After nearly four years in Italy it finally came to pass that we had to visit the doctor. When we were initially issued with our health cards we had to nominate a local doctor to be our family doctor but were given no details about how to contact them and so we turned to the internet to find a telephone number to make an appointment. Call after call was made but went unanswered until finally the only option was to go to the surgery.
Once in the centre of town we asked for some directions from two elderly ladies waiting at a bus stop – a good idea, as they were experts in the surgery’s location and opening times. I write surgery, but in fact it seemed to be little more than another bus stop, this time built in brick and furnished with the most uncomfortable park benches ever designed.
The reason that the receptionist was not answering the telephone was because there was no receptionist and so no appointments – you turn up and wait your turn, carefully taking note of who is already there and who comes in after you. Being little more than a bus stop means no TV, interesting notices or magazines to read, but this is Italy and waiting for the doctor is the ideal opportunity to express your views on the failure of, well almost everything. Waiting is not boring, and in summer you are additionally occupied by counting how many mosquitoes you can swat before they obtain a blood sample from you.
The good news is that seeing the doctor is free, here the good news ends. If needed she (in our case) will write a prescription for you. This is actually a blank sheet of paper that she writes the medicine’s details on and rubber stamps. Italians are given a high degree of responsibility for their own health and if you know what treatment you need you can purchase it from the chemist without a prescription, but there are medicines that have more controls and a visit to the doctor is required. Medicines cost the market price, so the cost might be €2 or €15 and some are even free! We have no idea why some are free but it is a nice surprise at the chemist.
This image is of the all-important ‘impegnativa’, nothing much happens in the health service without one of these; no appointment with a specialist or blood sample taken, it is all controlled by this little form. Naturally all these little extras cost a bit of money; a visit to the specialist about €30 – unless they only see patients privately, ouch! But I am confident that having paid your €30 you make sure that you attend your appointment, the ‘did not attend’ rate must be very low.
The day of your appointment with specialist arrives and the first part is a fun game to play – find the specialist. Signing within hospitals is close to non-existent (this mirrors how well Italian roads are signed), and the corridors are filled with patients, clutching their impegnative, searching for the correct waiting room. You can happily sit for a couple of hours in the wrong waiting room and no one will tell you otherwise (we know, we did). And we quickly learned that we needed a smart plastic folder to put all our papers, notes and x-rays in because you take them home with you. Italians going to the hospital are easy to spot as they will be carrying such a folder.
Actually the system works pretty well and Italians enjoy high health standards and long lives, and all the payments are not as bad they seem as these costs can all be put against your income tax.
At least with the clean Marche air and the peace and tranquilly at Villa Rosa Bianca, making use of the Italian health service during your holiday here should not be required!