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Canadian healthcare – How the system works

Last updated on December 17, 2023

Let’s learn about the Canadian healthcare system, including medicare, funds, and health services of this North American country.

Canadian healthcare system

Canada has a universal health care system that is funded through taxes. This means that any citizen or permanent resident of Canada can enroll in public health insurance.

Each province and territory has a different health plan that covers different health products and services. There are some important differences between each plan, so it’s a good idea to find out and make sure you know what your insurance and plan cover.

Once your province or territory enrolls you in their health system, you will receive a health card. Show this card at hospitals or medical clinics for non-emergency services.

In general, with public health insurance, you won’t pay for:

  • Most healthcare services.
  • Emergency medical services, even if you do not have a medical card (there may be some restrictions depending on your immigration status).

Criteria of the Canadian healthcare system

  • Publicly-funded: means funded by public funds.
  • Universal: means universality, universality, and all people are covered by health insurance.
  • Nonprofit: means no profit purpose.
  • Single-payer: means the government is the sole health insurer, paying doctors and hospitals to provide basic medical services to the population.
  • Portability: flexibility, which means that when you move to another province, you will still be covered by insurance in the old province for 3 months to give you time to register a new card in the province you are moving to.
  • Accessibility: accessibility, i.e. government providing all citizens with reasonable access to medically necessary services. Access should be based on medical needs, not the ability to pay. Rich and poor are treated equally.


The Canadian healthcare system is the responsibility of both the federal and provincial governments. The federal government is responsible for setting the general direction and providing the health budget for the province, while the provincial government is responsible for implementing and operating the health system for the people in the province.

The Canadian healthcare system is decentralized by the need

The provincial government categorizes medical needs into two categories: primary, secondary, and advanced.

Primary Health Care Services

A basic medical need is a medical examination by family doctors and general practitioners. Illnesses such as colds, fevers, and simple coughs to more serious illnesses such as mild allergies, aches, and pains, some psychological treatment, children’s examination…etc.

If your family doctor or general practitioner cannot treat you, they will send you to a specialist for further treatment. Family or general practitioners usually work in local clinics (Clinic). You have

You cannot see a specialist in person without a referral from your GP.

Canadian healthcare – How the system works

Secondary medical needs (Secondary Services)

For some relatively complex patient conditions that cannot be handled by a general practitioner, a secondary medical service will make matters easier for you. This is a service performed by specialists in a variety of departments such as psychologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, ENT doctors, and surgeons in different departments.

In addition, secondary medical needs include medical and surgical treatment of cases that require specialist intervention. Services require the most professionalism and complexity of all medical services, such as cancer treatment, neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery, trauma treatment, etc.

After you have been treated by specialists, they will schedule a follow-up appointment. If they think you’re fine and don’t need to go to a specialist, they’ll send you back to your GP.

Canadian healthcare – How the system works

Other needs (Supplementary services)

Some of the additional health benefits often include prescription drugs out of the hospital, dental care, vision care (glasses for nearsightedness), medical equipment and tools (prosthetics, wheelchairs, etc.), etc) and the services of other medical professionals such as physiotherapists.

In the provinces they only provide coverage for certain people (eg, the elderly, children, and low-income residents), if you fall outside of these categories, you have to pay out of pocket. money for those services.

In order not to have to pay for these additional services, you can use insurance companies. Usually, when you go to work, you will be purchased by the company for insurance packages included in the employee care policy of each company. Otherwise, you have to buy an insurance plan for yourself.

The real story when using Canadian healthcare services

When you have a baby.

When my wife had a baby after doing a home test, my wife went to the GP and said β€œI think I am pregnant”. If you don’t have a GP, you can google for Walk-in Clinics that come in and say the same thing. In both cases, they will use specialized equipment to diagnose that you are indeed having a baby.

After determining correctly, they will enroll you in the system, the doctor will do a preliminary examination and start the procedure to transfer you to the hospital to see an obstetrician. The hospital will be chosen by you to accommodate the move. The hospital you choose to visit will also be the hospital where you gave birth to your baby.

During 7-8 months of pregnancy, we will go for an ultrasound and have regular antenatal check-ups according to the appointment of an obstetrician at the hospital. Now we don’t see the family doctor anymore.

As your due date approaches, your doctor will provide you with information and guide you through the steps you need to take on the day of labor. In some hospitals, the doctor who examines us will be the midwife. If not, you can rest assured because the whole team of doctors will share the patient’s condition with each other and everyone can deliver your baby.

After the baby is born, you will see the doctor at the hospital a few more times depending on the doctor’s request. The specialist will then return you to your GP and from here on any problems, questions, or diagnoses you will make an appointment and see your GP for treatment.

In case you need surgery.

I have a friend who suffers from leg pain due to the nature of her job, which requires a lot of standing. After going to the family doctor for examination, X-ray, and diagnosis, the family doctor sent her to a chiropractor at the hospital.

When he went to the hospital, after the specialist made the diagnosis, he suggested that he need surgery. I don’t know why I need surgery but the doctor’s conclusion is that. After thinking about it, she agreed and made an appointment for surgery.

Before the surgery, the surgery center called to schedule an examination, in fact, for the surgeon to meet the patient and check before surgery. Then they emailed the information to prepare as well as the advice on how to abstain from eating very carefully.

On the day of surgery, she also did not register and said her name and appointment. They changed clothes and prepared for surgery. Especially before the surgery, the whole surgical team including the main surgeon, assistant, anesthesiologist, and nurse will come to see the patient and discuss the surgical process.

Nurses will do pre-operative procedures such as asking questions about Covid as well as questions about medical history, allergies, etc. In general, they do a very thorough job.

They estimated the surgery time to be 1 hour and 50 minutes, and at 3 pm it was time to leave the hospital, it was true that it was time to leave and my friend was discharged. The special thing is that after surgery, the anesthetic wears off and your friend wakes up, not lying down until the medicine is gone.

After that, my friend returned home to recuperate and went to the family doctor as usual.


After reading this far, you probably have an idea of ​​how Canadian healthcare system works. Once you understand that, now you can find yourself a family doctor and register immediately. Don’t wait until you have a fever or cough to go to the hospital, they will take a long time to handle it.

Because even if you have a fever, you’re not an emergency, they’ll prioritize resources to deal with bookers and emergencies first.

Thank you for reading all my posts. Please donate to me if I have helped you to add more interesting knowledge.


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