What does a neurologist do?
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.
What training has a neurologist had?
A neurologist has completed at least 6 years of specialist training after becoming a doctor. In Australia, most neurologists are fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and have the initials FRACP after their names.
They are different from neurosurgeons, or brain surgeons, who have specialist training in surgery of the head, spinal cord and nerves.
What conditions do neurologists treat?
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
- certain types of severe or chronic pain
People commonly see neurologists about:
- neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, multiple scleroris (MS) and motor neurone disease
- degenerative disorders that affect thinking ability, such as Alzheimer's disease
- brain or spinal injuries
- infections of the nervous systems such as meningitis or brain abscesses
- headaches and migraines
- seizures and epilepsy
- strokes and aneurysms (dilated blood vessels in the brain)
Where do neurologists work?
Neurologists see their patients in a clinic or surgery. Many work both in public and private hospitals. If they recommend surgery, they are likely to refer the patient to a neurosurgeon.
Some neurologists work alongside other specialists and health professionals as part of a team, such as a hospital stroke team or critical care team.
How to find a neurologist
Ask your doctor to refer you to a neurologist who has a special interest in your condition or disorder. You can also use healthdirect’s online service finder.
You may be referred to a hospital neurology unit, such as a stroke centre, or to an outpatient clinic or program catering for a particular neurological condition, such as epilepsy or motor neurone disease.
It can take months to get an appointment with a neurologist. However, if your doctor finds you have a serious illness or need urgent treatment, you should be able to get an earlier appointment.
How much will a neurologist cost?
The fee you might pay for a neurologist’s services varies greatly. It will depend on the type of care you receive; 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 treated 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 to be treated 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 pathology tests, x-rays and other forms of imaging (such as an MRI), 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 about a reduction
- consider another neurologist or health service
- talk to your GP about options, such as a different type of treatment
It is important to get a referral to the neurologist from your doctor. That way, your doctor can pass on useful information, and the neurologist can later tell your doctor about your visit. Also, if you don't have a referral, neither Medicare nor private health insurance will contribute to the cost of your care.
These organisations provide information about specific health conditions which might require a referral to a neurologist for diagnosis or treatment:
- Dementia Australia
- The Stroke Foundation's Enable me
- Epilepsy Action Australia
- Parkinson's Australia
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Last reviewed: September 2020