Universal health care is one of the values that defines us as Canadians. We are blessed to have an excellent health care system although the many points of entry can be confusing. Walk-in clinics, urgent care centres, emergency rooms and your family physician’s office are all places that you can access care.
The ideal place to access care is through your primary care provider. Your family physician knows you and your family and is aware of your medical history. Think of your family physician’s office as your “medical home.”
Unfortunately illness does not always happen during office hours. Most family physicians in Ontario now belong to a group that provides care on evenings and weekends. Calling your primary care physician’s office after hours can put you in touch with the person on call and you may be directed to an after hours service. The doctor on call may have access to your history through a shared electronic health record that can only be viewed by the group of physicians participating in your care. Knowing your past medical history, medications and allergies is pivotal to lessening medical errors and providing appropriate care.
Walk-in clinics are primarily for people who don’t have a primary care physician. They also provide care to those without a family doctor.
Emergency room visits should be reserved for acute problems. When you or your child are ill, it may be difficult to know whether something can wait or requires an emergency room visit. Telehealth Ontario is an excellent service that allows you to speak to a nurse and discuss the nature of the problem. The nurse will tell you the most appropriate course of action. Some family physicians are in a model of care where Telehealth Ontario helps you to triage before booking into the after hours clinics. This is an invaluable service that can help you to make the decision about how and where to access care.
Have a conversation with your primary care provider to find out what services are available for you before an illness and have a plan in place.
Dr. Bhooma Bhayana is a family physician in London and the mother of two young men and grandmother of one lovely princess! She continues to find wonder and enjoyment in family practice despite more than 30 years on the job