What are the types of health care?

Australia's three-tiered health care system.

Australia has a three-tiered health care system, with health care providers falling in to one of three categories: primary, secondary and tertiary health care.

Primary health care

For most patients, a primary care clinician will be their first point of contact in the Australian health system. A primary care clinician may be a doctor, dentist, nurse, allied health professional or a pharmacist. This level of care may be provided in a general practice, community or allied health centre or Aboriginal and Community Controlled Health Services. It may also include health promotion, health education or prevention. Depending on the person’s health condition, they may be referred on to secondary or tertiary care.

Secondary health care

Health services provided by medical specialists and other health professionals who do not have the first contact with patients. Secondary care is usually (but not always) delivered in a hospital/clinic with the initial referral being made by the primary care professional.  Secondary health care can also refer to ongoing services not necessarily provided in the hospital, such as psychiatrists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Tertiary health care

Highly specialised health care, often for inpatients and on referral from a primary or secondary health professional, is considered tertiary care. This often includes particularly complex medical or surgical procedures. 

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