According to Statistics Canada nearly 10% of Ontarians didn't have a family doctor in 2007, either because they hadn't looked or couldn't find one. Based on the rest of the 2007 Community Health Survey, we're not as bad off as some of Canada, but if you're one of the 559,000 Ontario residents who wanted a doctor but couldn't find one, better-than-average numbers are no comfort.
Whether you've moved, your doctor is retiring or you've just never had a long-term physician, the time to start looking for a family doctor is before you need one. Here are some doctor search techniques to get you started:
Decide What's Most Important to You
Before you even begin your search, take the time to think about what you're really looking for in a family physician. Does the doctor's gender matter to you? Is it important they be close to transit, or have parking near the door? Or are you just looking for the doctor who most closely matches your personal health care philosophy, no matter who or where they are? Which raises the question - do you know what your personal health care philosophy is?
For help getting started on these questions, try reading Choosing the Right Doctor on About.com Patient Empowerment.
Speak to Your Old Doctor
If you need a new doctor because you have moved or are planning to move, asking your current doctor is a great first step. They could easily know of someone in the area you are moving to and can refer you directly. The same goes if you need a new doctor because your old doctor is retiring.
Ask Family and Friends
If you don't have a doctor at all or are trying to change doctors because you were uncomfortable, another option is to ask family and friends if they would recommend their current doctor. Be sure to ask for specifics, because what one person considers fabulous traits in a family physician may be exactly what you aren't looking for. If it does sound like a match, they can call and ask if the doctor is accepting new patients, because as an existing patient they may get a different answer then you would if you cold-called yourself.
Look for Medical Centres in your Area
There are a number of medical clinics in Toronto that have numerous doctors practicing in the same building - often a mix of general practitioners and specialists. This one-stop shop element is one of the benefits of having your doctor in a medical centre, which is increased by the fact that there are frequently labs, a pharmacy and maybe even a walk-in clinic right in the building. The downfall of course is that these places are usually very busy. Still, there's generally a central reception area you can call or visit to see if anyone is accepting new patients.
Use the CPSO Doctor Search
If personal referrals and neighbourhood scouting just isn't working, you can head to the website of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario and use the Doctor Search function to look for doctors by name, gender, location, qualifications and more. You can also only search for doctors who are accepting new patients, but take note - that part of the listing may not always be 100% up to date. You should call the office of any doctor of interest to you to find out their current new-patient status.
See a Walk-in Clinic Doctor
No, I'm not suggesting you go to a walk-in clinic to ask for a general check-up, but if you were looking for a doctor because of a current and specific problem and are having no luck getting an appointment, it's better to see someone than wait too long. The clinic may also be aware of local family doctors who are accepting new patients and may be able to refer or assign you to one themselves.
Visit a Walk-in Clinic Reception Desk
If you don't have a walk-in clinic appropriate problem but just aren't having any luck finding a doctor any other way, dropping in and asking at the reception area about local doctors accepting new patients can't hurt. Just try to visit when the clinic doesn't look very busy and don't take it personally if the answer you get is abrupt.
Pull Out all the Networking Stops
If you've tried the usual channels and still can't find a doctor, it may be time to let everyone know you're looking. Put a note on Facebook and the bulletin board at work - you can even plan a little get together with neighbours you don't know very well and slip the question in between the barbecue and dessert. Contrary to the oft-repeated idea that there are no doctors available in Toronto, they are out there. You simply have to take the initiative to go out and find them, just as you'll have to take responsibility for following up on their advice.
- Are you settled where you are, or are you still in a stage of life where you find yourself moving back and forth across the city every few years? Sometimes a doctor whose office is close to a subway station - any subway station - or is just off the highway with ample parking is going to be a better long-term solution than a doctor on the corner.
- Some people only want a doctor with decades of experience. While this certainly has a lot of benefits, also consider that younger doctors may have fewer patients and are usually a much longer time from retirement.