Canadian Healthcare: First Report

I’m not a big fan of going to the doctor for reasons that I will narrate in another entry, probably when I finally visit a primary care physician.

But I go when I must, and indeed an ear infection (“external otitis” as I would later learn) and an overdue flu shot were enough to motivate me to make a visit. Quebec has these lovely neighborhood clinics called CSLCs. It is possible to make appointments, but like everywhere else (including my primo healthcare in the US), you’ve got to wait a bit. However, you can also walk in during office hours and be seen in the order that you arrive. They can see about 16 patients a day, so I guess I’ll want to make sure I get there early from now on.

Now, FINDING my local CLSC was a bit of a trick. A google search for “CSLC” and “Montreal” gives you nothing useful, and is also a bit unreliable. I did eventually call one in the right region, and they directed me to the one closest to me. It would be a few minutes’ walk, though I drove since I had to go buy office paper and bass strings after my doctor visit. Upon arriving, the security guard told me where to sign in, and the receptionist spoke good enough English that I didn’t have any problems. I could see a doctor today, no problem, but no slots for flu shots were available until January 6th. The main problem with waiting is that I would have to face my mom in Minnesota without having had my annual flu shot.

The waiting rooms and examining rooms look quite similar to the family practice clinics I’d visited over the years in the US. Except that the staff wore street clothes. They all had special tags so I knew they were staff, but none of the white coats and blue scrubs here. I waited about 15 minutes after signing in, saw a triage nurse who made a “hmmm” noise when she looked in my ear which suggested that I did indeed need to see a doctor. Her English wasn’t that great, so we communicated in a broken Franglais, but she was very nice and helpful. I learned that “la salle” (which just means “room” in the dictionary) can mean “waiting room” at a doctor’s office, and so did she. I waited another 40 minutes and had the pleasure of working through an advisee’s dissertation chapter, and then finally got called in to see a doctor. She spoke very good English and gave me the same examination and made the exact same noise when she looked in my left ear. I got my prescription. I also asked if there was any way they could sneak me in for a flu shot. She talked to a nurse and within moments I was getting the shot. 15 minutes and $10 later (and they were very apologetic for charging me) I was out the door with a prescription and a flu shot. Later, at the pharmacy, I paid $18 up front for the ear drops, which will be reimbursed by my insurance company.(1)

All in all, when you add up copays and the like, today’s experience cost me less than it would in the U.S., and the difference is that I would have to be privately insured in the US to even have the privilege of paying for the “copays.” Here, I could have been anybody and gotten the same level of care. And I didn’t need an appointment.

The quest for a regular “primary care physician” is still on, though. My Canadian friends don’t recommend going to CSLCs for anything much more serious than what I had today, but everyone who’s new in town (and some who aren’t) have complained to me about the difficulty of finding a “regular” doctor. I was pretty surprised to find that people who have been living here for quite awhile sometimes don’t have a doctor to whom they refer as “their” doctor. I have a tip, though, and I’ll report back on that saga in January, when I try to get an appointment for an annual checkup.

Carrie’s encounters with the health system are a little more interesting and elaborate, since she’s diabetic. But if she ever has a guest blog, you’ll hear the story from her. The short version is that she spent a lot of time early in the fall figuring everything out, getting insulin pump supplies is a little more bureaucratically complicated here but can be done, the care seems decent enough. Except that the hospital where she went looks like ass compared to the shiny, gleaming private hospitals in the U.S.

We have not yet rented Barbarian Invasions.


1. On top of provincial insurance, Canadians can get private insurance to cover additional things, like costs of medicine, private hospital rooms, insurance abroad, etc. McGill offers such insurance as a benefit, and you’d better believe that both Carrie and I took it. Especially after I broke a 103 degree fever in Barcelona a couple years ago. It was like my own personal SARS.

2 replies on “Canadian Healthcare: First Report”

  1. Must be the season for ear complaints; the two solid days before Xmas I spent unable to hear anything from my right ear were charming in the extreme.

    I hope y\’all are having a good break. Are you in the Cities, or back in Quebec?

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