The Italian Healthcare System

(click on pictures to enlarge)

1428853231351Living in a foreign country, one doesn’t become familiar with the healthcare system unless the need arises. Unfortunately, the need arose and I’ve found more about healthcare in Italy in the past month than I really wanted to know.

1428853577252Italy ranks 2nd after France in the WHO 2000 ranking of healthcare systems in the world. Canada incidentally ranks 30th, the US 37th and the UK 18th. I haven’t actually read the report so I’m not quite sure what it’s based on and it is somewhat out of date I’m sure. In Italy, healthcare is provided to all citizens and residents through a mixed public/private system. Emergency care is free to all including tourists I believe. However, there’s wide regional variation in th quality of care. Hospitals in the north are generally highly efficient while those in the south tend to be less so. Rome falls somewhere inbetween. Here, there are very good, modern, ‘state of the art’ hospitals like the one on the left and then there are others which date back to the Xth century like the one above, but which have been renovated, rebuilt or had new buildings added over the years.

Family doctors are assigned based on the area in which one lives. If a family doctor requests a particular test, one can go to a public facility, pay a fee and go on a short waiting list. One can also go to a private facility, make a small co-payment, and have the test done immediately. A test can be done even if it hasn’t been requested by a family or other doctor but the payment in this case will be in full. A visit to a specialist can be done through the public system with a possible waiting time and sometimes a fee which can be claimed back depending on one’s income bracket, or privately for a much higher fee. If hospitalization is involved, one can use the public system which is free, or opt for a private hospital which is quite expensive. Usually, the same doctors work in both systems so there is no difference in medical expertise. From what we’ve seen so far, the doctors here are highly trained and very capable. However, there’s a big difference in waiting time for tests and in the level of patient comfort. Where in a private hospital, everything is well-coordinated and geared towards the optimum well-being of patients, public hospitals can vary considerably in this regard. Some are no doubt highly efficient. Others can be disorganized with lack of communication between the different departments and a shortage of good nursing care.

1428853853760I wouldn’t want to be sick and in need of medical care in any country but from what I’ve seen, there are worse countries to be sick in than Italy. One thing I found amusing was a cafe/bar in one of the hospitals we were in. Notice the bottles of champagne on the shelf in the picture on the right. I guess one might either be celebrating a cure or drowning one’s sorrows. Hopefully, friends and family of the patients and not the medical staff!


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