Hospitals and medical professionals in Australia are world class and you can expect the very best advice, treatment and follow up. Private hospitals are generally considered better (particularly in terms of waiting times and number of staff to patients) than public facilities.
Australian doctors can choose to bill you in one of two ways: Bulk Billing or Account Billing. This will be at the discretion of the doctor and will also depend on whether you are enrolled in Medicare.
Bulk billing means your doctor bills Medicare directly, accepting the Medicare benefits at cost and requiring no payment from you. This is available at all public hospitals, and is advertised by doctors and dentists who accept it.
Accounts Billing means that your doctor will charge the fee directly to you. If you are enrolled with Medicare, you will be eligible to claim back a portion of this fee (usually 85 per cent of the Schedule Fee*) from Medicare. If you have private health cover, the doctor will usually take your insurance details and bill the company directly, or will charge you the fee (which you can then claim for a refund from your insurance company).
*The “Schedule Fee” is a fee set by the Australian Government and not what your doctor charges you.
Nurses on Call is a 24-hour phone line staffed by fully trained and qualified nurses. It is government funded as a public service and will cost you nothing. Nurses On Call incorporates the former Parenting Line (a counseling and medical advice service for Mums and Dads), Lifeline (crisis counseling) and the Poisons Line (if anyone in your family has swallowed anything they shouldn’t).
You will not speak to a machine when you first call, but will listen to a 15 second recorded message on your privacy rights. Calls are answered within 20 seconds and Nurses on Call is a free call from any landline in Australia (from mobiles and payphones, fees apply).
If you have a medical emergency, you should always call 000 for an ambulance, but if you simply want medical advice (especially in the middle of the night when General Practitioner’s clinics are closed), Nurses on Call is a great service.
Nurses on Call
1300 60 60 24
Your family doctor is called a GP, or general practitioner. They will either have their own practice, or work for an umbrella company that has clinics staffed by many doctors. Appointments are commonly scheduled in 15-minute slots. If you think you will need more time, it is advisable to let the clinic staff know when you make your appointment. Some clinics do not require appointments, although it is highly recommended you phone ahead unless you have an emergency, as wait times can be very long (especially at clinics that advertise Bulk Billing).
Generally, a private practice is far preferable to the impersonal and rushed treatment you will receive at a multi-doctor clinic. Private practices usually charge more (around $60 for an appointment) and unless you are a Permanent Resident or citizen of Australia, you will not get any of this money refunded to you by Medicare, although your private health insurance policy will cover all or a portion of your GP costs.
If you need specialist care, your GP will be affiliated with a nearby hospital and will be able to write your referral. While some GPs are also specialists and will be the attending physician if you require treatment in a hospital, it is common for them to refer you to a new doctor.
It is uncommon for doctors in Australia to make house calls unless you live in a very rural area. However, as each doctor is free to operate independently, it may be possible to reach an arrangement with your community doctor to visit your home if you are sick enough to warrant it.
If you are unable to leave the house to see a doctor, you may need to call an ambulance (the emergency number in Australia is 000). Be aware that unless your insurance covers ambulance calls, you will be liable to pay the high costs yourself (ranging upwards from $1,000).