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The role of a neurosurgeon

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Neurosurgeons perform surgery to correct disorders of the brain, spine and nervous system.
  • You will need a referral before you visit a neurosurgeon, which may come from your family doctor (GP) or another specialist doctor.
  • How much you pay a neurosurgeon will depend on the type of care you receive, where you receive the service, and whether you have private health insurance.

What is a neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgeons, also known as brain surgeons, are doctors who specialise in the surgical treatment and management of conditions that affect the brain, spine and nervous system.

Neurosurgeons must complete specialist training in neurosurgery, which can take between 5 and 9 years. Some sub-specialise in areas such as children (paediatric neurosurgery), the treatment of cancers (neuro-oncology) or spinal surgery.

Neurosurgeons are different from neurologists, who are specialist physicians that treat conditions and diseases of the brain and nervous system, but do not perform surgery.

When do I see a neurosurgeon?

Neurosurgeons are involved in preventing, diagnosing and treating disorders of the brain, spine and nerves. They also treat and manage conditions that affect the flow of blood to the brain. As well as performing operations, they may be involved in a person’s rehabilitation after treatment.

Common reasons why people need neurosurgery include:

What should I expect during an appointment with a neurosurgeon?

An appointment with a neurosurgeon will usually start with a discussion. Your surgeon will ask you about your condition and general health, your symptoms and any previous treatments you’ve tried for your condition. Your neurosurgeon will also want to see any scans or medical images you’ve had, so be sure to take them along, or ask your GP to send them ahead of time. Your neurosurgeon may also ask to conduct a physical examination.

Your neurosurgeon is there to provide you with the best treatment for your condition. Part of this, is to assess if surgery is the best course of treatment for you. They will be able to tell you more about your diagnosis, treatment alternatives and the best course of care.

If you need surgery, your neurosurgeon can also help you set expectations for surgical outcomes.

How can I find a neurosurgeon?

Usually, your doctor will recommend a surgeon to you. You can also use the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia’s Find a surgeon search tool. The tool allows you to search by location or name. The search function also has a list of sub-specialties and allows you to look for a neurosurgeon who specialises in the type of surgery you need.

It can sometimes take months to get an appointment with a neurosurgeon in private practice for a matter that is not urgent. If it is urgent, your general practitioner can try to help you schedule an appointment so you are seen more quickly.

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

What questions should I ask a neurosurgeon?

It is important to share all relevant information with your neurosurgeon. 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 neurosurgeon?

You need a referral before you can make an appointment with a neurosurgeon. It is important to get a referral, as it contains important medical information for your surgeon. It also means that the neurosurgeon can update your referring doctor of all decisions and findings after your visit.

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 neurosurgeon cost?

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

Out of hospital care

If you see a neurosurgeon 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, the treatment is free.

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 neurosurgeon 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 who provide you care, such as an anaesthetist. If you have private health insurance, it may cover some of these costs.

Asking about costs

It can be expensive to see a specialist, such as a neurosurgeon.

Before you go for the first time, ask the neurosurgeon 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, you can:

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

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

Last reviewed: January 2023

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