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The role of a GP

4-minute read

Your GP (general practitioner, or family doctor) is usually the first person you go to if you have a health issue. They coordinate your healthcare and can look after you through your whole life.

What is a general practitioner (GP)?

GPs are doctors who have completed training in general practice. They have broad knowledge and the skills to treat all the health issues you might have through your life. Because your GP gets to know you, your family and your community, they can provide care that is suitable just for you.

If you have a health issue, the first person you usually go to see is your GP. They will decide whether you need to see another health professional. If needed, they will give you a referral to see a specialist in a certain medical area or refer you to other health professionals. You can’t get a Medicare rebate if you see a specialist without having a referral from your GP first. If you need to see several different health professionals, your GP will coordinate your care.

GPs complete a basic medical degree and internship, then do additional medical training in general practice. This qualifies them to provide continuing care for everyone from babies to elderly people.

You can be treated by a GP at what are referred to as private practices, family practices or medical centres, in some hospitals, in residential care facilities or even via the internet or telephone.

What your GP can do for you

Your GP will give you the care best suited to your personal needs. They treat the person, not just the disease.

See your GP for:

How to find a GP

The best thing for your health is to develop a long-term relationship with a GP you trust. It is important to find someone you feel comfortable with and who you can talk to openly and honestly. 

Ask for recommendations from neighbours, friends, and family, or from other health professionals in your area. If you are looking for a GP who speaks a certain language or who understands your culture, talk to people in your community to see who they recommend.

You can make an appointment to visit the GP for a check up to see if you like them. It is better to develop a relationship with a GP before you get sick or injured. You don’t have to stay with a GP if you don’t want to. You can visit several GPs and practices until you find the right one.

You can find a list of GPs in your area by using healthdirect’s Service Finder.

Things to consider when choosing a GP

When choosing a GP, here are some things to consider:

  • Are they recommended by other people in your community?
  • Can you talk honestly to them?
  • Do they listen to you?
  • Do you prefer a male or female doctor? Someone older or younger? It’s important you find a GP you feel comfortable with.
  • Does the practice have opening hours that suit you?
  • Is it easy to travel to the practice?
  • Does the practice bulk bill or will you have to pay a fee? If so, how much?
  • Do they treat children?
  • Do they do home visits or offer after-hours services?
  • How easy is it to get an appointment?
  • Does the GP speak your language?
  • Is the practice accredited – does it meet quality standards?

Cost of GP consultations

In Australia, visits to your GP are paid or partially paid for by Medicare if you have a Medicare number. The Medicare rebate is $37.60 for a standard visit to a GP. However, some GPs charge more than this. In this case, you will need to pay the difference, which is called a ‘gap fee’. For example, if your GP charges $50 for the visit, you will need to pay the remaining $12.40 yourself.

If the GP bulk bills, this means you won't have to pay anything yourself. The GP will just take the payment made by Medicare.

GP after-hours services

Some general practices offer after-hours services. Check with your GP on how to get care if you are sick or injured when the practice is closed.

If you need to find a GP or pharmacy now, call healthdirect’s after hours GP helpline on 1800 022 222. A registered nurse will assess you and may offer you a call back from a GP. The GP will contact you within 15 minutes or 1 hour depending on the urgency of your health issue.

Last reviewed: August 2018

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