The ultimate guide to
family doctors
in Canada

Finding a family doctor in Canada can often be a daunting task, with many people facing long wait times and limited availability. Whether you’re new to an area, your current doctor is retiring, or you’re without a family doctor for other reasons, navigating this process can be challenging. 
 A family doctor is crucial for ongoing health management, preventive care, and access to medical services when needed. This guide aims to provide you with all the information you need to successfully find and connect with a family doctor. 
From understanding the key services family doctors provide to learning how Medimap’s Family Doctor Alert List can expedite your search, we’ve compiled the essential details to help you through this process.

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What is a Family Doctor?

A family doctor, also known as a general practitioner (GP), is a medical professional who provides primary care services to individuals and families.

Family doctors are trained to treat a wide variety of health conditions and issues, offering comprehensive and continuous healthcare. They are responsible for diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses, providing preventive care, conducting routine check-ups, and offering health education and counselling.

Family doctors build long-term relationships with their patients, which allows them to deliver personalized care tailored to each individual’s unique health needs.

What Is The Difference Between Family Doctors And Other Healthcare Providers?

Understanding the distinction between family doctors and other healthcare providers is essential for navigating the healthcare system effectively.

  • Family Doctors vs. Specialists: Specialists focus on specific areas of medicine, such as cardiology or dermatology, and treat particular conditions or diseases. Family doctors, on the other hand, provide broad-based care and manage a wide range of health issues. They often serve as the first point of contact and can refer patients to specialists when necessary.

  • Family Doctors vs. Walk-In Clinic Doctors: Walk-in clinic doctors provide care without the need for an appointment, typically for non-emergency situations. While they can address many of the same issues as family doctors, they do not usually offer continuous care. Family doctors provide ongoing care and build a comprehensive understanding of their patients’ medical histories. For more on walk-in clinics click here.

  • Family Doctors vs. Nurse Practitioners: Nurse practitioners (NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses who can diagnose and treat various health conditions, prescribe medications, and perform certain procedures. While NPs can provide primary care similar to family doctors, family doctors typically have a broader scope of practice and training.

Why Should I Have A Family Doctor?

What Is A Family Doctor’s Role In Preventive Care And Chronic Disease Management?

Having a family doctor provides numerous benefits, primarily through the delivery of continuous and comprehensive care. Family doctors develop a thorough understanding of their patients’ health histories, which enables them to offer personalized medical advice and treatment plans. This long-term relationship fosters better communication and trust, ensuring that patients feel comfortable discussing their health concerns.

Family doctors are equipped to handle a wide range of medical issues, allowing them to provide holistic care. This includes managing acute illnesses, chronic diseases, mental health conditions, and preventive care. By having a single point of contact for all healthcare needs, patients receive more coordinated and efficient care, reducing the likelihood of fragmented treatment.

What is a Family Doctor’s role in preventive care and chronic disease management?
Preventive care is a crucial aspect of a family doctor’s role. They conduct regular check-ups, screenings, and immunizations to detect potential health issues early and prevent diseases from developing. Early detection and preventive measures can significantly improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

For chronic disease management, family doctors play a vital role in monitoring and managing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. They provide ongoing support, adjust treatment plans as needed, and help patients manage their conditions effectively. This continuous care model is essential for maintaining quality of life and preventing complications associated with chronic diseases.

Studies and Statistics on Health Outcomes with a Family Doctor

Research has shown that having a family doctor is associated with better health outcomes. Studies indicate that patients with a regular family doctor are more likely to receive appropriate preventive care, experience fewer hospitalizations, and have lower overall healthcare costs. Here are some relevant statistics and studies:

  • According to reports from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), patients with regular access to a family doctor are more likely to receive preventive services, such as cancer screenings and immunizations, which contribute to better long-term health outcomes.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes the importance of primary care in improving health outcomes and reducing health disparities. Their reports highlight that strong primary care systems, including family doctors, are associated with lower rates of hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

What Services Are Provided By Family Doctors?

