Doctors and specialists
What are the different types of medical practitioners?
How do I find a GP and will I have to pay to see them?
How do I find a psychologist and will I have to pay to see them?
Resources for support with mental health concerns
I have been told I need to see a specialist or get a specific treatment. What will I need to pay?
I need to go to a dentist, what are my options?
Managing my healthcare
Help and support
Do you have a symptom or medical issue and aren't sure what it means?
I have been prescribed a new medicine or treatment, what should I ask my doctor?
What to expect when you are going into a hospital?
What is a carer or treatment plan?
Concerned about your treatment?
A health consumer is anyone who uses health services in Australia, as well as their carers and family. Carers are also health consumers with valid experiences as an active part of the care team along with the patient. Health consumers share their lived experiences with service providers to ensure that the best start to care is provided.
At a national level there is the Consumers Health Forum (CHF) with the following state-based bodies:
- Health Consumers NSW
- Health Consumers QLD
- Health Issues Centre (Victoria)
- Health Care Consumers Association ACT
- Health Consumers Council (WA)
- NT and SA currently do not have state peak bodies, if you are from either of these states and want to get involved in consumer advocacy, you should contact the Consumers Health Forum.
In Australia, there are four main types of medical practitioners.
- General practice doctors (GPs), who are often the first point of contact with medical concerns (your traditional doctor)
- Specialist doctors, who have a particular area of focus in medicine (surgeons, neurologists etc)
- Allied health professionals who are not “doctors” but provide treatments and services that complement and support ongoing medical treatment. (physiotherapists, psychologists, pharmacists etc).
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners are primary health care professionals providing high-quality, culturally-safe, clinical care services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
If you want to find out more about the types of medical professionals, Vic Health has created a helpful guide here.
When going to a GP clinic there are 3 types of payment models
- Bulk billed (covered by Medicare at no cost to you)
- Private billing (a set out-of-pocket rate for consultations)
- Mixed billing (depending on your circumstances, GPs may choose to bulk bill but will otherwise have out-of-pocket costs)
Doctor's practices that bulk bill will not charge for most treatments but are limited to treatments covered by Medicare. There are some practices that will bulk bill some people depending on their circumstances, but ask for a co-payment from others.
You should always ask what sort of billing is available when you book your appointment.
GP profiles on a clinic’s website is a great way to narrow down which doctor to visit. You can learn more about the age, gender and interests of GPs working at a clinic from these GP profiles.
If you are struggling to find a bulk billing GP, you can use the Health Direct website
You can also use the Department of Health’s Medical Cost Finder to get a rough idea of how much a treatment could cost.
What is involved in seeing a GP? Watch this video from ReachOut: What's involved in seeing a GP?
The best place to start is by seeing your GP. They can help you set up a Mental Health Treatment Plan and give you a referral so that some or all of the costs can be covered by Medicare.
You do not need a referral from your GP to see a psychologist.
Some centres like headspace or Community Mental Health Centres do not charge a gap fee so you will not have to pay anything. Look for Community Mental Health Centres in your area.
What's the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
ReachOUT has a good resource about finding a psychologist and what to expect: What do psychologists do
Australian Psychological Society’s videos about finding and choosing a psychologist:
- How to find a psychologist (Australian Psychological Society)
- Questions to help you choose a psychologist (Australian Psychological Society)
- Search tool to find a psychologist (Australian Psychological Society)
Health Direct: Caring for someone with a mental illness
Head to Health is a free government service that connects you with health and support you need to keep you mentally happy.
Beyond Blue provides 24/7 support for people affected by anxiety, depression and suicide.
Someone.health provides telehealth consultations with psychologists. Your appointments are covered by Medicare if you have a Mental Healthcare Plan.
headspace: online and phone support for young people
Reachout: online, anonymous and confidential help to understand wants going on for you and suggestions for services in your area
Lifeline provides 24 hour support - phone 13 11 14
Kidshelpline provides 24 hour support for young people aged 5 - 25 years. and their carers - phone 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service (phone and online counselling) — 1300 659 467
For some medical treatments and procedures your GP might refer you to a specialist. You should ask your GP about the options for the public and private health and weigh up what works best for your situation.
Specialists charge varying amounts based on a range of factors. This ABC article provides a good overview what you need to do to make sure you don't pay more than necessary.
For more information on the types of specialists and how to discuss your health situations with them check this helpful link from VicHealth.
You can also use the Medical Costs Finder Tool to get a rough idea of how much a specific treatment or procedure could cost. This tool covers the public and private health systems and a wide range of procedures and treatments.
Dental care is something that becomes more important as we age. Unfortunately, public dental care is only available to a small segment of the Australian population. You can find out if you are eligible here.
If you are not eligible for public dental care, your main options are private dental practices and health insurance. You can find out more about private health insurance dental cover here.
Choice has also published a very informative look at the costs associated with different dental procedures.
It can sometimes be hard to find services in your area, there are online tools online that can help you.
A good place to check is the Health Direct Find a health service portal. It is a national list of various health services by area. You can also use the Pharmacy Guild of Australia's Find a Pharmacy Portal.
