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In July, a new crop of family physicians graduate. You can often locate these doctors through a university?s department of family medicine, the college of physicians and surgeons in your province and in some cases, the health ministry.

iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Question

Three years ago my family doctor stopped practising medicine and made no effort to help me find a new physician. One potential new doctor refused me because I was over 60. Another said only new patients with chronic diseases were being accepted. A third interviewed me and she practises at a clinic halfway to Banff (I'm from Calgary) but she is all I could get. What is the best way to find a family doctor?

The Answer

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Let me get this straight: You were too old for one doctor and not sickly enough for another. Now you've found one but face a long commute. Your situation makes all this talk of patient-centred care seem absurd. While doctors aren't technically allowed to refuse someone based on age, they do have the right to define their practice.

You have hit a reality faced by many Canadians: Doctors are not only in short supply but many focus on certain areas, such as low-risk obstetrics, sports medicine and palliative care as part of their family medicine practice. You're either in or you're out.

Here's a tip to increase your chances of finding a doctor: Look in July when a new crop of family physicians graduate. You can often locate these doctors through a university's department of family medicine, the college of physicians and surgeons in your province and in some cases, the health ministry. Start by going to websites that list graduating and experienced doctors taking new patients. Links can be found at tgam.ca/findadoctor.

A young new doctor can be appealing to the 35-and-under patient as the relationship could last for most of your life. Young doctors can also be good for those in middle age and up; what they lack in experience, they more than make up for in freshness and enthusiasm.

Another strategy is to contact family-medicine practices that operate out of teaching hospitals, because they often take new patients. Under this arrangement, you will always be seen by a resident, who is a medical doctor training to become a family physician. The relationship will typically last two years until the next resident takes over, but they are supervised by an experienced physician.

Once you have found a doctor, call the office and request a first appointment. Bring a list of medications and their doses. List your allergies, and have dates of hospital admissions and past operations handy.

"The meet and greet is a way for both to test the waters," said Teresa Killam, a Calgary family physician. "Is this relationship going to work? Are we compatible? Physicians do want to know specific expectations and ideas patients may have."

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They also want to know if you are seeing other health-care providers and what supplements you are taking. No doubt, they will want to know what happened with your last physician. Be honest but choose your words carefully: if too critical, you may get red flagged as a potentially problem patient. And you don't want to do anything to jeopardize being accepted into a medical practice.

"There has to be a connection and like any dynamic, not every one is workable," said Dr. Killam. "Some people will connect well and some people won't."

The Patient Navigator is a column that answers reader questions on how to navigate our health-care system. Send your questions to patient@globeandmail.com.

Online resources for finding a family doctor:

British Columbia: www.cpsbc.ca/node/216

Alberta: calgaryhealthregion.ca/doctor/index.html

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Saskatoon: saskatoonhealthregion.ca/your_health/doctors_ap.htm

Manitoba: gov.mb.ca/health/guide/4.html

Ontario: health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/public/

Montreal: www.csssouestdelile.qc.ca/en/neighbourhood-resources/medical-resources/to-consult/how-to-find-a-family-doctor/

Nova Scotia: gov.ns.ca/health/physicians/

Newfoundland and Labrador: cpsnl.ca/default.asp?com=DoctorSearch&adv=2

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Yukon: hss.gov.yk.ca/findadoctor.php

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