3 tips for getting care when you can't see your doctor

Personal · May 26, 2022

This article was re-posted with the permission of Postmedia Network. It was originally published on Healthing.ca on April 12th 2022.

From virtual care to after-hours clinics, there are ways to get urgent medical attention when you need it most.

The best possible care is with a doctor or care team that knows your medical history and understands you, your lifestyle, and your values. Studies show people with a consistent doctor have better care, fewer trips to the hospital, and may even live longer.

But what if you are away from home? Or you can’t see your usual doctor? Or need after-hours care? Of course, if you feel you have an emergency or life-threatening health issue, you should go to the emergency department. Otherwise, there are steps you can take to help you and your loved ones receive the best care at the right time and in the right place.

Try your doctor’s office first

If you have a family doctor, many offices or care teams have after-hours and urgent clinics. Even if your doctor is away, colleagues in a practice will often cover for each other. Your doctor’s office can also help you decide how soon you should be seen for a new concern.

Remember, your doctor or care team can see urgent issues as well, as it helps us care for you longer-term. Consistency has benefits. For example, an issue that may seem like a recurrent infection on a single visit could actually be another diagnosis if taken in context. The best care is with your usual doctor or with a connected team that can bring together your entire history.

Virtual care can assess urgency

If you are not able to see your usual doctor or care team, many communities, provinces, and companies have virtual care services. Virtual care can allow people to speak with a health professional at any time of day or not to help assess the urgency of an issue, as well as begin a treatment plan. In many cases, electronic medical notes can be securely shared back to a person’s medical home. Some communities have special virtual services, such as Toronto’s Virtual Emergency Department , helping people avoid a trip to the emergency room for concerns that are urgent, but not life-threatening.

Most importantly, virtual care provides Canadians with access despite the many usual barriers in seeking care, including travel, timing, or other competing life priorities like work, school, childcare, or caregiving. Walk-in or urgent care clinics are also an important safety net for people who do not have a family doctor. If you have a question related to a specific medicine you are taking, consider checking with a local or virtual pharmacist.

When looking at these options, be mindful that there are benefits and limits to addressing health concerns virtually or in-person. When I assess a new rash in a toddler, for example, I can share a more accurate diagnosis if I see them in the office. Not only can I better examine the rash, but I can also see how well the toddler appears. I can look at their throat and ears, listen to their heart and lungs, and feel their belly. All of these steps allow me to evaluate various diagnoses. Other times, a few high-resolution photos of a rash are enough. Ask your care team what to do if you are unsure of whether a visit is best done virtually or in-person.

Circle back with your regular doctor

When visiting a new doctor, it’s important to make sure that your care is connected to your main team by asking for a copy of the visit note to be shared with you or sent to your usual doctor. There are many ways doctors and care teams use secure digital tools to share medical information with consent. This simple step helps your usual doctor understand what happened and when, as well as whether your new concern is related to other parts of your health. This awareness leads to a shared understanding of your health and improves your care longer-term.

Needing health care quickly can be stressful, but these strategies can help ensure the best possible care for yourself and your loved ones.

Dr. Dominik Nowak is a family doctor and a recognized leader in primary care and health systems strategy. As Chair of the TELUS Medical Advisory Council, Dr. Nowak is a trusted advisor to TELUS and other Canadian organizations in supporting health policy that is based in science and compassion. He is also a faculty member in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. 

Authored by:
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Dr. Dominik Nowak
Chief Medical Officer at TELUS Health; Chief Medical Advisor at TELUS

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