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Going to hospital and seeking medical advice in Australia

Young international student with a broken leg sitting on the side of a basketball court

Rest easy knowing you’ll be looked after in Australia

Young international student with a broken leg sitting on the side of a basketball court

Getting sick is not something you want to think about when you're exploring a new country. Unfortunately, sickness and injury can occur anytime and anywhere. That's why it's important you know exactly what to do if you get sick while in Australia.

In your home country, you may be used to visiting a hospital when you’re sick. This is not the case in Australia, and if you visit a hospital when you don’t need to, you risk extremely long waiting times. In Australia, sometimes you won’t even need to leave your house to speak to a medical professional!

As an international student, you may be required to hold Overseas Student Health Cover as part of the terms of your visa, but how do you navigate the Australian medical system?

This guide covers some of the most frequently asked questions about how, when and where you can access medical care.

Where should I go first?

To ensure you get the fastest and most efficient medical care, there are different places you can visit depending on your health issue. If you’re mildly unwell or have a medical question, speak to a registered pharmacist at a pharmacy or chemist – they will be able to prescribe some medicines, or advise you on where to go next.

If your health concern is more serious (but you do not require urgent medical assistance) and you want to see a doctor, you will need to arrange to speak to a GP.

What's a GP?

GP stands for general practitioner, and they generally work out of a medical practice, clinic, or they can treat you over phone or video. In Australia, this is your local doctor who can treat you for a wide range of illnesses and injuries. A GP is typically the first person you should see if you have a medical concern, including if you need mental health support. Do not visit a hospital to see a GP.

As an nib member, you have access to the 24-7MedCare General Practice (GP) Telehealth service as part of your cover. This means you can speak to a GP or another medical practitioner without having to leave the house, and you don’t need to waste time in a waiting room. You can easily book an appointment using your nib App.

If you require more specialised care, your GP can write you a referral to a specialised doctor. They can also issue you a medical certificate if you miss work or class due to illness. It’s especially important that you get a medical certificate if you need to ask for an extension on any assignment deadlines.

If you book an in-person appointment at a medical practice or clinic, make sure you check their opening hours. Opening hours vary between GPs, so it's good to be aware of when your local GP is available.

Looking for support at home? nib foundation partner, batyr provides mental health support to over 2,200 university students through their [email protected] program. batyr program participant and international student, Linh, shares her story.   

Credit: nib health

When should I go to the hospital?

You should go to the nearest hospital if you urgently require medical assistance, even if it is not a life-threatening emergency. For instance, if you suspect that you’ve broken your arm, you should go to the hospital emergency department.

Don't go to the hospital for minor illnesses or injuries that can wait.

Don't go to the hospital for minor illnesses or injuries that can wait to be treated until you can see your GP. Hospitals in Australia prioritise patients based on the severity of their symptoms, so if you come in with a minor injury or illness, you may wait a long time to be seen by a doctor.

What if I'm in an emergency?

The emergency number in Australia is 000. This is the number to call for the fire department, ambulance services and the police.

You should only call this number in an emergency; it’s not an advice hotline.

Always call 000 if you or someone else is experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing or is losing a large amount of blood.

What if I don't know what to do next?

If you're not sure if you should go to a hospital or your GP, you can contact Health Direct.

Health Direct is a 24/7 health advice hotline available free of charge to everyone. For general medical advice outside of GP hours, you can call the hotline on 1800 022 222. Health Direct
lets you speak with a nurse who will assess your symptoms and tell you what to do next.

Do not call Health Direct in an emergency.

How can I be prepared in case I get sick?

If you do get sick or injured, you don't want to be worrying about your health insurance on the way to the hospital. There are several steps you can take to ensure you're prepared in
case you become ill.

  1. 1

    Make sure you have the nib mobile app installed on your phone and that your details are up to date.

  2. 2

    Download your nib card onto your phone. This way, you always have your card with you, and you can claim directly via your phone.

  3. 3

    Read through the details of how to make a claim. This will ensure that you already know what to do to claim your health insurance benefit if you need to access medical care.

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