Access to health-care specialists, medical test facilities and specialist clinics often requires a physician's referral. Here's what you need to know once you've got the go-ahead from your GP.
Q: What's the best way to navigate waiting lists for in-demand diagnostic imaging tests, such as MRIs and ultrasounds?
A: Your position on the waiting list often takes into consideration your level of urgency. Inform your doctor of any changes in your condition, as they may influence your expected wait time. Consider the following strategies for faster service.
• Some diagnostic facilities run 24 hours a day. Inform the test centre that you're available at any time – day or night.
• Ask to be contacted if a patient cancels, or call the test centre yourself to check for cancellations.
• Investigate test facilities in another community.
Q: How long will I have to wait for a test?
A: Wait times vary considerably by procedure and location – even between facilities in the same city. Consult the websites of local test centres and your provincial health department for wait time data.
Q: Who pays for diagnostic tests?
A: Most medically necessary tests ordered by your doctor and performed in an approved facility are covered by your provincial or territorial health plan. In Quebec, you may have to pay if your doctor opted out of the provincial health insurance plan.
Tip: Some tests that are not insured by medicare may be covered by private insurance providers.
Q: Where will I be sent for a doctor-ordered test?
A: Hospitals, community health centres or specialist clinics such as laboratory testing clinics or X-ray and imaging clinics. Private clinics not covered by medicare may perform tests for a fee.
Tip: Don't forget to bring a signed copy of your doctor's referral to your scheduled appointment.
Page 1 of 2 – Learn more about private health clinics and where to turn for mental health services across Canada.
Q: Why would I consider going to a private clinic?
A: Convenient locations and shorter wait times are two reasons some in Quebec opt for a private lab, says Lisa Rostoks, spokesperson for laboratory testing company LifeLabs. Clinics like the Canada Diagnostic Centres (CDC) in Calgary will see you within one to three days for most procedures, but it comes with a price tag: An MRI at their clinic is $775.
Q: What if the specialist I need isn't located anywhere near my community?
A: Your primary health-care provider may arrange a TeleHealth appointment for you. From a private room at a participating health-care facility, you may speak with a remote specialist through a direct interactive video link. This service is covered by medicare.
Where to find mental health services across Canada
If you are faced with a mental health crisis or concern, consult the Canadian Mental Health Association at cmha.ca for a listing of all the clinics and help centres available in your region.
A look at the numbers
The Canadian Medical Association estimates 644,000 Canadians access the health-care system every day. Here's how those patient visits break down:
• Family doctor consults – 361,000 patient visits/day
• Specialist consults – 142,000 patient visits/day
• Tests/diagnostics – 103,000 patient visits/day
• Emergency rooms – 32,000 patient visits/day
• Hospitals – 6,000 patient visits/day
Why communication is key
When being treated by more than one health professional, it's important to keep all members of your health-care team informed of your progress – especially your family physician. Encourage your health providers to communicate directly with each other to avoid any potentially harmful interactions or conflicting treatments.
"Specialists will always answer your questions, but they won't always anticipate them. It's up to you to bring a list of questions to each appointment so you get the answers you need to feel comfortable." – James Doyle, associate editor
"When your doctor asks you about the medications you're taking, give her the complete list. Over-the-counter drugs count, whether you're on Aspirin, Tums or Zantac." – Doug O'Neill, executive editor
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