Sunday, September 13, 2009

Health Care in France

Health Care in France. To my surprise, I haven't heard any references to it in the current "debate" (i.e. mess) now happening in the U.S. Funny thing that. So I thought I'd share my latest experiences.

For the last two weeks I've had a constant pain in my abdomen. I figured it was something that could be taken care of by my "kinĂ©" (i.e. physiotherapist), so I let it pass until I finally made an appointment to see him last Thursday. As a matter of fact, that is why I didn't write a blog last week – pain really wastes your life. I couldn’t write or do anything but the basics,

During our session, the kinĂ© did express concern about the pain and warned me if it got worse I needed to phone my doctor on Friday to see him immediately. Since the pain did go away after our session, I didn't phone my doctor. But at 3 am blasts of pain exploded inside my abdomen. Good lord, why hadn't I phone my doctor? And I had the entire weekend ahead of me before I could even phone him to make an appointment. Then another delay to get tests. Then another delay until I could get treatment – all the while experiencing unbearable pain. Then the thought came to me – go to the Emergency Room ("Service des Urgences") at the nearest municipal hospital! I even considered walking there at 4 am, but I really couldn't handle it since there's no public transport at that hour in Paris. So I worked on my computer (a great way to handle insomnia by the way) and took my time getting ready in the morning. It was a risk, but I figured if it succeeded – it would be an all-in-one operation: examination, diagnosis, tests, and prescription.

I arrived at les Urgences at around 11 am. Oh boy – there was an enormous room filled with people – how long would I have to wait? In fact, the first wait was about 5 minutes to see the sign-in person behind a window. I explained my situation. Fortunately, I'm in the French health care system, so I have Social Security reimbursements for medical expenses, and my complementary insurance policy pays the rest at municipal hospitals which are all within the "reasonable and customary" category regarding fees. So I merely had to show my documents. That was it. I never got a bill because all will be billed directly to Social Security and my personal insurance (for which I pay €63.93 a month).

Now the wait. After about half an hour I was called by a nurse for a quick review of my situation. It was urgent, but not so urgent that I had to see a doctor immediately. "Please go back to the waiting room and a doctor will call you." OK. I noticed that the next person she called was a young Chinese woman, accompanied by her husband, who could not even stand up straight as she walked toward the nurse. I was relieved to see she never came back into the waiting room.

Another wait. It seems really long, but at 1 pm, exactly 2 hours after my arrival, the doctor calls my name. A very young doctor – an intern according to his badge – who looks about 18 years old. Very kind and soft-spoken. We go through the door into the back of the department where there are a number of examination rooms. We speak – he examines my abdomen. Orders a urine test. Studies the results. And diagnoses that I have spasms that are blocking my digestion. He prescribes an antispasmodic medication and the painkiller Paracetamol. He explains that I absolutely have to see my regular doctor within 48 hours (i.e. Monday at the latest) and gives me a written report to give him.

That's it. I leave the Urgences at about 1:45 pm, less than three hours after I arrived.. I filled the prescription at my local pharmacy where I also didn't have to pay anything up front as all will be billed directly to public and private insurance policies. I took the medicine – and the pain disappeared! Relief at last after 2 weeks.

Oh yes – I then phoned my doctor. On Saturday? Oh yes. I have his cell phone number. You see, I've been going to the same doctor for about 15 years. He works alone – doesn't need a staff because he doesn’t' have to deal with insurance or heavy administration. And he was perfectly OK to speak with me on the phone Saturday to make the appointment for Monday afternoon. Thus speaks the French Health System. At least, that's how it worked for me during a critical incident. I'm very happy to be living in France and to be part of this "socialist"(ooh la la!) health system. You see – it can work. Wonders.