Australian healthcare is generally of a high standard, though the quality can vary, as you may expect from a country of its size. The healthcare system itself is comprehensive, and covers everything from preventative to specialist care. However, it may appear confusing at first glance. There are two parts to the healthcare system: private and public provision. Individuals may choose to use one or the other, or a combination of both.The public sector of the healthcare system is mostly funded by the government, and it allows residents of Australia to access public hospitals, health services and organisations at a reduced cost, or even for free, via Medicare, which is contributed to by taxes.
The private healthcare system incorporates privately-owned facilities, including hospitals, specialist care units, pharmacies, and dentists. Individuals must pay for private treatment, either via insurance or upfront at the point of access.
Depending upon your needs and requirements at any given time, you could encounter one of many healthcare professionals, who work across a wide range of services. These may include:
• General practitioners
When you see a general practitioner for a consultation, they will assess your needs and try to treat any illnesses or injuries you have. If necessary, they can arrange diagnostic services and refer you for specialist care.
If you are referred for specialist or diagnostic care and, as a result, need to stay in hospital or have an operation, you can choose whether to be a public or a private patient. If you want private treatment, you have the option of using a private hospital, or of being treated at a public hospital as a private patient – in this case, you can specify which doctor you see, you will be given more choice as to the dates of your appointments, and you will enjoy shorter waiting times.
Public hospitals provide high quality care at reduced fees, or even for free in some cases, if you are entitled to Medicare. The main issues with public care for non-urgent treatment are the longer waiting lists for operations and consultations, the lack of choice, and the fact that you will usually have to share a ward with other people during your recuperation.
There are almost as many private hospitals in Australia as public, so it is important to decide which hospital you would like to go to in the event of an emergency. If you have private health insurance, you are still able to go to a public hospital for treatment, if you prefer.
Influencing factors on quality of care
Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that the quality of healthcare in Australia varies from state to state and provision to provision. Part of the reason for this is that the demands placed on the system vary from place to place, according to demographic. Challenges that affect the healthcare system include:
• An ageing population
• Increasing rates of chronic disease
• Medical research costs
In many areas, Australians are living longer. This is, of course, overall a positive thing, but it creates challenges. A healthier, older population requires different health services to a younger one, but inevitably these cannot replace the services already in place. Additionally, to cater to these new and different needs, healthcare professionals need specialist training, which can take them out of the workplace at certain periods, leading to further delays for people awaiting treatment.
The rise in chronic conditions, such as diabetes, has also placed a huge strain on the healthcare system in recent years, affecting the overall quality of care it is able to provide. Many cases of chronic disease are referred to specialists as it stands, a policy that makes waiting lists for appointments and operations much longer. The Australian government is currently looking into ways of bringing chronic disease management back into GP surgeries, so that they can free up specialists and reduce waiting times.
Generally, the healthcare system in Australia works well, and you can always expect to receive a high quality of care. Free or subsidised basic care is universal, and very few citizens have ever reported insufficient finances as a barrier to medical care. Additionally, access tends to be quicker than in many countries, though it can be up to four times longer for public patients than private ones.
In the event that you need emergency medical care, you should always dial 000.