Medicare cards are how you can access low and no cost health services in Australia, it contains your Medicare number that proves you are covered by Medicare. Generally, young people are on joint cards with their family but this is not always the case.
Anyone on your Medicare card can see your appointment history and visa-versa, for some this is a major motivator to some young people to obtain their own personal card.
You need to be over 15 and an Australian citizen, a New Zealand citizen or a Permanent Resident to apply for your own card.
Services Australia has a helpful step by step guide to setting up your own Medicare card.
Eighteen is the age when a person is considered an adult in the health system. This means moving away from child-based services and using adult services. If you have a healthcare team they should be helping you with this transition.
Being responsible for your healthcare means:
- Making your own appointments
- Setting your own goals
- Being motivated to look after your own health and wellbeing
- Knowing your healthcare team and the role they have in your care
- Deciding when and how you should access healthcare
- Speaking up about what you want
- Knowing your condition and the impacts on your everyday life
Some useful resources:
Raising Childrens’ Network - Teens with chronic conditions: adult care
Trapeze - Stages of transtion (Sydney children's hospital network)
QLD Health - Transitioning to adulthood (health.qld.gov.au)
Women and Children’s Hospital Network SA - Transitioning to adult health services
NSW Health - Moving to adult health services for young people with intellectual disability
Royal Children’s Hospital - A resource for parents and carers of young people with intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder.
MyHealthRecord (MHR) is an online portal that allows you to access your health information such as vaccinations, medical records and the like.
You can access it through your MyGov account using this link. This is an important hub for much of your medical history, discharge summaries, referrals, test results and covid vaccination status. You are able to control what your doctors and medical practitioners are able to see.
Headspace has prepared a helpful resource for understanding MHR and how to control your own health records.
Australia has a two-tiered system of healthcare, the universal system known as Medicare, and the option to pay for private health insurance.
Learn about the differences in public and private systems. You can be listed as a dependent on your parent or carers’ card until you turn 31.
Plans and prices for private health insurance are very complicated, so we recommend you use Choice, a consumer review hub, to help you choose private health cover, if you think it is right for you.
One thing to keep in mind with health insurance in Australia is the Lifetime Health Cover (LHC) and age-based discounts.
- LHC is an initiative to encourage young people to get private health insurance by making it progressively more expensive to start a plan once you are over 30 years old. You can find out more here.
- 18 to 29-year-olds can get access to a discount depending on how old you are when you first take out cover. You can find out more here.
If you have a complaint about your insurance provider, you should contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman for complaints.
The HealthDirect Symptom checker can help identify what steps you need to take next. It is not an exhaustive list of symptoms but it's a good place to check if you aren't able to seek more immediate medical advice.
If you are concerned or unsure, you can speak directly to a registered nurse at HealthDirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). This service is available 24 hours a day and can help you make decisions about whether you need to seek medical attention urgently, or wait for a GP appointment.
When you are prescibed a new treatment or medication, it is important to ensure that these are right for your situation. Choosing Wisely has developed a helpful resource: 5 questions you should ask your doctor.
If you do not feel comfortable with a treatment or its potential impacts on your health you can consider seeking a second opinion.
If you have any questions about your medication and its impacts, you can call the 1300 Medicine - 1300 633 424 (Monday to Friday 9am-5pm)
If you have a bad reaction to your medication you can call the adverse medicine events line at 1300 134 237 (Monday to Friday 8am-8pm) for advice.
If you think you have taken too much of a medication, you can call the poisons information centre on 13 11 26 at any time.
Going to hospital for treatment is often an intimidating process, particularly if you haven't done this before. Your experience can vary greatly between different hospitals, states, and the public and private system.
Hospitals in Australia are generally state government supported and dependent on the policies of their respective state governments.
Vic Health’s Better Health Channel has produced a helpful guide for what to expect when you are admitted to hospital. It is worth keeping in mind this resource focuses on the Victorian health system, but it is still relevant and helpful for other states.
Sometimes your doctor will work with you or your carer to develop a care plan or treatment plan. These plans outline the health issues a consumer has and the services that they would like to use to manage it.
It can cover a wide range of services and will help in covering the cost of your care. Depending on the objective of the plan it could be to manage your symptoms or progress towards recovery.
There are several types of care plans, these include:
If you would like to make a complaint about treatment you received, start with the health service where this happened to see if it can be resolved e.g. the GP practice, hospital or other health service provider.
If this is not helpful, there are two main ways to express your concerns:
- The first is the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra), the regulator for health practitioners in Australia. This is for more serious complaints where other patients may be at risk . Submit a complaint to Aphra.
- The second is the Health Complaints Organisation (HCO) in each state. They handle complaints that can be resolved with an apology or compensation. How to contact your State Health Complaints Organisation.
You can also give feedback and request a specific response from the service provider using the Care Opinion Australia website. Service providers, hospitals and health networks tend to reply and work with the consumers who raise complaints through this platform.
For more information, check out this page from ReachOut. It provides more information on medical consent and confidentiality as well as some of the information provided above.
If you would like to complain about how Aphra or another accreditation organisation has responded to your claim, you can contact the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman.
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has produced an Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights. They also have a number of handy guides and resources for understanding the charter and what it means for you.