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Family Doctors:  In Search of the Holy Grail

Family Doctors: In Search of the Holy Grail

Like many Ontarians, I and my family will soon find ourselves in the unenviable position of being without a family doctor.  In another year or so, our trusted family doctor is set to retire, thrusting my family and the many others he has treated for decades out into the brave new world of healthcare where potential patients are routinely "interviewed" by family docs to see if they fit with a particular practice.

Stories abound about patients being rejected based on some pretty shaky criteria, such as age (too old, too young),  medical status (too sick - though I thought treating illness was what a large part of what being a doctor is all about, but what do I know), too time consuming (? too many visits?, chronic illness?), or any number of other unknowable factors that makes prepping for a family doctor interview almost impossible, and totally unlike, say, preparing for a job interview.

My personal predicament aside, there is of course a larger dimension to consider.  For years government policy restricted the number of students admitted to medical schools.  During the same period, many new graduates migrated toward specialized practice, resulting in the current shortage of family doctors.

One of the most worrying aspects to this shortage is the fact that so many children are growing up without being followed by a regular family doctor, one who is personally familiar with the family, their medical history, and one who can spot problems early on and refer them to appropriate services and interventions.  This is crucial for kids with special needs,  as family doctors are the gatekeepers of the medical system, and familiarity with a particular child's development is essential to ensuring he or she has the best possible chance to grow up healthy - physically, mentally, and psychologically.

So what can people do if they find themselves without a family doctor?    A recent article in the Globe and Mail offered some really good tips for anyone searching for a family doc.  These include:

  • Concentrate on looking in July, because that's when med students and residents graduate from their respective programs. If the university in your community has a faculty of medicine, check with the department of family medicine to see if new graduates are opening practices in your city.
  • If there is a community health centre in your area, they often accept new patients. See http://www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/contact/chc/chcloc_mn.html
  • Some family medicine clinics operate out of teaching hospitals. Check with the teaching hospitals in your area to see if they have one.
  • Go to the Ministry of Health's website to see a list of family doctors accepting new patients. http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/public/

Finally, if you're not successful in finding a family doctor, call/write/e-mail your MPP,  the Minister of Health (currently Deb Mathews) and the premier.  They aren't going to find you a doctor, but they need to hear regularly from the thousands of people in this province who can't find one.

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