Doctor, doctor, where are you?

Finding a family doctor; it’s not easy!

My family’s search for a family physician began in earnest about two years ago. That was the time when our family doctor retired without any advanced notice to his patients. A very brief e-mail followed to inform us that he did, indeed, retire, and no other doctor took over his practice.

Our family is scattered in Toronto and Durham. Three of us, a husband and two adult sons, were patients of the said doctor.

One son struck out on his own as he lived in Toronto, and he found a new doctor reasonably quickly in the city through a friend – of- a friend-of-a-friend. This was easy, so we thought.

A new clinic opened up in our neighbourhood in Durham. My husband went there in person to apply for a new physician for himself. Four family doctors work out of this clinic. He found out that any communication must be done either over the phone or electronically. Fine! But when he called back a few days later, there were no immediate openings for any of the doctors, so he left his name on a waitlist. In the meantime, for any minor health issues, he went to the local walk-in-clinic.

Three months later, and after several follow-up phone calls, my husband was granted a meet-and-greet introduction with one of the doctors, but over the phone. This phone call transpired well. Two weeks later, he had a face-to-face interview with the same doctor. At this interview, not only his health was discussed but also protocol in the office.  He emphasized that he expects his patients to be on time simply because he is always on time. Who can argue with that?  No one likes to wait around in doctors’ offices either. But it wasn’t until another three weeks later, that with another phone call, he officially became this doctor’s new patient.

Our oldest son, on the other hand, was still searching for his family physician in Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa. During this time, he had shingles twice and torn shoulder muscles due to an accident. Each time he visited a walk-in-clinic, he received a prescription for a mild medication because the doctor there was not familiar with his medical history. But each time he was told at the clinic that it would be in his best interest to find a primary care doctor for his needs. OK. He was on it!

He followed up with every referral from friends and even doctors in the walk-in-clinics. None of these doctors were taking new patients. My family doctor could not take him on because he was no longer a child, and he lived outside her jurisdiction. My husband’s new family doctor could not take him on either for the same reasons. At one point, two new signs popped up at two new clinics advertising openings within.

With follow-up phone calls, he discovered that each clinic had a full roster of patients, the waitlist was also full, and he lived outside of their jurisdiction. In the meantime, he did move from Ajax to Oshawa, and the search had to focus on East Durham. This was another stumbling block.

In sheer frustration, I walked over to Carea Community Health Care Centre in Pickering for some much-needed advice. Carea has four sites with several family physicians in each; Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa. The receptionist at the Pickering site was most helpful. She asked to have my son call her, and she will take it from there. True to her word, she connected him with a family doctor, but ironically in Pickering as the Oshawa site was already full. After two years of searching, as of the end of August, he will finally have a primary care physician.

My take-away from this long process of searching for a family doctor is that “family doctors” don’t always serve the

entire family. There are limitations to what a family means. Adult children don’t qualify only minors. According to Stats-Canada, 4.8 million people across the country do not have access to family doctors. This could be due to a short supply of doctors. But not necessarily.

Demographics also play into it.

In the end, our family members managed to secure family doctors. For us, it was a two-year quest, but according to Stats-Canada, the average search time is four years. We are considered lucky.

I sincerely wish the best for anyone who is still searching. Don’t give up! Eventually, your search will produce the desired result.



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