by Mariko

Navigating Montreal’s medical system can be a challenge. This guide aims to inform students, visitors, and residents about how and where to access professional medical care.

Montreal Healthcare Networks, Hospital & Clinics 101

Healthcare Networks

Montreal has two major healthcare networks: the Centre hospitalier de Université de Montréal (CHUM) and McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). Established in the 1990s, both networks comprise of various teaching hospitals. (Click on the links to view the list of hospital names in each network.) While both will often have bilingual staff, the CHUM is more francophone, and MUHC more anglophone in nature. These hospitals tend to be larger than others in the city, have more resources with advanced technology, and are equipped to handle more severe cases.


The Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS) and Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre (CIUSSS) were established in 2015, and provide healthcare and social services free of charge to residents of Quebec who hold a valid health insurance (RAMQ) card. To find the closest CISSS/CIUSSS, insert your postal code here.

Local community services centre (CLSC)’s are an integral part of the CISS/CIUSSS, providing routine health and social services, preventative or medical services, rehabilitation, and reintegration services as well as public health activities.

To find the closest CLSC, insert your postal code here.

Hospitals and clinics that are part of the CISSS/CIUSSS offer a broader spectrum of services from medical check-ups, post-surgery care, house visits, and social support to those in need.

Private Clinics

Consultation typically starts at $80 (varies by clinic) and additional fees may apply depending on services received. Waiting time to see a professional and to receive test results are typically expected to be faster than publish establishments. Some clinics offer a mixed model, providing RAMQ covered services as well as services that must be paid out of pocket. Ask the right questions at reception before seeing a medical professional to avoid unexpected fees.


Where To Seek Care

Which service to use and where to go depends on the nature of the issue and the level of urgency.

  • For general guidance:
    • Call 811 Info-Santé to connect to a nurse 24/7. It is free of charge and a professional would able to assist on what to do and where to go, if necessary.
  • For non-urgent issues:
    • Inquire with the nurse at 811 for over-the-counter and DIY remedies. Inquire about the appropriate waiting time and the symptoms that should arise before considering a visit to a clinic or the Emergency Room (ER).
  • For non-urgent issues that require in-person professional assistance:
    • Create a free account on Clic Santé to schedule appointments with healthcare professionals, receive vaccinations, medications, medical imaging, and more.
    • Consider going to a private clinic. Consult their website and schedule an appointment accordingly.
    • Have a family doctor?
      • Phone or use the Carnet Santé portal to set an appointment with the family doctor.
    • Don’t have a family doctor?
      • An appointment for a family medicine doctor can be made free via the Quebec Medical Appointment Scheduler as long as the patient has a valid RAMQ card.
      • Consult the closest CLSC to see if walk-ins or appointments in the next coming days are available.
      • Refer to the section below on how to obtain a family doctor.
      • Note: To consult a specialist, a referral from a family medicine doctor is required.
  • If urgent:
    • Go to the hospital emergency room (ER).
    • ER’s are especially suitable when clinics are closed or swift diagnostics (blood/urine tests or imaging) are required.
    • Consider language, waiting times, location, and specialty when choosing a suitable hospital.
  • If extremely urgent:
    • Dial 911 for an ambulance.
    • While the government covers a portion of the cost and private insurance may alleviate further expenses, a base fee of $125 applies for ambulance transportation to a hospital. More information can be found here.


What to Bring

  • Insurance Information
    • RAMQ card
    • Out-of-province insurance card or;
    • Private insurance policy number and phone number
  • Wallet (with some cash if possible)
  • Cell phone
  • Entertainment (book, eReader, tablet, computer, earphones)
  • Chargers for electronic devices
  • Extra clothing
  • Deodorant
  • Snacks


What To Expect at the ER

  1. Check-In:
    • Upon arrival, provide your insurance information to the staff. Some will omit this step by having a queue number by the entrance instead and will ask for the patient’s insurance information later.
  2. Triage:
    • A nurse will call your name or number. Explain the issue, when it began, and any pertinent information (history, pain description, etc). Vitals (blood pressure, body temperature, oxygen level etc.) will be checked.
  3. Medical consult:
    • A professional will delve deeper, providing medical care (offer guidance, run
      diagnostics, write a prescription etc.) as necessary.

Sidenote: The last time I was at the ER (Oct 2022), it took an hour to see the triage nurse and another hour to see a doctor. Following the doctor’s advice, I chose to proceed with their recommendation to secure an appointment at a clinic the following morning, effectively averting an extended stay at the ER.


Steps to Securing a Family Doctor

To secure a place on the waiting list for a family doctor, follow the steps outlined on the Quebec family doctor finder. An option while on the waiting list is to inquire with the local CLSC and CISSS/CIUSSS to see if any family doctors are accepting new patients.

No RAMQ Coverage?

  • If the patient is enrolled in a Canadian public insurance plan but not RAMQ (eg OHIP, MSP):
    • Notify hospital/clinic staff immediately. Some institutions may accept the card, although paying upfront may be required. This website discusses which services are covered outside of Quebec for RAMQ holders. Search for similar web pages from the government website pertaining to the card.
  • If the patient is from abroad and is enrolled in a private insurance policy:
    • Advise the insurance company immediately of the situation. They may be able to inform which medical establishments are covered by their policy. Keep the policy number and insurance company’s contact details handy so insurance personnel can be contacted, prior to undergoing treatment.
    • Notify medical staff and follow the guidelines set forth by the insurance policy.


I hope that this guide serves as a valuable resource to better understand Montreal’s medical system from how to select the appropriate hospital/clinic, prepare for an ER visit, and secure a family doctor. The key first step is to dial 811 to receive expert guidance tailored to your needs.