Family doctors in Canada offer a comprehensive range of services designed to address the various health needs of individuals and families. Here is an overview of the key services they provide:

Routine Check-Ups and Preventive Care
  • Physical Exams: Regular physical exams to monitor overall health and detect potential health issues early.
  • Vaccinations and Immunizations: Administration of routine vaccines for children, adults, and seniors, including flu shots and travel vaccinations.
  • Screening Tests: Conduct screenings for common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, and cancer (e.g., Pap smears, mammograms, colorectal screenings).
  • Health Education and Counseling: Providing advice on healthy lifestyles, diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and other preventive measures.
Management of Chronic Conditions
  • Chronic Disease Management: Ongoing care for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and heart disease.
  • Medication Management: Prescribing and managing medications to control chronic conditions and ensure effective treatment.
  • Regular Monitoring and Follow-Up: Continuous monitoring of chronic conditions through regular visits and tests to adjust treatment plans as needed.
Acute Care and Minor Procedures
  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Illnesses: Diagnosing and treating common minor illnesses such as infections, colds, flu, and minor injuries.
  • Minor Surgical Procedures: Performing minor surgical procedures such as suturing cuts, removing moles or skin lesions, and draining abscesses.
Women’s Health Services
  • Reproductive Health: providing reproductive health services including contraception, pregnancy testing, and prenatal care.
  • Gynecological Exams: conducting routine gynecological exams, Pap smears, and breast exams.
Children’s Health Services
  • Well-Baby and Well-Child Visits: Regular check-ups to monitor growth and development, administer vaccinations, and provide health education for parents.
  • Adolescent Health Care: Addressing the unique health needs of teenagers, including mental health support, sexual health education, and preventive care.
Elderly Care
  • Geriatric Assessments: Comprehensive assessments to address the complex health needs of older adults, including mobility issues, cognitive function, and chronic disease management.
  • Home Visits: Providing home visits for elderly patients who have difficulty visiting the clinic.
Referrals to Specialists
  • Specialist Referrals: Referring patients to specialists for conditions that require advanced care or specialized treatments.
  • Coordination of Care: Coordinating care with other healthcare providers to ensure a comprehensive and integrated approach to patient care.

How Can All My Health Records Be Kept In One Place?

Maintaining a centralized health record is crucial for providing continuous and coordinated care. Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are digital versions of the paper charts in a clinician’s office. EMRs contain the medical and treatment histories of patients in one practice. They allow healthcare providers to track data over time, identify patients for preventive visits and screenings, and monitor how patients measure up to certain parameters, such as vaccinations and blood pressure readings.

Personal Health Records (PHR), on the other hand, are health records where the data and information are maintained by the patient. PHRs can include a wide range of data from various sources, including multiple healthcare providers and the patients themselves. They offer patients a more comprehensive view of their health and are typically accessed through web-based applications or secure patient portals.

To ensure your health records are kept up-to-date and centralized, follow these steps:

  1. Inform All Healthcare Providers: Make sure all your healthcare providers know who your primary care provider (family doctor) is. This helps them understand where to send updates and records of your visits.

  2. Request Record Transfers: When you visit specialists or other healthcare facilities, request that your medical records and any updates be sent to your family doctor. This can often be done by signing a consent form at the point of care.

  3. Maintain Your Own Records: Keep a personal health record with copies of important documents such as test results, immunization records, and lists of medications. This can be particularly useful if you see multiple healthcare providers or need to visit a new doctor.

Why Is My Doctor No Longer Scheduling Annual Checkups?

In recent years, there has been a shift in healthcare from routine annual checkups to more personalized and preventive care approaches. This change is based on research indicating that not all patients benefit equally from annual physicals. Instead, healthcare providers are focusing on tailoring checkups and screenings to the individual needs of patients, considering factors such as age, health history, and risk factors.

To ensure you receive appropriate care, it’s essential to have open communication with your family doctor. Here are some tips:

  • Discuss Your Health Concerns: Share any specific health concerns or symptoms with your doctor. This helps them determine the necessary tests or screenings.

