As children grow, parents will frequently turn to their child’s primary care provider for guidance about their little one’s health. Choosing a doctor for your child can feel like an enormous undertaking, and your medical care options may vary based on your province, town, or territory.
Choosing a Pediatrician or Family Doctor
A pediatrician is a doctor that specializes in the health of children; after attending medical school, they undergo an additional four years of studying to properly understand and care for babies, children, and youth.1 Pediatricians provide a wide range of services to families with children:1
- Provide primary care,which is the day-to-day work of helping children get better from being sick or injured and helping to keep them from getting sick in the first place. This includes physical exams, vaccinations, and ensuring that children are reaching their growth and development milestones. Another part of primary care is referring families to other doctors for more specialized care
- Investigate, diagnose, and manage illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and mental health.
- Researchthat contributes to helping other babies, children, and youth across Canada.
- Work with other professionalsincluding child protection workers, teachers, and psychologists in order to provide the best care for children and to ensure that babies, children, and youth are safe and healthy.
- Advocate for childrenby speaking with community and parent groups, writing articles and papers, and providing advice to politicians so that they can make informed decisions that improve health services for babies, children, and youth.
However, not every child in Canada sees a pediatrician, and not all pediatricians perform the same day to day tasks. For example, in Alberta, pediatricians don’t give routine vaccinations.1 In fact, more children see a family doctor as their primary care provider.1 In large cities like Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnipeg, and in the province of Quebec, routine care is commonly provided by pediatricians.1 Children in British Columbia, Alberta, the Maritimes, and areas outside large cities and urban areas will visit family doctors who will refer a child to a pediatrician for a more complex health issue, in order to capitalize on their specialization, but will still remain involved in their care and treatment.1,2
Whether you take your baby to a pediatrician or a family doctor, they will monitor your little one’s growth and development during a series of well-child visits.3 These visits are similar to the annual exams you get as an adult, but happen for babies at the age of 1 week, and then again at 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, and 18 months of age and once a year between the ages 2-5 years o ensure that your child is developing properly.3
When to Choose a Pediatrician?
It is a smart idea to begin your search for a primary care doctor for your child while you’re still pregnant. This way, you can ask question about any questions you may have before your baby comes.3 In some cases, your family may already see a family doctor who will care for your baby once it’s born. Getting an early start on your search is paramount to finding a doctor for your child.
Otherwise, you can find a doctor by asking your family and friends about the doctor they visit for their children’s health. If your local hospital has a family practice unit, they may be able to help you find a doctor for your baby.3 You can also check with your province’s college of physicians and surgeons, which have referral services to help people find doctors that are accepting new patients.2 In Canadian territories, this same service is provided by the Ministry of Health.2
Other Healthcare Options for your Child
Most provinces and territories have toll-free health lines that parents can call to speak to a registered nurse about your child. These nurses can help you understand your child’s symptoms and decide your best first step.2 Calling these health lines may be a stopgap in between doctor visits, but some parents may find that they’re having a difficult time finding a doctor in the first place. In many areas of Canada, like Ontario, there is a shortage of family doctors, and it may take parents a long time to find a doctor.4 In smaller areas, pediatricians may only accept patients that have more complex needs or require a specialist.4
Family doctors and physicians are the foundation of the healthcare system in Canada, but are in short supply, creating a gap between supply and demand.5 From this shortage, digital platforms have arisen, with the aim of providing families across the country with online pediatric care from experts via virtual consultations.6 Virtual care has risen in popularity with patients as well as healthcare providers, and patient care coordinators provide live support and handle referrals, follow-ups, prescriptions, and lab requisitions.6
While telehealth has been a wonderful addition to the Canadian healthcare system, it cannot be overstated that some pediatric appointments need to be in-person, especially when your child is still very young.
Depending on the family medicine practice or pediatrician that you choose to go with, you may still have to bring your child into a physical office for check-ups, even if the bulk of your interactions with a doctor are via telehealth.
Finding a doctor for your baby can be tricky, so it’s best to start your search early on in your pregnancy to ensure that you can find a provider that you feel comfortable with.