Finding the Right Doctor for Your Family

YoungBoyJust as most of us go for regular haircuts, you’d expect that the vast majority of people would also be going for regular check-ups with their family doctor. But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth – in fact, a significant number of people don’t even have a family doctor to visit.

Consider this: more than 15 percent of Canadians aged 12 and older –around 4.6 million people[1] – do not have a regular family doctor. In the United States, the American Academy of Family Physicians projects the demand for primary care physicians will increase at least through the year 2020, however, the percentage of general practitioners has been declining dramatically[2].

This shines a spotlight on an important issue. Millions of North Americans who don’t have a primary care provider are, quite literally, gambling with their health. Family doctors help give patients access to the full resources of the health care system. They are the first point of contact for most health issues and provide a link to other medical services, including providing referrals for specialists, diagnostic tests (such as ultrasounds, MRIs and X-rays) and prescriptions for medications.

It’s clearly not hard to make a case for why it’s so important to connect you and your family with a general physician. If the very thought of finding a family doctor – let alone, the right doctor for your family – is daunting, here are some tips to ease your search.

  1. In Canada, you can start by checking with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province. Some provinces and territories also provide “find a doctor” directories. In the United States, check state-level medical associations, nursing associations and associations for physician assistants for referrals. Many health plans also have websites and/or customer service staff who may be able to help you.
  2. Try visiting your local community health centre or a walk-in clinic and ask about doctors accepting new patients. Even if a doctor is full, maybe you can be placed on a wait list.
  3. Your pharmacist may know about any new doctors that have moved into your community, so try speaking with them. You can also try asking your dentist, optometrist or another health care professional for a referral.
  4. Ask friends, neighbours and co-workers if they have a doctor they like, and ask if they can recommend you as a patient (if the doctor isn’t accepting new patients, ask to be added to their wait list).
  5. Ask the human resources department of your workplace for a referral.

Now that you’re armed with a few tools for locating a family physician, you might find yourself in the position of choosing between potential doctors. If this happens, here are a few questions to consider that will help you decide which doctor is right for you and your family.

Is the doctor part of a group where you can access another doctor if yours is unavailable?

  1. Is the doctor available for appointments outside of typical business hours? Are the hours provided convenient given your schedule?
  2. Is the doctor focused on disease treatment or wellness and prevention? Which approach suits you and your family best?
  3. Is the doctor’s communication style warm and friendly or more conservative and formal? Which style works best for you?
  4. Is the office staff friendly and helpful?

You can also try to get more information about a primary care physician by speaking with the doctor’s patients to help determine if a particular physician is the right fit for your family.

If you’re in the midst of finding a family doctor and need help with a medical issue, or even just general assistance navigating the health care system, always keep in mind that Best Doctors is here to help. And once you find the right doctor, Best Doctors is still here to guide you if you encounter any health challenges, or simply need extra support.

[1] Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14013-eng.htm
[2] American Academy of Family Physicians, http://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/workforce-reform.html

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