Healthcare in Canada How to find a Doctor in Canada
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If you are new in Canada, you’ll probably have many questions popping into your head about healthcare. How will you access healthcare? How do you find a doctor? What’s the public healthcare sector, and what does it cover?

If you are reading this and searching for answers to these questions, you are in the right place. This article discusses details on how to access healthcare as a newcomer in Canada.

Let’s begin.

What you need to know about finding healthcare in Canada

Below, we discuss the top factors to keep in mind when accessing healthcare in Canada.

  1. Healthcare is mostly free

First,  you must know that you will most likely be getting healthcare services for free in Canada. If you are a Canadian resident, permanent resident, or temporary resident, your healthcare services will be covered by public health insurance.

Every province and territory has a health insurance plan covering family doctors, medical tests, and hospital visits. However, note that healthcare is not accessible for visitors, so you must obtain health insurance if you are visiting Canada.

Additionally, although it varies from province to territory, the free healthcare services are almost the same everywhere in Canada. The primary healthcare that is excluded is a prescription medication.

Also, while it’s a free public healthcare service, it is administered privately. This means they are delivered by non-profit and private health organizations and not necessarily government health agencies.

  1. You won’t be covered by public health insurance immediately

Although you will be covered by public health insurance if you are a permanent or temporary resident in Canada, it won’t take effect immediately. Many provinces and territories take about three months before they put you on public health insurance.

So, it’s best to obtain private medical insurance during these three months. The following are the requirements needed to access medical insurance:

  • You must apply for health care
  • You must apply for a health insurance card to use free public health insurance. It’s best to do this as soon as you arrive in Canada.

How do I access healthcare services?

As a newcomer in Canada, you probably won’t have a family doctor to call when you need medical assistance. So, if you don’t have a doctor yet, you can use walk-medical clinics. Walk-in medical clinics provide similar healthcare services as family doctors, but you can’t make an appointment as you would with a medical doctor.

You will have to wait, and the medical doctors you will see will change from time to time. However, they come in handy to meet your medical needs if you are new and have yet to have a family doctor. They provide the same health care services and refer you to specialists when necessary.

The downside, however, is that the wait time for walk-in clinics is usually long. So, do your research and choose a clinic with less traffic and a fast response time.

The best clinics display live wait times on their website or app. Doing this will help you gauge the amount of time you will spend waiting, so it’s best to choose clinics like this.

Secondly, you can access medical services over the phone. Depending on your province, you can call a nurse and discuss your symptoms. After this, they will diagnose you and give directions on what to do for treatment.

Also, note that you can’t visit a specialist without a recommendation or referral from your primary health care practitioner. Therefore, it’s best to call a nurse who will refer you to a specialist if your condition requires it.

How do I get a family doctor?

Although the number of doctors in Canada keeps increasing, many families don’t have a family doctor because finding one can be challenging. But don’t let that deter you; it’s possible to find a family doctor easily with the right procedures.

First, you can use Google maps. Search for family doctors near you and call them. You may contact tons of doctors before finding one, as many may tell you they are not accepting new patients.

Also, stay updated on new doctors who are just starting out as they are likely to be more open to accepting new patients. If this doesn’t work, look on your province’s College of Physicians’ websites to find doctors in your area.

You can also sign up for specific services in different provinces to find a doctor. When you register with them, they will be on the lookout for doctors accepting new patients in their area.

You can combine all approaches for a more efficient process. One of these methods will work, so doing them simultaneously will help you achieve faster results.

How to make an appointment with your doctor

The next step after finding a doctor is to book an introductory appointment. It requires registering, presenting your health card, doing some paperwork, and introducing yourself to the doctor.

Depending on your doctor’s schedule, you may have to book appointments several weeks before the meeting. However, if you have an emergent medical issue, you may be able to see your doctor on the same day. If not, you can visit a walk-in clinic.

Seeing your specialist

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need a referral to see a specialist in Canada. This prevents overbooking from people with special medical conditions. Therefore, get a referral from your primary health care provider to see a gynaecologist, dermatologist, podiatrist, or as the case may be. Your specialist will pick a date and time that works for them, and you can reschedule if necessary.

Note that your provincial health coverage covers the specialist’s date. However, treatments that are considered cosmetic or voluntary are not covered. Additionally, other health care services like massage therapy, vision care, chiropractic treatment, etc., are mostly covered by an external health care plan which could be an employer or a university.

Finding health care during emergencies

If you have a medical emergency, visit the emergency room closest to you. You can also call 911 for help— calling 911 is free in most provinces, although some sections charge for an ambulance. Also, wear a medical bracelet if you have a medical condition to notify doctors about the medical issue. So, request a medical bracelet from your doctor to avoid complications during emergencies.

Accessing private healthcare in Canada

You can pay for treatments and appointment costs if you do not qualify for free health care in Canada. Health expenses can be costly, so it’s best to obtain insurance to save money.

However, you can hire private health care services if you don’t have insurance. But personal health services have restrictions.

For example, federal law prohibits private clinics from providing services covered by Canadian Health care. Due to the limits, most Canadians only seek private health services for cosmetic or voluntary procedures.

However, although the wait times for MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and other scans can linger for months in public hospitals, it’s shorter for private clinics.

Getting supplementary health care insurance

As stated earlier, provincial health care doesn’t cover all medical costs. So, you may need to obtain supplementary health care insurance at some point. Below are services provincial health insurance may not cover:

  • Dental care
  • Physiotherapy
  • Prescription medications
  • Opticians and glasses etc.

While the public health care service may cover 70% of health insurance, you may pay 30% personally. You, your employer, or your university may pay for the 30%.

Many Canadians own supplementary health insurance to cover the health expenses the provincial health care doesn’t cover. So, it’s best to obtain supplementary health insurance. This includes additional health insurance from your employer or college.

How to Obtain an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) Card:

The procedures involved in obtaining a health care card differ from one province or territory to the other. However, in this article, we will discuss getting a health insurance card in Ontario. Follow these processes to download your health care card:

  • Download the Application Form
  • Download the form online and print a copy.
  • Go to a Service Ontario Centre
  • Visit the local ServiceOntario Centre with your printed application form. You can book an appointment in advance to do this. However, note that you can’t apply online; you must walk into the centre to do it.

You will need three original documents of the following:

  • Proof of your legal immigration status
  • Canadian birth certificate (if you are a Canadian citizen)
  • Permanent resident card
  • Permanent residence confirmation
  • Canadian immigration identification card
  • Landing record
  • Evidence that you live in Ontario. This includes:
  • An Ontario driver’s license,
  • income tax assessment,
  • Original utility bill,
  • Monthly bank account statement
  • Mortgage and lease agreement

You also need a document that confirms your identity. This includes:

  • A valid passport from your state of origin
  • A valid Ontario photo card
  • Employee ID card
  • Permanent residence confirmation


Accessing healthcare could be challenging for a newcomer in Canada. Therefore, we provided a detailed explanation on how to find appropriate health care in Canada. Use the information in this article to find a doctor, specialist, walk-in clinics, and adequate health care during emergencies.

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