This post is about our experience with the French health system.
We have not stayed in France longer than three weeks at a time, give or take a couple of days. So we cannot talk about long term interaction with the French medical system.
Wonderful as it is, being in France does not protect you from colds, indigestion, or lost or forgotten equipment or prescription medicine. When you are there on vacation you want above all to be in good enough shape to visit, say, a museum or dine out.
So in France when symptoms arise, rather than just endure them, I go to a pharmacy. (Picture from Americans in France). There are 24 hour pharmacies in Paris. In the provinces the pharmacies in a given area rotate this role, and a notice is posted telling where to go for emergency service off hours. For routine matters, French pharmacies are the front line of the health care system. For accidents and grave situations, of course, it is best to go to an emergency room at a hospital. We have never had to do this.
In a French pharmacy you will not find food, greeting cards, candy, light clothing, or soft drinks. French pharmacies offer only medicine and beauty products. Only the beauty products are displayed on shelves. If you are looking for medicine, you have to ask for it, which means discussing what ails you with one of the pharmacists. Generally all the employees in the store are qualified for this. Usually there is someone who speaks English as well, but it helps if you understand and can speak some French. The pharmacist will talk with you about your symptoms, and ask questions about medications you take. If you have containers, or a list of your medicine, it makes sense to bring them, because the pharmacist will be able to look up the French equivalent. Once aware of all that, the pharmacist generally will identify a specific product and provide detailed guidance on using it. In general I have found these products very good at dealing with my symptoms. I have also purchased hearing aid batteries at French pharmacies. Things like this, and all the medicines, are in a drawer or in a back room out of the customer’s reach. Prices for medicine are comparable to those for over-the-counter medicine in America.
For more serious situations, one can make an appointment to see a doctor. One time a few years ago we had to do this, and we were able to get a same-day referral to a specialist (very fluent in English). The total cost was under 100 euros, paid in cash directly to the practitioner. We were very pleased with the care we got, and impressed with the efficiency and professionalism of everyone we met.
We have no personal experience with hospitalization in France, but the French medical system is rated as close to the best worldwide. Wait times for procedures are comparable to or better than those in the USA and other advanced countries, and customer satisfaction is very high. In 2011 France spent a little less than $4100 per capita on health care, about half what we spent in the USA, and got better results. Doctors are paid about 60% of what American doctors receive, but they also pay much less for training and for malpractice insurance.
The French have a great health system.