Finding doctors, and accessing medical care and prescriptions in Ontario

By: Dru Gary 

Published on: March 29th, 2024

Moving to a new country can be both exciting and overwhelming, especially when it comes to navigating the healthcare system. As a newcomer to Ontario, Canada, you may have questions about finding doctors, accessing medical care, and obtaining prescriptions.  

Ontario has a publicly funded healthcare system known as Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). OHIP provides essential medical services to eligible residents, covering doctor visits, hospital care, and certain medical procedures. To access healthcare services, you need to be an eligible Ontario resident with an OHIP card. 

To apply for an OHIP card, you must meet these criteria: 

a. Be a Canadian citizen or have immigration status as a permanent resident. 

b. Physically reside in Ontario for at least 153 days (approximately five months) in any 12-month period. 

c. Make Ontario your primary place of residence. 

d. Be present in Ontario for at least 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after establishing residency. 

To apply, visit the nearest ServiceOntario location and bring the necessary documents, including proof of identity, proof of residency, and immigration status documents if applicable. Once you have your OHIP card, you can start accessing medical care. 

Finding a Family Doctor 

Having a family doctor is quite essential in terms of accessing primary healthcare needs. Finding one may take some time, as there is often a shortage of family physicians. Here are some steps to help you in your search: 

Health Care Connect: This is a government program designed to help you find a family doctor or nurse practitioner. You can register with Health Care Connect online or by calling their toll-free number, and they will match you with a healthcare provider accepting new patients. 

Ask for recommendations: Reach out to friends, colleagues, or other newcomers for recommendations on doctors in your area. 

Local health clinics: Community health centers and medical clinics sometimes have openings for new patients. Visit them or check their websites for information. 

Online directories: Use online resources such as the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons’ website to search for doctors in your region. 

While searching for a family doctor, medical care can be accessed through walk-in clinics. Walk-in clinics are available in many communities and provide healthcare without appointments. However, wait times may vary and can be very long depending on time and day so it is important to plan accordingly.  

Telehealth Ontario offers free medical advice from registered nurses 24/7. They have a toll-free number that can be called at any time and individuals may speak with a nurse about your health concerns, get advice, and determine if you need to visit a doctor. 

If a doctor prescribes medication, prescriptions can be filled at a pharmacy. Most urban areas in Ontario have numerous pharmacies, and some are open 24/7. To purchase medications, there will generally be a co-payment fee which may need to be paid out of pocket, which varies depending on the drug and your prescription drug coverage. 

Ontario offers prescription drug coverage for certain demographics, such as seniors and low-income individuals, through programs like the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB). Other groups, such as those receiving social assistance, may also be eligible for coverage. Newcomers may have a waiting period before qualifying for these programs. 

Some people have private health insurance through their employer or individually purchased plans. Plans like these often cover prescription drugs.  

In Ontario, emergency services can be reached by calling 911. It is important to call this number immediately or head to a hospital with an emergency room (ER). Ontario’s healthcare system covers emergency medical services. Individuals will not be charged for essential emergency care. 

Alternative Medicines 

Alternative medicines are practices and treatments that fall outside the scope of conventional Western medicine. These approaches focus on holistic well-being, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. Some popular alternative therapies include acupuncture, chiropractic care, naturopathy, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine. 

In Ontario, alternative healthcare practitioners are regulated by various bodies depending on the therapy. For instance: 

  • Acupuncture: Regulated by the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO). 
  • Chiropractic Care: Regulated by the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO). 
  • Naturopathy: Regulated by the College of Naturopaths of Ontario (CONO). 
  • Homeopathy: Regulated by the College of Homeopaths of Ontario (CHO). 
  • Herbal Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): Practitioners may fall under different regulatory bodies. 

When seeking alternative healthcare services, it is important to do research beforehand to ensure that the practitioner is licensed and registered with the appropriate regulatory college. 

Navigating the healthcare system in Ontario may seem complicated at first, but with the right information and knowledge, you can access medical care and prescriptions effectively.  

Remember to apply for your OHIP card, register with Health Care Connect for a family doctor, and familiarize yourself with walk-in clinics and Telehealth Ontario. Additionally, explore prescription drug coverage options and don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical care when needed.  

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