Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

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

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Neurologist - Better Health Channel

Neurologists specialise in the treatment of the nervous system.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Finding a neurologist in regional Australia - Brain Foundation

Finding a neurologist in regional Australia can be challenging, but there are options available such as telehealth or visiting specialists.

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Movement Disorder Neurologists - Dystonia Network of Australia Inc

Read more on Dystonia Network of Australia Inc. website

Health Professional Support for MND | MND Australia | MND Australia

A team of multidisciplinary healthcare professionals can support a person with motor neurone disease to live better for longer. Learn more.

Read more on MND Australia website

Multiple sclerosis (MS) - Better Health Channel

Multiple sclerosis is not contagious, but it is progressive and unpredictable.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Brain Disorders A-Z - Brain Foundation

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune disease affecting the peripheral nervous system. It can cause weakness, paralysis, and/or pain.

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Medications - Epilepsy Action Australia

An individuals sensitivity to the effects of antiseizure medications varies

Read more on Epilepsy Action Australia website

Support For You :: Fight Parkinson’s – Together we can

Support and information can make a significant and positive difference to the lives of people living with Parkinson’s, their family and carers. Fight Parkinson’s provides a range of support services to assist in managing the condition and improving the quality of life. This includes seminars for people recently diagnosed with Parkinson's and a free and confidential telephone service operated by a highly skilled health team.

Read more on Fight Parkinson's website

Funding for adult hearing services - Ear Science Institute Australia

There are many government incentives and programs to help individuals fund their hearing implants and ear care. View what is available here.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potential (BAEP) | myVMC

A brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAEP) is an evoked potential caused by a sound, usually a series of 'clicks'. Electrodes positioned on the scalp record responses to the sounds; these are then observed as a reading on an electroencephalogram (EEG). Responses to aural stimuli originate from relay structures within the brainstem.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.