Tired of Waiting For Hours For Care Because of Long Emergency Room Wait Times?  Learn How to Keep Away From the ER This Cold and Flu Season

Understanding Ontario’s Healthcare System

The healthcare system in Ontario can get overcrowded during the cold and flu season. It becomes hard to see your family doctor, and walk-in clinics can get so busy that they stop taking patients, which leaves you to deal with long emergency room wait times… for HOURS

Isn’t there a better way? I believe that understanding the healthcare options available to you, and making use of them at appropriate times will help relieve the burden on hospital emergency rooms. It will help our healthcare system function smoothly and also allow you to get the care you need when you need it without waiting forever in a crowded waiting room.

There are 4 levels of healthcare in Ontario which include: 

  • primary care
  • non-urgent care
  • urgent care and 
  • emergency care 

Each level should be used for different reasons and has a different purpose, though they all overlap in places. They also share the common purpose of keeping Ontarians healthy. If you’d like to check out more information on this topic, check out the Ministry Of Health website or the Government of Canada website which is where my information came from.

1) Primary Care

Who Is Your Primary Healthcare Provider?

Your family doctor is your primary care provider. They are your first contact, so to speak. They know your medical history and follow any long-term health issues to ensure consistent and effective treatment. You visit them for annual exams, check-ups, and they can recommend you to a specialist if you need to see one. They also know your family medical history and can help you be on the lookout for symptoms so that you can catch things early.

When Should I Use Primary Healthcare Services?

You would visit your family doctor for ongoing issues that aren’t urgent. According to the Government of Canada website, you would use primary healthcare services for:

  • prevention and treatment of common diseases and injuries
  • referrals to/coordination with other levels of care (such as hospitals and specialist care)
  • primary mental health care
  • palliative and end-of-life care
  • health promotion
  • healthy child development
  • primary maternity care
  • rehabilitation services

 You would also go to them for annual check-ups, and long-term health management. You would use them when you have a concern about symptoms, or when you need to be referred to a specialist. You should also visit them after receiving care from a walk-in or urgent care clinic, to update them on what’s going on.

Primary care providers are most able to prescribe medication to you as they know your history and current medications. You will also develop a relationship with them over time, which will make you feel more comfortable and safe to tell them about what may be affecting your physical and mental health.

Family doctors and primary healthcare providers are more likely to be the ones to catch and diagnose long-term illnesses like arthritis, as they can monitor your symptoms over time.

2) Non-Urgent Care

Your family doctor is a non-urgent care provider, but if you aren’t able to reach them you still have options. For all non-urgent reasons, meaning it isn’t necessary to be seen within 24 hours, you can visit a walk-in clinic to be seen. 

Some examples of non-urgent issues could be:

  • minor infections
  • Rashes
  • stomach upset
  • minor bruises and cuts etc… 

Many walk-in clinics also provide primary care options for those who don’t have a family doctor. Some can refer you to a specialist, perform annual check-ups and many other services. Click to view a list of the services offered at the Riverbend walk-in clinic.

During the pandemic, things may operate a bit differently, so you should check out the clinic website to make sure that they are accepting patients with your symptoms. For example, Riverbend Pharmacy and Medical clinic and Deveron clinic are not accepting any patients who have covid symptoms. If you need care and do not have covid symptoms, you can visit the Riverbend walk-in clinic.

3) Urgent Care

The third level of healthcare in Ontario is urgent care. These are health issues that should be seen within 24 hours or may require specialized tests like an ultrasound. Sometimes it is things like more severe infections or sprains/fractures that your primary care provider could handle, but if you can’t get a same-day appointment, then you really should go to an urgent care clinic to get looked at as soon as possible. Sometimes these things happen when your family doctor’s office is closed, too.

Most often an urgent care clinic is named as such, for example, the St.Joseph’s Hospital Urgent Care Centre which is located in London, Ontario, and they are often open in the evenings and on weekends so that there is an option available to you besides the emergency room most of the time.

Urgent care clinics often have labs and/or imaging equipment to provide x-rays, ultrasounds, blood work etc… They help to keep the emergency room wait times down to a minimum because they can offer these medical services and technology.

Be sure to do a quick Google search to get a list of walk-in clinics and urgent care clinics near you. If you are located in London, Ontario then be sure to visit our Riverbend Walk-In Clinic the next time you need non-urgent care but can’t get in to see your family doctor.

4) Emergency Care

The final tier of healthcare in Ontario is emergency care. This is the highest level of healthcare available. It includes paramedic services and hospital emergency rooms. 

According to the Ministry of Health, emergency care should only be used in potentially life-threatening situations. 

Some possible reasons to need emergency care are:

  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe injury
  • Uncontrollable and/or persistent vomiting

Please note that this list is not exhaustive. There are many life-threatening situations out there, if you feel that you need emergency care, go to the closest hospital right away. 

