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What is a Family Doctor

April 1, 2024 • read

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What is a Family Doctor

A family doctor, also known as a family physician, is a trusted partner in your healthcare journey—they act as your first point of contact for all of your non-emergency medical needs, which means they treat illnesses, provide proactive care, and educate you on how to best look after your health.

The terms “family doctor” and “general practitioner” are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s a slight difference between the two in Canada. Although both can be your point person for routine health matters, family doctors complete an extra two years of training in family medicine and other health areas such as paediatrics, gynecology, and psychiatry.

What does a family doctor do?

In a nutshell, a family doctor helps people of all ages maintain good health. One way they do so is through physician examinations—or, check-ups. This is where they’ll collect basic information about your health, such as your weight, height, blood pressure and heart rate to track trends over time and identify vital signs outside the healthy range. They also provide regular screenings (like Pap tests), make referrals (to experts like gastroenterologists) and keep you up-to-date on vaccinations (like tetanus).

Another way family doctors help you maintain good health is by acting as your main contact for non-urgent health concerns. Have an ache or pain, or just feel a bit off? Your family doctor can complete an assessment and offer a treatment method. They can also refer you to a specialist for further assessment or request a medical test, such as bloodwork or an ultrasound. 

Did you know? According to WorkBC, Simply having a family doctor and visiting them regularly has been associated with fewer hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room.

Should kids have a paediatrician or a family doctor?

Paediatricians are physicians who complete four additional years of training after medical school to specialize in the health of babies, children, and teenagers. Because their extra training includes paediatric heart health, allergies, development, and neonatology (how to care for newborn infants, especially ones who are ill or premature), paediatricians are particularly beneficial to children with special needs or chronic health conditions. 

It’s important to inquire about the role paediatricians have near you since their services differ depending on where you live. For example, in Alberta, paediatricians don’t provide routine vaccinations, which are the ones recommended based on one’s age and vaccine history—you need to visit a designated health centre for that. 

Something else to consider: Canada has fewer than three thousand practicing paediatricians, so it can be difficult to find one who’s accepting new patients, especially outside of major cities. In that case, a family doctor may be your best option—they are, after all, trained to treat people of all ages. You can also seek telemedicine for some paediatric matters. We can connect you with over two thousand Canadian-licensed paediatricians who can advise on feeding and behavioural issues, growing pains, and more.

Why are family doctors important?

As mentioned, family doctors are your main point of contact with Canada’s healthcare system. They help you reach optimal health you reach optimal health, get effective care, live longer, and have fewer visits to the hospital and emergency rooms. One of the most beneficial reasons for having a family doctor is that they’re particularly skilled at recognizing patterns in your health and finding the cause, meaning they play a vital role in the early identification of disease. 

Family doctors are also your gateway to specialists, as Canadians generally need to be referred to other doctors by their family doctor or general practitioner at a walk-in clinic. But there are a few exceptions—some specialists can be accessed through telemedicine. We’re committed to matching you with Canadian-licensed specialists including dermatologists, psychologists, endocrinologists, gynecologists, and paediatricians, who can help answer some of your pressing health questions and concerns.

Is a family doctor free in Canada?

Canada has universal healthcare, which means the country’s tax dollars cover the cost of basic services—including check-ups with your family doctor— for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. 

How do you find a family doctor? 

Every province and territory has a website that shares how to find a family doctor in that location. In Ontario, you can register at Health Care Connect, a program that connects Ontarians with nearby physicians accepting new patients. Here’s more information on finding a doctor in your area:

But there’s a catch: There’s a significant shortage of family doctors in Canada, which means some Canadians spend years on Health Care Connect’s waiting list before being matched with a family doctor. In Ontario alone, more than two million people don’t have a family doctor, and that number is projected to double in the next two years, as many physicians will be retiring or scaling back their services.

For those who find themselves without a family doctor—perhaps you’re new to Canada or have a doctor who retired—there are a few other ways you can get one. First, ask someone you know for a recommendation, and call their doctor’s office to find out if they’re accepting new patients. You can also contact the community health centre in your area, and if you’re new to Canada, an immigrant-serving organization.

While family doctors are essential for maintaining good health and receiving in-person treatments and preventative care, you can also access effective medical care through telemedicine—where there aren’t any waitlists. We’re here to match you with a Canadian-licensed doctor to address a range of health woes you may be facing. Our doctors are equipped to provide a diagnosis, treatment, and prescription, and order a lab test or refer to a specialist.

Maple is safe and effective for common non-emergency issues, saving you time and offering ease of mind. If you believe you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or proceed to your nearest emergency room.

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