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5 things you might not have considered when choosing a doctor

The question: My doctor has recently retired. I'd like to use the opportunity to find a new doctor. It's been so long now, but what are some factors I should consider in making my decision?

The answer: Your family doctor should be a trusted source of health knowledge that gives you guidance regarding medical decisions. Having a trusting and respectful relationship with your doctor is incredibly important, as you need to feel comfortable sharing personal information that may effect your health and your family.

While clinical expertise, professional standing and rapport are all key factors we all look for, here are a few other things to consider when choosing your next family doctor:

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1. Is their office conveniently located?

When we're sick, you want easy access to health care, so keep in mind the location of your doctor's office. You want a location that is convenient and accessible (easy parking or subway access). Some of my patients choose our office because it's located downtown near their work, so if they need care, they can come by during their work day. Alternatively, having a doctor close to home may be important to you, especially if you have small children and need quick access in your own neighbourhood. Check out your provincial College of Physicians and Surgeon website for their search tools, which use your postal code to find the closest clinics to your home or workplace.

2. Does this doctor have a specific scope of practice?

While most family doctors in Canada provide general care to all ages of patients, some do choose to narrow their scope of practice to an area that they have honed an expertise in. For example, if you have a young family with kids, ask about your doctor's comfort in seeing children. If you have a special need such as a chronic pain condition or require counselling support, some doctors may have an interest in these areas, which may help you feel more comfortable in seeking their care.

3. How available is your doctor?

Find out when your doctor works during the week. Do they offer after-hours services and same-day care if needed? You should also find out if they work in a group practice with other doctors, or on their own in a solo practice. If they work in a group setting, they will often cross-cover for each other when they are away, so it ensures more availability to you.

4. Does age matter to you?

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Consider the age of your doctor: It may be important to you and even impact your confidence in them. Some patients like to see older physicians, given the experience they may have. Others prefer seeing newer graduates, as they may have more up-to-date information.

5. Language needs?

If English is not your your first language, looking for a doctor who speaks your native tongue will help you communicate your health problems with more ease. If finding a doctor who speaks the same language is not possible, ask if the clinic has translating services available to you.

Ultimately, the search for a family doctor is a very personal one: Find someone that you can trust; is available to see you in a convenient location; will be there when you get sick; will give advice on preventing illness. While it can be challenging to find a doctor due to shortages in our health-care system, this is a vital relationship that you may have for many years to come. To find the best fit for you, choose carefully and be honest about what you are looking for in a doctor.

Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens' Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael's Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women's Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.

Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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