Getting sick in a foreign country is frustrating enough, but being unfamiliar with the medical system can make the situation tougher. While we hope that everyone stays safe and healthy, we are also here to help make your doctor visits as smooth as possible.
There are three general aspects and scenarios of possible doctor appointments that we would like to tease out in this guide. First, General Practice (GP) at the University and Community clinic. Second, With an external or private practice GP. Third, accessing emergency service.
Before coming to Australia, international students are required to obtain an Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC). This is usually indicated in the offer letter. Students will be granted insurance that the university cooperates with, or their own preferred health insurance. Here is a brief guide on issuing OSHC. Always remember to bring the OSHC care card at all times.
GP at University and Community Clinics
There are generally three levels of medical care in Australia: General Practice, Specialist and Emergency service. For general inquiries and common diseases, a General Practitioner is enough. You can visit the GP at the university clinic or the community clinic nearby (Google search should yield a few results) or do remote consultation via Telehealth. In either case, you should make an appointment first, either through the phone or online. The contact details should be on your university’s website, but there are also several apps and websites that could help choose and pick among different clinics, such as: HotDoc and HealthEngine. Most universities now have multilingual practitioners, so ask if they have someone who can speak a specific language.
Taking a visit to your university clinic will usually give a direct and full refund for your consultation fee, as the clinic will usually issue a bulk-billing agreement with the insurance company and will charge the company directly (saving a lot of trouble). However, each university may have different policies, so it’s always helpful to check out the university website before any visit to save the trouble afterwards.
Otherwise, it’s likely that you need to pay for the consultation fee upfront and claim a refund afterwards. Keep the receipt, and submit a claim with the OSHC company afterwards. Refunds can be around $38 (the schedule fee), which is a standard consultation cost set by the government. The rest would be out of pocket expenses. Here is an article explaining the general rebating procedure of your GP service, using Medicare as an example.
At the GP
When meeting GP for the first time, they might ask for your medical background/history. It’s very important to be honest and truthful no matter what the circumstances. Their job is to help patients and all of the information will be kept confidential.
Once you are with the GP, they may issue a prescription that indicates the dose and frequency of the medicine to take, as well as the length of treatment. With that prescription, visit any pharmacy nearby to get the prescribed medicine. It’s possible to leave the prescription at the pharmacy for regular pickups, but this means that you can’t move the prescription to another pharmacy until a new one is given. More information on prescribed medicine can be found here.
The GP may also recommend you to a specialist for more serious or complicated issues. In Australia, all specialists require a GP referral letter. The letter includes your information and notes from the GP to give them insight on the situation.
Once the referral letter is obtained, make an appointment with the specialist. Keep in mind that OSHC may not cover all of the specialist consult/treatment, so remember to ask GP/the specialist before going. Make sure to save all the receipts to rebate some of the cost of treatments! Here is a list of medical specialist services in Australia and the general procedure for getting treatment.
In case of an emergency, go to the Royal Melbourne Hospital to get emergent service. The emergency department operates 24/7. Don’t forget to bring your passport along with your OSHC card. The receptionist/triage nurse at the Emergency department will guide you through the entire process. Be patient – they sometimes might prioritise other patients who need more urgent care.
You might be charged an initial out of pocket fee before being admitted to the Emergency department. You may need to complete blood, X-ray, and other tests while staying as an in-patient for a certain amount of time. Emergency treatments are covered in your OSHC, so be sure to check with your insurance and find out how much of the fee can get rebated.
To claim the rebate for emergency services, patients will need to fill out a Pre-Existing Condition (PEC) Form (Medibank example) issued by their health insurance company. The form normally consists of two parts, which should be filled out by you and the practitioner at the emergency department respectively. The part for the patient includes personal information like your name, date of birth, contact details, membership number, and the date of admission at the emergency department.
Patient→ PEC Form→ Patient Liaison Officer→ Practitioner→ Patient→ OSHC Insurance → Rebate
After filling out this part, you will need to send the semi-completed form to the patient liaison officers at the hospital so that the practitioner can fill out the rest of the form and send it back to you. The contact information could be found on the hospital websites. For Royal Melbourne Hospital, more details could be found here.
With the completed PEC form and the receipt(s) obtained for paying the in-patient expense at the hospital, patients can claim a refund with the insurance company. You could either go to the health insurance officer at the university, or send an email to the OSHC company.
Variations may well occur depending on your particular situation. However, in this guide we would like to give a brief idea about how the medical system functions in Australia and how as international students we could get the service and help needed. And do not forget that staff at the GP, specialists, and public or private hospitals are all there for our wellbeing.