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Being an outpatient

Specialist Outpatient Services in Queensland

Many of our public hospitals provide a range of specialist medical and surgical services which do not require a person to be admitted. These services include specialist outpatient clinics. Bigger hospitals generally provide a broader range of services.

Specialist outpatient clinics are provided free of charge to public patients who are eligible for Medicare. Patients are asked to produce their Medicare card at each outpatient clinic appointment.

For all patients, including those who are eligible for Medicare, fees may be charged for some public outpatient services (for example some dental services, spectacles, hearing aids, surgical supplies, prostheses, pharmaceutical co-payments and other aids and appliances).

Patients who are not eligible for Medicare shall be charged a fee for all outpatient services provided. This fee is legislated under the Health Services Regulations 2002 and as such is not subject to Medicare Benefit Schedule item numbers.

Some specialist services are also available at public hospitals provided as private clinics. In these circumstances patients are classed as private patients and are responsible for meeting the full cost of their treatment. However, as every attempt is made to ensure that private patient treatment in public hospitals is provided at minimal or no cost to the patient, in most cases the cost is bulk billed to Medicare.

You will need an appointment before you can be seen at an outpatient clinic. To obtain an appointment you need a referral from your general practitioner.

Opening hours vary between hospitals. Most specialist outpatient areas open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm and are closed on public holidays. Patient set down/pick up zones are usually situated close-by.

Smoking is not permitted in Queensland public hospitals, including the grounds.

Obtaining a specialist outpatient appointment

To obtain an appointment to see a specialist at a hospital, your general practitioner (GP) will need to write a referral letter to a hospital specialist. This letter will either be to an individual specialist or a group of specialists in the same specialty. You should discuss your treatment options with your GP, including whether you wish to be treated as a public or a private patient.

Your GP needs to post or fax the referral to the appropriate clinic. The clinic will write to you, and the referring doctor, as soon as an appointment becomes available. It is important that you read and respond to any letters you receive from the specialist outpatient clinic. They contain information about your appointment, any wait time and who to call if you have any questions.

If you need to change the appointment time you are given, or no longer need the appointment, please contact the specialist outpatient clinic detailed in the letter you received from the hospital.

Specialist outpatient wait list

Access to specialist outpatients is by clinical need, and due to the high demand for specialist outpatient services, those with the greatest need are given priority. In the referral letter your GP will have provided information about your medical condition to the hospital. A doctor at the hospital will prioritise your appointment based on the information in this referral.

Waiting times for some clinics can be more than 12 months. If your appointment is not for some time you may wish to speak to the doctor who referred you and discuss other treatment options.

Waiting for an appointment

If your condition changes or you have any health problems while waiting for your appointment please see your GP. If your GP has any concerns they may notify the hospital on your behalf and discuss your health needs with a member of the hospital's staff. Your GP may also be able to suggest some alternatives which may improve your health while you are waiting to see a specialist.

How to change an appointment

If you need to change or cancel the appointment you are given, please contact the specialist outpatient clinic detailed in the letter you received from the hospital. Staff will be ready to cancel or transfer your appointment to a more suitable date or time.

It is important you keep your appointment as any investigation or medical treatment you require needs to be monitored by a doctor. If you need to cancel your appointment please contact the hospital concerned as this will allow another patient to have your unwanted appointment, and also help to keep waiting times down.

One in four patients fails to attend their appointment and this causes delay not only in treating you, but in treating other patients too. Please notify us as soon as you are aware of your inability to attend.

To help us deliver quality health services, any patient who declines two offers of appointment or fails to respond to two contacts will be removed from the specialist outpatient waiting list.

If your name, address or phone number changes, please let the hospital know by calling the specialist outpatient clinic detailed in your letter.

Before your appointment

Please ensure that you:

The staff at the specialist outpatient clinics aim to keep your waiting time to a minimum. Occasionally medical officers are urgently required elsewhere in the hospital and as a result you may experience delays to your appointment. Should any delays to the clinic schedule occur, you will be kept informed by the clinic staff. Alternatives can be arranged for you in the event that you are unable to wait for your appointment.

Your condition may warrant the need for ambulance transport to take you to and from your appointment. Please discuss this with your GP as a Medically Authorised Ambulance Transport form needs to be completed by them. The ambulance service has requirements that must be met in order to provide transport. The ambulance service needs notification of the booking at least one week before your appointment.

What to bring

On the day of your appointment please bring:

At the specialist outpatient clinic

We recommend that you allow up to 2 hours for your appointment. Clinics are conducted by appointment time not the time of arrival. Try to arrive about 10 minutes prior to your allocated appointment time.  Arriving early does not guarantee an appointment earlier than your scheduled time. On arrival please go to the reception desk to check-in. Staff will check your details, ask to see your Medicare or pension card and then direct you to the waiting area for your clinic.

Although appointments are for a set time, delays can occur, particularly if the doctor has to discuss a complicated treatment or diagnosis with a patient. Clinic staff will always try to keep you informed of any delays.

When you see the doctor there may be other medical staff in the room. Queensland Health hospitals are teaching facilities and doctors and nurses in training could be present. Your doctor should introduce them to you. If you would prefer not to have these medical staff present please let the doctor know. Asking to be seen alone will not affect your care in any way.

You may ask the doctor questions at any time. If you don't understand anything the doctor explains to you, ask them to explain it again.

Many of our hospitals have staff to help you during your appointment. If you are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, are hearing impaired or need an interpreter, please call the specialist outpatient clinic two days prior to your appointment so assistance may be arranged for you.

Correspondence about your appointment

You will receive a letter either offering you an appointment or advising that your name has been placed on a wait list. You will receive other letters relating to your appointment as necessary.

Your responsibilities

While waiting for an appointment it is essential that you:

Your rights

We are committed to respecting your rights as a patient in line with Queensland Health’s values of caring for people; leadership; respect and integrity. We have a responsibility to:

Further information

You can contact the outpatient clinic staff on the number listed on your appointment letter.

Compliments or concerns

We strive to ensure that our patients are happy with their visit and care. If you would like to provide us with feedback about your visit please let us know. While at the hospital, you can speak with the clinic staff or ask to see a Patient Liaison Officer. Alternatively, you can telephone or write to the clinic after you have left the hospital, or complete an online form about the health care you have received.

Last Updated: 19 March 2013
Last Reviewed: 19 March 2013

~ Don't Forget ~
It's important that you attend your outpatients' appointment!

As many as one in four patients forgets to attend their appointment. This causes delays in treatment.

To change or cancel your appointment, contact the outpatient clinic listed in your appointment letter.