Medical: Finding a Doctor is good for Your Health

by Gilda Spitz

No matter where you turn lately, you can’t escape one of the biggest news stories in years – the H1N1 flu virus. Along with the constant reminders to wash your hands, cough into your sleeve, and get the flu shot, you’ve been told repeatedly to see your family doctor at the first sign of the flu. But what if you don’t have a family doctor?

Finding a Family Doctor

A good place to start is the website of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. Go to www.cpso.on.ca and click Doctor Search. You can find a great deal of information about any particular doctor here.

You can specify details about the kind of doctor you want to find. For example, you can look for a family doctor, also known as a general practitioner (GP), or a specialist of any kind. You can specify only female doctors if that is important to you. You can even search for a doctor who speaks your first language.

Be specific about your requirements. For example, if you search for a GP who speaks Cantonese, the website finds 321 names all across Ontario. But if you narrow your search to only Cantonese speaking GPs who are located in Markham, the list is reduced to a relatively manageable 26 names.

However, you should know that doctors can refuse to take you on as a patient if their practice is closed, which means that they already have as many patients as they can handle. Depending on where you live, you may have difficulty finding a GP who is still accepting new patients. By law, a doctor in Ontario must follow the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, and so on.

How About a Nurse Practitioner?

If you are having trouble finding a GP whose practice is still open to new patients, you can contact Health Care Connect, an Ontario program that helps people find physicians and nurse practitioners who are accepting new patients in their community. (Go to www.health.gov.on.ca/ms/healthcareconnect/public/index.html.)

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with advanced education. According to Jane Sanders, Executive Director of the Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario, by law nurse practitioners in Ontario have the authority to make diagnoses, prescribe drugs, and order tests.

Often nurse practitioners work in community health centres or family health teams with a group of medical doctors and other health professionals. For difficult or unusual situations, nurse practitioners can refer patients to a medical doctor on their team, says Sanders.

Finding a Specialist

If you need a specialist such as a cardiologist, you can search on the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons website, just as you would for a GP. However, you usually cannot make an appointment directly.
For your first visit to most specialists, you usually need to be referred from a GP. The GP will often arrange for you to see a specialist who works in the same neighbourhood or at the same hospital as the GP. You can ask for a different specialist, if, for example, you need someone who speaks your native language.

In some cases, you may be able to make an appointment with a specialist directly. According to Kathryn Clarke, Senior Communications Coordinator at the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, this is usually the case if the service is not covered by OHIP. For example, some procedures in plastic surgery are not covered, so you can contact the office of the plastic surgeon directly to make an appointment.

Community Health Care Centres

Another alternative is to check out a Community Health Centre (CHC). A CHC provides primary health care and prevention programs through physicians and other health professionals. There are 56 community health centres across Ontario, and most provide services specifically to people who live within a particular community or target population. All CHCs are committed to providing accessible services and thorough health care.

A list of community health centres in Ontario is available on the website of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care at www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/contact/chc/chcloc_mn.html.

Finding a Lab

If your medical professional needs more information on your condition, he or she may send you to a lab for tests such as X-rays, blood tests, and ultrasound. Usually you will receive a requisition slip, which describes the tests that must be performed, along with the name and location of the lab.

If you need an appointment for the test, the doctor’s receptionist may call the lab to set it up for you, or you may have to do so yourself. For some tests, you don’t need an appointment; you can just walk in on a first-come, first-served basis. If the receptionist doesn’t offer this information, be sure to ask.

If you don’t get referred to a specific lab by the medical office, go to the website of the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Ontario at www.cmlto.com/public/links. Then scroll down the page to the Community Laboratories section. You can then click on each of the links to find a lab near you.

In An Emergency

If you have not had any success in finding a health care provider, you can go to a walk-in clinic when you are ill. You can arrive without an appointment and see whatever doctor happens to be on duty at the time. You will receive help with your particular medical problem, but you may not receive any follow-up care or continuity with that particular doctor. There is no central website where you find walk-in clinics in your area, but you can probably find one easily in your neighbourhood by asking your friends and neighbours.

For a true emergency only, go to the Emergency department of your local hospital.

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