As we’ve all no doubt heard, Canadians are being dramatically impacted by a healthcare crisis that is shaking our system to the core. We’re experiencing delays, cancellations, confusion navigating our arcane healthcare system, and concerns about quality of care.
At the core of the crisis are the medical professionals who we depend on to deliver the healthcare services so crucial to our mental and physical health.
Not only are we in the midst of a prolonged nursing crisis, 1 in 5 Canadians find themselves without a family doctor to care for themselves and their families. That’s over 6,000,000 Canadians without a family doctor. And of those that have a doctor, 29% struggle just to get an appointment in a timely manner.
Rather than throwing your hands up in despair, here are some commonsense recommendations to ensure that the health of you and your family stay on track. What steps can you take to keep yourself and your family on the health track amidst all the turmoil? Read on to find out.
1. Obtain Your Medical Records
Whether you have a doctor, you are going to lose your doctor, or you haven’t had a doctor in a while, getting a copy of your medical records is step 1. It’s the blueprint of your healthcare up until a point in time, and it’s important.
It should be available for you and / or any doctor you see anywhere, at any time.
It should be kept up to date. When you see a specialist, go to a walk-in, visit the emergency department, go for bloodwork, go for x-rays, etc., ask for a copy of the report, and add it to your file.
If you have your own doctor and visit a walk-in or the emergency room, you must still ask for a copy. These reports often don’t make it back to your doctor’s file at all.
Remember that all of this applies equally to a scenario where you are advocating on behalf of a child, a senior parent or anyone else for whom you have guardianship.
Studies have shown that people who access their own medical records appear to have better health outcomes and feel more in control of their own healthcare.
Keep your records organized and ready. Inevitably, this will be the information you’ll need when you’re feeling the least organized, so put it in a safe, easy-to-access place that you’ll remember even in moments of crisis. Add to it the names and details of the healthcare providers and partners in your circle of care (specialists, pharmacist, ancillary health practitioners, etc.)
Download our handy My Health Matters checklist to keep all your important information at your fingertips.
For continuity of care, bring this file to any appointments you have along with your medical records. You may be dealing with people who have never treated you and have no information about you other than what you tell them.
Read our article on Ten Reasons You Need to Get Your Medical Records Now if you’re not yet convinced of the importance of having your medical records in your possession.
Arming your circle of care with the right information at the right time may just save your life.
2. Alternatives to a Family Doctor
Despite your best efforts to find a new doctor, you may be without one for some time. There are alternatives to consider:
Nurse Practitioner (N.P.’s)
These medically trained individuals are an excellent option if you can find one near you. They are registered nurses who have additional education and training so that they can also: diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret testing, prescribe medications and perform many medical procedures.
Walk in Clinics are located in most cities and towns and are open to all without an appointment. You’ll be seen by a licensed doctor. However, they typically don’t want to follow you as a patient, meaning that they often won’t refer you to a specialist though they will prescribe medications.
The quality and follow up from clinic to clinic is highly variable. Make sure that you understand whether your situation may require some follow up.
Though you might be facing extended waiting times, you will be seen by a doctor in a fully equipped environment. Plus, if you need to see a specialist, you can often be seen by one much quicker in a hospital environment.
This option is becoming a popular one, especially since the pandemic where both doctors and patients stayed away from the office.
There are many options for virtual care. Appointments generally happen with a doctor by phone or video. While the estimates vary, it is thought that between 18% – 30% of doctor visits are unnecessary. Seeing a virtual doctor still offers the opportunity for prescriptions and specialist referrals. But be aware that many virtual clinics will charge for the visit, and it may or may not be covered by provincial medicare.
Telehealth or “8-1-1″
811 is the number to call for no-cost health advice covered by provincial medicare. Most often you’ll be connected to a nurse who will attempt to triage the issue and then either dispense advice or suggest visiting the ER for further assessment and diagnosis.