  • Review Your Health History: Regularly update your doctor on any changes in your health or family medical history.

  • Follow Preventive Care Guidelines: Ask your doctor about recommended screenings and immunizations based on your age and risk factors.

  • Schedule Checkups as Needed: While annual checkups may not be necessary for everyone, periodic visits based on your health status and doctor’s recommendations are crucial for preventive care.

How Can I Get A Sick Note?

Process for Obtaining a Sick Note from a Family Doctor or Walk-In Clinic

If you need a sick note for work or school, you can obtain one by visiting your family doctor or a walk-in clinic. Here’s how:

  • Book an Appointment: Schedule an appointment with your family doctor or visit a walk-in clinic.

  • Explain Your Situation: Clearly explain why you need a sick note and describe your symptoms or condition.

  • Doctor’s Assessment: The doctor will evaluate your health and determine if a sick note is appropriate.

  • Receive the Sick Note: If approved, the doctor will provide a signed sick note indicating the recommended period of absence.

Remember to bring your health card to the walk-in to ensure your services are covered. Those without a health card can see a doctor but will be required to pay a fee. According to the Wellesley Institute, the average cost of a walk-in clinic appointment in Toronto without OHIP is $60.

Process for Obtaining a Sick Note from a Virtual Consultation

In Canada, it is also possible to obtain a sick note through a virtual consultation, which became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. This can be a convenient alternative if you are unable to visit a clinic in person. Here’s how it works:

  • Schedule a Virtual Appointment: Book an online consultation with your family doctor or a virtual healthcare service.

  • Discuss Your Symptoms: During the virtual visit, describe your symptoms and the reason you need a sick note.

  • Doctor’s Evaluation: The doctor will assess your condition via video or phone.

  • Receive the Sick Note: If necessary, the doctor will email or electronically send you a sick note. Ensure that your employer or school accepts virtual sick notes.

What Are Questions To Ask A New Family Doctor?

Choosing a new family doctor is an important decision that can significantly impact your health and well-being. To ensure a good fit, consider asking the following essential questions during your initial visit or consultation:

  1. What are your office hours?

  2. How can I reach you or your office in case of an emergency outside of regular hours?

  3. What is the best way to contact you for non-urgent questions or follow-ups (e.g., phone, email, patient portal)?

  4. What are your recommendations for regular check-ups and preventive measures based on my age and health history?

  5. How do you handle referrals to specialists if needed?

  6. Can I request refills online or through a patient portal?

  7. How do you involve patients in decision-making about their health?

What Services Are Covered Under My Provincial Health Plan?

Understanding the coverage provided by your provincial health plan is essential to ensure you receive necessary healthcare services without unexpected costs. Here’s an overview of what is generally covered.

What Should I Bring To My First Appointment With A New Family Doctor?

Preparing for your first appointment with a new family doctor ensures a smooth and efficient visit. Here’s a checklist of what you should bring:

  • Health Card: Ensure you have your provincial health card (e.g., OHIP card in Ontario, MSP card in British Columbia) to verify your eligibility for covered services.

  • Previous Medical Records: Bring any relevant medical records from your previous doctor. This can include, past medical history, immunization records, recent test results…etc

  • List of Current Medications: Prepare a list of all medications you are currently taking and the respective dosage.

  • Family Medical History: Provide information about your family’s medical history, particularly any chronic illnesses or hereditary conditions that may affect your health.

  • Insurance Information: If you have additional private health insurance, bring your insurance card and details of your coverage.

How Do I Switch Family Doctors If I Am Not Satisfied With My Current One?

If you’re not satisfied with your current family doctor, switching to a new one involves several steps to ensure continuity of care:

  1. Find a New Doctor: Use resources like Medimap’s Family Doctor Alert List or provincial directories to find a family doctor who is accepting new patients.

