Choosing a New Family Doctor

Several years ago, both of my primary care doctors retired at almost the same time.  I apparently missed the memo, because I never did find out where my files were transferred to.  These doctors had looked after me for all my adult life.

And so began my fruitless search for a new doctor.  I had no idea it would be so difficult to replace them.

At first, I contacted the Alberta College of Physicians and our local hospital for any referrals.  I did get a list of doctors, but as I went down the list one by one I was told,

“Sorry, we’re not taking any new patients at this time.”

Luckily, I’m in pretty good health so any minor medical problems were dealt with at the walk-in clinic.

My husband, on the other hand, has multiple chronic medical conditions and needs blood work done monthly, so when we moved to Kelowna it was imperative that we find a doctor that could deal with him.  Again, going through the list of local doctors, we heard,

“Sorry, we’re not taking any new patients at this time.”

It pays to be persistent though.  We eventually found a doctor who was building up his practise.  We had no idea about his professional abilities.  He seems pretty good now, but at first we were just relieved to have found someone.

Finding a Good Doctor

According to Statistics Canada, about one third of Canadians have chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.  Yet almost 20% do not have a regular family doctor.

We shouldn’t be forced to resort to emergency rooms and walk-in clinics for our primary care.  As we get older we need a physician to call our own.

I like the idea of developing a relationship with my doctor, so he or she knows my body and my history, and therefore is more likely to sense if and when something is “off.”

It’s best to find a new doctor while you’re in good health.

Many provinces have websites to help link patients to health care providers.  Or your can check this directory of physicians in your community that are accepting new patients.  You still need to be prepared to invest some time and effort to find your new doctor.

Things to consider

It is helpful to learn about the doctor’s experience treating older patients or people with medical histories similar to yours.  You could look for someone in the new specialty of “Geriatrician” who is specially trained in diseases and disorders associated with age.

Find out about office policies.

  • Is the doctor part of a group practice?
  • How long does it take to get an appointment?
  • How easy is it to get same-day or next-day appointments?
  • How long are patients kept in the waiting room?
  • Can you get answers to simple questions over the phone or email?

The first appointment

It’s not uncommon for doctors to request a meeting to determine whether or not a new patient will be taken on.

You will probably be asked to fill out a new patient form.  Bring a list of your past medical problems and all the medications you take (or put them in a bag and bring it with you).  Write down any drug allergies or reactions.

During the visit take the time to ask the doctor any questions you have about your health.  Be aware you might not have time to cover everything in one visit with the new doctor.

After the visit ask yourself if you felt comfortable and confident with this doctor.  Did you feel hurried?  Did he address all your concerns?

If the doctor is not right for you, it’s important that you find someone else.

Compatibility is important

You shouldn’t just stick with any doctor that will take you on.

Compatibility is important.

  • Does the doctor listen to you without interrupting?
  • Does she fully answer your questions?
  • Does he explain your diagnosis and treatment?

Having good communication with the doctor who oversees your care can help make sure you get the tests and treatments you need.

Remember that a good doctor-patient relationship is a partnership.  Regular office visits and open communication are key to treating our medical problems effectively and keeping you in good health.

Get to know each other, develop trust and establish a basis to collaborate on your health and wellness, your unique history, needs and concerns.  It’s important to find a doctor who has expertise in your particular heath needs.

Choosing a primary care doctor is one of the most important health decisions you’ll make.

Some patients bring along a family member to help make sure everything is understood.  I don’t know how many times I’ve told my husband to ask about a particular problem and have him come back with, “I forgot to ask.”

The bottom line

Getting good health care shouldn’t be so hard.  Your doctor relationship will likely be one of the most important of your retirement years.

Be sure to invest the time and effort to ensure that you are obtaining the best possible health care for yourself and your family.



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