Your local doctor (GP)
What is a GP and how do you find one?
A General Practitioner (GP) is a doctor you can make an appointment to see if you’ve got a health problem. There are lots of GP clinics - some are in suburban streets, while others are in shopping centers or community health centres.
If you’re looking for a doctor, it’s a good idea to ask your friends, family or workmates for recommendations. Staff at some community health centres or youth workers may also be able to recommend a GP. You can also find them listed in the Yellow Pages book or on the Yellow Pages website.
In some areas, there are youth health services which have GPs working for them.
- Click here to find a Doctor or Mental Health Practitioner in your area or call the beyondblue Support Service, on 1300 22 4636.
If you don’t feel comfortable with the GP you’ve chosen, you can make an appointment to see another GP.
What do GPs do?
Visiting a GP is a good first step if you have any sort of health problem. If you’re meeting a GP for the first time, he/she may ask questions to help understand what’s making you feel unwell. This might mean the doctor asks a few personal questions such as if you smoke, use protection during sex or use drugs and alcohol safely.
Being healthy is more than just being physically okay. A GP can help with emotional and mental health problems as well. If you’re feeling sad or upset about something at school, home or work, you can go to a GP to talk about any problems.
If you feel you want to talk in more depth about your problems, your GP can refer you to a counsellor or psychologist.
If you don’t like the person your GP recommends, you can ask for a referral to someone else.
Under the Australian Government’s Better Access Program, Medicare rebates are available for consultations with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists in mental health.
To qualify for a rebate, a person with depression, anxiety or other mental disorder first needs to get a referral from a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician.
In one calendar year, a person with depression or other mental health problem, who is eligible for the Medicare rebates, can receive rebates for up to 12 individual consultations and up to 12 group therapy sessions with a mental health professional. See beyondblue Fact sheet 24: Help for depression and related disorders under Medicare.
Will the GP keep my visit confidential?
All doctors have to follow a law which prevents them from discussing your health issues without your permission. If you go to see a doctor, the doctor can’t tell your family or anyone else that he/she saw you and the doctor can’t talk about what happened or what was said during your appointment.
However, if a person’s life is at risk, the doctor has a greater legal and ethical duty to keep you or others safe. Such a situation may arise if you’re at risk of suicide or if someone is threatening to harm you. The GP may then decide who it’s safe to contact in order to help protect you. In many cases, this will be a parent, but in sometimes it can be another guardian.
Another uncommon situation where GPs will talk about your visit is if you’ve been charged with an offence and they’re asked to give evidence in court. Here, the doctor needs to tell the court only what is relevant to the case and not anything else you’ve told him or her.
If the GP has referred you to another doctor or specialist mental health professional, he or she will also have to discuss your case - usually with your permission - so that the other doctor can help you. All doctors are bound by the same duty of confidentiality.
In some states, doctors are required by law to report cases of sexual abuse or assault to the local child protection body.
If the doctor has to contact you with results of tests, consider which phone number and address you feel comfortable using to receive this information.
How do I go about seeing a GP?
Most GPs take bookings, so it’s best to call their clinic beforehand to get an appointment. Some GPs also see people in the order that they ‘drop in’ to the clinic. In both cases, there can be a long waiting time if the doctor’s running behind schedule. This can be frustrating, but it’s worth knowing that it’s not because the doctor’s lazy or because he or she doesn’t care about you. They’re usually very busy, and some of the people they see have complex problems that can take longer than the allocated time.
Generally, a doctor only has 10 minutes allocated to see you for one issue. If you’ve got a lot that you want to talk about and deal with, it might be a good idea to book a double appointment or return for a second appointment on another day.
Sometimes, doctors who take bookings for appointments can be booked out in advance. If your problem isn’t urgent, it might be worth waiting to see the doctor you want. However, if your problem is urgent and you need to see someone that day, one of the other doctors may be able to help.
Do I need to pay for my appointment?
Many clinics do charge for appointments. The government, under the Medicare scheme will refund $24 for a standard appointment. If your doctor charges a fee on top of this, you may need to pay between $5 and $15 extra out of your own pocket. If the doctor ‘bulk-bills’, it means that he or she charges only at the Medicare rebate rate so you don’t have to pay anything.
If you don’t have an income or you’re on a health care card, most doctors will ‘bulk-bill’ you. It’s worth asking at the clinic if this can apply to you. If the doctor does bulk-bill, then they need your Medicare number, which is usually on your family’s card. From the age of 15, you can apply for your own card. The doctor’s receptionist can tell you how to do this. If you don’t have a Medicare card, don’t worry, you can still have an appointment. If this is the case, the doctor may ask for your date of birth and full name so they can ring the Medicare hotline and obtain your number. Your visits to the doctor will still be kept confidential.
For more information on Medicare, you can visit the Medicare website www.medicare.gov.au/ or call the Medicare hotline on 132 011.
- Check out our Youthbeyondblue fact sheets
- Click here to find a Doctor or Mental Health Practitioner in your area or call the beyondblue Info line, on 1300 22 4636.