Most of us operate on a conventional 9-to-5 work arrangement, in which the majority of work-related transactions must be completed during that 8-hour window. For hospitals and clinics, that is also the case; in the typical healthcare model, doctors accommodate us on a shift or per-appointment basis within the regular working hours of their parent institution.

But modern life in Australia, and the rise of flexible and irregular working shifts, has led to a clamour for services outside of the regular model. This, in turn, has led to an increase in avenues for after-hours medical assistance, such as after-hours and weekend clinics, hotlines dedicated to medical advising, and home visit services from after-hours general physicians (GPs).

There’s no denying the convenience that these services afford and their capacity to overcome the odds in after-hours medical emergencies. Still, it is worth noting that after-hours medical services are not meant to replace regular hospitals and clinics as the default. Like their office-hour counterparts, on-call GPs face certain limits when working within their chosen business model. Deciding to contact an after-hours GP in Western Australia means that you should set reasonable expectations for how your need will be met, and how much your doctor will be able to help you.

How should you decide on the level of medical assistance that you need? Is an on-call GP in the best position to help you, or is another avenue better suited to you? To help you answer these questions, here’s a set of common scenarios and the recommended course of action for each.  

  1. Q: We are in the middle of an emergency. Someone is suffering from a stroke or heart attack. Who should I dial?

    A: A serious medical emergency, such as a stroke or a heart attack, requires swift and full medical attention rather than on-call home visit services. To ensure the quickest form of intervention and a full arsenal of necessary medical supplies, dial Triple Zero (000) for ambulatory services. If there is a hospital nearby, take the victim to the emergency room (ER). Moreover, if someone in the vicinity is knowledgeable of first aid, enjoin them to apply the necessary stopgap measures in order to save the victim’s life before additional help arrives.

  2. Q: Something is out of the ordinary. I am feeling dizzier than usual, my nausea has been persistent, and I didn’t come in for work today. Is it a good idea to dial an after-hours physician?

    A: Yes, this may be a good time to dial an after-hours GP. If the issue is something that’s significantly hampered your mobility and concentration, it’s best to stay where you are and wait for the doctor to come within a few hours. Inform the service provider ahead about your name, location, and symptoms; if needed, ask for the help of someone in your household in relaying this to the GP.

  3. Q: The patient that needs treatment is a young child/senior citizen. Travelling to and lining up at a clinic will be burdensome for them. Can we have an after-hours GP come over instead?

    A: The answer is yes, in this case, dialling an after-hours GP might be the ideal recourse. In fact, most of Australia’s home visits are paid in order to address the health concerns of young children. Medical assistance to the elderly also forms a large chunk of the sought-after home visit services. You can avoid taking chances on the already fragile health of your children or elderly, and make sure that they receive medical assistance in the safety and comfort of your home.
  4. Q: The problem pertains to a longstanding physical condition I have. Should I call an after-hours doctor, or should I wait until my own physician is available?

    A:In this case, you should call an after-hours GP only if the concern is on the serious side. Most after-hours doctors operate as part of a one-off service with no continuous follow-ups. If your medical history contains a longstanding illness, try to think of it as an intricate puzzle: the pieces need to be carefully studied several times over before they’re put in the right place. That said, the person who has the clearest picture of what that puzzle might look like is your family or personal physician. They are the ones who are the most well-disposed to advise you on a pattern of treatment for your condition. Wait on the word of your physician, and only think of an after-hours GP as a last resort.

Don’t worry, however, about the idea of “bothering” doctors after-hours. Upon accepting their vocation and taking the Hippocratic Oath, doctors swear to attend to the needs of patients in the best way that they can. That is precisely the reason why the after-hours model has gained traction: doctors recognise that medical emergencies can transpire anywhere and at any time, and in some cases, the solution is to step in.

Given all those considerations, think before you dial an after-hours GP—and do your best to work with the services in achieving the best medical outcome.

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "Do You Need an After-Hours Doctor?," in Medicalopedia, March 26, 2019, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/7355/do-you-need-an-after-hours-doctor/].