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How Long Does it Take to Get a Family Doctor in Ontario

March 5, 2024 • read

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How Long Does it Take to Get a Family Doctor in Ontario

Does Ontario have a family doctor shortage?

If you don’t have a family doctor right now, you’re not alone. A shortage of GPs across the country has left one in five Canadians without the primary care they need.

Here in Ontario, that means 2.3 million people don’t have access to a family doctor. This can be a stressful situation, and it’s normal to wonder how long it will take to find a new one. If you find yourself among this group, we’re committed to helping you navigate the journey. Here’s how long it takes to get a family doctor in Ontario, and how you can access care while you wait

How long does it take to get a family doctor in Ontario?

Between 2018 and 2021, only four of Ontario’s health regions saw average wait times for a family doctor under 50 days. The longest waits in the province clock in at 225 days — if you can get a doctor at all. In one health region, the provincial service wasn’t able to match one in three patients.

Since the provincial government doesn’t publicize wait times for their family doctor matching service, Health Care Connect, it can be hard to assess just how long your wait will be. For example, one news report from 2022 showcases a whopping six year wait for one unlucky individual in Kitchener. While this is an extreme example, the reality is that it may take some Ontarians years to find a GP.

And the doctor shortage has only gotten worse as older GPs retire. While this has hit rural and northern communities in Ontario especially hard, the problem isn’t confined to more remote areas. 

Healthcare should be accessible to all Canadians, regardless of location. Virtual care can help to bridge this gap by connecting Canadians with doctors no matter what part of the country they’re in. 

If you’re sick or need a prescription before you’ve found a family doctor, we’re here to help. We’re a telehealth platform that connects you with licensed Canadian doctors from your phone, tablet, or computer. Within minutes, one of our doctors can diagnose and treat your medical issue, all from the comfort of wherever’s best for you — home, work, or on the go.

And unlike visiting a walk-in clinic, seeing one of our doctors won’t put you at risk of being removed from the provincial waitlist.

Why does it take so long to find a family doctor in Ontario?

Outside of seeing patients, family doctors spend many hours a week making referrals, researching treatments, and filling out insurance forms. In many cases, running their practices means they have to function as small business owners, too. This additional administrative work often stops GPs from having the capacity to care for more patients. In the worst cases, it can cause burnout.

The rapid population growth in Ontario over the last decade coupled with the retirement of older family doctors also plays a role. Together, these factors mean that family medicine graduates just can’t keep up with demand.

If you’re waiting to be matched with a GP, our doctors are here to help. We can connect you with a licensed Canadian doctor online for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment, within minutes. And, if the provider determines that you need a prescription, they can send it to the pharmacy of your choice to be picked up or delivered to your doorstep.

What issues can a family doctor help with?

The training family doctors receive is both broad and comprehensive, allowing them to care for individuals from the newborn stage until old age. This allows them to support entire families across their lifespan.

For those with chronic health issues, having a GP is so important — and not just for diagnosis. As your condition changes over time, your care may need to change too. Your family doctor is best positioned to adjust your medication or current dosage, order additional testing, or refer you to a specialist.

Healthy people benefit from primary care just as much. Seeing a family doctor is crucial for routine preventative care — from keeping tabs on your blood pressure to making sure your tetanus shot is up to date. They can also advise and treat issues related to diet, mental health, exercise, and sexual health.

Beyond that, your GP’s familiarity with your medical history can help them spot anything concerning before it has the chance to turn into something worse. What’s more, they can order any necessary lab tests, write prescriptions, and provide specialist referrals.

Like GPs, our doctors provide care for a range of issues, from colds and flus to more chronic conditions, like thyroid dysfunction and arthritis. We also offer specialist appointments without the need for a referral.

How often should you see your family doctor?

Having access to primary care keeps you healthier as you age. We know that it helps to improve patient outcomes and reduces hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Despite this, there’s no hard and fast rule about how often you should see your doctor. It will vary depending on your age and individual health. For example, if you have a chronic condition you likely need to see your doctor more frequently.

However, regular touchpoints with your GP enable early identification and intervention for a wide range of issues, regardless of health status. For example, since mental health issues like anxiety and depression can manifest physically, your primary care provider is often the first to support you with comprehensive mental health treatment, including medication and timely access to therapy.

As a result, regular appointments with your family doctor are beneficial across the lifespan, whether you’re in your 20s or your golden years.

How to find a doctor accepting new patients in Ontario

Given how long it takes to get a family doctor in Ontario, it’s beneficial to be proactive with your search while you wait for a match through the provincial system. 

Here’s how to speed up your search for a family doctor in Ontario:

  1. After you register online with Health Care Connect, search the CPSO registry of Ontario physicians to find a list of family doctors in your area. Call to see if any are accepting new patients.
  2. Tap into your social networks to see if anyone can recommend a GP with room in their practice.
  3. Ask for GP recommendations on social media community groups.
  4. Contact your local hospital to see if they’re affiliated with a family health team or if they know of any doctors accepting new patients.
  5. Connect with hospital-affiliated family health teams in the spring to see if any of their family medicine residents are entering practice nearby and taking new patients.
  6. Assess if you fall within the target area or demographic of your local CHC.
  7. Connect with our healthcare providers for on-demand 24/7 virtual care.

Where to access care while waiting to be matched with a family doctor

Although walk-in clinics and emergency rooms (ERs) are some of the most well-known options if you need medical care and don’t have a family doctor, virtual care is often a more convenient stand-in. Telemedicine removes geographic and mobility barriers, allowing patients to access care when and where they need it — without the wait.

If you’re looking for care now, connect with one of our Canadian-licensed healthcare providers from wherever you are. Our doctors are available within minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer non-urgent medical questions, prescribe necessary medications, and order any needed lab tests. You can also book specialist appointments, no referral necessary.

Virtual care can help to treat just about any condition that doesn’t require a physical examination or listening to your heart or lungs. That means it can be easily accessed to help with a variety of issues, including:

  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Intestinal issues such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Migraines
  • Assessing and treating mental health issues
  • Skin issues, including, rashes, infections, and bites
  • To support chronic care conditions like diabetes, COPD, and anemia
  • Sinus infections
  • Eye infections, including pink eye
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections
  • Hormonal contraception
  • Medical advice while travelling
  • To review lab, imaging, and specialist reports

What to keep in mind while you wait for a family doctor

Make sure to keep a record of each of your medical visits if you are using walk-in clinics or the ER. Compiling a folder with test results, referrals, and medications you take, along with any changes to chronic medical condition symptoms is also a good idea.

It may seem like extra work, however, this ensures that your future family doctor will have a comprehensive picture of your health. It’s also beneficial for you now as walk-in clinics and ERs use a rotation of different doctors, so you’re less likely to see the same one twice.

If you connect with one of our doctors, you can skip this step. We store your health records securely so you can access them through your patient portal. This ensures continuity of care between your visits. In other words, there’s no need to re-explain yourself each time you see one of our providers.

A shortage of family doctors in the province has left many Ontarians feeling like they have nowhere to turn for medical care. If you’re one of the millions waiting to be matched with a GP, we’re here to help. Visit with one of our doctors today — care is just a few clicks away.

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