Going to the Doctor and Dealing with Healthcare in France
While a trip to the doctor’s office in your home country may seem relatively straightforward, it is a task, like many others, that can suddenly feel confusing and complicated in a new country. To minimize frustration, it is best to go into the experience with a bit of information. For starters, when you walk into an average doctor’s office in France (and by average, I mean the three that I have visited in my tiny Northern French town), you first enter the waiting room. However, unlike in the United States, there is no handy little window with a friendly secretary behind it to check you in and prompt you to fill out paperwork. It is simply a small room with chairs and magazines. There is another door, but DO NOT TOUCH IT. In some doctor’s offices, this door off of the waiting room leads directly into the one-and-only exam room/doctor’s official office (yes, all combined!), so you could end up walking in on someone’s very personal consultation. You must sit patiently in the waiting room, even if you have no appointment, and wait for the doctor or secretary (if there even is one) to come and find you. If you do not have an appointment, you can ask the doctor/secretary about this when they enter the room to retrieve another patient.
When I entered my doctor’s waiting room, I already had an appointment. The room was full of sick children and their parents (’twas the height of cold and flu season), so I had no worries of being forgotten in the waiting room. After all of the other patients had been welcomed into the office one by one, helped, and sent on their way through another door, the doctor finally came to find me. Medical visits in France generally consist of two parts: the first occurs at the doctor’s desk to discuss why you are there and what you need, and the second (sometimes in a separate room, though often simply on the opposite side of the same room) to complete the procedure/check up. At the end of the check up, you pay your fees and the doctor writes any necessary prescriptions.
My doctor’s office was quite small, so we ended up conducting both parts of the appointment in the same room. First we sat a her desk and she conversationally asked me why I had come and what I needed. I responded to all of her questions in a pitiful version of French, but she was extremely patient with me the entire time. Strangely, she never asked me to fill out any medical paperwork or intake information. The one thing that I found strange was that she answered her telephone every time it rang, despite the fact that we were in the middle of an appointment. This is common in France, and usually due to a lack of secretarial assistance. Do not be surprised if your doctor not only answers the phone during your appointment, but also takes her time to chat and catch up with the person on the other line. You just need to be patient (no pun intended…har har har).
After discussing everything, she instructed me to cross the room to sit on the examination bed to proceed with the second part of the appointment. It was a simple string of the same basic procedures we have in the US to determine my weight, height, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Afterwards we returned to her desk so that she could write my prescriptions and my receipt for the 24€ I paid her for the appointment (standard national price for general practitioner appointments). All of this was done with no health insurance (including my prescriptions, which only cost me a couple of euros each).
Overall, the process was very simple and friendly. Perhaps it is because I am in a small town, but it seems that doctor’s visits are a social events in addition to medical ones. It reminds me of my grandfather’s medical work during the 1950’s, when he ran his practice out of his own home. Entered into with patience and understanding, it is actually a surprisingly enjoyable experience!