If you live in rural or remote Australia — or if your journey across town is just difficult because of your accessibility requirements — getting medical treatment can mean travelling for hours. It can also be complex, as well as costly.
With good planning and maybe some assistance, if available, you can reduce these travel burdens. Ask your doctor or healthcare professional about telehealth, for example, and other alternatives to travelling for specialist care.
Plan ahead for your time away
If you work, attend school or have other routine commitments, let your manager or teacher know you’ll be away. They may need to find someone to cover your absence.
If you care for a child or someone else, you may need to arrange for their care while you’re away. You may also need to continue this extra support after your return and recovery.
For routine household tasks, consider asking a friend or family member to:
- look after your pets or plants
- collect your mail
- pay bills on your behalf
Remember to take everything you need to your appointment. This includes important items such as details of medication or dietary supplements you are taking; test results; medical scans; and x-rays or reports.
Think about your accessibility needs
Consider your support and accessibility needs for your travel, stay and recovery. Ask yourself these questions: Am I well enough to travel alone? Will I need a carer or escort? Will I need extra help on my trip home?
What are my access requirements? Will my travel choices and accommodation suit my needs before and after medical treatment? Can my transport provider accommodate any equipment I need, such as a wheelchair?
- Can Go Everywhere lists accessible accommodation and services.
- Disabled Motorists Australia has accessible hire car information and other assistance.
Organise care for after your treatment
Well before your treatment, think about what information your carers will need.
Ask your doctor about your recovery time and support needs. Ask what support is available. You might be eligible for home support services, depending on your state, age and health.
Read more about care options here:
If you are living with a specific health condition or disability, you may be able to get more detailed information from groups or associations that support Australians with that condition.
Financial assistance for travel for healthcare
Out-of-pocket accommodation costs and travel expenses can quickly add up. There is help at hand, however, to ease this financial burden.
Patient Assisted Travel Schemes (PATS)
All states and territories have Patient Assisted Travel Schemes (PATS) to help patients in rural and remote Australia with the costs of travel for specialist treatment.
Rules and amounts vary, but all PATS schemes help cover:
- travel expenses for public transport
- commercial accommodation costs at your destination
- the travel expenses and accommodation costs of your eligible escort or carer
Some schemes also provide for:
- ground transport costs at your destination (like taxis)
- living away from home allowances
- accommodation costs for trips by private vehicle
- extra journeys for your escort or carer, if your stay is long
- subsidies for private accommodation
For example, Queensland's Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme supports:
- patients whose specialist is more than 50 kilometres from their local public hospital
- private vehicle travel at 30 cents per kilometre
- the cheapest form of public transport or economy airfare
- commercial accommodation at $60 per night per person
- private accommodation at $10 per night per person
Read about PATS support in your state or territory:
- ACT: Interstate Patient Travel Assistance Scheme
- Northern Territory: Patient Assistance Travel Scheme
- NSW: Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme
- Queensland: Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme
- South Australia: Patient Assistance Travel Scheme
- Tasmania: Patient Travel Assistance Scheme
- Western Australia: Patient Assisted Travel Scheme and Interstate Patient Travel Scheme
- Victoria: Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme
Private health insurance assistance with travel costs
About half of private health insurers offer benefits for medical-related travel.
Australian Government reforms are intended to improve access to these benefits for regional and rural Australians. Prior to April 2019, travel and accommodation benefits are generally available only as high-level extras under general treatment policies. After this date, private health insurers will also be able to offer these benefits under hospital cover.
These private health insurance benefits generally cover:
- petrol costs for travel by car
- train, bus or air fares
- accommodation costs near the place of treatment for patient and carer
If you have a health fund, check your policy to see what's included. Be aware that cover varies between health funds and policies.
The following organisations may offer assistance with travel for healthcare:
- Red Cross Transport
- Angel Flight Australia
- Royal Flying Doctor Service
- Department of Veterans' Affairs
- Carer Gateway
These organisations provide assistance with accommodation:
Read more here about rural and remote health services and support.
Alternatives to travel
You might be able to avoid travelling for medical treatment or care, thanks to advances in healthcare delivery.
Telehealth services use videoconferencing technology so you can talk with a healthcare professional via your computer, tablet or phone and see their image on the screen. When required, they can record video, audio and clinical information and forward it securely to a clinic where medical specialists can study it and provide an opinion. Telehealth services can even be used to remotely monitor patients’ vital signs (such as pulse rate) and other health measures.
Telehealth services save travel time and costs, and can be a less stressful option than travelling a long distance for healthcare. Many are covered by Medicare benefits in eligible areas of rural, regional and remote Australia.
In the longer term, telehealth can also play a part in supporting people with chronic conditions to manage their health.
Video Call, developed by Healthdirect Australia, allows healthcare providers to conduct video consultations. The private and secure service connects you with your healthcare professional from home, work, or wherever it's most convenient, using your smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
Telehealth services can also be a convenient way for carers or interpreters to get involved in healthcare conversations.
Other alternatives to travelling for healthcare
Depending on your needs, consider asking your healthcare team if you can:
- reduce the number of appointments that require travel
- use your local health service more, instead of travelling for treatment
- take advantage of any outreach services in your area
If you have a long or difficult journey to reach your doctor, it’s especially important to be well prepared so you can make the most of your visit. See healthdirect’s online Question Builder for help putting together the questions you’ll need to ask.
Last reviewed: December 2018