Understanding our health care system

What is Medicare?

Since 1984, a universal health system has been provided in Australia by the Commonwealth Government, known as Medicare.

Medicare is the primary funder of health care in the country. It has three distinct parts: hospital, medical and pharmaceutical.

Medicare provides the following for citizens and most permanent residents in Australia:

What are the types of health care?

Primary health care

For most patients, a primary care clinician will be their first point of contact in the Australian health system. A primary care clinician may be a doctor, dentist, nurse, allied health professional or a pharmacist. This level of care may be provided in a general practice, community or allied health centre or Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services. It may also include health promotion, health education or prevention. Depending on the person’s health condition, they may be referred on to secondary or tertiary care.

Secondary health care

Health services provided by medical specialists and other health professionals who do not have first contact with patients are considered providers of secondary care. This includes ‘acute care’ which is considered short-term treatment of a serious injury or period of illness, usually relatively urgent. Secondary health care can also refer to ongoing services not necessarily provided in the hospital, such as psychiatrists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Tertiary health care

Highly specialised health care, often for inpatients and on referral from a primary or secondary health professional, is considered tertiary care. This often includes particularly complex medical or surgical procedures. 

In the spotlight

Consumers Step Up program

A network of health consumers contributing their experience and knowledge to health care improvements.

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