Going to the doctor
There is no law that says how old you must be before you can go to the doctor alone. But if you do go alone, your doctor will need to make sure that you are able to understand any medical advice and information they give you during the appointment.
If you want to go to the doctor without your parent or carer, it might be a good idea to call in advance to check that the doctor is happy to see you and won’t tell anyone else about it
There is no fixed age at which you can consent to medical treatment on your own. If you are under 18, it will depend on what kind of medical treatment you need, and whether your doctor thinks you fully understand what is involved.
When your doctor decides whether to give you medical treatment, they will consider:
- your age and maturity;
- your independence – whether you live at home with a parent or carer, or support yourself;
- the seriousness of the treatment,
- whether you understand why the treatment is needed, what it involves, and things that might go wrong (like side-effects from drugs, or other complications).
- your ability to appreciate the wider consequences of your decision (like the effect of that decision on others including your family, moral issues, and emotional long-term impact).
If your doctor thinks you are able to weigh up the advantages and risks and make an informed decision, you will be able to give consent.
There are some exceptions to this general rule, including that if you are under 16, you are not allowed to consent to an abortion on your own – you will need the consent of your parents or guardians. For more information on this, please see our page on pregnancy.
If you are having problems at home, your doctor is someone you can talk to and trust. Remember, you will never be forced to return to a violent or abusive home.
If you are able to give consent to treatment (see the section above), your doctor is usually not allowed to tell your parents that you visited the doctors or anything that was talked about during your visit, unless you say it is okay to tell other people. This is called confidentiality. If you are worried about your doctor telling anyone else about the appointment, you should check with your doctor before or at the beginning of the appointment.
But, there are some situations where your doctor legally can or has to tell another person or a government authority.
For example, if:
- you have a serious infectious disease (like malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, chlamydia, syphilis or HIV/AIDS), your doctor must notify the Department of Health
- if you are under 16: they must also notify your parent or carer;
- if you are over 16: they may also notify your parent or carer.
- your doctor thinks you are being physically or sexually abused, they must notify the Department of Children and Families or the police, who may take action to investigate;
- if you are under 16 and have a STI, the doctor must tell your parents or carer;
- if you are under 14 and sexually active, the doctor must tell the Department of Children and Families or the police;
- your doctor thinks you might hurt yourself or someone else, they may warn that person, your parent or carer, or the Department of Children and Families.
There is no minimum age to buy condoms or spermicides at a pharmacy, or to get medical advice about contraception without parental consent.
But certain medical contraceptives, such as the Pill, require permission from a doctor. This is called a prescription. You need a prescription because some medication may not be safe for everyone to take, and a doctor must first explain how to use the medication safely, and whether you need to avoid other drugs or alcohol while taking it.
Just like any medical treatment (see When can I consent to medical treatment?), the doctor must be satisfied that you understand their advice and that it is in your ‘best interests’ to receive a prescription without parental consent. When something is in your best interests, it means that overall it is good for your health and wellbeing.
The doctor may follow written guidelines when making this decision. These guidelines include considering things like whether:
- you understand the information and advice the doctor is giving you;
- the doctor thinks your parents should be involved;
- you are likely to have sex even if you don’t have contraceptives;
- your physical or mental health is likely to suffer without contraception.
Your doctor may ask you to consider talking to your parents about contraception, if you haven’t already. If you don’t want your parent or carer involved, make this clear.
In the end, it is up to your doctor whether to give you a prescription for medical contraceptives.
Also, if you’re pregnant, or you think you might be, please have a read through our page on pregnancy.
To get a Medicare card you must be enrolled in Medicare. If you are listed on your parent’s Medicare card, then this means you are eligible and already enrolled in Medicare. If you are not listed on your parent’s Medicare card, you need to apply for your own card. You can do this if you are over 15 years old by going to http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/medicare/medicare-card.
If you are younger than 15, you might still be able to have a card of your own, but remain listed on your parent’s card as well. This card is called a ‘duplicate’ card, because it is a copy of your parent’s card.
A duplicate card can be useful if you live away from home, for example if you attend boarding school or live with other relatives. You should discuss this with your parent or guardian as they will need to sign the application form for your own card if you are under 15.
If your name is on your parent’s Medicare card or you have a duplicate card, they will usually have access to your Medicare records. If you are 14 or older, Medicare will not give information about your medical treatment to your parents without your consent, but your parents may still be able to see that you have visited a doctor. This is because the information will be listed if your parents apply for a Medicare Tax Benefit Statement but bulk bill and in-hospital claims will not be included in the Tax Benefit Statement.
If you have your own Medicare Card (not a duplicate), then your parents will not have access to any of your Medicare records.
If you have a question about going to the doctor or your health that we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail!
This page was last updated on the 12 August 2015.
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