Concierge, Private or Executive Medicine
We are seeing a slight surge in private medical clinics who charge an annual fee paid out of pocket. Patients get an extensive, annual assessment and access to a host of ancillary services such as a nutritionist, psychologist, accessible specialists and more, all with an emphasis on preventative medicine.
These types of clinics are no longer just for the highly paid executives of large corporations. Many “regular” patients are starting to opt for a dependable level of physician access and are prepared to pay for it.
See here for The Health Insider’s exhaustive list of alternatives available to you for non-emergency healthcare issues.
3. Unwell? Go Get Checked!
Coming out of the pandemic, we learned that delaying treatment makes everything worse. In some cases, if a serious illness is left untreated, it can transition to a terminal illness. Catching things early is key, especially when it comes to something like cancer.
Delays are also costly to our healthcare system. It costs a lot less to prevent an illness from getting worse than it does to go through a course of prolonged treatment that could have been prevented had it been detected early enough.
4. Stay Current with Preventative Health Screenings
In keeping with the idea that early detection saves lives and dollars, there are several preventative screenings that are recommended for adults.
If you don’t know about them and you are without your own doctor, you may not be reminded that you should be going for one. The major screenings include breast cancer, colon (colorectal) cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and hypertension.
Bookmark our article on Health Screenings in Canada for provincial guidelines and where to get screened in your area.
Add relevant screening dates to your calendar. Check your Health Insider newsletter or website regularly for updates to screening guidelines.
Ensure you ask that all screening results are sent directly to you.
5. Take Initiative with Specialists
If you’ve seen a specialist on a regular basis and feel you should be continuing, don’t wait for them to contact you.
Even if you have your own family doctor, it’s been shown that since the pandemic, specialist offices are not proactively pursuing follow-ups like they used to. Don’t wait for it. Take the initiative and call them if you feel that there is a good reason (i.e.. flareup of a previously treated condition, etc.)
6. Medications Without a Family Doctor
Add information about the prescription medications you take to your My Health Matters file. Keep track of the medical issue the medication is treating, medication name, dosage and start date for yourself and anyone you provide care for.
Pharmacists are often able to renew or extend prescriptions if you don’t have a primary care physician, however you may still be asked to visit a primary care physician for an assessment of your condition.
A walk-in or virtual clinic should be able to prescribe, depending on your needs. Depending on the province you live in, virtual clinics may charge a fee.
Online pharmacies are popping up and while some are legitimate, many are not. Check if the online pharmacy you’re considering using is legit by verifying that the pharmacy is licensed in a Canadian province and can provide a Canadian address, or is part of the Pharmacy Verified Websites Program.
See here for more details on how to protect yourself when buying medications online.
In many provinces, nurse practitioners can also prescribe controlled substances if they have completed the required training, however their scope of responsibility varies widely from province to province.
Children have strict age guidelines to receive vaccinations in Canada. They vary province by province and in the absence of a family doctor, it will be up to you to ensure your child gets vaccinated at these critical moments. Certain provinces such as Ontario also demand proof of vaccination to attend school.
Public health units across the country offer childhood vaccinations at no charge for children. This also applies to seasonal vaccinations and others such as the COVID19 vaccines and boosters.
Adults also require immunization to restore immunity from previous vaccinations and to create immunity in diseases common amongst adults such as shingles, pneumonia, hepatitis, HPV, measles and others such as flu or COVID vaccines.
Some adult vaccinations are covered under provincial medicare. Check with your province for details.
All pregnant women should be vaccinated for pertussis and influenza regardless of their past immunization history. The antibodies the mother produces protects the newborn during the first months of life when it is too young to be vaccinated.
See here for details on how to get vaccinated in Canada without a family doctor.
It may seem a bit daunting at first knowing that you don’t have a doctor overseeing your care, especially if you’ve been used to having a doctor for so many years.
Taking on the responsibility of overseeing your own care does not require a medical degree. It simply requires you to stay connected, informed, and proactive.
We’re also here to help where we can.
If you have any comments or questions for us at The Health Insider, we invite you to reach out at info@TheHealthInsider.ca.