Nearly one million people in B.C. don’t have a family doctor — roughly one in five.
Health experts say having a primary care provider is better as they can get to know you and your medical history, monitor changes in your health through the years and provide continuity of care.
The B.C. College of Family Physicians suggest ways to look for family doctors, including:
• Registering for a family doctor or nurse practitioner at the Health Connect registry.
• Checking with your local Division of Family Practice.
• Visit the Pathways Medical Care Directory.
• Ask family and friends if their doctors are accepting new patients.
• Check with your neighbourhood clinics to see if they have waiting lists.
If you’re still searching for a family doctor and have a medical concern, here are your options:
If you don’t have a family doctor, you can visit a walk-in clinic. HealthLink B.C., a provincial telehealth service, has a search tool that lets you find listings for health services, including walk-in clinics, hospitals and emergency departments. You can also use Medimap to find a walk-in clinic near your area.
As its name implies, most walk-in clinics don’t take appointments and take patients on a walk-in, first come, first served basis. Unlike at a family practice clinic, where you’ll have a doctor for continuous care, you may not see the same physician each time you visit the clinic, as most walk-in clinics have multiple doctors who work on a rotating schedule.
Sometimes clinics offer a walk-in and family practice hybrid. Ask your walk-in clinic provider if they’re accepting new patients or if you can get an appointment with one of their doctors.
Tip: Be prepared for long waits and go early. Some walk-in clinics may close early.
Urgent Care Centres
If it’s not an emergency but you need medical attention within the day, Urgent and Primary Care Centres are an option.
The provincial government set up UPCC centres with the goal of providing care for people with non-life-threatening conditions who need to see a health-care provider within 12 to 24 hours but don’t need an emergency department. Some examples of conditions that can be treated at the centres include: Cuts that need stitches; skin, sinus or lung infections; and new mental-health issues.
Vancouver Coastal Health operates six UPCC centres — four in Vancouver, one in North Vancouver and one in Richmond — while Fraser Health has seven, including two each in Surrey and Burnaby and one each in Port Moody, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford.
For information about UPCCs in other parts of B.C., visit HealthLink B.C.’s directory.
For after-hours when walk-in clinics and UPCCs are closed, the emergency room may be the only place to go for treatment. Waiting times can be long. Patients are assessed by a triage nurse and are seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner based on the assessment.
For waiting times at emergency rooms in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Sea to Sky and the unshine Coast, you can check edwaittimes.ca/WaitTimes.aspx.
In recent years, B.C. gave pharmacists more prescribing powers, a move meant to address a shortage of family doctors that make it difficult for patients to refill prescriptions.
Pharmacists can now prescribe medication for a number of minor ailments, including acne, allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, dysmenorrhea, fungal infections, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, hemorrhoids, nicotine dependence, urinary tract infections and others.
811, operated by HealthLink B.C., is a great resource for people who need health information, and who want to talk to a health professional instead of just Dr. Google. The free 24/7 service is available across B.C. When you call, a health service navigator will connect you with a registered nurse, registered dietitian, a qualified exercise professional or a pharmacist, depending on your need.
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