It’s always a good idea to plan out which hospital is the closest and how you’d get there before an emergency happens so that you can access it as quickly as possible in the event of an actual emergency. You can also call 911 or the paramedics if an ambulance is needed.

Many people will go to the emergency room for issues that are urgent, but not life-threatening simply because they don’t know where else to go. This is what causes long emergency room wait times and overwhelms our healthcare system.

That’s why it’s so important to understand Ontario’s healthcare system and the options that are available to you to get the proper care without all the wait times. 

It is also a good idea to get vaccinated for the flu every season to keep you and your family safe and healthy. You can book your flu vaccine appointment at Riverbend Pharmacy now to do your part in keeping our community safe, and keeping you away from the emergency room this flu season.

Keeping Healthy At Home

Another piece to this puzzle is what you can do on your own to better your health and save yourself from having to use the healthcare system as often as possible! 

Making sure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals, keeping stress levels low, and exercising often are all ways to help keep you healthy and out of the already overwhelmed healthcare system.

1) Supplements That Boost the Immune System

In my last blog, I talked about which foods help to boost the immune system. The problem is that not everyone has time to cook and other people are picky eaters. What can they do to ensure that they are getting the vitamins and minerals that they need if they can’t or won’t eat them?

Well, they can take supplements. The problem is that there are so many options it can be overwhelming. 

Which supplements help boost the immune system? 

According to Healthline, several supplements have been scientifically proven to boost our immune systems which include: Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin C, Elderberry, Curcumin and garlic.

Vitamin D which is sometimes called the sunshine vitamin, helps your white blood cells fight off the bad stuff. It also reduces swelling (known as inflammation) in the body. Many people are vitamin D deficient and would benefit from taking a supplement. 

Research has shown that taking a vitamin D supplement may prevent you from getting a respiratory tract infection. It’s also good for mental health, your bones and can help prevent some cancers and diabetes.

You can buy Vitamin D at most pharmacies including Riverbend Pharmacy or you can purchase it online from the Pond Mills Pharmacy online store.

Zinc reduces inflammation like Vitamin D but it is also essential for the development of immune cells. If you are zinc deficient then you’ll be more likely to get respiratory infections. If you take zinc while already sick, it can reduce the amount of time that you are sick. You can buy zinc from the online store if you are too busy to come into the pharmacy.

Vitamin C increases your body’s ability to fight off infections, it is an antioxidant and it helps your immune system clear out the dead cells to make way for new healthy immune cells. 

According to scientific studies, taking vitamin C regularly can reduce the length of time that you are sick with a cold and also help you heal more quickly from a respiratory infection. 

Buy it online here

Elderberry supplements often come in liquid form like cough syrup and can be purchased from health food stores. They have antibacterial and antiviral properties and have been proven to reduce the length of symptoms experienced by individuals who have influenza and upper respiratory infections. 

If the berries aren’t cooked properly, or if you take too much then it could potentially damage healthy cells. They are still researching to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks of taking elderberry but in the meanwhile, they suggest only using elderberry for short periods, like when you are sick.

Curcumin which is found in turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory. This means that it is very effective at reducing swelling in the body. According to some tests performed on animals, it may also help boost the immune system.

You can purchase curcumin from Riverbend Pharmacy or online from Pond Mills pharmacy

Garlic is an anti-inflammatory and an anti-viral. It helps to boost the immune system by increasing the production of some white blood cells. It hasn’t been researched on humans much, though and needs more research to determine how effective it is.

2) Reducing Stress Levels and Excercise

Our lives are always stressful to a degree, but during the pandemic the average person’s stress levels have sky-rocketed. Human beings weren’t meant to be isolated, we were designed to live together in communities and socialize. This has been tough for everyone. 

Many people used to reduce their stress by participating in a community group or playing sports for fun. These people have had to find other ways of dealing with their stress, and it has been tough.

For some quick stress-relieving tricks that you can use throughout your day, read my last blog. You should also consider a meditation app like Headspace or moving your exercise routine from the gym into your home for the winter. 

If you are feeling very stressed, overwhelmed or may suffer from depression, you should reach out to your family doctor or visit the Riverbend walk-in clinic and we can put you in touch with the right professionals to get your mental health back on track and get you feeling like yourself again.

By understanding how the healthcare system in Ontario works, knowing the different healthcare options available to you, providing your body the right vitamins and minerals, keeping stress levels in check and exercising regularly, you should be on track to keeping healthy and avoiding long emergency room wait times this flu season. You will also be a part of the solution to reducing those long ER wait times, so give yourself a pat on the back.

Until next time stay safe, healthy and happy,

Nathalie Jolivet

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