19 Jul Finding a Neurologist
Neurological symptoms can be difficult to understand. They can include anything from dizziness and confusion, to muscle weakness and seizures, amongst many other symptoms. Your General Practitioner (GP) can sometimes diagnose and treat these problems – but in some cases they might suggest finding a neurologist.
Neurologists have extensive specialised training for diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerve and muscle. However, just like any doctor, they will often specialise in a certain area or disorder. For example, a practice might have one neurologist that specialises in degenerative disorders (like Alzheimer’s disease), and another who mostly treats cerebrovascular disorders (such as stroke). While they are both equally qualified, it’s best to find someone who has experience treating your specific condition.
Most of the time your GP will be able to refer you to someone who will be a good fit. But factors like location of the neurology practice, cost, or communication style might lead you to look into other practitioners. If you’re in the process of finding a neurologist, here are some tips to get you started.
An online search might sound overly simplistic – and it’s probably how you found this page. But there are some great online resources available that could help you find the right specialist.
A good starting point can be searching for “neurologist in [your area] for [disorder]”. This might direct you towards directory websites (such as HealthShare) or neurology practices. Directory websites don’t always have the most up to date information, but it’s normally fairly easy to contact the doctor or practice directly to follow up.
These days, most neurologists have profiles online. This could be through their private practice, academic institution, or the hospital they work at. Their profile will usually outline their training and qualifications, experience, and areas of interest. Areas of interest can be as broad as all cerebrovascular disorders (stroke, aneurysm, blood clots, haemorrhage, etc), or more specific to one or two conditions. This doesn’t mean they won’t be able to help you with other conditions, because they still received comprehensive training. However, it’s great to find a specialist that has experience with other patients like you. Generally, this helps with a more nuanced understanding of the possible symptoms and treatments.
Private vs public: what’s the difference?
One of the big questions about finding a neurologist is cost. Appointments can be entirely covered by Medicare, or they can be quite expensive depending on private fees. There are also differences in waiting periods and the availability of specialists.
You can see a neurologist at a hospital either as an inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient care is often
for emergency services – such as when you’ve called an ambulance, or booked a surgery for medical treatment. These visits at a public hospital will generally be completely free, with all (or most) costs covered by Medicare.
Outpatient care is any other medical service, like when you make an appointment to see a neurologist in their rooms. Sometimes they will bulk bill, but other times there are out of pocket fees. Unfortunately, you can’t use private health insurance for outpatient appointments at a public hospital.
If your local public hospital offers bulk billing and has a neurologist that specialises in your condition, this can be a great option for affordable care. However, there are some disadvantages. Depending on the size of the neurology department at the hospital, there might be fewer specialists. You can also expect long waiting periods – this is common even at private clinics, but it can be particularly long for public clinics.
Private care often provides a wider team of neurologists, more options for specialists, and slightly shorter waiting periods. You can also use private health insurance at these practices if your policy covers specialists. But without insurance, your appointments could be quite expensive.
It can be stressful to face high medical bills on top of the stress of managing your condition. If a practice doesn’t list their fees on their website, you can always ask them over the phone. Make sure to ask about Medicare and concession rates (i.e. if you’re on Centrelink or the disability pension).
While waiting periods are shorter at private practices, you could still be waiting a few months for an appointment. If your GP thinks you need urgent medical treatment, they can specify this in your referral. This recommendation will be recognised by both public and private practices, so you will be able to see someone quickly when it’s necessary.
Migraine & headache specialists
Migraine and headache are some of the most common neurological symptoms that GPs see. According to the Migraine in Australia Whitepaper released in 2018, migraine affects 4.9 million Australians – or about 1 in 5 people. GPs can often recommend treatments for episodic migraine (less than 8 attacks per month). But if you are affected by chronic or debilitating migraine attacks, you might be referred to a neurologist for specialised care.
If you need to find a neurologist who specialises in these disorders, you can refer to the Doctor Directory on the Migraine & Headache Australia website. Migraine & Headache Australia is a division of the Brain Foundation, and we created this directory in collaboration with the ANZHS (Australian & New Zealand Headache Society).
Things to keep in mind
Now that you have some resources to get you started in your search for a neurologist, there are just a few final things to keep in mind.
- Communication is key. Doctor-patient relationships can be complex. Your communication style and what you want out of your treatment will all affect how you relate to each other. This is also why one patient can have a great experience with a specialist, and you might find them unapproachable. Try writing notes before your appointment outlining what you want to address, and keeping in mind the treatment approach you want from your doctor.
- You should feel respected by your neurologist. If you don’t feel comfortable in your appointments, this could impact the care you receive. In this case, try to find a new neurologist when possible.
- If you’ve had a bad experience, it’s important to keep trying. Even though it’s daunting to go through the process of finding someone again, you can use that experience to narrow down what you want from your doctor. Think about the things you did or didn’t like, and ask your GP for recommendations based on that.
- You might not have to see a neurologist. Depending on the nature of the disease, disorder or injury, a GP might be able to help you manage symptoms/treatment (either your current GP, or someone new).
The Brain Foundation is not a medical service, and we aren’t able to endorse specific neurology centres or practitioners. However, we hope this information will help you in finding a neurologist and managing your disorder.
DISCLAIMER: The information on this page should support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient / site visitor and their existing health care professionals.