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Please Help – Wellington Street, Ottawa

When I was a kid, I was sick a lot. Nothing very serious, really, but I caught every single bug—I even got scarlet fever, and the disease is pretty rare these days. Every once in a while, I would wake up with a fever and my mother would quickly assess the situation: a cold, the flu, something else? If she wasn’t sure, she would call the doctor.

Our General Practitioner had his practice a few blocks from where we lived. He was a very smart, albeit cynical, qualified doctor. Every morning, he would meet patients at his practice, and every afternoon, unless an emergency popped up, he would take his black leather bag and make house calls in the city center. He came to our place dozens of time. “My throat hurts” I would complain. “Just play dead, skip school and you’ll be okay” he’d reply. And he was invariably right.

This was France in the 1980s. Even though most French like to brag that they have the best health system in the world, times have changed. One day, our GP packed his bags and left god-knows-where. Family doctors rarely make house calls these days unlike they practice in a small village. And rural areas have a hard time attracting health care professional anyway. There is a shortage of specialists and family doctors in some places, and because of soaring costs (the health system has been in the red since 1989), service cuts are the norm.

I know that we were spoiled in France back in the days. I don’t expect house calls in Canada. I just want a family doctor.

I’m one of these many Canadians that don’t have access to a family doctor. Canada has a health care practitioner shortage and many doctors don’t take new patients.

I got my first health card in 2005 when I became a permanent resident. This gave me the right to benefit from the many health care services paid for by OHIP, the Ontario Health Assurance Plan. Unfortunately, the card didn’t come with the following warning, which I think should be mandatory: “the quality of care is excellent but good luck accessing the system”.

Alright, it’s not like Canada let me down completely. If I’m sick, I can either self-medicate, go to a walk-in-clinic or go to the ER. But because self-medicating has limits and because I wouldn’t want to clog the ER with a minor problem, I’m left with walk-in clinics. Clinics, such as Appletree welcome patients without appointments and treat minor illnesses. The problem is often the wait-times: you can wait for a few hours before you get to see a doctor for a few minutes. The focus is on cost and patients are often rushed in and out. Basically, this is not where you will build ties with a doctor (you usually see a different person every time, depending on whoever is on duty) and a lot of clinics specify that you can only address one problem per visit.

I’ve been trying to get a family doctor for almost 6 years now. It’s a frustrating process that involves picking up a phone book and calling all the practices around. “Hi, I was just wondering if Doctor XYZ was taking new patients”. “No he/she doesn’t”. Move on to the next name.

Last year, I registered with Health Care Connect. This is an Ontario program that refers people like me who don’t have a GP to a local doctor or nurse practitioner who is accepting new patients. So far, no results. I get a letter every six months or so basically asking me if by any chance I found a GP on my own because so far, they haven’t found one for me.

Do I really need a family doctor? Well, yes and no. I’m pretty healthy (knock on wood!) and walk-in-clinics are still available. Yet it would be nice to have a GP who knows my health history and could follow up. I should have booster vaccinations and I haven’t had a check-up since my mandatory immigration health exam in 2005.

Last fall, I thought I had gotten lucky. I called a practice who invited me to sign up for a “meet & greet” with a doctor accepting new patients. I made an appointment for February. When I called back to confirm the appointment last week, I have been told that my “meet & greet” has been move to June for absolutely no reason. The receptionist also specified the doctor was not accepting new patients anymore. I will go to the appointment in June (if it’s not moved again!) but I’m basically back to square one, calling all the practices within a 20 km radius. It’s just so frustrating. A new practice opened a ten-minute walk from where I live but the doctor already doesn’t accept new patients.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

19 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear this. The situation in Toronto is much better. I immigrated last year May. The health cards arrived in August. The next day, we walked into the clinic closeby which said “Family Doctor now accepting new patients” and registered. It was so easy, may be we were just lucky.

  2. Yes I concur about the problem with finding a doctor. I think our system is a bit faster here in BC than in ON, but I can’t swear to that one. It’s still all about going to the walk in clinics who mind you only spend 15 minutes per patient (As per billing), thus the 1 symptom per visit. Good luck finding one, can you put your name on a wait list?

    Luckily our walk in clinics around here are quite nice. Hope yours are too!

  3. I think because Singapore is a small country and our access to healthcare is readily available but heaving said that the cost is escalating all the time.

