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What to look for when selecting a primary care provider or walk-in clinic



Finding a primary care provider (PCP) or walk-in clinic can be an overwhelming experience. Primary care services represent your entry point into the healthcare system, and a link to all necessary health care services, so it is important to find a provider you can trust.


We have created a list of key questions you may want to consider when selecting a new clinic/provider. Some of these points will be more relevant to you than others, and it is ultimately up to you to decide what points are important to you in selecting a care provider.


How does the clinic function?

  • What are the practice hours? How do they manage after-hours care?

  • ‘After-hours’ practices provide care to patients within the practice outside of their normal business hours

  • Do they offer weekend appointments?

  • Is this practice operated by an individual care provider or a group of providers?

  • If it is a group practice, do you have the option to have appointments with one provider, or do they share patients?

  • If you can work with one provider, what days are they available?

  • Are same-day/next-day appointments available?

  • Are there appointment cancellation policies and/or fees?

  • How long do patients typically wait for appointments during their visit?

  • Does the practice send appointment reminders? Via what platform? (ex. Email, text, call)

  • Are there policies on how many items can be addressed per appointment? (ex. 1 concern per appointment is common for walk-in clinics)

  • Can you call to refill prescriptions, or does this require an appointment?

  • Does the practice charge for medical notes, reports, or to phone/fax prescription refills? If so, is a pricing list available?

  • How will information be shared with you from the practice? How will you be receiving test results?

  • Is access to other healthcare providers available through the practice or primary care network? (ex. Dietitians, social workers, nurse practitioners)


What will your commute to the practice look like? What transportation options are available?

  • Is the practice located near public transit lines?

  • Does the practice offer parking? Do they charge for parking?

  • How far are you willing to travel for appointments?

  • Does the practice use telemedicine tools (ex. Video conferencing, phone calls for concerns that don’t require in-person assessment)

  • Does the PCP offer in-home visits?


What does the PCP’s experience look like?

  • Is this practitioner licensed to practice? In what areas of medicine?

  • The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) publishes a list of all doctors registered with the CPSO. You can use the ‘Doctor Search’ tool to find out if the practitioner is registered.

  • Does the PCP have extra training and/or provide referrals to specialists to support specialized care needs?

  • If you’re looking for a PCP or walk-in clinic that can provide you with gynaecological care, check out our Clinic Finder to search for gynaecological care providers near you (Ontario only)

  • If you’re looking for abortion care providers, check out Action Canada’s directory here.

  • Is the PCP in good standing?

  • Concerns, litigation, and/or practice restrictions are made publicly available by the CPSO. You can use the doctor search to see if the provider has any ‘red flags’ you want to be aware of.

  • Using Google to search the physician’s name and practice may also turn up news articles that you can use to guide your decision.

  • Are you currently managing chronic illness? What does the provider know about this condition? Have they treated others with it? If not, are they comfortable treating someone with your condition?


Do you have any accessibility concerns?

  • What languages are spoken in the practice?

  • Does the building have accessible infrastructure? (ex. Ramps, elevators, accessible washrooms)

  • Does the practice provide trauma-informed care? Read more about trauma-informed care here and here.

  • Does the practice provide gender-affirming care? Read more about gender-affirming care here.


Consider your personal history when accessing a new provider:

  • Are you looking to establish long-term care? Or are you looking to address a particular concern?

  • Do you have a valid Health Card (OHIP)?

  • If not, you will have to apply for OHIP

  • If you are eligible for OHIP, you will have immediate access to health insurance coverage. There is no waiting period.

  • Some Community Health Centres will provide free and low-cost health services for those without OHIP

  • Some physicians may accept patients who pay out-of-pocket for services - you will have to contact the clinic to inquire

  • Do you have private insurance coverage for prescriptions? (ex. Through employers, through post-secondary education institutions)

  • If not, there are some prescription assistance programs you can apply for

  • If you are 24 and under, and are covered by OHIP, many prescription drugs are covered under OHIP+. You can check if your prescription is covered here

  • Are you currently on another practitioner's patient list?

  • To remove yourself from a practitioners patient list, you can call their clinic directly or call Service Ontario (1-888-218-9929)

  • Does the provider have any concerns about how you are currently managing existing health conditions?

  • Do you require a 2SLGBTQIA+ - friendly practice?

  • Refer to Rainbow Health Ontario’s directory

  • Are you new to Canada? If so, you can contact a Settlement Services officer to help you navigate healthcare.


What have others' experiences with this provider been like?

  • Do you have any friends/family who have received care from the PCP? If you’re both comfortable, ask them about their experience.

  • Does the practice have any reviews online? (ex. Google, yelp)

  • If there are negative reviews, did the practice respond? What was the response like?


References

  1. After-hours care in Canada [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1479478/

  2. 17 Questions to Ask When Choosing a New Doctor [Internet]. National Institute on Aging. [cited 2023 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/17-questions-ask-when-choosing-new-doctor

  3. 8 questions you should always ask your doctor - National | Globalnews.ca [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 3]. Available from: https://globalnews.ca/news/3763210/8-questions-you-should-always-ask-your-doctor/

  4. Questions to Ask New Family Doctors [Internet]. Alberta Health Services. [cited 2023 Jan 3]. Available from: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/trt/if-trt-questions-to-ask-new-family-doctors.pdf

  5. Apply for OHIP and get a health card [Internet]. ontario.ca. [cited 2023 Jan 6]. Available from: http://www.ontario.ca/page/apply-ohip-and-get-health-card

  6. Primary Care [Internet]. American Family Physician [cited 2023 Jan 6]. Available from: https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/primary-care.html

  7. CPSO - Find a Doctor [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 6]. Available from:https://doctors.cpso.on.ca/?search=general

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