Public vs. Private Hospitals: The Great Debate

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Public vs. Private Hospitals: The Great Debate

Since approximately half of Australians have private health insurance, citizens have the option of choosing between public or private hospital care. When it comes to choosing between public and private hospitals, though, many rely on recommendations from friends and family or previous experiences.

Deciding whether to choose a public or private hospital ultimately depends on which sector is best-suited to meet your needs. So, what are the differences between public and private hospitals, and how do the two compare?

Public vs. private hospital treatment

Choosing treatment in a private hospital means you’ll be given more choice about the care you receive. Private hospitals allow patients to choose their own doctor, experience shorter wait times, and enjoy extra services, like an individual room and a nicer environment.

Public hospitals in Australia offer high-quality care and are free of charge for all citizens with a Medicare number. As a result, public hospitals are more widely accessible to the general public, and some provide more services than private hospitals. While private hospitals typically handle complex cases, public hospitals treat a wide range of conditions.

Although it is not required, Australians are typically encouraged to invest in private health insurance. Private health insurance entitles patients to their own doctor, treatment in a private hospital, or the option to be treated as a private patient in a public hospital. In 2017, roughly two out of every five hospitalizations were in a private hospital.

Why choose a private hospital?

In Australia, many patients choose private hospitals to receive elective surgery. In some cases, doctors choose to operate exclusively in private hospitals. As a result, many people of childbearing age choose to purchase private health insurance, and approximately 30 percent of all hospital births are performed in private hospitals. There is also a higher chance of having an intervention during childbirth, like a cesarean, in the care of a private hospital.

In addition, patients in private hospitals are more likely to spend fewer days in the hospital and are at lower risks of something going wrong. Since treatment in private hospitals is often planned, the risk of contracting an infection is 2.6 percent lower than in public hospitals.

Why choose a public hospital?

In the case of an emergency or general health issues, most Australians choose public hospitals. Additionally, the majority of emergency department and outpatient services are governed by public hospitals. Australians with private health insurance can choose to be treated as private patients in a public hospital. In other words, patients can be treated by their doctor of choice and will be given their own room.

In public hospitals, the risk of something going wrong, such as falling or being given the wrong medication, is higher. In addition, some patients hesitate to choose public hospitals because of the perception that patients receive a different provider each visit.

Making the decision

Ultimately, choosing whether to receive care from a public or private hospital can be difficult and confusing, especially when you need immediate treatment. Most Australians rely on recommendations from friends, family, or their doctors when choosing between public and private care.

If you’re still not sure which hospital system to use, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s My Hospitals website provides performance information for over 1,000 hospitals in Australia.

If you have private health insurance, consider what your fund will cover before visiting a private hospital. If you are considering using the private hospital system, be sure to compare health funds at iSelect. Researching out-of-pocket costs, what kind of facilities are available, and waiting periods can help you make an informed decision about your treatment.

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