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Is There a Doctor in the House?

At Home Doctor:

When I told my older brother that I was moving to France, he warned that I might not be able to get quality medical care. Even though I confidently assured him otherwise, I was privately concerned.

I needn’t have worried.

Despite my best intentions to experience a carefree entry into French life, I’ve endured a series of medical problems and misadventures requiring a doctor’s care.

In five months, I’ve tested almost all aspects of the French medical care system. Following this unplanned survey, my conclusion is that my medical care in France is superior to that in the United States and far less expensive, even though I had exceptional doctors in America and excellent medical insurance.


An Unplanned Survey of French Healthcare Services

My unscientific survey started with bronchitis, which I apparently caught on the flight to France. Getting an appointment with a doctor was not difficult.

When I arrived at home doctor office, the absence of a receptionist, medical assistant, or clerical support surprised me. I rang a bell to announce my presence and sat in the waiting room.

 At home doctor appeared, led me into a small office with an examining table, listened to my symptoms, examined me, made notes on his laptop, and wrote a prescription.

When we finished, he gave me an invoice for twenty-five euros, and I paid him in cash. Had I been an official resident, I would not have been charged. I filled the antibiotic prescription for less than five euros (six dollars).

That pattern would be repeated in subsequent visits at home doctor. The absence of overhead (such as clerical staff to process insurance claims) apparently keeps costs low.


A Series of Unfortunate Medical Problems

For the next four months, I worked my way through a series of medical diagnoses—from an abscessed tooth to a broken bone in my foot. Each time, I gained timely access to a physician or dentist and was given an inexpensive drug or a needed procedure.

I also spent a night in a local emergency room and received dozens of tests during the night. This cost about three hundred euros ($330). My guess is that a similar night in the emergency room in Grass Valley, my home town in California, would have cost ten to twelve thousand dollars, if not more.

To make absolutely sure my survey of the French medical system was complete, I fell and hurt my foot. Even though I needed to get my foot x-rayed on a Sunday, I got a midmorning appointment at a clinic. The orthopedist charged thirty-five euros (thirty-eight dollars) for the office visit and the same for the x-ray.

Where I go for care

Healthcare Specialists Are Available and Affordable

Thanks to the diligence of my daughter-in-law, Attenderella, I connected with a specialist for long-term care for a rare chronic condition I have. The cost of consulting with this widely recognized expert was fifty euros (fifty-five dollars). She spent a full hour obtaining a detailed history and wrote an impressive three-page report summarizing my medical situation.

She also ordered a battery of tests so we could establish a baseline for my health. To accomplish that, she arranged an appointment at a major hospital in Montpellier where various tests could be quickly accomplished in one day, much like how the famous Mayo Clinic operates.

Once I was settled in my hospital room, I was visited by an English-speaking physician who explained what tests I’d be given and why they were necessary. He also stopped in after each test to tell me the outcome.

His familiarity with my medical history and the likely progression of my condition impressed me. I had no doubt that I was in good hands.

The testing went smoothly and efficiently, and I checked out of the hospital by 3:00 p.m., leaving plenty of time to prepare for France’s national sport—apéritifs.

No Blood Sausage For This Patient Please

My only complaint was lunch. The scalloped potatoes were excellent, as was the beet salad with tuna in a citrus dressing. French bread is always good, of course. However, I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than a small bite of the blood sausage.

I’d heard of blood sausage but never seen it. When my doctor stopped by, I asked him if that’s what my mystery meat dish was. He nodded and shared that he loved it. I offered him mine!

According to my son, Expresso, blood sausage and liver are often served to patients because of their high iron and nutritional content. This is doubtless a medically sound idea, albeit unpalatable to me.

A Personal Approach Is Healing

Besides five months of medical care, my unplanned survey included a dozen or more prescriptions, each of which cost a fraction of what they might cost in the United States.

Throughout this blog post, I have emphasized the accessibility and low cost of medical care here in France.

What I find more amazing, however, is that French medical personnel seem to really care about their patients. The client isn’t a collection of symptoms or a bothersome interruption in a busy office but rather a human being that requires care from another human being. The interactions are personal rather than transactional. In many ways, this is the most remarkable aspect of the French healthcare system.

Art celebrating the spirit of the medical care staff

The boot on my broken foot comes off in a couple of weeks. So, except for a few more tests in February and a consultation with my specialist in March, my survey is nearly complete—or so I hope!

When I lived in California, I assumed that the American healthcare system was one of the best in the world. My personal doctors were certainly outstanding.

However, I’ve since learned that by many measures (for example, mortality rates, treatment outcomes, life expectancy, and disease burden), the United States lags behind comparable countries—and ironically, America spends more while achieving less.

A Shift in Perspective on Healthcare

France proves that cradle-to-grave medical care is possible and affordable—even for immigrants like me. Universal access to medical care at a fraction of the current cost is an impossible political goal in the United States.

Here in France, that goal has become reality—and this new reality has forced me to shift my perspective on what is achievable.

Cover photo from Gazette Live, Montpellier

Clinic photo from Clinique du Millénaire website

Art photo from Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Montpellier website