Ill health can strike at any time. If you need medical advice after hours, at weekends or public holidays, your GP surgery will be closed. This does not mean that you have to wait until the surgery is open again though. A GP out-of-hours is in operation across Australia. This focuses mostly on offering health advice, although you can be referred for in-person consultations where appropriate.
Normal out-of-hours procedures
An out-of-hours GP helpline was set up by the Australian government in July 2011. This is run by Medibank Health Solutions. It offers health advice from a registered nurse. You may then be transferred to a GP if your situation warrants this. This can help you to manage your symptoms at home. If you need to see a doctor, you will be referred to a local out-of-hours service. What if your situation is an emergency? You will then be referred to local emergency services instead.
As of May 2012, all Australians gained access to the out-of-hours GP helpline. ACT, NSW, NT, SA and WA are served directly by the helpline. TAS is served by the GP Assist helpline. In QLD, the helpline is an extension of the 13HEALTH nurses helpline. VIC was the last area to get on board. Their access to the helpline is through NURSE-ON-CALL or the helpline itself.
Health insurance and after hours services
Medibank Private – Medibank Nurse 24/7
This service is similar to an out-of-hours service. Medibank members with hospital cover can call the nurse helpline at any time and speak to a registered nurse. They can offer advice on health issues. If you need to see a doctor, they can arrange an appointment at your local medical centre. There are no home visits with this service.
HCF – My Home Doctor
Did you know that there is an alternative to the normal out-of-hours procedure? This is available if you have health insurance with HCF. Instead of being referred to an out-of-hours service, a GP will visit you at home.
How it works. This service is provided by Family Care Medical Services. They are Australia’s biggest after hours GP home visiting service. After you have spoken to the operator, he or she will arrange for a doctor to visit you if appropriate. This will not be your usual GP. This service is not for emergencies. If you need emergency care, you will be advised of the most suitable option. Assuming that you are a HCF member with eligible cover, there are no extra fees for after hours visits.
Eligibility. You need a valid Medicare card to be eligible. You also need to have HCF hospital cover. Members with extras only cover cannot access this service. Location is also a factor. The service currently covers certain areas of Sydney and SE Queensland. HCF hope to expand the service to other areas in the near future.
Prescriptions. The GP will carry some prescriptions on visits. This includes antibiotics and light pain relief. He or she can write prescriptions for medicines needed urgently. However, some medicines cannot be prescribed on home visits. This includes blood pressure, cardiac, anti-anxiety medicines and contraceptives.
The national out-of-hours helpline is invaluable for getting medical advice when your GP surgery is closed. Need to see a doctor? They can arrange appointments at out-of-hours services. Home visits are an option if you have HCF hospital cover. This may be something that can help you to compare health funds if you are otherwise undecided.