Having a family doctor has sure changed since I was a child. Back then, we had one family doctor and my brother and I had a pediatrician and we were committed to them like we were all married. And they were good doctors, they knew us and they had a bedside manner that went beyond just diagnosis and treatment. So I guess you could say it was quite a happy marriage.
My dad still has a family doctor who has been great to us, and fits him in at the last minute if he happens to call one morning for an appointment. He’ll see him the same morning itself and never keeps him waiting more than a few minutes.
I, on the other hand, am experiencing a different situation since getting married (to a man, not a group of doctors, this time) and moving around over the last few years. Now that we’re settled with a baby in a fairly new area, we’re finding that everywhere we go walk-in clinics are in the majority. There’s one almost in every plaza or mini-mall. And many of them also advertise “accepting new patients!”
My brother-in-law and husband never had a family doctor, preferring to always go the walk-in clinic route their entire time in Canada. Maybe they’d go to the same walk-in doctor if they had a good relationship with him but they’d never commit to filling out the form and signing on to have him as their official family doctor. And this is the route my parents-in-law had also gotten used to during their time in Canada, whereas they’d had the same family doctor for decades in India.
Since we settled together in our new home, however, I had the brilliant idea of having one family doctor for all of us, including Pookie, and committing from the get-go. While I was pregnant, I found the closest pediatrician to our home and got a referral for Pookie to be seen by him for his initial check-ups when he was still a newborn. Why not have our official family doctor at the same clinic, I thought?
Never mind that we waited over 45 minutes to see that pediatrician when we’d already made an appointment that day—I was still willing to commit to the clinic. When I called the clinic about a family doctor, they gave me the names of two doctors that were accepting new patients and told me to pick one. That’s it—I had to make the choice based on the name, so I just picked one. We made an appointment to meet him as a family and we all went.
That was not a good appointment. I don’t think he was a bad doctor but he was way too clinical. It was like talking to a textbook. Also, he wasn’t very sensitive to my mother-in-law, who has quite a bad case of white-coat syndrome, which makes her shake every time she’s seen by a doctor. He said she needed a litany of tests that middle-aged women need to get (which I knew was never going to happen if she had any say in it), she freaked out, and she never went back to see him again.
Scratch that; she did go back one more time when she, my husband, and I took Pookie to the same clinic when he flipped out the first time he had teething pain. At that time, the same doctor just confirmed to us that Pookie didn’t have an infection and that “it can be taken care of by parenting.”
I sort of know what he was trying to say, but implying there was a lack of parenting at our house didn’t come off well when we’d just heard our baby screech in a way he’d never done before. My husband, though, wasn’t quite so willing to give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Luckily, I later found out that the form I’d filled out for that doctor to be our family doctor wasn’t valid—I think I forgot to sign it or something—so all was well that ended well.
Aside from not being a good fit, it turns out that particular doctor only has office hours when we’re never available because of Pookie’s routine. It seemed absurd to me that the clinic wouldn’t give us this other important information about the doctor before asking us to commit to someone just based on their name.
In the months that followed, we only took Pookie to that clinic for his shots on a walk-in basis. If we hadn’t started his vaccinations there and it wasn’t such a pain to transfer his records to another clinic, we’d probably not go back. But for his 4-month shots, the walk-in doctor turned out to be someone we really liked. She examined Pookie well, answered all our questions, and it was clear she was also a parent.
I later tried to make an appointment with her for Pookie’s 8-month well-visit, hoping the receptionists wouldn’t tell me she wasn’t taking new patients and then ask me to pick again between the other two doctors—one who we’d never met and the other who we kind of didn’t like. But we ended up seeing the doctor we like and asked her if she’d take Pookie on.
Not only did she readily agree when I explained how we ended up in front of her; she was also happy to take our whole family on. She was absolutely great in that we saw her within 2 minutes of arriving at our appointment versus and hour-and-a-half for previous doctors whom we also saw by appointment. And she was so reassuring to us and sensitive to Pookie (who missed his nap and was wailing). My MIL, who joined us for this appointment, was also comfortable asking her all the questions she had regarding Pookie.
My MIL still preferred to do all her medical tests and get her prescriptions filled with her family doctor in India but I think she felt relief that this was the first doctor we saw at this particular clinic who was easygoing and empathetic. Although I’ll definitely take her up on her offer to be my new family doctor as well, I think my husband and brother-in-law will forever take the walk-in route.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I prefer signing on with a family doctor because:
- I like having one physician who knows me and my medical history—this is especially important for children, whether or not their primary care provider is a pediatrician
- You build a rapport with your doctor, and sometimes that’s what gets you appointments at the last minute if you need them, or emergency phone consultations
- If you ever have to be hospitalized (like when giving birth) you’ll be asked umpteen times who your family doctor is. If you don’t have one, get ready to repeat your history to every doctor and nurse who needs to know
- If you have a complex medical history, it’s not only advantageous for you to have one primary doctor, but also the universal health care system (i.e. OHIP in Ontario)
- A good family physician will recommend preventative care and screening tests
If you just want to walk-in to a doctor when you feel sick, some reasons may be:
- You prefer not committing to any doctor, and/or don’t like going to the doctor unless really necessary
- You may move around a lot and don’t wish to settle down with one doctor
- If you live in a place where you have to pay for each doctor’s visit, walk-ins tend to be cheaper (that’s often because the doctor on duty tends to spend less time per patient)
- The convenience factor—no appointment needed, and you can go to any clinic that happens to be open. Many walk-ins are open late evenings and on weekends as well
- You may find it quicker and easier for a walk-in doctor to refill a prescription instead of signing on with a family doctor who may recommend tests first
We happened to meet this doctor who we really like via the walk-in, so there’s nothing wrong with “test-driving” several different doctors in this way before you commit to one. In fact, it’s a better idea to do it that way than to sign on with someone in an eenie-meenie-mynie-moe style like I first did.