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The role of a neurologist

7-minute read

Key facts

  • A neurologist is a specialist physician who treats diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerve and muscle. A neurologist can help identify the cause of symptoms and create a treatment plan for both common and complex neurological conditions.
  • Neurological examinations consist of a whole range of tests to look at muscle strength, coordination, and memory.

What is a neurologist?

A neurologist is a specialist physician who diagnoses and treats conditions of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. This can include muscle diseases and disorders that affect thinking and behaviour.

A neurologist has completed at least 6 years of specialist training after becoming a doctor.

They are different from neurosurgeons (brain surgeons), who have specialist training in surgery of the head, spinal cord and nerves.

When do I see a neurologist?

Neurologists treat conditions that affect the nervous system, which includes the brain, spine and nerves. The nervous system controls consciousness, muscle movement, thinking and the senses, such as smell, touch and sight.

Your doctor might refer you to a neurologist for diagnosis and treatment if you have symptoms such as:

  • muscle weakness
  • dizziness, loss of balance or coordination problems
  • tingling, numbness, or changes in body sensation
  • confusion or loss of memory
  • seizures
  • certain types of severe or chronic pain

People commonly see neurologists about:

What should I expect during an appointment with a neurologist?

A neurologist can help identify the cause of symptoms and create a treatment plan for your neurological condition.

Neurological examinations can sometimes take a long time to carry out because so much in the body is controlled by the nervous system — from breathing and muscle movements to digestion and the sense of touch.

Neurological examinations follow a clear structure. They always start with a discussion, where your doctor asks you about your symptoms and any other medical conditions you currently have or had in the past (your medical history). They may also ask about your family medical history.

The neurologist will then look for visible signs of a medical condition by carrying out a neurological examination, looking at any previous test results or imaging, and focusing on any past neurological events. The examination does not usually hurt but may sometimes be a little unpleasant.

If your neurologist recommends surgery, they are likely to refer you to a neurosurgeon.

How to find a neurologist

Ask your doctor to refer you to a neurologist who has a special interest and skills in your condition or disorder.

You may be referred to a hospital neurology unit, such as a stroke centre, or to an outpatient clinic or program for a particular neurological condition.

It can take months to get an appointment with a neurologist. However, if your doctor finds that you need urgent treatment, they can often arrange for you to have an earlier appointment.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What questions should I ask a neurologist?

Before you go to your first appointment, note down any questions you have. During the consultation, ask for clarification if you don’t understand what is being said.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Do I need a referral to see a neurologist?

It is important to get a referral to the neurologist from your doctor. Your general practitioner (GP) will refer you to a neurologist who has experience or training in the condition you need treatment for. That way, your doctor can pass on useful information to assist in the examination.

If you don't have a referral, neither Medicare nor private health insurance will contribute to the cost of your care.

How much will a neurologist cost?

The cost of a neurologist visit varies greatly, depending on the type of care you receive. Factors include whether it’s in hospital, whether you have private health insurance, and on what the neurologist charges.

Out of hospital care

If you see a neurologist in their rooms, then Medicare will cover:

  • all of the costs if they bulk bill
  • some of the costs if they don't bulk bill

You can't use private health insurance for out of hospital care.

Treatment in a public hospital using Medicare

If you are a public patient in a public hospital or clinic and use Medicare, it is free. Medicare will cover all your costs.

Treatment in any hospital using private health insurance

If you use private health insurance for treatment in either a public hospital or a private hospital or clinic, you will be charged by the neurologist and by the hospital. You might also be charged for diagnostic testing, such as pathology tests, x-rays and other forms of imaging (such as an MRI, PET or CT scan), and by other doctors you see. If you have private health insurance, it may cover some of these costs.

Asking about costs

It can often be expensive to see specialists.

Before you go for the first time, ask the neurologist or their staff about the costs. You can also ask what Medicare will cover.

If you plan to use private health insurance, you can also contact your health fund.

If the costs are too high for you, you can:

  • ask the neurologist or their staff for a reduced rate
  • consider another neurologist or health service
  • talk to your GP about options, such as a different type of treatment

Resources and support

These organisations provide information about specific health conditions which might require a referral to a neurologist for diagnosis or treatment:

Visit the Brain Foundation’s website for information on things to think about when looking for a neurologist for your health condition.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2023


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