Stay informed with the latest updates on coronavirus (COVID-19). Find out more >>

GPs – choosing and visiting a family doctor

  • A General Practitioner is also known as a GP, a local doctor or a family doctor. GPs specialise in general practice medicine, which means they care for many different health problems in all age groups. Some GPs have extra qualifications in a specialised area, such as pregnancy or immunisations.

    Almost all non-emergency medical problems should begin with a GP visit, and the GP will refer your child to a specialist if needed.

    It is important to have your own regular GP who knows you and your children, and who has access to your complete medical history. This will allow the GP to develop an understanding of your family's health needs so they can decide on the best treatment for you. A regular GP can get to know you and help you feel comfortable to talk openly about personal issues.

    Your GP will be able to:

    • provide immunisations
    • monitor children's health and development
    • treat non-serious accidents (e.g. cuts that need stitches, minor bangs to the head, and plastering some fractures)
    • talk about your personal concerns and stresses
    • make referrals to other service providers and support agencies
    • liaise with hospital staff to help manage your child's care after being in hospital.

    There may be times when you or your GP want to get a second opinion from a specialist. Your GP can help you to choose where you may wish to go and the reason for the second opinion.

    Finding and choosing the right GP

    When looking for a GP, ask friends or family members who they recommend, or ask your Maternal and Child Health Nurse.

    You can look for a doctor online via Healthdirect. Ask clinics in your local area if any of their doctors have a special interest in treating children.

    To help decide whether a new GP is right for you, ask yourself the following questions on your first visit:

    • Do I feel comfortable with this GP?
    • Do they listen to what I have to say?
    • Do I feel comfortable asking questions?
    • Does this GP understand my cultural needs?
    • Does this GP allow me to choose treatments that suit my beliefs?
    • Can I make a longer appointment time if necessary?
    • Is this GP easy for me to get to?
    • Do the clinic's opening hours suit me?
    • Does the clinic's payment plan suit me?

    How to make the most of GP appointments

    You will need to book an appointment to see a GP, unless it is urgent. In urgent cases, your GP may be able to fit you in ahead of patients waiting with less urgent issues. In these cases, try to call ahead if possible. Some GP clinics offer walk-in appointments where a booking is not necessary.

    Most appointments are 10–15 minutes long. This is enough time for most simple general health problems. If you think the concern is more complex, or there are a number of issues you want to discuss, ask for a longer appointment. Ensure a separate appointment is booked for every person you wish to be seen on the day.

    Before the appointment:

    • write down the reason/s for your visit and any questions you wish to ask 
    • make a list of all the medications your child is taking, including any complementary or alternative therapies.

    During your visit:

    • be prepared to discuss your concerns openly and honestly 
    • write down anything that is important or that you might forget 
    • ask questions if there is anything you don't understand.

    Accessing a GP after hours

    If you are worried about your child after hours, but don't feel that an emergency department visit is necessary, you may want to see an after-hours GP rather than wait until the next morning to see your regular GP.

    Call your GP and listen to their telephone message. They usually have an after-hours number to contact in urgent cases. If they don't, then you could phone NURSE-ON-CALL (1300 60 60 24 in Victoria), or call Healthdirect (1800 022 222 in all Australian states and territories) for health advice and information on after-hours GPs. Or use Healthdirect's Find a health service to locate after-hours GP services in your area.

    Many after-hours GP services are bulk billed. When you call an after-hours service, ask the operator for an explanation of any fees that may be charged for the appointment.

    Your regular GP will be sent a report about the visit the next day.

    Pre-referral guidelines

    Sometimes your GP may refer your child to see a specialist for a second opinion or further advice. Waiting lists to see specialists at public clinics can sometimes be quite long. However, there may be several things your GP can do instead of referring you to a specialist at a hospital, or that you can do while you wait for an appointment. If the waiting lists are very long, ask your doctor about alternatives (e.g. a private referral or other community services).

    Your GP will have access to a variety of pre-referral guidelines about what services are available. These guidelines help them to make a decision about what tests or treatment your child should have before being seen at a hospital. This will make your child's eventual appointment more useful. It may also mean your child is seen more quickly or may even mean your child won't need a referral after all. While you should not use these guidelines yourself to decide on treatment for your child, it may be helpful to suggest them to your GP.

    Your child's GP may also try calling a specialist for advice. This, however, may take some time, depending upon the working hours of the GP and the specialist. Email cannot be used for confidentiality reasons.

    If your child needs to come into hospital

    • Tell hospital admissions your GP's name, address and phone number.
    • Ask for a copy of the discharge summary when you are going home.
    • Ask if a copy of the discharge summary is being sent to your GP.
    • Ask the hospital doctor when your child should next see your GP.

    Key points to remember

    • A GP can give valuable advice and information on health and illness for all the family.
    • It is important to have your own GP who knows you and has access to your complete medical history in order to provide the most appropriate care. 
    • To make the most of your visit to the GP, think about what you want to ask before you go and write down all your questions. During the appointment ask questions if there is anything you don't understand.
    • Always book an individual appointment for each child who is unwell or you would like an opinion about.
    • If your child needs to come into hospital, give the hospital your GP's details.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    How do I know if I should visit the GP or take my child to the emergency department?

    If your child is able to be settled, drinking well and responds to simple comfort measures, most problems can wait until the morning. If you are unsure if it can wait until the next day, please call your GP first for advice about making an appointment with them or how to access their locum service. If you are more worried, emergency departments are available at all hours. The NURSE-ON-CALL telephone service will be able to guide you if you are concerned.

    How much does it cost to visit the GP?

    If the practice bulk bills, and you have a Medicare card, there will be no cost to you. If the practice does not bulk bill, costs can vary. The amount you are charged will depend on the practice and length of consultation. If there is a charge, you will be able to get some of the cost back through Medicare.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Primary Care Liaison Unit and General Medicine department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed June 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.