Member Onboarding

Private Hospitals vs. Public Hospitals

Discover the difference between the private and public hospital systems.

With hospital insurance, your health fund will help cover costs if you go to a private hospital for treatment. As a private patient in a private hospital, you have more control over your health care experience. You’ll be able to choose your hospital, your doctor, avoid public hospital waiting lists and gain access to a private room. That means you can select the best doctor for the job at the hospital of your choice, receive treatment at a time that suits you and gain access to a private room where you can recover in comfort.

If you don’t have hospital insurance, or if you do and choose not to use it, you can go to a public hospital for free. In this situation, Medicare would cover the full cost of your treatment and hospital expenses. The flip side is without hospital insurance you wouldn’t be able to choose your doctor or your hospital. You’d also be allocated a shared or private room based on availability or the severity of your condition. What’s more, if your condition isn’t urgent, you’d be placed on the public hospital waiting list before receiving treatment, even if you’re in pain.


What is the difference between a private patient and a public patient?

When you go to hospital, you’re either considered a private patient or a public patient.

What is a private patient?

A private patient is someone who chooses to use hospital insurance to help cover the cost of hospital treatment. A private patient has the option of going to a private or public hospital for treatment.

It’s worth noting if you do choose to go to a public hospital as a private patient, public hospital waiting lists still apply. Plus, depending on the type of agreement your health fund has with the public hospital, you may face out-of-pocket costs.

What is a public patient?

A public patient is someone who either doesn’t have hospital insurance, or does and chooses not to use it when they go to hospital. If you go to a public hospital as a public patient, Medicare will cover the cost of your treatment, so long as it’s listed on the Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS).

If you don’t have private hospital insurance, you can still choose to go to a private hospital for treatment. Medicare doesn’t cover private hospital costs (for example, theatre fees or accommodation), so if you do choose to go to a private hospital without adequate insurance, you should be aware and prepared for associated costs.


What options would I have when going to hospital?

So what’s the key difference between going to a private hospital as a private patient, and going to a public hospital as a public patient? Below is a summary of the options you’d have:

  Private Patient in a Private Hospital Private Patient in a Public Hospital Public Patient in a Public Hospital
Can I choose my hospital? Yes, you can choose the hospital where you’d like to receive treatment, provided your doctor works there. Possibly, although it depends on which doctor is performing your procedure and where they work. No, you’ll be allocated a public hospital. You have no choice in where you go to receive treatment.
Can I choose my doctor? Yes, you can choose the doctor that will treat you. Possibly, but if you are admitted in Emergency, a choice might not be available. No, a doctor appointed by the public hospital will perform your treatment.
Can I choose to stay in a private room? Yes, you can stay in a private room provided one is available and you have an appropriate level of cover. Yes, you can stay in a private room provided one is available, you have an appropriate level of cover and based on your clinical need. No, you’ll be allocated a room by the public hospital – this could be a shared or private room depending on availability and your condition.
Do I have to pay during my stay? Possibly, as it depends on your level of cover. Your accommodation and specialist fees will either be fully or partly covered (but you may have an excess). Possibly, as it depends on your level of cover. Your accommodation and specialist fees will either be fully or partly covered (but you may have an excess) and you may be charged extra for a private room. No, Medicare will cover all of your accommodation and specialist fees.

What does being able to choose my hospital mean for me as…

A private patient in a private hospital:

Say you’re an expecting mother - you can choose the hospital you’d like to go to when you have your baby.

For example, if you’d like to go to St John of God private hospital for the birth, you can.

A public patient in a public hospital:

Say you’re an expecting mother - you won’t be able to choose where you have your baby. Instead, you’ll be allocated a room at the public hospital closest to your home.

For example, say you want to go to Fiona Stanley public hospital for the birth. If it’s not the public hospital closest to your home, you won’t be able to go there.


What does choice of doctor mean for me as…

A private patient in a private hospital:

If you need surgery and a doctor is recommended to you, you can choose that doctor for your treatment.

For example, if you need your wisdom teeth removed in hospital, you can ask your friends about their experience. Say one friend had a great experience with a doctor – you can contact that doctor and book your treatment with them.

A public patient in a public hospital:

If you need surgery and a doctor is recommended to you, you can’t choose that doctor for your treatment.

Say you need your wisdom teeth removed in hospital and a friend suggests the doctor they saw for their treatment. The doctor did a great job and comes highly recommended. You won’t be able to book that doctor for your treatment. Instead, the public hospital you are referred to will allocate you a doctor for your treatment.


What does choosing time of treatment mean for me as…

A private patient in a private hospital:

If you need surgery but have other commitments to work around, you can book your surgery at a time that suits you.

For example, if you’re injured and that injury affects your ability to work but isn’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency ward, having hospital insurance means you can get treatment at a private hospital straight away.

Alternatively, you might have a holiday booked or deadlines to meet at work. Provided your surgeon or doctor is available at the time you request, you’ll be able to book your surgery so it doesn’t clash with any of your other commitments.

A public patient in a public hospital:

If you need surgery but have other commitments to work around, you won’t be able to book your treatment at a convenient time. Instead, you’ll be placed on a public waiting list.

Say you’re injured. If your injury is serious enough to keep you at home from work but not serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency ward, you may have to wait a long time before receiving the surgery you need to treat your injury and get back to work.

Alternatively, you might have a holiday booked or deadlines to meet at work – because you’re on a waiting list, the time of your surgery will depend on how many people are on the list before you.


What does being able to choose my room mean for me as…

A private patient in a private hospital:

Say you’ve just had surgery and you’re staying in hospital while you recover; with hospital insurance you’ll have the choice to stay in a private room, where you can recover in comfort.

A public patient in a public hospital:

If you’ve just had surgery and you need to stay in hospital while you recover, unless your condition is serious relative to other patients in the hospital, you’ll likely be allocated a shared room while you recover.


You might also like

Find hospital cover that will suit your lifestyle View cover