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Access to Primary Care


Access to Primary Care

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Types of Primary Care
  • Family doctor

    To find a family doctor, start by checking with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province or territory. In addition, some provinces and territories provide specialized “find a doctor” directories or programs in which doctors may participate. Check your provincial or territorial Ministry or Department of Health website for more information.

    Other strategies to consider

    If you are in a position to choose between potential family doctors, think about the following:Does the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province or territory provide details on the family doctor’s length of experience, hospital privileges’ and specialities?

    • Does the family doctor practice in a group or team where you can access another doctor if yours is unavailable?
    • Does he or she offer appointments outside standard business hours?
    • Will the family doctor accept you and your children? This may be helpful to identify family history of illness.
    • Ask your pharmacist if any new family doctors or nurse practitioners have moved into the area.
    • Ask friends or neighbours if they have a family doctor that they like and see if they can recommend you as a patient.
  • Nurse practitioner

    To find a nurse practitioner, start by checking with the Ministry of Health or the nurse practitioner association in your province or territory, either or both may provide a program to help you find a nurse practitioner in your area. In some provinces the services of a nurse practitioner are covered under the provincial/territorial public insurance program; in others nurse practitioners may work in private clinics that may charge a fee. Check before you go.

  • Family health teams or primary care networks

    Family health teams, primary care networks have been created in many provinces and territories and include the services of primary healthcare providers including family doctors and nurse practitioners. Check your provincial or territorial Ministry or Department of Health website for more information.

  • Health clinics such as walk-in clinics, local community health centres, or urgent care centres

    Health clinics such as walk-in clinics, local community health centres, or urgent care centres - If you have tried the options listed above and are still without a family doctor or nurse practitioner, check out the walk-in clinic in your area. Each province and some territories have walk-in clinics as well as other health centres such as community health centres and urgent care centres. Some provinces and territories provide the services to you free of charge as part of your provincial/territorial public insurance program, and others are privately run and may charge a fee. Check before you go.

  • Provincial and Territorial Call-in Health Lines

    Provincial and Territorial Call-in Health Lines - All provinces have a free call-in health line, usually staffed by a registered nurse or some other healthcare professional available 24/7. Generally this service is designed to provide quick answers to medical questions when the sick or injured are not sure if they need to see a doctor or if they can treat the situation at home. The service is not meant to replace the care provided by a family doctor or nurse practitioner. It is not intended to provide emergency support. For emergencies, call 9-1-1.

Rheumatologists in ON

To find a rheumatologist in your area, please visit the Canadian Rheumatology Association or the Ontario Rheumatology Association websites.

To see a rheumatologist, you will need a referral from your doctor.

My Options in ON

  • Family Doctor

    To find a family doctor accepting new patients, you can register with the Government of Ontario’s Health Care Connect program at Health Care Connect or call at 1-800-445-1822.

    To find information about a family doctor on your own, visit the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario website or call at 416-967-2603 - Toll Free: 1-800-268-7096 Ext. 603.

  • Family health teams

    Another option to access primary care is through a family health team, which provide inter-professional team-based care. To find a team near you and to get more information, visit the Association of Family Health Teams of Ontario (AFHTO) website or call at 647-234-8605.

  • Nurse practitioner

    To find a nurse practitioner try the Health Care Connect program. Visit the Health Care Connect link to access a nurse practitioner-led clinic.

  • Walk-in clinics

    Walk-in clinics provide medical care for people who do not have a family doctor or have one and are unable to reach them. Visit this website for more information and to find a clinic near you.

  • Community Health Centres (CHCs)

    CHCs employ doctors and nurse practitioners; they provide health care to communities. Select this link for more information and to find a centre near you.

  • Urgent care centres

    Urgent care centres treat most injuries and illnesses such as infections, earaches, eye injuries, sprains, broken bones, cuts, fevers, minor burns and nose and throat complaints through emergency-trained doctors and other health care professionals.
    Visit this website for more information and to find a centre near you.

  • Provincial and Territorial Call-in Health Lines
    • Telehealth Ontario - call 1-866-797-0000 or TTY 1-866-797-0007

Other strategies
  • Emergency department

    As a last resort, if you do not have a family doctor and there are no health clinics nearby, and you require health care services, go to the nearest hospital emergency department. Note that patients are not seen on a first-come, first served system. Critical patients are attended to first.

    Health emergency

    If you are concerned that you are seriously ill or injured, go to the nearest Emergency Department. Patients with potentially life-threatening conditions should immediately phone 911.

  • Speciality care

    In provinces and territories across Canada, patients require a referral to see a specialist, either from a family doctor or another specialist. In some cases, for example for elective surgeries or cosmetic surgeries, specialists will see patients privately and without a referral from a family doctor. However, in these instances, the patient will be billed and must pay the specialist directly. Information about doctors and the services they provide may be obtained from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province or territory.

    Some family doctors specialize in certain diseases or conditions; check with your family doctor, clinic, or pharmacist to find out if there is a family doctor in the area that can look after your speciality needs.

    If you would like to see a specialist, but your family doctor is reluctant to make the referral, please be sure that you clearly communicate your symptoms to your family doctor.

    You’re not always going to be satisfied with everything you are being told by your healthcare professional. In these instances, consider the following:

    • Make sure you have provided all the information that you can to help with diagnosis and treatment planning, including your needs and treatment goals.
    • Be clear with your treatment team member if something is not working or will not work for you – have an open, honest and respectful discussion about any misgivings you may have about your diagnosis or treatment.
    • Be sure you are following the treatment plan as recommended by your team
    • Consider connecting with a patient support group or discussion board to find out if they have similar challenges and how they handle them.
  • How to ask for a second opinion

    This is never easy, but if you are uncomfortable with the diagnosis or treatment plan recommended to you by a healthcare professional, you can get a second opinion. If you have followed the steps above and remain unsatisfied, talk to your family physician about being referred to another specialist. (Keep in mind that if you live in a small or remote community, you may need to travel to another region for a second opinion.)

    Visit Your Arthritis Treatment Team page to find out more information about the various healthcare professionals who treat arthritis.

Disclaimer: This resource is meant solely to be a guide for information. While The Arthritis Society strives to provide up to date and comprehensive information, these types of services vary from province to province and times from region to region and community to community. Users are requested to check all sources from provincial/territorial, regional and community levels, as well as public, private and not-for-profit/charitable resources. This guide is not and cannot be a complete listing of all sources of services available.

Primary care is the gateway to the health care system in Canada. People with arthritis may have many different treatment needs, and may require the services of several different health care professionals. But, the place to start is with the primary care services typically delivered by a family doctor or nurse practitioner in private practice, a team practice, a hospital clinic or a community health unit.

This is your guide to the different steps you can take if you don’t have a family doctor or access to primary care. In addition, this section provide information about rheumatologists in your region.