RENFREW, ONT. -- The Chief of Renfrew County Paramedics says a new "virtual triage" service is proving successful in connecting residents with health care.

The 24/7 service was launched March 27 and has since assessed 1500 people.

Speaking with Annette Goerner on CTV Morning Live, Chief Michael Nolan said it's a critical tool for the region.

"We established the virtual triage and assessment centre for people who either cannot get ahold of their primary physician or who don't have a family physician," Nolan said. "By setting up a 24/7 1-800 number where you can access family physicians directly over the phone, we've been able to open up access at a time when many doctor's offices are closed and emergency rooms need to be saved for the most critical patients."

Nolan said some of the callers are asking about COVID-19 symptoms, but others are simply asking about regular health issues they might ask about in a family doctor's office.

"We've noticed a significant change in the way people are using 9-1-1 and emergency departments," Nolan said. "It may be too early to tell with certainty, but what we do know is that many of the people that have called this number would have presented to the emergency department or would have called 9-1-1 as their only choice in the past."

Nolan credits innovations in care in Renfrew County to the staff he works with.

"Working in a rural area, you have limited access to services. By being able to stand up this service, we've given people an alternative to not just calling 9-1-1 but allowing people to be pre-triaged by the family doctors," Nolan said. "They go through an algorithm to determine if they can treat you over the phone or using video technology. For those they're concerned about, a community paramedic will come to your home, do a follow up assessment, initiate treatment and, in some cases, leave behind remote monitoring equipment so we can keep track of you 24/7."

If you live in Renfrew County and do not have a Family Physician or cannot access your Family Physician, then call 1-844-727-6404 and you will be connected to a Family Physician.