  2. Schedule an Initial Appointment: Contact the new doctor’s office to schedule an initial appointment.

  3. Inform Your Current Doctor: Notify your current family doctor that you will be transferring to a new doctor. This is essential for maintaining good terms and ensuring your current doctor is aware of your decision.

  4. Request Medical Records Transfer: Complete and sign a medical release form to authorize the transfer of your medical records from your current doctor to your new doctor. This form can usually be obtained from either doctor’s office.

  5. Orphaning Process (Specific to Some Provinces): In some regions, like Ontario, you may need to ask your current doctor to remove you from their roster of patients to be eligible to find a new doctor through certain provincial resources. This process is sometimes referred to as “orphaning” yourself from your current doctor’s practice.

Can A Family Doctor Choose To Stop Seeing A Patient?

Yes, a family doctor can choose to stop seeing a patient, but this typically happens under specific circumstances. These conditions often include:

  • Non-compliance: If a patient repeatedly ignores medical advice or prescribed treatments, the doctor may decide to terminate the relationship.

  • Abusive Behavior: Any form of abusive or inappropriate behavior towards the doctor or clinic staff can result in the patient being dismissed.

  • Missed Appointments: Frequently missing scheduled appointments without prior notice can lead to a doctor deciding to stop seeing the patient.

  • Conflict of Interest: If a conflict of interest arises that affects the doctor’s ability to provide unbiased care, they may need to terminate the relationship.

When a doctor decides to stop seeing a patient, they have an ethical responsibility to ensure the patient’s care continues smoothly. This involves:

  • Providing Notice: The doctor should give the patient sufficient notice to find a new healthcare provider.

  • Referral to Another Doctor: The doctor may refer the patient to another healthcare provider or provide a list of potential new doctors.

  • Transferring Medical Records: The patient’s medical records should be transferred to the new doctor to maintain continuity of care. This can typically be done with the patient’s consent and a signed release form.

How Often Should I Visit My Family Doctor For Routine Check-Ups?

The frequency of routine check-ups with your family doctor can vary based on age, health status, and risk factors. Here are general guidelines:

  • Children and Adolescents Infants and Toddlers: Regular visits are recommended from shortly after birth through the early years, typically at ages 3-5 days, 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, 15 months, 18 months, 2 years, 30 months, and annually thereafter​​.

  • School-Age Children and Teens: Annual visits to monitor growth, development, and immunizations​​.

  • Young Adults (20-39): Every 2-3 years if healthy; more often if you have risk factors or chronic conditions​.

  • Middle-Aged Adults (40-64): Every 1-2 years to monitor for age-related conditions and maintain preventive care​

  • Seniors (65 and older): Annually, or more frequently, to manage chronic conditions and age-related health concerns​.

Discuss your specific health needs with your family doctor to determine the appropriate frequency of visits based on your medical history, family history, and any ongoing health issues.

Can My Family Doctor Help With Mental Health Concerns?

Family doctors are often the first point of contact for patients experiencing mental health issues. They provide a range of services to support mental health, including:

  • Initial Assessment and Diagnosis: Family doctors can conduct initial assessments to diagnose mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. 

  • Treatment and Medication Management: Family doctors can prescribe medications, such as antidepressants or anxiolytics, and monitor their effectiveness. 

  • Referrals to Specialists: If specialized care is required, family doctors can refer patients to mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or counsellors. 

For more details on mental health support and resources, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

How Do I Find A Family Doctor?

Finding a family doctor can be challenging due to high demand and limited availability in certain areas. Medimap’s Family Doctor Alert List is a service designed to help Canadians find a family doctor more efficiently. By signing up for the alert list, individuals provide their information, which is then used to match them with a doctor. Here’s how you can use it:
  • Sign Up for the Alert List: Visit the Medimap website and sign up for the Family Doctor Alert List by providing your personal information and postal code.
  • Get Matched: Medimap will use your postal code to match you with a family doctor in your area who is accepting new patients.
  • Notification: Once a match is found, you will be notified, allowing you to contact the doctor’s office and schedule an appointment.
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