Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

A Visit to the Doctor in Provence

I will confess – I was looking forward to visiting the doctor in France.

Not the being sick part, of course. We are self-employed, over-40, and I have a “pre-existing condition” so we are one of those families that the US healthcare system doesn’t really work for. I was very curious to see how a doctor visit in France would compare.

We got our chance last week. L sprained her ankle so we dug out the list of doctors that we got at Tourist Information (incredibly helpful place!) and found an office near us. JM called to see when we could come. Our first surprise came when THE DOCTOR answered the phone on the first ring – no receptionist, no voice mail.

There are walk-in hours from 9-12 every morning (appointments in the afternoon) so the doctor suggested we drop by. We walked into a tiny but modern building and saw a sign for “Salle de Dr. F (Room of Dr. F). We entered a small room that had a few people waiting, some chairs, a few magazines, and nothing else:  No receptionist. No nurse. No sign-in sheet. We sat down and waited like everyone else.

Every 10-15 minutes the doctor would open the door and the next person would go with her. Everyone waiting was very civil and knew exactly where they were in the order. Exactly one person would get up each time the doorknob turned.

The room had a price list posted.  22€ for an adult. Kids were more at 28€. Mileage was additional for house calls. (Yes, this doctor makes house calls!!!)

We waited for just under an hour for our turn. Lots of time to study the other people’s feet and realize that once again I was the only one in the room wearing white running shoes. Nothing else screams “American” quite like those shoes – except maybe a baseball cap.

When it was our turn the doctor firmly shook all our hands and walked us into a large office with a big desk and an examination table. Dr. F took L’s history directly onto the computer, put her on the table and confirmed it was a sprain, then typed up and printed a prescription – no illegible doctor handwriting here!

The visit ended with her giving us a bill for exactly the 28€ posted. She took Visa. We took the prescription to the pharmacy, and spent 8€.

(WARNING: I am about to sound bitter about the American health system. But it’s only because I am bitter.)

A similar visit in California would involve making an appointment for the one slot that the doctor had available that day, then waiting in the outside waiting room for 5-10 minutes. Then there would be a second wait of 10-30 minutes or more in the exam room, where there is nothing to distract the children. We’d be greeted by a receptionist, handed off to a nurse, and then see the doctor and repeat everything we told everyone already. We’d leave having had excellent medical care, but not having a clue what the visit would eventually cost.  (The last part is because of the self-insured thing – we have a high deductible plan to keep our premiums reasonable. It’s not the typical American experience.)

Then we’d go to the pharmacy with our handwritten prescription, where they would ask us what the writing meant and we’d have no idea, so they’d call the doctor’s office to confirm. If we were lucky the phone would be answered and we could go shopping for 15 minutes while they prepared the prescription. If we were unlucky the doctor wouldn’t answer and we’d have to return later in the day. If a generic is available the charge would be $20-30.  If no generic, we hold our breath and  pull out the credit card to wait for a nasty surprise.

Two months later the insurance and the doctor’s office would figure out what we owed, and we’d get a bill that we wouldn’t understand in spite of being highly educated – usually for about $120-180 on top of the $20 co-pay we had paid at the doctor’s office previously.

I did miss the fish tank in the pediatrician’s office in California, and depending on JM to communicate with the doctor is a BIG negative for me – but otherwise I kind of preferred the Provence way.

10 Responses to “A Visit to the Doctor in Provence”

  1. Debbie says:

    It sounds like a delightful experience, aside from the one-hour wait in the reception area. I hope L feels better soon!

  2. vered says:

    This need to be posted everywhere. It captures everything that’s wrong with the American health system, and I suspect lots of it has to do with inflated everything – so much staff, rooms, equipment and complexity that it all costs so much and no one can even start understanding why.

  3. beth says:

    Your non-typical American experience is actually pretty typical. Even those of us with pretty good plans from our employers have the same experiences you do in the U.S. Sounds like we should all move to France. Thanks for sharing your perspectives.

  4. I have to disagree – the wait in the waiting room and in the exam room in the US would probably be MUCH longer. 😉 Also, when first making an appointment they would give you a slot 3 weeks away only if Monday falls on an odd number day. Only after insisting you are indeed very sick/in pain/coughing blood/something is broken will they give you a more reasonable time. (Actually when my kid is sick, they get her in pretty quick. Me … not so much.)

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  6. Nathan says:

    I’ve had very similar experiences – also in France. I had a nasty insect bite (from some African species, the doctor thought) while visiting friends in Montpellier. Their doctor graciously saw me as soon as my friends called, and the atmosphere was just as you described, friendly, relaxed, considerate and professional. I wish it was like that here.

  7. Lisane says:

    I hear you Diane! We’re in the same boat our USA health care and insurance situation. Last week, I still received a bill for a P’s August skate boarding accident !! Another bill that is…
    Felt great about how I was treated and the service in London, England back in 2004 and also
    in Montreal, on summer vacation during a visit to a “clinique sans rendez-vous” (clinic with no prior set appointment time required).
    Have you read the book: “A Year in the Merde” , hilarious great read, the author discusses a similar experience and loved it!

  8. George says:

    Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy.

    I actually work for the CheapOair travel blog. If you’re interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: gchristodoulou(at)cheapoair(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  9. vanessa says:

    I’m glad and relieved your experience with our family doctor went well.
    Your visit to Mrs F is nothing extraordinary for us.
    People here should go to the US or UK to realize how lucky we are.
    Indeed they have a huge capacity to forget all the privileges we have as far as Health and Social Care are concerned…
    You describe things and events so precisely and accurately.
    BRAVO !

    Lots of Love.

  10. Maha says:

    Great post! And what a pleasant experience at the doctor’s which sometimes can be horrifying for a child. I also wish our health care system were more like that. Unfortunately we have two big factors working against us: Insurance companies and the public’s fear of being social. It’s sad how we work against ourselves here.