Healthcare abroad: specific issues

The issue of healthcare abroad often bewilders French nationals who are used to a much more protective system. Away from home, healthcare practices and systems are often very different.

Different healthcare systems abroad

You don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to find healthcare systems and facilities which differ greatly from those in France.

In the UK, for example, the public healthcare system (NHS) allocates a referring physician (General Practitioner) depending on where you live. If you fall ill, you have to see this doctor, even if you require specialist care. In this case, the GP sends a letter to a specialist in the patient’s geographical area to request an appointment.

This system denies free choice of doctor and waiting times are very long, especially for non-vital health problems. Hence the use of very expensive, private health systems requiring high levels of reimbursement!
 

The language barrier and isolation

As healthcare is a highly personal area, the language barrier may also complicate the relationship with the medical profession. It’s not always easy to explain your symptoms to a doctor, especially in a foreign language. Medical vocabulary is very specific and understanding diseases, treatments and recommendations can be particularly difficult.

Moreover, you may miss the support of your family if you have a major health problem. The arrival of a relative in the event of a long stay in hospital may provide comfort to the patient and help them cope better.
Anyone can experience a difficult situation abroad (the death of a loved one, marital problems, stress at work etc.). Away from home, this type of "bad patch" can quickly get out of proportion. A counselling service is therefore helpful to alleviate stress and restore equilibrium.
 

Inadequate health facilities

In some parts of the world, access to quality healthcare facilities remains problematic. If you were to have an accident in Equatorial Guinea, for example, it would be better to be evacuated to neighbouring Cameroon for any form of specialist treatment in a satisfactory medical environment.
 

High healthcare costs

In other countries, healthcare costs are not commensurate with those in France with one day in intensive care costing €7,500 in North America, Asia or South Africa.
It is strongly recommended to be prepared by taking out health insurance to cover the cash advance required in the event of hospitalisation.
 
For all these reasons, some expatriates prefer to return to France to a more familiar environment for a scheduled operation or maternity care.
 
To allow expatriates to better manage their healthcare abroad, insurance specialists generally offer French-style policies with generous medical cover where healthcare is covered in both the host country and in France.
 

Finding out about healthcare facilities in your host country

The CIMED (Medical Information Committee) brings together doctors working in the field of travel medicine. Its mission is to provide information on the health status of more than 220 cities worldwide and a qualified assessment of local medical facilities.
 
It also provides information to people who are travelling or going to live abroad on the health facilities in more than 120 countries around the world: hygiene, climate, drinks, infectious diseases, stings, bites, poisoning etc.
 

 

Date of publication May 11 2012

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