,000 non-emergency responses could be avoided yearly with the EMS-811 Shared Response program in use.