    There is a common saying that it is ‘cheaper’ to die then to be ‘hospitalize’, sad but true.

  4. When I moved back to Canada after living for several years overseas, I re-applied for Health Care. They sent me the card and then declared that, despite the fact I was unemployed, I would have to pay the full amount – $60/month in BC – for a year before I could apply for subsidy. This was a little piece of information that would have been nicer to know BEFORE I APPLIED! I felt like telling them, “Well, in that case, I’d like to cancel the service…for a year”.

  5. Hi Zhu,
    I am starting to experience this problem as well… As you said, most Canadians don’t have a GP and for the past 4 years I didn’t have the need to go to one. I hope when I start searching, it won’t take excessively long…

  6. Remind me to give you the name of David’s new doctor after he goes to see him once. Need to hear how he is first before I start referring him all over the place. Unless you really don’t care about quality, haha.

  7. Hey Zhu,

    Well, well, well….France does sound much like Portugal lol (surprise, surprise).
    What you have describe, happens in this Lusitano place: the government has even created a programma where doctors that are willing to go to villages get a huge wage and tremendous perks (house, car, cell-phone etc). The Spanish and Cubans love working in our rural areas lol ;). And our old folks, love them too (because they are excellent professionals).

    Awful situation! I never experienced suck thing, but I know that there are Portuguese citizens, as we speak, who are going through the same thing. The only difference is: the Portuguese cannot call other health centres looking for available doctors – they have to wait until the state provides them with one *nodding*.

    No Health System is perfect; but then again things would be worst if we didn’t have one like we do.

    Cheers and have a great weekend!

  8. @Hobbes – Wow, lucky you! I would think TO suffers from the same shortage as Ottawa but maybe not after all.

    @Cynthia – That is so stupid! I would think doctors are “happy” not to see their patients too often!

    @expatraveler – I’m on a lot of waiting lists right now, hopefully I’ll find a doctor one day. Crazy situation!

    @shionge – Indeed, sad but true…

    @Shawn – Wow, I didn’t know that! In Ontario, if you return after a long period, there is a mandatory 3-month wait before the coverage starts but you don’t have to pay anything (unless you want a private insurance for these three months).

    @Sidney – They do, but they get paid better in the US I think.

    @Priyank – You should definitely start looking now. try Health Connect at least, it’s a fairly passive way of looking.

    @Nui – Definitely do! And let me know if you hear of anything 😉

    @Melanie – Please do so! I care about quality but frankly, at this point, any doc would do I think. Unless he/she is truly awful.

    @Max Coutinho – Canada also tries to give new doctors incentives to work in rural areas but it doesn’t seem to work that well. And we are close to the US, where doctors get much better pay…

  9. Oh Zhu, the trick is to use the website of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons – they have a “doctor search”, so you can search by city or postal code and specify doctors accepting new patients. Now I don’t guarantee you’ll find a doctor you like, or even a doctor!! But it works better than going through the phone book, that’s for sure.

  10. Pfff! I doesn’t seem easier than in Ireland. I’m still not used to the system here and it costs a fortune: €50 per visit and the private insurance will only pay back half of it. I’m going to try to get a medical card now as I don’t have a job anymore; fingers crossed.
    I must say, I really miss France, but the medical system used to be pretty good…

  11. we are having the same shortages in california. doctors all want to be specialists because that is where the big money is. general practicioners are scarce. the paperwork for running a small office is enormous. my doctor is already in his 60s. i’m so afraid that he will retire soon.

  12. @Margaret – I’ll try the website but I don’t see a way to filter the results. Any tips? Anyway, thank you for the advice!

    @Em – Ouch! That expensive? I think the system changed a lot the last ten years, according to me parents at least. So I’m not sure France still has the “best system”…

    @Seraphine – Yes, I don’t blame doctors. Running a practice is expensive and general medicine can be demanding.

  13. Sure Zhu,

    http://www.cpso.on.ca/docsearch/

    The ‘all doctor search’ lets you choose the doctor’s gender, language, physician type, and location by city or postal code in your search.

    It’s odd though, I swear it used to let you search only for doctors accepting new patients, or at least it listed that info somewhere. Maybe they’ve changed it…sorry about that.

    On the site it refers you to this government website that is supposed to be able to set you up with a doctor if you are looking for one who is accepting new patients:
    http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/public/default.aspx

    Maybe that will work better!

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