Canadians all over have been dismissed by their family doctors over the last year -- there are currently nearly 5 million Canadians with no family doctor, with most actively looking for a new family doctor but unable to find one. We've collected the best resources to find a family doctor for each Canadian province and territory, along with some other information and suggestions.
If Your Existing Family Doctor Discharges You
If you are being discharged from your current family doctor due to their practice closing or being downsized, we suggest that you:
- Get extra refills on your current prescriptions. Your doctor can typically provide up to six months worth of refills for each medication you take, and you'll need those to bridge the gap while you look for a new family doctor
- Request any specialist referrals you need. If you've been in "monitor and wait" mode on any health issue, you may want to ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist for that issue. A lack of family doctors means worsening outcomes for health issues and being proactive about referrals can be a literal lifesaver if you are without a family doctor.
- Appeal the decision. If there are extenuating circumstances that make it particularly difficult for you to find a new family doctor, it’s worth asking them to reconsider their decision and keep you on as a patient.
- See if you can get in with a family member's doctor. Some doctors that aren't taking new patients will make exceptions for the spouses or immediate family members of their existing patients. So it's worth calling the practices that other people in your family use to see if they'll take you on.
Where to Find a Doctor Across Canada
To help find a family doctor in your area, here are the province- and territory-specific tools, helplines and waitlists:
- Alberta: visit CPSA and check the "Accepting New Patients" box when you search
- British Columbia: Check Divisions of BC for contact information for your specific primary care network, or use the Pathways Medical Care Directory (after you select your area in the "Find Care" dropdown, you can click "I want to register to get a doctor or nurse practitioner," but not every area will have that option)
- Manitoba: register with the Family Doctor Finder
- New Brunswick: use Patient Connect NB assigned to a provider (on a first-come, first serve basis)
- Newfoundland and Labrador: register with Patient Connect NL or visit Find a Doctor for a list of doctors taking new patients
- Northwest Territories: the NTHSSA Regional Portals can direct you the medical services in your community
- Nova Scotia: register with Need a Family Practice to be added to the provincial waitlist
- Nunavut: use the Health Facilities Map to find medical care close to you
- Ontario: register with Health Care Connect to register for Ontario's program to connect patients with family doctors
- Prince Edward Island: add yourself to the Patient Registry Program
- Quebec: add yourself to the Quebec Family Doctor Finder List
- Yukon: use the Yukon Family Doctor Match Service
In many cases, the wait time for the provincial services listed above are 1-2 years long, and we suggest continuing to look for a family doctor on your own, in your community, after registering with your provincial or regional waitlist. For example, you can visit RateMDs and use their doctor search tool. Selecting “Accepting New Patients” and “Near Me” (or entering your city/town) will give you a list of doctors that are listed as accepting new patients. And in most areas of Canada, you can call 811 for non-urgent health queries, including getting additional resources to find a new family doctor in your province or territory.
Numbers Across Canada
While 15% of Canadians are without a family doctor, the issue is more significant in some areas than others -- here's how it breaks down across Canada.
- Alberta: 18% of AB residents do not have a family doctor
- British Columbia: 20% of BC residents do not have a family doctor
- Manitoba: less than 10% of Manitobans are without a family doctor
- Newfoundland and Labrador: 24% of Newfoundland and Labrador residents do not have a family doctor
- New Brunswick: 10% of New Brunswick residents do not have a family doctor
- Northwest Territories: at least 55% of Northwest Territories residents do not have a family doctor
- Nova Scotia: 10% of Nova Scotia residents do not have a family doctor
- Nunavut: at least 75% of Nunavut residents do not have a family doctor, and many health centres are being temporarily closed due to staff shortage
- Ontario: 13% of Ontario residents do not have a family doctor
- Prince Edward Island: 17% of PEI residents do not have a family doctor
- Quebec: 20% of Quebec residents do not have a family doctor
- Saskatchewan: 17% of Saskatchewan residents do not have a family doctor
- Yukon: at least 2,500 of Yukon’s 43,000 residents are already on the waitlist for a family doctor, and the estimated wait time for those added to the waitlist today is more than two years
The cause of the family doctor shortage is two-fold. Less doctors are choosing to go into Family Medicine (in 2015, 38% of graduating medical students ranked family medicine as their top choice; in 2022, just 30.7% ranked family medicine as their top choice), with some new family doctor positions across Canada going unfilled. Further, some doctors feel that family medicine is an underpaid specialty and the overhead costs of administering a practice mean their margins are tight. Other doctors are reducing the number of patients in their general practice so they can work in other, more profitable roles (such as a medical spa setting, where all costs are paid out of pocket, or in a walk-in setting, where they can see a larger number of patients per shift).
If you have exhausted the options above and are unable to find a family doctor, two additional options are paid, virtual physician care from providers like Maple, MD Connected or Tia Health. For longer-term, more comprehensive care, some Canadians have opted for private, concierge service from providers like Cleveland Clinic or MedCan. (Of course, while this option makes sense on an individual level, more Canadians moving to a privatized healthcare option means more higher-paying job openings for healthcare workers on the private side which will decrease the publicly-funded doctor workload which will only exacerbate the current situation.)
In general, this is a tricky situation that many Canadians are navigating, and it is undoubtedly contributing to a host of other healthcare problems -- overcrowded ERs, long wait times, tremendous disparity in health care availability between urban and rural areas, and much more.