Do you need a referral to see a dermatologist? Your questions, answered

How to access specialist treatment without a referral.

Written by
Julia Hammond
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Most of us have been given a referral before, but you may not have stopped to consider what it is and why it matters.

To put it simply, referrals are a way for you to access specialist medical care — whether that's seeing a dermatologist for a skin condition, getting X-rays or doing a blood test.

Just because a referral is common, doesn't mean it's always necessary. Here's everything you should know about how to get a referral and whether you even need one to see a dermatologist in Australia.

What is a doctor's referral?

A doctor's referral is a written request from one health professional to another, asking them to diagnose or treat a patient for a particular condition [2][5].

There are a few reasons that your doctor might write one, such as [2]:

  • They believe you need specialist diagnosis
  • The other health provider has expertise that you require
  • The other health provider has access to treatments that you require

A doctor’s referral often includes information about you and your condition. This helps with clarity in the first consultation. It tells your new health provider about your medical history and clearly states what they are being asked to treat [2].

Do you need a referral for a dermatologist in Australia?

It might surprise you to learn that you don’t need a referral to see a dermatologist in Australia. Many dermatologists will still accept you as a new patient without one [2].

But, you do need a referral to access a Medicare rebate. That means if you make an appointment without a referral, you may be unable to make a claim for the services and have to cover the full cost yourself [5]. 

How can I get a dermatologist referral?

The first person you should see for almost any health issue is your doctor or GP. They are able to diagnose and manage many skin conditions. If your skin condition is complex, high risk or needs specialist care, they might offer you a referral [2][5].

You have the option to choose an individual specialist that you want to be referred to. If you do not have a preferred specialist, then your doctor can recommend one [2]. 

Most referrals last for 12 months. This is considered long enough for a single course of treatment. If your condition is ongoing or chronic, your doctor might choose to write you an indefinite referral [2].

What conditions do dermatologists treat?

Dermatologists are specialist doctors who treat diseases of the skin, hair and nails. They are qualified to manage more than 3,000 skin conditions [1].

Common conditions they deal with include psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, acne, alopecia and skin cancer [1].

What are the different ways I can see a dermatologist? 

There are 2 ways that you can see a dermatologist [7]:

  1. In a private practice
  2. Through the public health system, like a hospital or community health service

One of the key differences between these options is how much you’ll have to pay. Many public health services are covered by Medicare, which means some or all of your payment is taken care of. We’ll be diving into the cost to see a dermatologist next, so stay tuned.

Once you have been referred to a dermatologist, you can call their clinic or the hospital to make an appointment [5].

How often you need to see them depends on your condition. If your condition is simple, you might only need to see them once or twice. But in some cases, you can require ongoing care [4][7]. It is between you and your specialist to decide the best frequency.

If getting to a clinic or hospital is tricky, the other option is telehealth. This is usually an appointment via phone, or video chat or can be text-based. You can have this appointment from the comfort of your home or even from your doctor’s office [4].

How much does it cost to see a dermatologist?

We know how hard it can be to manage lots of medical fees. It’s one reason we focus on transparent fees for our services.

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly how much it will cost to see a dermatologist. But, we can help you understand how to have a conversation about potential fees and what payment options might be available to you.

Talking about costs with your dermatologist

You have every right to discuss fees with your health provider before you agree to a consultation, medicines or procedures [6].

If you ask about fees, your doctor should provide an estimate. They might also guide you to their billing policy. These are a form of terms and conditions — like those ones you see online before joining a new service. The billing policy should tell you [6]:

  • When payment will be required
  • If discounts are available for early payment
  • If fees will apply for late payment
  • The acceptable forms of payment
  • The name and contact details of a person you can reach to discuss any payment issues 

If you have access to Medicare or private health insurance, you might be able to claim some of the cost for your consultation. Here’s how that works. 

Medicare rebate

The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) is a list of medical services that are subsidised by the government. This means that Medicare will pay a percentage of your bill — known as the Medicare rebate [3][6].

It doesn’t mean that they will cover the entire cost, but they might cover a large part of it. The difference in cost between what Medicare will cover and what you have to pay is known as the ‘gap’ [6].

Some doctors choose to bulk bill. This means that they are charging the whole fee to Medicare and there is no gap payment required from you [3].

Private health insurance

Private health funds can cover some or all of the cost of certain medical services. It depends on what kind of insurance you have, so you need to check your policy carefully. 

A high level of cover might mean you have no payments to make for a dermatologist appointment. But, nothing is guaranteed. If you have questions about your coverage, you can contact your health insurer directly [6].

Out-of-pocket costs

When either Medicare or private health does not cover the full fee for a service, then you have a gap. These are also known as out-of-pocket costs.

You can always ask a health provider for information about their fees and how much you might expect to pay. Some good questions include [6]:

  • What are your fees?
  • Will I have any out-of-pocket costs?
  • Can I have an estimate of your fees in writing?
  • If the cost changes, when will you let me know?
  • Should I contact my health fund?

Alternatives to seeing a dermatologist

Dermatologists are great, but they are not the only way to manage common skin conditions.

Software is a science-backed skincare service that offers personalised treatment for a range of skin concerns. Here’s how we manage acne, pigmentation and ageing.

Treat acne

Everywhere you look, there’s a product promising to heal your acne. While they all work to some extent, many off-the-shelf solutions are not as effective as prescription formulas.

Software’s prescription acne treatment is a medical-grade formula, designed by our dermatology team. Each treatment is personalised to you, with the help of our online doctors. 

The ingredients we use — like retinoids, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide — are considered low-risk. You’ll start on a low dose too, just to make sure your skin tolerates the formula and there’s less potential for side effects.

Fade pigmentation

Did you know there’s more than one type of pigmentation? That also means there’s more than one way to treat it.

From melasma and dark spots to hyperpigmentation, Software’s personalised pigmentation formulas are tailored to help fade and prevent multiple types of pigmentation.

We use an online quiz and a 1:1 consult with a skin specialist to make sure we design a custom formula that can meet your skin goals. There are also regular check-ins that allow us to tweak your formula if required.

Slow signs of ageing

Science may not have discovered the fountain of youth just yet, but it has found a number of ingredients that are effective on fine lines, wrinkles and dullness.

Software’s prescription ageing cream includes clinically proven ingredients in tailored dosages for your skin. It’s a base formula designed by our dermatology team, which is then customised to suit your unique skincare goals.

As part of your subscription, you have access to the Skin Tracker which helps you monitor how your skin changes over time. You can also book in with your doctor on the Software platform if you want to update your formula or discuss any changes.

How much does Software cost?

You can access Software services without a referral. While this does mean that it’s not covered by Medicare, luckily, we have transparent fees, so you’ll know exactly how much to expect to pay.

All our prescription formulas are AU$54 per month. Our billing cycle is every second month, which means you pay AU$108 bi-monthly. You can cancel, pause or delay your subscription at any time and we have no cancellation fees.

If you have more questions, visit the Support Centre for answers about the Software experience.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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