You’ve made it. You are now a proud permanent resident of Canada, renting an apartment in Toronto, and working at a job that isn’t quite what you hoped for but is a good first step up the economic ladder. You send optimistic emails back home to family and friends but when your mother asks you how the health system works in Canada, you omit a crucial detail: you don’t have a family doctor. And the thing is, you’re not alone.
Canada has a shortage of physicians compared to other developed economies. According to a World Bank Survey, in 2010 we had 2.1 doctors per 1000 population. Ireland has 3.2 per 1000, Israel has 3.7, Germany has 3.7, New Zealand has 2.7, and Australia has 3.9 mate! The reasons why are complex, as they say, but Canada’s Universal Health Care System, combined with our very reasonable tax rates, means we have to ration health care services to control costs and keep them from eating up too large a portion of our Provincial Budgets. It’s the provinces that run and pay for healthcare while the federal government sets the standards. And in Ontario, facing a recession and with rising health care costs, NDP Premier Bob Rae, back in 1992, came up with a solution: restrict the supply of physicians by cutting back on med school graduates. The policy continued under Mike Harris’ Conservative government and has only been partially reversed by more recent Ontario governments.
But you don’t want a policy discussion on healthcare in Ontario. You just want a family doctor somewhere not too far from where you live in Toronto. What steps can you take to try and find one?
Toronto East General [Public Domain]
No, this is not the same as having a family physician, but they provide prompt medical care without needing an appointment for those without a family doctor. You should know that even if you are lucky enough to have a family doctor in Toronto, getting an appointment with your doctor is no easy matter and you may have to wait for weeks. So while you will not have the same practitioner caring for you and any family you may have, at a walk-in clinic you will receive prompt attention in well-equipped facilities. Many clinics also have family practices and you may at some future point be able to finally have your own family doctor at the same walk-in clinic you use. But you will have to be patient.
Toronto General [Public Domain]
This program is a service that attempts to connect you and your family with a family practice. It involves a rigorous screening process that you have to undergo, managed by a nurse, or Care Connector, in your community. You will have to prove that you have been actively seeking a family practitioner. You must also have a valid OHIP card. If not, you must contact the Service Ontario INFO line to get information on how to obtain one. The Care Connector will carefully review your data and may request further interviews with you and your family. Next, the Care Connector will contact local providers to determine who is accepting new patients. Again, you will need to be patient, until they can connect you with a family doctor.
Peter Munk Cardiac Centre [Public Domain]
You can take the direct route and go here for a list of doctors listed in Toronto, over 7,000 of them, and start dialing. You should know that the overwhelming majority of them will not be accepting new patients: a Statscan survey from 2010 shows that 9.2% of Ontario residents are without a regular doctor. That means almost 1.2 million people according to 2010 census data. As well, only about 1 in 10 doctors in Ontario are accepting new patients. That’s a lot of people looking for a limited supply of family doctors, and most family practices are unable to accept new patients. A website called opencare provides a search engine to help you locate possible physicians in Toronto. But whether dialing hundreds of doctor’s offices or clicking away the hours online, you should realize that your search will often be a frustrating one, so the sooner you get started, the better.
You can also search by language. Go here to this page on the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario website, and choose your language in the drop-down menu. For example, you’ll find 24 Hindi speaking family doctors in the Toronto area. Whether any of them are accepting new patients is another matter. There are 74 Cantonese speaking family doctors in the Toronto area. The list of languages available is extensive but some languages may have few practitioners and whether they are accepting new patients is up to you to find out by contacting their office. Even if you can’t find a family doctor in your language that is accepting new patients, try multilingual walk-in clinics, like the Don Mills Medical Clinic in Toronto, for example.
Another useful tool is iamsick.ca, a site that provides information on opening hours of pharmacies for example as well as operating hours for clinics for recent arrivals who are trying to make their way through the Canadian Healthcare system.
Remember, all these resources will require your active participation to get the information you need to find a family doctor, especially one that speaks your language. It will require a bit of legwork, but taking a little time to find a family doctor that works for you is worth every minute of effort.