Certainly it is difficult to get and keep a family doctor. Canada currently has a significant shortage in this area. More than four million Canadians cannot find family physicians to care for them. This is not just our problem, but exists worldwide.
Recent surveys found that Canadians without family doctors experience long waits throughout the system. They are also less satisfied with all other health professionals, institutions, and governments.
The same survey finds that we continue to place high value on the role of family physicians. More than two thirds of those questioned said these doctors are their most important caregivers.
In Canada, family doctors must complete a medical degree and at least two years of specialized post-graduate training. These physicians practice medicine at the primary care level. Primary care can be defined as a medical ‘home’ – the first place we go to for help, and where we should feel most comfortable. Relationship is key. Family doctors serve a defined population, those who are part of their practice. Family medicine is based in the community. Doctors working in this field are skilled clinicians.
The colleges of physicians and surgeons in Alberta and British Columbia can help you find a family doctor in your area who is accepting new patients.
In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the colleges provide listings of physicians registered in the province, but do not indicate whether they are accepting new patients.
College of Physicians and Surgeons
College of Physicians and Surgeons
For more information about family doctors in Canada and your province, these websites may be of interest:
Primary care is based on a continuing relationship between patients and those who care for them. A particular disease, organ or system is not the focus. Rather, each patient’s personal and medical history, along with life circumstances, is considered in caring for the whole person. Family doctors also play a unique role in integrating health care from various providers.
Evidence shows the value of a good relationship with a freely chosen primary-care doctor. Preferably it should extend over several years. Benefits include better and more appropriate care, better health, and lower cost. This relationship encourages enhanced continuity of care and use of preventative services which lead to fewer hospitalizations and deaths. It has been said that these doctors serve as gatekeepers. However, it may help to think of them opening gates and supporting each individual in getting the care they need.
Most people with health problems have more than one ailment. It makes sense to have a primary care doctor who can help decide whether a specialist is needed. The family doctor can also coordinate the efforts of multiple caregivers if necessary. When specialists care for problems outside their area of expertise, the results are not as good as with primary care.
In their practices, family doctors see many people. They diagnose and treat a variety of health issues. In helping this broad spectrum of patients, doctors may help integrate service from different parts of the health care system. Countries with a primary care infrastructure have lower rates of early death, deaths from treatable conditions and infant deaths – even considering differences in populations.
Establishing yourself with a family physician allows you to expect certain things. Ideally, this relationship can will assist your doctor to help you by:
Many studies confirm the benefits of these four characteristics of primary care. Most important is having confidence in your doctor. Keeping the same doctor for at least two to five years allows enough time to build a strong relationship. When doctors know patients well, diagnosis can be more efficient and accurate.
Establishing a relationship with your family doctor makes for a better experience within the health system when you need it.
Look for a family doctor who: