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The 7 things you need to know before seeing a doctor in France

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Seeing a doctor in France can be a culture shock experience.

I’ve been to the doctor in Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, and the UK and every time I’ve experienced some level of culture shock

I was never really prepared for what happened and I thought I’d give you some French insight on how it really works when you go for a GP consultation, a general doctor so that you know a bit more what to expect. We are obviously more comfortable with what we are used to and even more when it comes to a very intimate and confidential subject like personal health.

#1- So the first thing you will need to know is how to find a doctor in France

First, I would recommend asking around you for a recommendation. Ask your colleagues, your neighbour or your friends. It is always better to choose it near your home or your workplace. You can also ask your consulate if they have a list of recommended doctors speaking English or your mother tongue.

The healthcare system website AMELI provides a doctors and specialists directory. You will know the category of doctors and their price range. 

You can also search for doctors and specialists on the Doctolib website or app by specialisation and localisation. The doctors can be filtered according to the languages they speak, their gender and if they are state-certified or not.

Those 2 platforms are in French.

#2- How to make an appointment to see a doctor in France

Before seeing a doctor in France, you will need to make an appointment. Many doctors are now listed on Doctolib, the platform I’ve just mentioned. Besides helping you to find a doctor, you will be able to make the appointment online if you have a French social security number, which avoids the challenge of a phone call in French!

If the doctor you have been recommended is not listed on Doctolib, you’ll need to make a call, mainly in French to book your appointment. So if you are not used to making a call in French, I know how challenging it can be, you may want to write a few sentences down with your symptoms and dates and time of availabilities in French. Your translation app will be your best friend for that! 

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You will be asked if this is your first visit to this doctor. Some doctors will not accept new patients when they are over-loaded. So you may need to call other doctors if that happens.

They will ask you for the motive of the visit and your availability. Also, you should know that this is totally OK to ask for the doctor’s fee but I’ll talk about it further.

#3- Seeing the doctor in France for an emergency

What if you need to see a doctor in France for a minor emergency? In that case, I’d recommend calling SOS Medecins, they are the on-call doctors that will come to your home. 

I have written this other article to explain in more detail the French emergency medical system, you will find it up there.

SOS Medecin numbers are different in every French region but you can easily find the relevant number online by typing SOS Medecin + the city or department number where you are (which are the first 2 numbers of your postcode).

The doctor will come to your home, and give you assistance and a prescription if needed. 

This service is partially reimbursed by the French public health care. But you should always pay the full price of the consultation (often in cash or checks. YES, checks are still used a lot in France. Many times doctors do not have a card machine). 

Now let me ask you for a favour, if you find this information helpful, please give this video a like since it will help other people to find it. Merci!

#4- What to expect when you arrive at the doctor’s office

You should know that most French GP work in private practice and, often there will be no check-in desk. Most of the time, the doctor’s practice will be in a residential building and only a professional plate will show that it is a doctor’s practice. 

You will also find medical centres but they are a bit less frequent. They are called Maison de santé, Pôle de santé (centres gathering different types of self-employed doctors) or centre de santé (which are the municipal or community health centre).

When you are at the doctor’s practice door, that will be just like an apartment door with a professional plate, check if there are instructions written on the door. It will usually be written, “sonnez et entrez” (meaning “ring the bell and enter directly”). You’ll understand why it can be important.

Once you’re in, you will not find a nurse or an assistant to greet you unless there are many doctors in a practice (that will also share the cost of extra staff) or if you are in a medical centre or at the hospital of course. 

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So, when you get into the doctor’s practice, you will need to look for the waiting room (la salle d’attente). If there are other people in the room when you get in, make sure you greet them in French with a simple Bonjour. This is the social norm in France and will be awkward if you don’t.

Then you’ll just wait for the doctor to come in to get you. Never go directly to the Doctor’s office, he or she might be with a patient. The doctor will come in person. Also, I know that in some countries private doctors wear lab coats. I have never seen that in France.

No uniforms are needed when you are self-employed! And French people do not consider that the uniform is needed to give trust to a self-employed doctor.

#5- Now what about the price?

As a general rule, you will always need to pay the full cost of the medical consultation and if you are registered with French healthcare, you will receive reimbursement of a portion of this cost. 

Then, if you go to a public hospital and are registered for French healthcare, you will not need to pay upfront.  

Now depending on the general practitioner, you have chosen, you could pay from 25 euros up to about 50 euros for the consult.

If you have chosen a doctor categorised as what the French call “secteur one”, you will be charged the state agreed fee which is currently 25 euros. The sector 2 doctors will be a bit more expensive but usually still under 50 euros price range. The sector type is mentioned on the Doctolib website and the Ameli directory I have mentioned before. The sector type depends on the agreement the doctor has with the Assurance Maladie that regulates the fees doctors can charge. If you choose a Doctor in the category “non-conventionné”, this means that their fee is not regulated and they can charge as much as they want.

The same prices will apply if you are a tourist or if you are registered with French healthcare or if you have a European health insurance card. If you are travelling to France with an EHIC, this post will explain what to do in France.

Now if you are seeing a specialized doctor, the fee will be higher. The prices are always displayed in the waiting room as per French regulations. You can also find them on the 2 platforms I’ve mentioned.

The doctor will usually start by asking you about your Carte Vitale (this is the card you get when registered with French healthcare). The doctor will swipe the card and the French social security will know the consultation price you have paid, but also the doctor type and category to be able to transfer directly to your bank account the relevant reimbursement amount.

You remember I’ve mentioned before the on-call doctors, called SOS médecin. Well, their fees are also state-agreed fees and they charge 35€ during working hours but the price goes up to a maximum of 85€ for night assistance.

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Also, many doctors still don’t have payment card readers, so if you don’t have a French bank cheque, make sure you bring cash with you to be able to pay for the consultation.

#6- No nurse is present during the exams

When you are seeing a doctor in France, you will see the doctor alone. It is not common to have a third party in the room unless it is needed for medical reasons. 

Also, many people in France will not feel comfortable sharing private things if there is someone else in the room, even if this is a nurse or an assistant.

We don’t really consider it necessary since there is a big trust in the medical practicians.

Also, French people don’t think that much about lawsuits, this is less common here than in the USA for example. 

Of course, if needed, you can file a complaint against your practitioner with the departmental council of the medical order – the Conseil départemental de l’ordre des médecins (CDOM). For that, you should send a letter by registered post with acknowledgement of receipt, enclosing a detailed history of the incriminating facts and a copy of the corresponding medical documents.

Then, the Medical Order must then hold an arbitration meeting within one month of receiving the official complaint.

#7- Medical nudity in France

French people don’t sexualise nudity per default. And medical nudity is normal in France. 

Most of the time, no gown is given to cover yourself. The doctor often needs to see you and a gown covering most of the body could hide conditions you are not aware of. 

You may feel exposed and if medical nudity makes you feel uncomfortable, you can choose the gender of your doctor as it is a filter criterion on Doctolib.

Also, depending on the type of consultation you are having, you are usually never entirely naked. Also, many French people keep seeing their family doctor in France when they can, so they have been seeing the same doctor since they are a child. This is my case, I’ve kept my family doctor and every time I go back to Lyon and I need a check-up I go and see my family doctor.

Now ladies, most gynaecologists I’ve been to in France leave the room when you undress and don’t request that you remove all of your clothes for a pelvic exam… 

Some of them also ask if you want a paper gown to cover up, but not always, after all, they need to see and a paper gown will not keep you warm.

In short

Seeing a doctor in France will be different than in your country due to the cultural difference and also the healthcare system organisation. In any case, you will have good care during your stay in France.

These 7 points will help you get prepared for your first appointment with a French GP.

Take care of yourself!

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