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The role of a GP

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Key facts

  • Your GP is usually the first person to see if you have a health concern.
  • GPs get to know you and your family over time and can provide care that’s right for you.
  • GPs can treat a whole range of illnesses, provide health screening and give health advice for all ages.
  • If you have multiple health needs, your GP can coordinate your care.
  • It’s important to find a GP you trust and feel comfortable talking to.

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. In some countries this is known as family medicine. They have broad knowledge and the skills to work out how to manage 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 most suitable for you.

GPs complete a basic medical degree and internship, then they do additional medical training in general practice. This qualifies them to provide continuing care for everyone, regardless of age, sexuality, cultural background or state of health.

You can see a GP at their practice, in some hospitals, in residential care facilities, during a home visit or even on the internet or telephone.

If you have a health issue, the first person you usually go to for treatment is your GP. They will decide whether you need to see another health professional. They can refer you to a medical specialist or an allied health professional if you need specialised care.

You can’t get a Medicare rebate if you see a specialist unless you have a referral from your GP within the previous 12 months or from another specialist within the previous 3 months.

If you need to see several health professionals, your GP can coordinate your care.

What can my GP do for me?

Your GP will give you the care best suited to your needs. They don‘t just treat the disease, they treat you as a person.

You can see your GP to treat you for:

You can also see your GP for these preventative health and wellbeing services:

If you need, your GP can also give you a medical certificate or certified medical document or report an injury.

How can I 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 your language or who understands your culture, talk to people in your community to see who they recommend.

You can make an appointment to visit a 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 for you. Once you find the right GP for you, it’s a good idea to stay with them so they can get to know your health needs.

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

Things to consider when choosing a GP

It's important that you find a GP you feel comfortable with. When choosing a GP, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I talk honestly to them? Do they listen to me?
  • Do I prefer a male or female doctor? Someone older or younger?
  • Does the practice have opening hours that suit me? Is it easy to travel to the practice?
  • Does the practice bulk bill or will I have to pay a fee? If so, how much?
  • Do they do home visits or offer after-hours services? How easy is it to get an appointment?
  • Is the GP recommended by other people in my community? Do they speak my language?
  • Is the practice accredited — does it meet quality standards?

What if a GP doesn’t speak my language?

If you’re not comfortable speaking English and you have a Medicare card, your GP can use the Free Interpreting Service to help you understand each other better.

You can ask your GP to arrange for an interpreter who speaks your language to translate over the phone or in person. Interpreters are also available by phone within minutes, without booking in advance, 24 hours a day.

How much does it cost to see a GP?

In Australia, visits to your GP are paid or partially paid for by Medicare if you have a Medicare number. The Medicare rebate is $39.10 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 $10.90 yourself.

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

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some GPs have been offering consultations by phone or video link. This is called telehealth. Your GP may bulk bill these consultations, or they may charge a higher fee. Most GPs will only offer a telehealth consultation if they are your regular doctor (meaning you have seen them in the last 12 months).

Can I see a GP at night or on the weekend?

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

You may also be able to see a GP at your nearest Medicare Urgent Care Clinic (Medicare UCC). These clinics are open early and late every day, and provide urgent healthcare for cases that don’t require an emergency department.

You can use the Healthdirect Service Finder to find a Medicare UCC near you.

You can also call healthdirect (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) to speak to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will talk to you about your symptoms and may offer you a call back or a video call from a GP.

Learn more about after-hours health services.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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