Finding a Doctor or Specialist in Canada
Canadians are understandably very proud of their universal health care system, as it provides basic medical care to all legal residents in the country.
As a newcomer to Canada, you might not know how to find a doctor, make an appointment with a dentist, or see a specialist. Not to worry — we cover all these topics, and more, in the article below.
Health services are provided in a confidential manner in Canada, which means that if you’re over 18, no one has the right to access your personal health information. This includes your spouse and your parents — your health matters are only between you and your doctor, unless he or she is worried about your safety or the safety of others.
In order to access Canadian health care, you must first acquire a health insurance card, which is also detailed below.
Obtaining Your Health Card
The process of obtaining your health card differs depending on the province or territory in which you live. In this article, we will use Ontario as an example. Although the process in most other provinces is similar, differences exist and contact information differs.
How to Obtain an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) Card:
1. Download the Application Form
Complete the form online, then print a copy. Remember to clear your browser’s cache if you’re using a publicly shared computer.
2. Visit a ServiceOntario Centre
Head to your local ServiceOntario Centre with your printed application form. You can do this as a “walk-in” or by booking an appointment in advance. You cannot apply online — you must come into the Centre.
Bring the following documents with you:
- Your completed Ontario Health Insurance Coverage registration form
- Three of the following original Identification Documents (copies are NOT accepted) with at least one from each of the following three categories.
One must be proof of your legal immigration status:
- Canadian Birth Certificate
- Permanent Resident Card (must be valid or expired for no more than five years)
- Confirmation of Permanent Residence (IMM 5292, 5688)
- Canadian Immigration Identification Card
- Record of Landing (IMM 1000)
One must be proof that you live in Ontario:
- Ontario Driver’s Licence
- Income Tax Assessment (Notice of Assessment)
- Original, mailed utility bill
- Monthly bank account statements (mailed, paper copy)
- Mortgage, rental, or lease agreement
One that “supports and confirms” your identity:
- A valid passport from your country of origin
- A Credit Card
- Valid Ontario Photo Card
- Canadian Immigration Identification Card
- Current Employee ID Card
- Confirmation of Permanent Residence (IMM 5292) (signature must be shown)
Children under 16 can be registered by their parents. However, children over 16 must have a signature and photo on their OHIP card and are required to apply in person with their parents.
Finding a Family Doctor
Once you have a health card, you need to find a family doctor who is taking new patients — but this can be easier said than done!
Depending on where you live in Canada, it can be hard to find a doctor who is taking new patients. Many family doctors in Canada already have a full roster of clients, and there is a nation-wide shortage of new doctors. But don’t fret — it can be done!
To find a family doctor when you first arrive in Canada, here are some tips:
- Contact the local health authority — Ask them if they have a list of local doctors who are taking in new patients.
- Ask local immigration organizations — Contact a local immigrant-serving organization for advice on local doctors.
- Summer might be the best time to find a doctor — Residents finishing their training in family medicine tend to do so by the end of June, which means that many practices hire new doctors in the summer months.
- Ask your friends and family — Some family doctors will consider taking on new patients who are friends or family members of their existing patients. Ask your friends or family members if they can recommend a doctor.
Making an Appointment with Your Doctor
Once you have found a doctor who is taking in new patients, you usually need to make an introductory appointment. This involves going to the clinic to register, filling in paperwork, presenting your health card, meeting the doctor, and getting to know the staff. This is especially important for children, as they might feel apprehensive about meeting new people, especially in a formal setting.
You will likely have to make subsequent appointments several weeks in advance to see your doctor. If you have an urgent medical issue, you might be able to arrange a same day appointment — if not, you can go to a walk-in clinic.
A walk-in clinic is a special type of doctor’s office that takes patients on a “walk in” basis — you do not need an appointment. Anyone can go to a walk-in clinic, and it does not nullify your registration with your normal family doctor.
While some people go to walk-in clinics rather than have a regular family doctor, they are usually thought of as a convenient solution for time-sensitive issues, such as acute illness, or when you need to see a doctor close to work or school rather than your home. Note that the waiting times at some walk-in clinics can be extremely long.
Whenever possible, you should see your family doctor rather than visiting a walk-in clinic. Regular visits allow your family doctor to stay up-to-date with your medical problems, supervise your chronic illnesses, monitor medications and dosages, and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Seeing a Specialist
If you need to see a specialist doctor in Canada, you first need a referral from your family doctor or walk-in clinic. This is to prevent specialists from getting overbooked with people who have problems that family doctors, who are your first point of contact, can treat.
Once your family doctor has determined that you should see a specialist, such as a dermatologist, podiatrist, or gynaecologist, their office will make the appointment for you. The specialist’s office will call you with the date and time, which you may reschedule. Note that wait times for certain specialists can be quite long.
Most specialists and procedures are covered by your provincial health coverage. Procedures considered cosmetic or voluntary are usually not covered. Ask your family doctor for more information. Things like dental coverage, chiropractic treatment, massage therapy, acupuncture, and vision care might be covered by an extended health plan offered by your university (if you’re a student) or employer.
Emergency Medical Services
If you have an urgent medical emergency, you should always go to the Emergency Room at your closest hospital or dial 911. Calling 911 is free of charge, but certain provinces and territories do charge a fee (billed after the fact) for dispatching an ambulance.
If you or one of your children has a certain medical condition, it is customary in Canada to wear a medical bracelet that can alert paramedics about the condition. Ask your doctor whether you should wear a bracelet if you have an anaphylactic allergy, diabetes, an allergy to medication, or high blood pressure.
Finding A Dentist
Dentistry is not covered by any provincial health plan in Canada. Most Canadians book appointments with private dentist clinics and pay out of pocket for cleanings and treatments. Many universities and employers offer additional dental coverage as a part of their extended health benefits package.
Most provinces and territories have one form or another of free coverage available for children under the age of 17 and seniors, but this differs from region to region. In some cases, there can also be emergency dentistry services available for low-income people and recent immigrants — ask your local immigrant organization for information about subsidized dentistry.
To find a dentist in Canada, simply search online for a well-reviewed dentist in your area or ask friends and family members for their recommendations.
Can I Access Private Healthcare in Canada?
If you do not qualify for provincial healthcare in Canada and do not have another form of insurance, you must pay the going rate costs for all treatments and appointments. This can be extremely expensive, so it is important that you have adequate insurance.
However, if you do have insurance and would prefer to seek private healthcare treatments outside the typical public system, it is only possible for certain procedures and scans. Under federal law, private clinics are not legally allowed to provide services covered by the Canada Health Act. That said, many clinics operate in a grey area around this law and provide MRIs and similar scans — the wait times for these in a hospital can be months, but in a private clinic they can be much shorter.
When Canadians seek private healthcare, in most cases they are doing so for optional and cosmetic procedures.
Medical care in Canada is some of the best in the world
Remember, if you are facing a medical emergency, you should dial 911 or go straight to the hospital. Even if you have not yet obtained your medical card, the staff there will ensure that you receive the medical care you or your child needs.
Follow the steps above to obtain your medical card and find a family doctor, and you will be ready to start receiving healthcare in Canada. The healthcare in your new home country is considered some of the best in the world, and so you are in good hands.