Who Should I Go To?
There are several different ways to access health care and health advice within Australia, and these may be quite different from the ways you do so at home.
Below is a list of the most frequently used service providers within Australia's health care system. It's worth taking a couple of minutes to get familiar with these, so that you know who to contact for any health issues you might have.
- Doctor/General Practioner
You should see your local doctor (also called a general practitioner or GP) for all non- emergency health issues. DO NOT go to a hospital emergency department unless you really are having a health emergency. Emergency departments at hospitals in Australia aren't designed to provide care for everyday health problems, and if you are not an emergency case you may have to wait for many hours before a doctor or nurse is free to see you.
All doctors are fully qualified and trained to treat both immediate and ongoing illnesses, and to provide preventative care and health education for all patients, regardless of their age, gender or cultural background. They treat general health issues such as colds, flu, minor injuries and diabetes, and can also provide advice about many other areas of health, such as sexual health, drug and alcohol use, diet and weight control, sleep problems and mental health. However, if your doctor feels you need treatment from a specialist (eg a physiotherapist, counsellor, gynaecologist, psychologist, health worker or gastroenterologist), they'll give you a 'referral note' to a specialist who will be able to help you.
You can find your nearest doctor by using any of the usual search engines on your computer or smart phone: simply type in Medical Practitioner Adelaide. NHSD Directory is just one example of an online GP directory. If you've booked your Overseas Student Health Cover through Allianz Global Assistance, they have a handy feature on their website which lets you search for a doctor in your area who direct bills. Just go to the OSHC website and click on the 'Find a Doctor' tab.
Direct billing is an arrangement between your health insurance provider and your doctor (or another medical facility), in which the doctor sends the bill for their services directly to your health insurance company. This means that you don't have to put in a claim with your insurance company. However, it's important to remember that direct billing doesn't necessarily mean you will have no payment to make - it just means that the part that your OSHC pays is automatically deducted from your bill, and if there is a 'gap' (also called a co-payment) between what the service costs and what your insurance has already paid, you will have to pay for that.
As an international student, you can make an appointment with any doctor that you like. However, because not all doctors direct bill, it's best to check this when you book your appointment.
If possible, you should try to stay with the same doctor throughout your time at University, as this means that all of your medical records will be in the same place and you can have continuity of care. If you're based at the North Terrace or Waite Campus, the University Health Centre is an ideal choice.
When you choose which doctor you want to see, it's best to check with their surgery to see whether you need to make an appointment. If you go to a small surgery with only a few doctors, you'll probably have to make an appointment, but in large medical centres you may simply wait to be seen. When you make an appointment, you don't need to tell the receptionist what it's for.
- Remember to take your OSHC card to all your appointments.
- When you make an appointment, it's okay to ask for a female or male doctor if it makes you feel more comfortable.
- You can always take a friend or relative with you when you see the doctor.
- If you don't feel comfortable with the doctor you're seeing for any reason, the next time you make an appointment you can ask to see a different doctor.
- If you feel embarrassed about having to talk to your doctor about some problems or symptoms, remember that your doctor has very likely heard everything before, and is there to help you and not judge you.
- Take your time during the appointment - once you start talking, it will get easier. It can also help to take notes into the appointment with you, so that you remember what you need to ask about.
- Doctors often run late because patients can take longer than their allotted time. You can call ahead to see if this is the case for your doctor, or take some reading materials with you to keep you occupied.
- Don't assume your appointment will run late! Arrive on time if you can, or let the surgery know if you're running late
- If your doctor says something you do not understand, it's okay to ask for clarification
- Always tell the truth. If your doctor asks you questions about your lifestyle - for example, about your sex life or whether you have used drugs - it's important to be honest, as it could affect your health. They won't judge you, and what you tell them is confidential unless they think someone is at risk of serious harm.
- Out-of-Hours Doctor/ Home Doctor Service
If you need to see a doctor outside of your doctor's usual opening hours, you can call 13 SICK (13 7425) to request a home visit from a doctor. Doctors booked through the 'Home Doctor Service offer direct billing, so you will simply need your OSHC card. Almost every suburb in Adelaide is covered by the Home Doctor Service, but if you’d like to make sure the service is available in your suburb you can visit their website.
HealthDirect provides easy access to trusted, quality health information and advice both online and over the phone. It's available 24/7 and can help you make informed choices about your health, anywhere and at any time.
If you need health advice but it's not an emergency, call Healthdirect and ask to speak to a registered nurse. They will give you expert advice on how to manage your condition at home. The nurse can also connect you to an emergency service if necessary, or to an after-hours GP helpline for further medical advice in the evenings and on weekends.
The HealthDirect number is 1800 022 222. This is a free call from landline phones, but charges may apply from mobiles.
Visit HealthDirect for online information.
Your doctor won't give you medication during your appointment. Instead, they'll give you a prescription, which you'll need to take to a pharmacy (also called a chemist) so you can buy your medication there. You can also buy non-prescription medicines such as headache tablets from a pharmacy.
However, a pharmacy is more than just a place to buy your medication from. Pharmacists can:
- advise you about how medicines should be taken, or used in the safest and most effective way to treat common problems.
- advise you about both over-the-counter and prescription medicines, including which ones to choose, how they'll help with your condition, how much to take, how they can interact with other medications, and what their side effects are.
- choose, give advice on and supply non-prescription medicine, sickroom supplies and other products.
If you have a question that does not necessarily require a trip to the doctor, your local pharmacist may be able to help.
Only go to the hospital if you're having a genuine health emergency - not for a cold or any other general health complaint that can be dealt with by your doctor. Emergencies can include extremely high fevers, broken bones, seizures, injuries that need stitching, heavy bleeding that can't be stopped by applying pressure, or large burns.
In an emergency, dial 000 and when the operator asks you whether you want the police, fire or ambulance service, ask for an ambulance. Standard OSHC will cover transport by an ambulance when this is medically necessary for admission to hospital or for emergency treatment, if you have an accident or an unforeseen illness that requires immediate medical attention. If you are unsure whether your situation is an emergency and you are with OSHC Allianz Global Assistance, you can call their 24-hour number for advice and assistance; this number is listed on the back of your OSHC card.
A specialist is a doctor who focuses on a particular area of medicine, such as the heart and blood vessels (cardiologist), pregnancy (obstetrician), musculoskeletal system (rheumatologist) etc. If you visit your General Practitioner and they recommend that you see a specialist, they either will give you a 'referral note' that will let you make an appointment with the specialist, or make the appointment for you. As always, check your OSHC policy to see what's covered before you go ahead with any specialist's appointments, as if they are not covered they may be quite expensive.
- Allied Health Professionals
The Australian health care systems includes ‘allied health care providers’ as well as doctors. These are tertiary-trained professionals who work to support your medical care. Examples include physiotherapists, osteopaths, speech pathologists, chiropractors, podiatrists, dietitians and psychologists.
In general, unless you've taken out an additional insurance package alongside your Overseas Student Health Cover, appointments with allied health practitioners aren't covered by your OSHC. In all circumstances, it's worth checking your policy before making an appointment to make sure you don’t get a bill you can't afford to pay.
Another helpful organisation is the Multicultural Centre for Women's Health. This is a national, community-based organisation that is aims to advance the health and wellbeing of women through leadership, education and advocacy. It's led by and for women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, and international students are welcome to contact them. If you need a health resource in a language other than English, you can contact their Library Coordinator to request it.