How to find a family doctor in each province and territory

A family doctor usually tackles any number of health concerns with patients: the flu, injuries, keeping up to date with shots and tests, referring you to a specialist and addressing mental health issues. 

Despite the importance of a family physician, almost 4.8 million Canadians don’t have one, which means they lack consistent access to a doctor who understands their specific needs — and this can impact health long-term, according to multiple studies in several countries.

“People who have a family doctor and see that same doctor regularly … are more likely to have better health outcomes,” said Dr. Tara Kiran, a Toronto-based family doctor. 

Having the continuity of a single provider over time means patients are more likely to get the screenings they need or have chronic conditions managed efficiently, said Kiran. They are also less likely to visit emergency rooms or be hospitalized, she added.

“Many people feel like, oh, I just have a cough, this is a minor issue. And they just go to a walk-in-clinic. What happens then is that you are losing an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who will be there for you, as things evolve and change in your life,” she said. 

Finding a family doctor can be tough depending on where you live in Canada. Most physicians — 92 per cent — work in urban areas, making it often difficult to search for one in rural communities. 

Based on your region, there are different methods for finding a family doctor, explained Kiran. Here’s how to start your search. 

Why do I need a family doctor?

A family physician can find ways to enhance your health, even if the reason for your visit is seemingly minor, said Kiran. 

“When I see a patient for a sore throat or sore ankle, I often am also thinking about how can I help to keep them well in the future. Are there immunizations they need … or screening tests they are overdue for?” she said. “I usually take the opportunity to broach those.”

Mental health concerns are also a topic a family doctor can discuss with you, said Kiran. “Being able to divulge that kind of information is usually a lot easier when you have an established relationship with someone,” she said. 

Chronic conditions, like asthma, will likely be managed more consistently under the care of a family doctor, said Dr. Kim Wintemute, a family doctor and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. 

“So when that patient has an exacerbation of their asthma, and they go to the family doctor, they are going to be tuned in to what has worked in the past, what hasn’t worked, and what we should do now,” said Wintemute.

In contrast, a walk-in-clinic doctor is qualified but might not appreciate the nuances of a patient’s medical history, she explained. 

“What may end up happening is they may end up trying things that don’t work for that patient,” she said. 

Many often forget their medication history or what a medication was called, but a family doctor will have records in front of them, making it easier to determine what to prescribe, said Wintemute.

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