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GPs Vs Hospitals, Medicines & OSHC

A guide for International Students in Australia
July 11, 2014

What is the role of GPs & Hospitals in Australia

In Australia a General Practitioner (GP) is a doctor who works in the community, often in a medical centre or clinic. A GP is a qualified doctor who has undertaken specialised training in General Practice, and has the skills and experience to diagnose, treat, prescribe medication and coordinate comprehensive and ongoing medical care. GP’s treat colds and flu, minor injuries and a wide range of general health issues. If you feel sick or have a medical issue that is not an emergency then you should should see a GP first. 

In Australia, you should only go to a Hospital Emergency Department if you have a health emergency or your life is in immediate danger. Private Hospitals are owned and operated by a private or not-for profit organisation, and are funded through the fees charged directly to patients, or Australian private health insurance they may have. Public Hospitals provide “free” health care to Australians under the state healthcare system. OSHC providers generally cover 100% MBS listed fees incurred at a public hospital. 

Emergency medical care versus non-urgent medical care

If you need an ambulance or you have a health emergency call Triple Zero (000) immediately. An emergency is when your life is in immediate danger or you are in need of urgent medical help. If you go to a hospital emergency department and there is not an emergency, you will have to wait a long time to get help or to see a doctor.

For all non-urgent (i.e. not an emergency) healthcare, your first option should be a General Practitioner (GP). GPs will diagnose, treat, prescribe medication and manage a wide range of medical conditions. If necessary, a GP will “refer” you to a specialist, hospital or allied health provider for more specialised treatment.
International students often get confused about the role of hospitals in Australia, compared to medical centres or clinics. Kathy Matthews of Allianz Global Assistance explains, "the Emergency Department at our Public Hospitals are for Emergencies and non urgent issues can be seen at a medical centre".

Prescription Medicines versus General Medicines

Prescription Medicines: To purchase prescription medication, you first have to see your Doctor (GP), who will write you a prescription (“script”). Then you must take the prescription to your local pharmacy (chemist) where the medication will be given to you by the pharmacist.

General Medicines: There are a wide range of medicines available for purchase over-the-counter (you do not need a doctor’s prescription to buy) at your local pharmacy (chemist). Your pharmacist can help you decide which over-the-counter medicine is best for you. 

Why enrol with a General Practitioner (GP)?

A GP is your first contact person if you get in sick while you are in Australia. Your GP can talk to you about any medical conditions and how to manage them while you are in Australia. A GP can become familiar with your medical history and provide you with health advice and medicines.  Some medical practices will only allow new patients (i.e. patients that have not enrolled at the practice) to only book on the day, therefore, enrolling shortly after arriving in Australia allows students to get quick access to health care when sick.

What is OSHC and Co-payments

OSHC: “Overseas Student Health Cover” is a type of health insurance and visa requirement for all International students coming to study in Australia. OSHC ensures all International students and their dependents have access to affordable healthcare and medical treatment while living and studying in Australia.

Co-payments are also referred to as “the Gap” or an “out-of-pocket” expense. This is the fee for the Doctor’s service, minus the rebate provided by OSHC or Medicare. This amount has to be paid by you, and will not be refunded by your OSHC provider or by Medicare Australia. 

Booking an appointment with a GP

If you want to see a GP and you are in Adelaide, Globe Medical specialises in providing GP medical services to International students. You need to telephone us first to book an appointment. Our phone number is (08) 8232 7327 and you can see all of our contact details here. If you are in another city you can visit National Health Services Directory.

Remember to make sure you note the date, time and address of your appointment. If you are suddenly unable to make your appointment, contact the practice immediately so they are able to offer the appointment time to another patient. Be aware that some practices may charge a fee if you do not attend your appointment and do not notify them within a reasonable time. 

What should I bring to my doctors appointment?

  • Information about your medical history

  • List of current medications you are taking

  • List of the vaccinations you have received in the past

  • Your OSHC card and photo identification (e.g. passport of student card)

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