It's a fact of life that many of us will require a hospital stay at some point in our lives, whether it be due to illness, a surgical procedure, the birth of a child or an unexpected emergency.
Victoria is fortunate to have a diverse range of public and private hospitals spread across both metropolitan and regional centres statewide.
These hospitals cover a vast amount of general and specialised areas of health-care practice.
Which hospital you ultimately end up attending will be largely based both on your location and your specific needs and circumstances.
Often, this can be determined by whether your hospital visit is planned or unplanned.
An unplanned hospital visit usually means that you or someone you're helping has needed to go a hospital urgently because something unexpected has happened, an injury or an accident, for example.
And in most cases, the best thing to do is go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital, or calling 000 for urgent medical advice and assistance if you are unable to get to a hospital in an emergency.
Planned hospital visits occur when your GP or other specialist healthcare professional advises you to visit a hospital for a specialist clinic, maternity services or specific treatment.
A fairly common example of this is to get a specialist opinion on whether you need surgery.
Before going into hospital, your doctor will usually refer you to see a specialist, and you'll need to contact the specialist clinic and make an appointment.
The specialist will assess you and may send you for further tests before deciding on what kind of treatment you require and whether you need to go into hospital or surgery for treatment.
At this stage, you will also be told how long you will have to wait for treatment.
Sometimes, you may be booked to attend a hospital for complex tests or treatments that require you to be admitted for a day or overnight.
How you are admitted to hospital depends on whether you are going through the public or private hospital system, what kind of treatment you're receiving and how urgent your treatment is.
In public hospitals, your waiting time for elective surgery depends on how urgent your condition is, which is discussed by you and the surgeon.
For emergency surgery, you may be admitted straight away from the emergency department or clinic with no waiting period.
In the public hospital system, you may not be able to choose your treating specialist.
In private hospitals, you may not have to wait as long for treatment and you can usually choose who your doctor or specialist is, but you should be aware there are costs and fees associated with any form of treatment within the private system.
Sometimes, even if you plan to be admitted to a private hospital, the best place for your treatment may end up being a public hospital.
This can be due to a particular public hospital having the specific equipment, facilities and specialists required for a particular health problem or treatment.
Once you've been admitted into hospital, you will stay in a hospital ward.
How long you stay will depend on the specific treatment you require.
For minor procedures, you may only need to stay for a day, but for ongoing treatment or major surgery, you will need to stay longer.
Outside of the hospital system, there are numerous other services that can provide treatment if you have an urgent need.
For medical emergencies, you should always call 000.
For after-hours medical issues that are not emergencies, there are a range of options available to you, such as telephone helplines, pharmacies and after hours medical clinics.
If you are seeking general medical advice about a health issue, you can phone Nurse-On-Call at any time of the day or night, or contact Maternal and Child Health if you are concerned about your baby or your child.
For more information, visit: betterhealth.vic.gov.au/hospitals